If there’s one trend I’ve noticed when people critique athletes, it’s that writers, fans and “experts” often seem to think that players can drastically change their styles at the professional level.
Sometimes it’s true that players can make small changes that yield significant results, but these are usually incremental improvements. Vancouver Canucks forward Ryan Kesler and goalie Roberto Luongo are solid examples of players who successfully tweaked their games a bit to improve their value in the NHL.
That being said, it’s tough to ask a player who ascended to the professional level that he’s been doing it all wrong. After all, whatever he does helped him to get this far, so you almost run into a “square peg in round hole” situation.
After allowing a regrettable Game 2 overtime goal in part because of his trademark aggressiveness, many people wanted Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas to change his ways. This sort of armchair criticism ignores the fact that more than nine times out of 10, Thomas makes the save. He doesn’t do that because of inherent size (he’s listed at 5-foot-10) or the soundest goaltending style. What makes Thomas so great is the interpretative dancing style of netminding that combines his flailing limbs, outstanding sense of anticipation and – yes – aggressiveness to form a sum that’s greater than his parts.
Luongo plays a very different (and up to Game 3, more efficient) style than Thomas, but they’re both right in ignoring knee-jerk reactions from game to game. Luongo already adjusted his technique by playing deeper in his goalie crease than he had in previous seasons, but that’s likely an alteration made in part because of suggestions from a goalie coach. This just in: most media members and fans would not fit the bill as goalie coaches.
“I’ve been playing well all year. I think it’s worked out pretty well for me,” Luongo said Tuesday, the day after the 8-1 loss. “I made some adjustments before the year started, so I’m not going to readjust again.”
The Bruins lost the first two games 1-0 and 3-2, although Thomas played well. But when Alex Burrows charged ahead in Game 2, Thomas went out to cut down the angle. Burrows skated around him and continued behind the net, then tucked the puck in the far side 11 seconds into overtime.
“I have a pretty good idea of how to play goalie,” Thomas said with a smile after the loss. “I’m not going to be taking suggestions or advice at this time. I’m just going to keep playing the way I have.”
Unwavering confidence – and a lack of “conscience” about goals allowed – is part of what got both goalies here. Sometimes that could backfire a bit, like some might describe Luongo’s insistence on remaining in net for all of Boston’s 8-1 blowout in Game 3. After going behind 5-1, Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault asked Luongo if he wanted to spend the rest of the game on the bench. It probably shouldn’t be that surprising that he said “No.”
“Alain asked me when there was about eight minutes left. I said I wanted to stay in,” Luongo said Tuesday. “If I would have known they would have scored three more times, I might have thought about it.”
The eight-goal barrage on 30 shots increased Luongo’s postseason goals-against average from 2.16 to 2.44 and reduced his save percentage from .928 to .919.
“Even though we were losing, 5-1, it was a pretty intense game and I still wanted to be in there,” he said. “They kept putting the pressure on. We started maybe taking our attention away from our game plan, started worrying about physical aspects of the game, which we shouldn’t be doing at this point.”
Again, this is a match between two elite (and super-confident) goalies. It’s likely that their teams’ performances will make an impact on their own play, but to many, it comes down to Luongo vs. Thomas. Neither party looks to wilt under that spotlight and each will win or lose by the methods that got them here in the first place.