PHT’s Pressing Olympic Questions: Will goaltending cost Canada?

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There is always going to be second-guessing when it comes to Canada’s roster at the Sochi Olympics. So far, without a single game played, the question marks and doubts surrounding the goalies of the defending gold medalists are abundant.

The three tasked with tending the Canadian net: Roberto Luongo, believed to be the incumbent for the starter’s job after his gold medal victory in Vancouver four years ago, Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens and Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes.

None of them have been particularly impressive since the roster was announced on Jan. 7, which has prompted debate about who gets the starting duties. It’s believed the top choices are Luongo and Price, with Smith slotting into the No. 3 role. Luongo has allowed 26 goals in his last nine starts, but 14 goals in his last four. Price has given up 32 goals in 13 games, including a span in which he allowed four or more goals on five consecutive occasions. He’s playing well of late, with three straight wins, one shutout and three goals-allowed in his last three games. Smith has given up 33 goals in 14 games, but has also played better since the start of February, allowing five goals in his last four games, which includes a shutout.

The greatest concern appears to be Luongo.

“I don’t know. Obviously, we haven’t won, so it’s tough from that side of things,” Luongo said recently about the state of his game, as his Vancouver Canucks lost seven straight prior to the Olympic break.

Luongo has also dealt with two injuries – a groin ailment suffered prior to the holiday break and an ankle injury after a collision with the Kings’ Dustin Brown early three days before the Olympic announcement.

Last week, Canadian head coach Mike Babcock told Sportsnet he’ll split the goalie duties in the first two games of the competition, while the goalie who starts in the third game will probably be the starter for the remainder of the tournament. Babcock, the returning coach for Canada’s team, didn’t divulge any details on who his initial starter will be in the opening game, although he has an idea. Four years ago, Babcock started Martin Brodeur, but after a round-robin concluding loss to the U.S., the bench boss switched over to Luongo in the medal round. His decision proved successful.

It seems impossible that Babcock would base his decisions on the public comments of NHL players over the course of the last month. But 10 days after Canada’s roster announcement, Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban, also on the Canadian squad, made a ringing endorsement for his NHL teammate Price.

“I know he’s my teammate and everything, but I’m hard pressed to find another goalie that’s better than him right now in the world,” said Subban.

As we can see, the debate involves many opinions, beyond just that of fans and pundits. Doubtful any of it will influence Babcock and his coaching staff. But there’s no denying that the individual performances of Luongo, Price and Smith over the last month have raised questions from the external sources about whether Canada can repeat as gold medal champions, and whether goaltending will help or hinder that team’s quest.

Recent comments from Babcock would suggest that Luongo will be his guy to start the tournament. He also gave Luongo a vote of confidence, too. Past history, like the 2010 Games and not the month of January, might have something to do with that.

“I’m not concerned,” Babcock said, as per TSN.

“I just think he’s a really good goalie. I’ve been with him a number of times and he’s always found a way to deliver. So I’m not concerned, no.”

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