On the surface, this shouldn't be a story. A coach giving his backup the start for a midseason game versus a team from the opposite conference? It happens all the time. But Alain Vigneault's just-announced decision to start Cory Schneider for Saturday's date with the Boston Bruins -- the first visit to Boston since the Stanley Cup Final -- is obviously a much bigger deal.
You might recall: Vancouver's two visits to Boston last June saw Roberto Luongo get absolutely shelled. In three games, he surrendered 15 goals and was pulled twice. He looked like a completely different goaltender, like maybe on the way to Massachusetts, he got Space Jammed by the Mon-Stars.
And now, in his first chance to prove that's behind him, when he's on a roll and fresh off a shutout, Luongo gets benched for the backup? What?
It's really hard to see this as anything but sheltering a starting goalie whose massive contract should make the very idea of sheltering him a non-starter. But that's where we are: it's the Vancouver Canucks' most anticipated regular-season game of the year to date, and Luongo is not starting.
Alain Vigneault, you are an evil genius. No seriously.
According to the Canucks' coach, this decision was made with an eye towards giving Cory Schneider a start in Boston, his hometown. Okay, sure. Schneider's never started a game there, this is true.
But it's pretty easy to see through that nonsense. Vigneault isn't running the freaking Make-A-Wish Foundation. Schneider will have other opportunities to start a game in Boston.
Furthermore, considering that Schneider started seven straight games earlier in the season because he was on a roll, you get the sense that, if he were on one now, Luongo wouldn't get the next start if the game were being played in Sicily.
This has nothing to do with Schneider. It's about Luongo.
Many have made Saturday's game out to be a Stanley Cup Final rematch. It's not. It's a regular-season game between the same two teams.
All this week, both teams have been saying that: it's just one of 82, it's only worth two points (or three, if the teams take it into overtime or shoot from 22 feet out).
If these were lies, then Luongo would be starting, because he's still the big-game guy.
But it's not a big game. It's a little game with big implications for one guy: Luongo. The Canucks have very little to gain and lots to lose by starting him. The anecdotal evidence indicates that he struggles in Boston, he's arguably the most emotional goalie in the NHL, and, if it were to happen, he would take another big loss hard. It's not a stretch to suggest that it could put him right back into the hot-and-cold play he was giving the Canucks earlier in the year.
It's the equivalent of fighting when you're up 2-0. You've already got the momentum. You're either going to keep it in a win, something that could have also been achieved by not fighting, or you're going to lose it when you lose the fight. It's a gamble with no payoff.
On the flipside, this can only help the Canucks. By choosing Cory Schneider, he spares Luongo the possible meltdown, offending him instead, which motivates him. Plus, he gives the goalie a readymade excuse when reporters ask why he's not starting: Coach's decision. I don't agree with it, man, because I'm all man, man.
Luongo is protected and the Canucks might actually win a game on Boston ice. Genius.