James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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Be patient with Roberto Luongo

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Internet creates all kinds of great opportunities, but it also opens up new problems. Mass knee-jerk reactions rank high on that list, so when Canadians get upset about their hockey teams, the unrest boils to a frenzy with alarming speed. One can see an obvious example of this widespread panic in the way Vancouver Canucks fans are reacting to Roberto Luongo’s struggles.


Look, Luongo is a tough nut to crack. His contract is too long and there’s a sense that he has a rather large chip on his shoulder. Many have made the A-Rod comparison and it’s apt in ways that those people probably didn’t intend; sure they almost invite criticism with the way they carry themselves and maybe they’re overpaid, but the abuse they receive carries at least a hint of jealousy. Let’s face it, there’s something intangibly satisfying about seeing The Golden Boy fail – even if that golden boy is (by almost any measure) wildly successful.


Luongo’s fantasy owners should do the same thing the Canucks and their fans should do: weather the storm. Chances are, the results will be far more pleasant if cooler heads prevail. He’s developed a lengthy track record of success, especially when you replace emotional reactions with the cold hard facts of statistics (which are the only things that really matter in fantasy, unless you’re talking about trades).


That being said, you might want to “handcuff” Luongo with Cory Schneider if he’s available – at least until things blow over.



The immediacy of Internet topics also tends to do a number on most peoples’ memories. My guess is that there aren’t many people who remember that the Pittsburgh Penguins’ franchise goalie was under fire to start the 2010-11 season.


That was a simpler time when the Penguins had the luxury of worrying about trivial matters like their netminder’s struggles or their lack of a legitimate scoring winger. Now they must be concerned about the health of their top centers while Fleury is standing on his head and James Neal is turning into one of the league’s most dangerous wingers.


There’s a lot of Luongo in Fleury (or vice versa). They both had their ups and downs in big times and mundane moments alike, each goalie came into the league with big-time pressure as high draft picks and both are making gobs of money even if they occasionally allow goals that make them seem like amateurs.  More often than not, they get the job done, though – even if it’s not always pretty.


For the reasons listed above, the Penguins should be prepared for future hiccups with Fleury while the Canucks should ignore the screams for Bobby Lou’s head.



OK, there are times when patience devolves into desperate insanity, though. The Atlanta Thrashers were probably justified in cutting ties with Kari Lehtonen, but he’s been a boon for the Dallas Stars so far.


As sturdy as he was last season, Lehtonen’s been lights-out in winning all seven of his games. He faced at least 35 shots in all but one of those starts, too, so it’s not like he’s luxuriating behind a splendid defense.


Naturally, the big worry with Lehtonen remains his health. Carrying a big workload won’t exactly extinguish those fears, either. The talent is there, though.



Evgeni Malkin couldn’t score on Tuesday, but the Penguins were happy to have him back. He played more than 19 minutes, so that knee must be looking good. (Jordan Staal isn’t looking half bad, either; he scored his 6th goal on Oct. 25.)



David Booth might not be an impact player until Ryan Kesler returns from his off-season surgery. The Michigan native put 3 shots on goal against the Edmonton Oilers but couldn’t score a point. He should still be on your lower-level radar, but don’t ignore the fact that he has 0 goals and 1 assist so far this season.



Few will agree with this strategy, but maybe the Columbus Blue Jackets should only acknowledge their 1-0-0 record with James Wisniewski in the fold. Forgetting that 0-7-1 nightmarish start would probably be best for everyone involved, including goalie Steve Mason, who likely suffered as much as anyone else during that awful span.


Mason stopped 30 out of 31 shots against the Detroit Red Wings and while Wisniewski failed to register a point, he started earning his fat checks with more than 27 minutes of ice time.



Speaking of teams left for dead, the Ottawa Senators are now on a three-game winning streak. Craig Anderson looked great in two of those wins while Jason Spezza reached the 12-point mark. If nothing else, this team has some fight in it and might even boast a valuable fantasy contributor or two.



It’s probably too early to worry about Dwayne Roloson and the age question, but the Mathieu Garon conundrum is a bigger concern. His supposed backup is 3-1-1 with an outstanding .942 save percentage and 1.78 GAA so far.



For about 15 years, Martin Brodeur stood alongside the neutral-zone trap as the greatest symbols of the New Jersey Devils’ unlikely successes.


The future Hall of Famer is showing the wear and tear of all those 70+ game seasons lately, though, and that’s left other goalies (even Scott Clemmensen) to pick up the slack. Johan Hedberg did an excellent job of that in the second half of the 2010-11 season and he’s 4-1-1 so far.


It’s early, but when you consider those previous results, is it crazy to wonder if Hedberg deserves at least a platoon situation for all of his good work? The Devils aren’t really in a position to choose nostalgia and sentimentality over wins, after all.



Who knows if the center experiment is really working, but Patrick Kane earned 2 assists last night, including a spin-o-rama stunner to Marian Hossa … Technically, the Kings’ shutout streak ended last night, but Jonathan Bernier was in net instead of Jonathan Quick … Hats off to Shane Doan, who scored career goal 300 on Tuesday. He’s been quite spry in general early on in the season, with 9 points in 8 games … He only has 1 win in 3 starts, but Evgeni Nabokov’s save percentage (.923) might help his trade value … Corey Crawford, Cam Ward, Jonas Hiller, Mike Smith and Pekka Rinne played well in defeat.



Ryan Whitney sprained his knee, but word is that it isn’t serious … Mike Fisher returned last night, which was great news for people who love rehashing Carrie Underwood jokes … Chris Pronger’s latest update is 2-3 weeks, which still seems optimistic, but we’ll see. (Click here for the full injury list.)

James O'Brien is the Hockey Daily Dose's author and has been a contributor to NBC's Pro Hockey Talk for more than four years. Follow him on Twitter.
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