Before the acquisition of the new goaltending coach, there were many nights where Luongo was clearly not standing on his head. This incriminating photo is just one of many taken where if you look closely, you can see Luongo standing upright. Is that the team on his back? No, it isn't.
I've got to hand it to Mike Gillis. He knew just what to do here. Tonight, Luongo looked just like his former immortal self. Had I forgotten he could play like this? Maybe a little.
Tonight's game reminded me so much of 2006-07, right down to the 2-1 shootout loss. Luongo was amazing, traffic buzzing all around him and the puck somehow staying out. At one point in the first period I'm pretty sure he teleported. Fair play to Mike Gillis, acquiring the one guy who could really light a fire under Luongo:
Keith Ballard is the premier defenseman/goaltending coach in the league today. After he was traded to Florida during the 2008 offseason, he motivated Thomas Vokoun to step it up. The Florida goaltender's save percentage jumped from an already impressive .919 to a crazy-good .926, followed up by another .925 season.
How did he do it? Two things. First of all, Keith Ballard leads by example, playing hard every night and showing he's willing to sacrifice his body to play. But if that subtle message isn't enough, Ballard is willing to show goaltenders his displeasure if they slip up. In the oft-played clip of Ballard "accidentally" hitting Vokoun with the stick, what people often fail to notice is that Vokoun screwed up. After making the initial save, Vokoun seemingly lost interest in the puck, leaving it beside him and staring off in the distance before Kovalchuk jammed the puck home. Vokoun lost focus, drifting off into fantasy land, and Ballard decided it took the hard, uncompromising reality of his hockey stick to remind his goaltender to get it together.
Ballard did the same thing tonight. After all the amazing saves Luongo made tonight, it's almost hard to remember that he started the period out a little flat. He looked slow on a shot or two, and then Jack Johnson hit the post. Luck was keeping the puck out of that net, not Luongo. Still, the score was 0-0. Last season, we would wait for a soft goal before we lost patience with Luongo.
Not Keith Ballard. He sent a strong message right away, crashing Luongo's crease and knocking the goal off its moorings. "Accidents happen," Ballard was saying. "You better be sharper out there."
Luongo responded with an amazing night. If the Canucks could have generated some more offense early, rather than one too many penalties, Bobby Lu could have posted his first shutout of the season, but as it stands, he still stood tall. Most games, if you only score one goal you don't expect to win. This time, we almost did. And who do we have to thank?
Keith Ballard. Thanks for keeping our goalie on his toes.