It’s become a Vancouver tradition.
Every year, usually around this time, a goaltending controversy begins to brew.
Luongo or Schneider? Luongo or Lack?? Miller or Lack??? Miller or Markstrom????
You get the idea.
While we can’t call this a true goaltending controversy yet, for the first time in a long time, the debate over which Canucks goalie should start the next game isn’t a young-versus-old decision.
And really, that’s what makes it so interesting this time around.
Vancouver has two goaltenders with many similarities. They’re both 6-foot-6 giants. They’re both 27 years old. They’re both Swedish.
And they’re both unproven.
It was sold as an open competition to start the season, but the decision to give Jacob Markstrom more starts in net has shown the team’s cards a little bit.
Nilsson missed some starts while he was at the ready with his pregnant wife earlier this month, so that’s skewed the difference in starts somewhat. But the split in games is similar to how Washington utilizes Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer – not what you would expect in a 1A-1B situation.
What isn’t similar between the two goalies are their numbers.
Markstrom was given a run of four games in a row to start the season, despite the fact that he let in three goals on just 19 shots against Winnipeg in the third game. Nilsson, meanwhile, has started two games in a row just twice – only earning consecutive starts after posting shutouts.
In 17 starts, the more athletic Markstrom has a 6-8-3 record with a .909 save percentage. Nilsson, the more technically-sound goaltender, is 5-1-1 in seven starts with a .934 save percentage.
It has people wondering if the Canucks have been starting the wrong goalie on too many nights.
If the Canucks have designs on making the playoffs – they’re presently holding on to the last spot in the Western Conference – then they will need to handle their goaltending situation correctly. Starting the right goaltender on most nights could be the difference between making and missing the postseason.
After letting in yet another bad goal on Sunday – one that likely cost his team a point in the standings – the heat is rising on Markstrom.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) November 26, 2017
In a true starter versus backup situation, a slow start to the season wouldn’t be enough to change course. But the situation the Canucks find themselves in, without a proven No. 1 goaltender, Nilsson deserves more of an opportunity to show what he can do.
It should be an easy decision to give Nilsson the start on Tuesday against the Islanders, and if he plays well, another start in Nashville on Thursday.
Two good starts – you guessed it – start him again when the team returns home to play the Leafs on Saturday.
And if Nilsson he keeps it up, perhaps he claims the No. 1 job.
Long way to go before then, though.
If the job is really an open competition, then every save made by either goaltender should help to earn another start. Conversely, every goal against should reduce ice time.
Nilsson deserves more time given his impressive play to date, but his most important start will always be his next one.
The solution to the Canucks’ goaltending dilemma should be pretty simple: just play the guy that’s playing well. If they do that, they should end up with a reasonably even split in games – or a goalie that has risen to new heights.