Yesterday afternoon, my latest piece for NHL.com discussed Roberto Luongo’s lack of confidence in Game 4. And now that Game 5 is just over an hour away, I figured I would add a few more philosophical thoughts about Luongo’s current situation and state of mind before the puck drops.
As I pondered what might be going through Luongo’s mind this afternoon, many of my thoughts came back to a mental toughness topic I discussed in an article I call Eliminating Cognitive Dissonance.
In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a goalie is under one of the most intense microscopes imaginable. Everything they do, every move they make and every quote they state is scrutinized, analyzed and, unfortunately, often misconstrued. The bigger the game, the more intense the scrutiny, the more smothering the pressure, the more situations end up being criticized.
Fans, analysts, players, scouts and coaches don’t mangle their perception of a goalie’s performance on purpose, though. It’s just the human element of the goaltending position. Since Luongo is considered one of the world’s best, he is expected to be one of the world’s best every single minute of every single game.
But this is what goaltending at the highest levels is all about. Every goalie has a different path, they all face different types and levels of pressure. What Chris Osgood experienced was not the same as what Ed Belfour experienced, which is nothing like what Cam Ward or J-S Giguere experienced during their Stanley Cup runs.
For Luongo, he is a goaltender that is currently struggling to manage the weight of expectations. And with Game 5 on home ice, there is absolutely no room for error, and especially no room for negative thoughts to influence his already fragile confidence.
Therefore Luongo’s ultimate battle in tonight’s game will not be against Tim Thomas. It will be against himself.
—[ THE PRESSURE OF A MUST-WIN GAME ]—
As you settle into your own pre-game routine, take a minute to put yourself in Luongo’s skates.
“This. Is. Not. Easy.”
The amount of pressure heading into tonight’s game is, at least in my eyes, totally unfathomable. I imagine what kind of impact the pre-game jitters combined with the ghosts of past failures would have on Luongo. Is he able to fend them off and only think positive things? Is his mind clear of all things negative? What kind of thought processes is he having? How is he handling this life-altering experience?
I have no answers. But the game, and his actions on the ice, will help reveal some of them. Even then, nobody in the world except Luongo will ever truly know what is going through his mind. I’m personally OK with this. I think that’s what makes goaltending such an amazing position to play. It’s one man, one mind, one goal – to stop the puck and give your team a chance to win.
And nobody – except you and you alone – knows what you’re truly thinking or how your mind reacts to certain stimuli.
Like a cloud formation, no two goalies are alike. They don’t think alike, they’re always changing shape and they’re all morphing into something else as they move across the bright blue sky. With this in mind, I do feel very strongly that goaltenders are the universe’s ultimate Shapeshifters.
And now it’s time for Luongo to shapeshift into a goaltender with very visible, infectious confidence.
—[ LUONGO ENCOUNTERS HIS MONOLITH ]—
Tonight, more than at any other point in his entire life, goaltending is 90-percent mental for Luongo. If he wants to win, he has to fight off the ghosts that might be haunting his mind and let everyone in the world know that he wants to win the game.
And since he has appeared much more passive in Games 3 and 4, especially compared to the Boston Berserker, Luongo’s task tonight is one that will take a tremendous amount of strength, both physically and mentally, to accomplish successfully.
In that regard, Luongo has finally encountered his Monolith. And tonight’s game is the moment of truth. He must reach beyond the black forever and travel towards his own destiny and eliminate all moments to ponder the past. He can’t sit back and wait for a win to come to him, he has to reach out and TAKE it.
In order to accomplish this, Luongo needs confidence. Unfortunately, it isn’t a tangible thing he can pick up and hold. It doesn’t have mass and it’s something that floats in between the air he breathes and the thoughts he processes.
But he can certainly see it. And he can most definitely feel it…he has many times before, especially during the regular season and the Winter Olympics.
More importantly, Luongo can create it, generate it, with his actions. He must be bold. He must play free-spirited, just as he did as a teenager, with nothing to lose and behind a fiery passion for the love of the game. He must embrace the present and execute with a purpose.
Even if he might not feel as confident as he has been in the past, just the act of making bold “confident-like” saves and movements will allow him to APPEAR confident. And just by APPEARING confident, Luongo will instill and radiate confidence to his teammates and the fans.
Ultimately, I think that is what will make the biggest difference between Luongo winning and losing Game 5. No matter what kind of confidence he actually has right now, he must do whatever it takes to display visible signs that he wants the puck as much as, or more than, Tim Thomas.
—[ AN ELEMENT OF LUONGO’S HAND POSITIONING ]—
I’ve noticed something interesting about Luongo’s hand positioning during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but I never saw it in the first half of the regular season. As time goes on, however, I seem to be noticing it on a more consistent basis.
In simple terms, Luongo’s hands appear to scrape the ice when making a lateral or back-side push while already in, or coming out of, the butterfly. It almost looks as if he’s doing it on purpose, or at least doing it METHODICALLY. And sometimes it’s more obvious than others, as I’ve seen him literally push his hands directly down to the ice on purpose.
I’m sure there’s a reason he’s doing this, but only he knows. I think if it was something truly detrimental to Luongo’s game, Rolie Melanson would discuss or eliminate it. At the same time, Luongo is clearly situationally aware enough to know he’s doing it, so there’s a purpose I’m sure. Having watched every single Canucks playoff game, I can safely say this something that is not negatively impacting his game, or leading to any goals.
There are situations where Luongo drops into the butterfly, the puck deflects wide and comes off the boards with a lot of velocity, then up near the blueline. That’s when I see Luongo’s hands scrape the ice on back-side pushes, most likely because the puck is not in a dangerous area.
At other times, I see Luongo’s hands up and ready in a more “active” and effective position. This happens when the puck is in tight to the crease area, or in a danger zone.
Most of these things, these nuances, we see in a goalie’s game that doesn’t look right are situational. It just depends on the play whether or not he does it. In that case, I’m probably just over-analyzing what I see, which is something a rabid goalie scout like myself is prone to doing.
And to be honest, many NHL goalies will tend to be somewhat “stubborn” from time to time. Not on anything major, but on the little things. Every goalie likes their quirks, even if it doesn’t look necessarily sound. I know I’m the same way, and always will be. Some things just feel better more than others. And I like the things that make me unique as a goaltender on the ice. It’s part of my genetic makeup.
That being said, personally speaking, I wonder what this is all about because it begs the question of whether or not it throws him off balance. If he’s doing this to get low to the ice and look around or under bodies, I totally get that. But other than that, I’ve never really seen that before and I find it to be an unfamiliar aspect of the butterfly recovery and post-save technique.
But I am just speculating of course. That’s just what I see. There are a lot of different reasons why, so I just find myself interested on what it does to his execution.