"It was painful. I hated every second of it. I just can't work with the guy."
Cory Schneider delivered the line to a wall of TV cameras in a near-perfect deadpan before breaking into a smile after the Vancouver Canucks practiced Friday.
Roberto Luongo, the subject of his mock hatred, had just finished addressing the media in the locker stall right next to him. Now it was Schneider's turn to talk about their role in the four-minute feature that ran on TSN during an intermission of a 7-4 win against the Nashville Predators the night before.
Vancouver Canucks goalies Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider use humor to diffuse the controversy surrounding a job-share that most believe borders between awkward and unworkable. (Photo: Getty Images)
In it, the Canucks' goaltending tandem took turns mocking the controversy surrounding a job-share that most believe borders between awkward and unworkable. Luongo offered Schneider a "Thing 2" T-shirt while wearing "Thing 1."
Schneider chopped down Luongo from behind as they left the ice. Luongo drove over Schneider -- or at least a dummy in his uniform -- and left it pinned under an equipment cart, with Schneider voicing a plea for help as Luongo jumped for joy: "Looks like Lu is starting tonight."
Luongo will indeed be starting again when the Canucks play the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday. It will be the third straight start for the longtime No. 1. But for those who think that is causing problems for Schneider, who took over as the starter three games into last season's Stanley Cup Playoffs and was supposed to stay there this season, he said watch the video.
"This is how we viewed this situation the whole time," Schneider said. "We've looked at it, not as a joke, but we've made light of it and bantered back and forth. We don't take it too seriously. We take our jobs seriously, and what we do, and competing, but that's pretty much how we are off the ice."
The bigger question is whether the situation is affecting them on the ice.
In Luongo's first six seasons with Vancouver, he enjoyed the benefit of the doubt anytime he struggled, getting a chance to find his game when it wavered and play his way through annual early-season rough patches.
As the new would-be No. 1, it's fair to wonder if Schneider deserves the same, but so far the longest stretch of consecutive starts belongs to Luongo, who played four straight from Jan. 28-Feb. 4.
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Luongo won the final three in that early stretch then watched from the bench as Schneider won the next two and started 10 of the next 15.
Now, after winning one in the past five, Schneider will watch Luongo start a third straight.
From the outside, it hardly seems like an ideal back and forth.
"For them, it would be in the back of your mind -- 'Am I playing, am I not playing, if I play a good game do I get to play again, if I don't play a good game am I not going to play again for a while?'" Nashville Predators backup Chris Mason said. "That would be more of a mental drain."
Predators starter Pekka Rinne said he doesn't take his ice time for granted, but when he was pulled early in Thursday's loss to the Minnesota Wild, his coach made it clear it was so he could rest before getting right back in against the Calgary Flames on Friday night. He's earned -- and appreciates -- the benefit of the doubt.
"If I don't play well I have always had a chance to bounce back right away, and obviously it gives you confidence when you can get back out there," Rinne said. "I used to be in that situation when I was younger and it's never easy. When you don't have the luxury to get back out there after playing not so great a game it can weigh you down, but at the same time as a goalie you have to trust yourself, be even-keeled, and not to get too high or too low."
The Canucks goaltenders insist that's how they are handling it, and the video on TSN certainly suggests they are at least able to laugh about it.
It's not like either has been awful, but at times both have been a bit off.
"It's not something I am used to," Loungo (7-2-3, 2.22) said of having to sit on a loss for a while. "You just have to forget it. It's not easy sometimes. The key -- and I always go back to this -- is practice. You want to make sure you are feeling good about yourself in practice and it makes it easier to move past that."
Practice is something Schneider (6-5-3, 2.63) is trying to make the most of while Luongo enjoys a stretch of starts now. Schneider relied on extra work with goaltending coach Roland Melanson to stay sharp during long periods between starts the past few seasons, but hasn't had the same opportunity this year.
Goalie - VAN
GAA: 2.63 | SVP: 0.910
If you're looking to explain a slip from a .937 save percentage last season to .910 now, Schneider points to that adjustment, not to Luongo's long shadow.
"I have high expectations but I am also getting used to playing more and brushing it off and playing the next game," Schneider said. "You realize that extra time with the coach to work on little specifics means a lot, and it makes it that much more impressive for guys who play all the time and don't get that extra work, how they are able to maintain their discipline and habits."
Schneider is learning on the job how to be one of those guys: a No. 1 goalie.
"I am trying to find that zone where you don't think and pucks just hit you … and the game just makes a lot of sense," he said. "I felt I have been there are at times and there are times I haven't quite been there, and I'm just trying to find that place and stay there for an extended period."
He said his inability to do so thus far is not because he is thinking about the Canucks' unique goaltending situation during a game, or worrying that one bad game might mean watching the next couple from the bench.
"When I am making a save I am not thinking about my teammate," Schneider said. "People who insinuate that are just not right. It's internal. It's mechanical. It's things I know I can do, but with a shortened season, without a training camp, maybe it is taking a little longer to nail it down and make it automatic."
If only it were as easy to nail as that deadpan on camera.