SOCHI, Russia - According to head coach Mike Babcock, Team Canada came to Russia with a plan of how it would employ the goaltending duties at these Olympics, namely who, between Roberto Luongo and Carey Price, would be the guy.
"They've both been real good," said Babcock. "Haven't changed our minds."
A decision has seemingly been made - Sunday's Group B-deciding tilt against Finland ahead - but it could not have been an easy one.
Price opened the tournament with a sturdy 19-save performance against the Norwegians, yielding just one goal. Luongo bettered his efforts a day later, stopping all 23 shots versus the Austrians. But which of the two deserves to start against the Finns, the most challenging opponent of the tournament to date and an indicator of which direction the brass is leaning, is a matter of some debate.
On purely NHL terms, for this season, Price has been the better goaltender. He owns a .925 save percentage after 48 starts - ninth-best in the NHL - keeping the Montreal Canadiens afloat through good times and bad. He also entered the Olympics on a sterling five-game run that saw him stop 167 of 174 shots - .960 save percentage - banking one shutout in the process.
Luongo has been steady meanwhile, boasting a .917 save percentage in Vancouver this season, a number about in line with his career average. But unlike Price, he and the Canucks have stumbled into the break, losing five straight. And though his struggling team managed to score just eight goals during the five-game slide, Luongo himself wasn't much better, allowing 17 goals in the process (.880 save percentage).
If not better than Price at the moment, Luongo does have history on his side.
Initially the backup to Martin Brodeur at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Luongo grabbed the net against Germany in the pre-qualification round and didn't let go (albeit with a few hiccups) en route to the gold medal.
Price last starred on the international stage at the 2007 World Junior Championships. Sparkling with a 1.14 goals against average, he was named the tournament MVP. But unlike American starter Jonathan Quick, who has a stranglehold on the no. 1 gig due in large part to an unbelievable recent playoff track record, the 26-year-old Price has been just so-so in the postseason for the Canadiens. He had an .894 save percentage in falling to the Ottawa Senators in the first round last spring.
Price did, however, steer the Hamilton Bulldogs to a Calder Cup championship during that brilliant '07 run.
Back in 2010, Babcock started the Olympic tournament with Luongo against the Norwegians - they won 8-0 - but apparently had his mind set on Brodeur all along. The future Hall of Fame netminder started games two and three against the Swiss and Americans, but lost his job to Luongo after four goals passed on 22 shots in a 5-3 loss to the U.S. All of which goes to show that whatever may seem certain for even a moment in a tournament that extends for just days can change in an instant or two.
Asked of his process for determining who would be the guy, Babcock pointed to the NHL season and said that he and the Team Canada brass had been closely monitoring who was doing what. If he favours the present then Price would seem to be the obvious choice, but if he has a sentimental spot for what Luongo managed on this stage last time around then the embattled Canucks keeper may just be the guy.
The two netminders were to be informed of the decision on Saturday evening.
"We did the same thing last time," said Babcock of 2010. "We had a plan. We understand and I said this a number of times you get one change in this tournament and you can still win."