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POSTED ON Wednesday, 01.30.2013 / 2:39 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Luongo earns second straight start for Canucks

Roberto Luongo will be back in goal for the Vancouver Canucks against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night -- the first time he's made consecutive starts since losing the No. 1 job to Cory Schneider in last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Coach Alain Vigneault said the surprise start was his decision, but wouldn't elaborate on why he made it, or whether it raised more questions about who was his No. 1 goaltender.

"Tonight Louie is No. 1, he’s playing," Vigneult said. "I'm not going to get into all the logistics of what goes behind making a decision. Those are internal things and we'll just leave it at that."

Schneider was the presumed No. 1 after taking over from Luongo three games in last year's playoffs.

Luongo replaced a struggling Schneider in the season opener, and Vigneault made headlines by keeping Luongo in goal the following night. But he went back to Schneider for the third game, saying he was playing the goalie "that gave him the best chance to win," a line that seemed to re-confirm Schneider as the No. 1 going forward.

Schneider also started the next two games, including a shutout in Anaheim on Friday night and a 4-1 loss in San Jose on Sunday, before Luongo got another start in the second half of back-to-back games Monday in Los Angeles. Most assumed Schneider, who has a .897 save percentage overall but .935 since being pulled early in that opening game, to be back in goal against the Avalanche.

Instead it will be Luongo, who many -- including the goalie himself -- assumed would be traded before the season even started.

"My decision," Vigneault said after Wednesday's morning skate. "It's just my call. Just got back yesterday and that's what I decided."

Luongo has lost both his starts in shootouts, but has a .917 save percentage and looked sharp stopping 26 of 28 against the Kings.

"I couldn't tell you if I was surprised or not," Luongo said. "Like I have been saying, I just get ready to play every day and when I am called upon I just want to be ready. I am excited to get the start tonight and hopefully build off last game and get a win most importantly."

Luongo, a notorious slow starter in past seasons, feels good about his game after spending seven weeks working with former Toronto Maple Leafs goaltending coach Francois Allaire in Florida.

"I put a lot of work in during the lockout, and skating four times a week by yourself is something you don't get a chance to do very often, and working on some things you need to improve on really helped me out," Luongo said. "Coming into camp I found I was able to see the puck much better and make some good reads off shots that maybe took me a little while to get going in the past."

As for when he'll get another chance after Wednesday, Luongo wasn't sure, saying the goalies usually find out the day before.

"I don't know if there is a plan or not," he said.

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POSTED ON Wednesday, 01.23.2013 / 4:35 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Flames, Hartley still figuring each other out

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The Calgary Flames admittedly have struggled trying to adjust to a new coach and system after an abbreviated training camp, bordering between moments of brilliance and monumental breakdowns while losing their first two games.

So switching up all four lines for the third game, against Vancouver on Wednesday, may seem somewhat counterintuitive.

For new coach Bob Hartley, however, it's all about a learning curve that goes both ways -- players learning where to go and what to do in his system, while he also learns what to expect from them.

"I met them many times, I have talked to them over the phone and I watched many game tapes, but right now we are in game situations and just trying to find the best fit for all of them," Hartley said. "Just a matter of trying to get the best possible lines to generate good offense and at the same time be reliable in the three zones."

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POSTED ON Wednesday, 01.23.2013 / 2:59 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Burrows in the middle for new-look Canucks

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- So much for Alain Vigneault’s theory about sticking with things that worked in the past as a way to overcome a short training camp.

The Vancouver Canucks coach has abandoned that philosophy after an 0-1-1 start, with the team calling up small, speedy center Jordan Schroeder from the American Hockey League for his first NHL game, and throwing his lines in a blender as Vancouver tries to record its first win against the winless Calgary Flames (0-2-0).

The biggest change is Alexandre Burrows moving from his spot alongside top-line twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin to center a new second line, between Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen.

Burrows has played the middle a handful of times in the past, and said his defensive responsibilities won't change much from playing with the Sedins, where he often was the first forward back and assumed down-low coverage in his end.

"A little bit more skating, less board work, and maybe a little more responsible making sure no one gets caught deep and we're not giving up any odd-man rushes, but there’s not a whole lot," Burrows said of the move to the middle. "I don't overthink things, still go out and put work boots on."

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POSTED ON Tuesday, 01.22.2013 / 3:36 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Schneider to start for Canucks vs. Flames Wednesday

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Cory Schneider said he will start in goal when the Vancouver Canucks host the Calgary Flames on Wednesday, after getting pulled from his first game as the team's No. 1 goalie Saturday and watching his predecessor, Roberto Luongo, start the next night.

Schneider allowed goals on three straight shots, and five goals on 14 shots overall in 26 minutes of action in a 7-3 loss to the Anaheim Ducks.

He was replaced by Luongo, who allowed two goals on 12 shots. Luongo then started Sunday against the Edmonton Oilers and made several great stops among his 30 saves, but said after the game he should have had both of the ones that beat him in regulation as Vancouver blew a 2-0 lead en route to a 3-2 shootout loss -- Luongo was beaten on two attempts.

Schneider replaced Luongo as the Canucks' starting goaltender three games into the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season then signed a three-year, $12 million contract extension in the summer.

As much as the on-ice decision regarding the goaltenders was in the spotlight, speculation about Luongo's future again heated up after Canucks president and general manager Mike Gillis told the Vancouver Sun he had a trade in the works.

"We have a potential deal in place with one team that has to do something with another player that they have -- and it's not who anybody thinks it is -- and so we have to wait," Gillis told the newspaper. "[But] we've been offered packages that don't fit what our plan is, what we need."

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POSTED ON Sunday, 01.20.2013 / 4:32 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Many Oilers in mid-season form for opener

The Edmonton Oilers play their first NHL game of the season Sunday night in Vancouver, but a lot of them are already in mid-season form.

Top young players like Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and rookie defenseman Justin Schultz all played together for Edmonton’s American Hockey League affiliate in Oklahoma City during the lockout. Others, like rookie Nail Yakupov, Ales Hemsky, Sam Gagner, Lennart Petrell, Corey Potter and Ladislav Smid played in Europe. And even veteran forward Ryan Smyth and No. 1 goaltender Devan Dubnyk went overseas to play in the Spengler Cup.

Add it all up and the Oilers hope to have an advantage when they open against a Canucks team that only had a couple players in action – and looked like it during a 7-3 loss to Anaheim the night before.

“There's no rust in their system,” said Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo, who will face the Oilers after replacing new No. 1 Cory Schneider in the opening loss.

Edmonton’s young players tried to downlplay the advantage.

“Nerves are still going to be going for sure,” said Nugent-Hopkins, noting it’s been two weeks since they last played a game. “We worked on our game down in OKC and are just going to try and keep working on it up here.”

Here’s the way the talented young Oilers will line up against the Canucks:

Taylor HallRyan Nugent-HopkinsJordan Eberle

Nail YakupovSam GagnerAles Hemsky

Ryan SmythShawn HorcoffTeemu Hartikainen

Ben EagerEric BelangerLennart Petrell

Ladislav SmidJeff Petry

Nick SchultzJustin Schultz

Ryan WhitneyCorey Potter

Devan Dubnyk gets the start in goal, while Yann Danis has been called up from the AHL to back up while veteran Nikolai Khabibulin continues to recover from offseason hip surgery.

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POSTED ON Sunday, 01.20.2013 / 4:24 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Schultz excited to face childhood team in NHL debut

Edmonton Oilers defensman Justin Schultz can’t think of a better place to make his NHL debut than Vancouver, against the team he grew up cheering.

Not that Schultz, who is from Kelowna, just a five-hour drive to the northeast, expects a warm welcome from his home province. After choosing the talented, young Oilers ahead of the more established Canucks during the final stage of a free-agency pursuit that made headlines across the NHL, Schultz expects to hear boos.

They rained down on him during his only other trip back to British Columbia this season, when fans in nearby Abbotsford jeered almost every time he touched the puck while playing an American Hockey League game for the Oilers’ affiliate from Oklahoma City.

“I heard a little bit of that in Abbotsford when we played there, but you don’t really hear that stuff when you are playing,” said Schultz, who can count on some crowd support with “a lot of friends” and his parents in attendance Sunday.

The skilled 22-year-old defenseman was a prize addition for the Oilers over the summer, and made an immediate impression in the AHL, where he played with other top young Oilers like Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Despite leaving Oklahoma City when the NHL lockout ended two weeks ago, Eberle (51 points) and Schultz (48 points) are still the top two scorers in the AHL. Schultz’s totals, which include 18 goals in just 34 games, are obviously even more impressive given he’s a defenseman.

Still, he’s admittedly nervous about his first NHL game.

“Excited, nervous, sure I’ll have butterflies before the game but can't wait,” Schultz said. “(Playing in the AHL) helps, especially playing with so many of the guys who are here right now, but this is another big jump.”

It's a jump that Schultz, a Hobey Baker finalist in his final two seasons at the University of Wisconsin before using a loophole in the old CBA to become a free agent, seems ready to make.

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POSTED ON Sunday, 01.20.2013 / 3:46 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Canucks hope to bounce back against Oilers

The only change the Canucks are making after a 7-3 loss to Anaheim is in goal, where Roberto Luongo gets his scheduled start Sunday against the Edmonton Oilers after taking over for new No. 1 Cory Schneider the night before.

Schneider was pulled after five goals on 14 shots, while Loungo gave up two on 12, but it won’t matter who is playing if the rest of a roster that remains intact doesn’t play better, especially in their own end and on the penalty kill.

“We've analyzed some things we need to do,” coach Alain Vigneault said after announcing Luongo as his starter Sunday morning, citing a big gap between his forwards and defense as one main issue. “Overall we were doing a pretty good job as far as keeping the chances against to a reasonable number but we did have some breakdowns and they found the back of our net.”

Turning that around against the Oilers will be up to the same group:

Alexandre BurrowsHenrik SedinDaniel Sedin

Mason RaymondAndrew EbbettZack Kassian

Chris HigginsMaxim LapierreJannik Hansen

Aaron VolpattiManny MalhotraDale Weise

Dan HamhuisKevin Bieksa

Jason GarrisonAlexander Edler

Keith Ballard – Chris Tanev

Roberto Luongo

Cory Schneider

The Canucks have three spare defensemen, but no extra forwards on the roster – unless you count Jim Vandermeer, who has played up front in the past – something Vigneault doesn't expect to last long. In addition to Vandermeer, defensemen Cam Barker and Andrew Alberts will be healthy scratches for a second-straight game.

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POSTED ON Sunday, 01.20.2013 / 3:44 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Start unexpected by Luongo, not Vigneault

Roberto Luongo didn’t think he’d ever play another game for the Vancouver Canucks.

That was back in May, after losing his starting job to Cory Schneider two games into a five-game playoff loss to the Los Angeles Kings.

Now the veteran goalie is preparing to play for the second straight day to start the new season.

“Probably most of you don't believe it right now, either," Luongo said after the announcement was made following the morning skate Monday.

Coach Alain Vigneault explained the decision by saying he was just sticking to his plan to start Luongo against Edmonton on Sunday night, one day after pulling Schneider early in the second period of a 7-3 loss to Anaheim.

“This was my plan that I figured out a couple of days ago and nothing happened last night that changed my mind,” Vigneault said.

That plan certainly didn't include seeing Schneider give up goals on three straight shots over a three-minute span early in the second period against the Ducks – and five on 14 overall.

Luongo took over, giving up two goals on 12 shots. He said after he should have stopped both goals by Teemu Selanne, who had four points for the Ducks, but said he felt good about his game overall. He will get a chance to build on that feeling against a talented Oilers team that was at least rumored to be interested in acquiring him in a trade last summer.

“To start a game with this logo on is something I’m happy to be doing right now,” Luongo said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. I would have been fine with either way. I just got myself ready, no matter what the situation."

Neither Luongo nor Schneider had much help against the Ducks. Vancouver gave up quick goals on all three Anaheim power play opportunities, and its highly touted defense surrendered several point blank scoring chances.

Schneider, though, wasn’t making any excuses after the game, shouldering the blame when there was plenty to go around by saying it was up to him to make some big saves to keep the Canucks in the game.

“Sometimes you need to make that one big save and that will get you on your rhythm and send you on your way and I couldn’t make that big save,” Schneider said after the game. “You start pressing a little harder and trying to make that save and sometimes it’s a little counter-productive.”

Schneider, who lamented the three shots that went “through” him the most, said he “felt just a half-second off,” wanted to go over video on Sunday and then, “put my head down, work my butt off and fix any mistakes I made.”

Now he will get that chance to work with goaltending coach Roland Melanson, at least until a game Wednesday against Calgary.

"I want to keep playing,” Schneider said after the skate Sunday. “I'm not worried to get back in the net. I'm eager to do so. This will give me time to work on things."

In Vancouver, where most expected Luongo to be long gone by now, it also provides time for a potential goaltending controversy to simmer.

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POSTED ON Sunday, 01.20.2013 / 2:40 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Luongo to start Sunday for Canucks

Vancouver Canucks coach Alain Vigneault is sticking with his plan and starting Roberto Luongo against the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday night.

That plan certainly didn't include seeing Cory Schneider getting shelled Saturday night in the season-opening 7-3 loss to the Anaheim Ducks, or being pulled early in the second period after giving up goals on three straight shots in just more than three minutes – and five goals on just 14 shots overall. Luongo took over from there, giving up two goals on 12 shots as well.

Vigneault said the plan all along was to split goalies over the back-to-back weekend games, and nothing on opening night changed his mind. He said he told the goaltenders about his decision after the one-sided loss to the Ducks, which saw the Canucks give up quick goals all three times they were shorthanded amid a series of defensive breakdowns.

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POSTED ON Saturday, 01.19.2013 / 5:15 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-13 Opening Day blog

Ducks looking to get off to strong start

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The Anaheim Ducks open the season against the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night hoping to pick up where they left off more than nine months ago.

Not as the 13th-place team in the Western Conference and out of the playoffs, but as one of the hottest teams in the season's second half, when they went 24-4-6 down the stretch. With top forwards Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne and Bobby Ryan all back, and Jonas Hiller healthy between the pipes, they believe they can keep that pace.

"I don’t see why it shouldn’t carry over," Perry said. "As a team in the second half, we were right up there with the best in the League. We fell a little bit short but if we continue to do the same things we were doing I don’t see why we can’t be one of the top teams."

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For me, it's a great win for our hockey team and for a lot of people back in Columbus, especially our fans in particular … people who have been devoted to this organization, it's big.

— Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards on their win vs. the Penguins in Game 2, the franchise's first-ever Stanley Cup Playoff victory