The Vancouver Canucks will make one lineup change after having a six-game winning streak snapped, with Roberto Luongo back in goal after Cory Schneider struggled in Vancouver's 4-3 loss to the Dallas Stars Friday.
While that will only increase the glare of an already bright spotlight on the Canucks' rotating goalie situation, Luongo is the first to pass the credit for his NHL-leading 1.45-goals against average to the tight defensive play in front of him.
Going into the Canucks' game against the St. Louis Blues Sunday night, Vancouver leads the NHL with just 14 goals against while playing five-on-five. Four of those came Friday in a blown-lead loss to the Stars, and that included two Schneider would admittedly want back. Up until that game, though, Luongo said this is as tight as the Canucks have played in his six-plus seasons here.
"It's not just us goalies and the D, it's the forwards too, coming back, putting pressure on guys, making sure they don't have the time and space to make plays," Luongo said. "It all starts with back pressure – we've barely given up any odd-man rushes. If you eliminate that from the game we already have a big jumpstart on other teams. After that just make sure we play our system 5-on-5 and don't give up much."
Vancouver averaged just one goal against during their six-game winning streak, which also coincides with a change in their top defensive pairings that saw newcomer Jason Garrison split up from Alexander Edler, who is playing his first full season as a left shot on the right side. Having both trying to adjust to new things while out there together wasn't working, but since pairing each with someone already in their comfort zone, the defense has been mostly airtight.
"It's an extremely tight team and we have close support, especially in our end and that's been good to get out of our end," Garrison said. "You have quick, easy passes and everyone moves as a five-man unit."
As Loungo said, it also helps when forwards come back hard to be part of that unit.
"So far this season it might be the best start ever if you look at team defense since I have been here" Daniel Sedin said. "We're not giving up a lot of chances against other than the last game. Our D group is really good and when we are at our best everyone is on the same page defensively, from the first forward to the last D-man."
Here's how that group of Canucks will look against the Blues Sunday:
Keith Ballard – Chris Tanev
Notes: Manny Malhotra was one of just five skaters to take part in an optional morning skate with the goalies, surprising most just two days after general manager Mike Gillis announced the veteran center was on injured reserve for the season over concerns the eye injury he suffered almost two years ago left him vulnerable on the ice.
"He's still a part of our team and we want him to be around the players, we want him to continue to have that solid impact that he has with our group by the way he conducts himself," coach Alain Vigneault explained, "And anytime he wants to step on the ice and skate with our guys he is more than welcome."