VANCOUVER -- Roberto Luongo is back in the Vancouver Canucks' net and hoping the extra practice time that came from a recent run as the backup will help him win back the starting job.
Luongo will make his first start since Nov. 13 when the Canucks host Calgary on Sunday night. Injured in a win against the New York Islanders that evening, Luongo returned after missing two games -- only to watch a suddenly-sizzling Cory Schneider start the next five ahead of him. Luongo finally got back in goal Thursday, after Schneider gave up three goals on five shots, but ended up losing after giving up three of his own.
Now Luongo is hoping to pick up where he left off before the upper-body injury – on a 4-2 run with a .923 save percentage in early November after his usual struggles in October – and thinks some extra practice time with goalie coach Roland Melanson will help.
"I felt I was right where I wanted to be. I was getting on a bit of a roll there, so I'm hoping I can just pick up where I left off and pretty much win some hockey games," Luongo said. "I was able to get some good practices in and spend some extra time working with Rollie. So we were definitely able to work on some things that, maybe, we don't have a chance to when I'm playing. Hopefully those will help me out down the line."
Luongo should benefit from the return of Sami Salo after missing one game with a groin injury – and watching the Canucks give up 6 goals and fall to 1-3-0 without the veteran defenseman this season. And there should also be an emotional lift from the return of speedy winger Mason Raymond from fractured vertebrae suffered during Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Raymond was supposed to play Thursday, but had the rug pulled out from under him when a paperwork deadline was missed and he couldn't play. He admitted it wasn't easy to hear, but is moving forward.
"At end of the day, what it I've gone through and what I see now, if I'm out there having fun and really enjoying it I'm going too play well," Raymond said Sunday.
The questions about Raymond's readiness are no longer physical.
"Physically everything is good," coach Alain Vigneault said. "Mentally it will be interesting to see how he goes to the areas you need to go to be successful. He's done it in practice and now he's got to find a way to find a way to do it against the opposition."
The Canucks may need the speedy, skilled Raymond, who left on the second line but returns on the third, to find those areas more often than in the past. That's because they lost some grit on the fourth line with the announcement winger Aaron Volpatti, who scored his first goal Thursday after the paperwork snafu put him back in the lineup, needs shoulder surgery and will be out for the rest of the season.
With Manny Malhotra dropping down into that spot to make room for Raymond on the third line, the fourth line has lost some toughness, which has to be a concern for a team many already thought was bullied by Boston in the Cup Final last summer.
"It's going to be a different line with Manny there right now," Vigneault said. "In my mind it's going to be a different identity but it's going to be fine."
Canucks expected lineup:
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin – Alex Burrows
David Booth - Ryan Kesler – Chris Higgins
Mason Raymond- Cody Hodgson -– Jannik Hansen
Manny Malhotra - Maxim Lapierre - Dale Weise
Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alex Edler – Sami Salo
Keith Ballard - Aaron Rome
Salo is expected to return to the lineup after missing one game with a groin injury, stabilizing a top-4 that struggles without him, giving up 6 goals on Thursday. Aaron Rome, who drew in for Salo, stays in on the third pairing in place of Andrew Alberts, allowing Keith Ballard to play the left side, where he’s more comfortable.
Luongo makes his first starts since an upper-body injury Nov. 13 after coming on in relief Thursday against Nashville after Schneider, who got the nod in seven straight, the last five ahead of a healthy Luongo, finally struggled.
Flames expected line-up:
The only anticipated change one day after winning in Edmonton is in goal, with backup Henrik Karlsson replacing Miikka Kiprusoff.
Curtis Glencross- Olli Jokinen - Jarome Iginla
Alex Tanguay – Roman Horak – Rene Bourque
Blake Comeau – Mikael Backlund - Lee Stempniak
Tim Jackman – Matt Stajan – Tom Kostopoulos
Scott Hannan – TJ Brodie
Jay Bouwmeester – Chris Butler
Joe Piskula – Derek Smith
Karlsson is expected to start after Kiprusoff played Saturday.