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Luongo's back on track, and so are Canucks

Sunday, 02.19.2012 / 11:28 AM / The Hot List

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

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Luongo's back on track, and so are Canucks
Roberto Luongo is playing like the goaltender of old as the Canucks are starting to resemble last season's Presidents' Trophy-winner.
Don't look now, but Roberto Luongo has found his groove again.

Luongo's early-season struggles were a big reason the Vancouver Canucks had their ups and downs in the first few weeks -- there was even talk that he could lose his job to backup Cory Schneider.

Roberto Luongo
Goalie - VAN
RECORD: 25-10-6
GAA: 2.30 | SVP: 0.922
But Luongo has been on a roll over the last couple of months, and he improved his season record to 25-10-6 by winning all three starts last week while allowing just four goals.

After his slow start, Luongo's goals-against average is down to 2.30 and his save percentage has improved to .922. He's 7-0-3 in his last 10 starts and hasn't allowed more than three goals in a game since Jan. 15.

Not coincidentally, the Canucks are looking like the team that came up a game short of winning the Stanley Cup last spring. The way Luongo is playing, he could get a chance to atone for that failing come June.

Five up -- Five other players who had a good week:

Jason Spezza -- Ottawa played only two games last week, but Spezza made the most of his limited opportunities to light up the scoreboard. He had a hat trick and an assist in a 4-0 win at Tampa Bay on Tuesday, then set up three goals in a 6-2 win at Florida one night later. Overall, Spezza has five goals and eight assists during a five-game points streak.

Mike Smith -- The NHL's First Star last week is still on a roll. Phoenix gave him just three goals' worth of offensive support in two games -- and he turned them into a pair of wins by blanking Los Angeles 1-0 and beating Dallas 2-1, carrying the Coyotes into seventh place in the West.

Steven Stamkos -- Tampa Bay's top gun became the NHL's first 40-goal scorer this season when he got what proved to be the game-winner on Saturday. He has five points in the Lightning's last two games and became just the fifth player in NHL history to record three 40-goal seasons before his 23rd birthday.

Brian Elliott -- The All-Star half of St. Louis' two-headed goaltending monster continues to devour opponents. Elliott allowed one goal on 27 shots in a 5-1 win against the Islanders on Thursday, then blanked Minnesota on Saturday, lowering his League-leading goals-against average to 1.55.

Jonathan Toews -- Talk about stepping up when your team needs you: With his Chicago Blackhawks having lost seven in a row on their road trip, Toews scored on a penalty shot 65 seconds into Thursday's game in New York, then added an assist while sparking a 4-2 win against the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers. He added a goal and two assists in Saturday's 6-1 win at Columbus, giving him five points as the Hawks put the wheels back on their playoff drive.

Five down — Five players who are struggling:

Matt Stajan -- Stajan has seen his ice time increase in the past couple of weeks, but his offensive contribution is still nonexistent. He hasn't scored a point in Calgary's last 11 games since returning from an ankle injury.

Nik Antropov -- The big Winnipeg center has struggled to score this month, going pointless in nine games in February with a minus-4 rating. The offensively challenged Jets can't afford slumps like this from a player they were counting on for offense.

Mike Richards
Center - LAK
GOALS: 14 | ASST: 14 | PTS: 28
SOG: 122 | +/-: 0
Mike Richards -- No one on the Kings is scoring -- they played twice last week and were beaten 1-0 in both games -- but GM Dean Lombardi surely expected more offense from Richards, who hasn't scored a goal in 14 games.

Matt Cullen -- Like the Kings, the Minnesota Wild are struggling badly -- and they need more from Cullen, who hasn't had a point in eight games while going minus-4 in that span despite playing nearly 20 minutes a night.

Francois Beauchemin -- Anaheim has been on a roll, but Beauchemin has had a tough time in recent weeks. He's gone 13 games without putting a point on the scoresheet and is minus-7 in that span for one of the NHL's hottest teams.

Injuries, news and notes: Sidney Crosby continues to skate, but there's no word about when Pittsburgh's captain might be able to play again. He hopes to return before the end of the regular season, but there's no assurance that will happen.

Out -- Winnipeg defenseman Zach Bogosian missed the Jets' last two games sustaining a foot injury on Tuesday. … San Jose defenseman Douglas Murray is out with a broken Adam's apple after taking a puck in the throat on Thursday. … Minnesota captain Mikko Koivu sat out Saturday with an undisclosed injury. … Florida's John Madden didn't play Friday due to a lower-body injury and is expected to miss a couple of weeks. … Boston forward Rich Peverley will miss 4-6 weeks after injuring his knee in Montreal on Wednesday. … Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov sat out Thursday and Saturday with an illness. … Carolina goalie Cam Ward left Saturday's game after two periods with a lower-body injury. He had sat out Friday's game with the same problem. Forward Chad LaRose sat out Friday and Saturday with an upper-body injury. … Colorado goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere left Wednesday's game in the first period with a groin injury and didn't dress Friday. He's listed as day-to-day. … Calgary's Mikael Backlund will miss 4-6 weeks with an arm injury. … Dallas lost All-Star center Jamie Benn on Thursday with a leg cut; he didn't dress Saturday and won't play Sunday. … Phoenix lost defenseman Rostislav Klesla with an upper-body injury on Thursday, then had center Martin Hanzal (lower body) and forward Kyle Chipchura (wrist) leave with injuries on Saturday.

Returning -- Washington lost 2-1 at Tampa Bay on Saturday, but the good news was that defenseman Mike Green was able to play. He'd been out since Jan. 7 with a groin problem that has derailed his season. … San Jose expects defenseman Jason Demers (lower body) back on Sunday; he hasn't played since Jan. 24. … Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk (concussion) was in the lineup Saturday for the first time since Jan. 12. … Montreal defenseman Yannick Weber returned Friday and had an assist after missing four games with a leg injury. … Colorado hopes to have center Matt Duchene back this week, possibly as soon as tonight in Winnipeg. He's been out since Dec. 29 with a knee injury. … Pittsburgh activated forward Arron Asham (concussion) off IR for Saturday's game. … Columbus activated defenseman Brett Lebda (broken thumb) off IR.

Still out -- New Jersey center Travis Zajac will skate "soon," according to the team. He's been rehabbing an Achilles injury that has limited him to eight games this season. … Flyers forward Tom Sestito will have surgery this week to repair a torn groin muscle. … Canucks defenseman Keith Ballard missed his fifth straight game Saturday because of a neck injury. He is also being evaluated for a possible concussion. … Carolina forward Tuomo Ruutu (upper body) is expected to miss at least another couple of weeks.

The week ahead -- There's plenty of hockey in the last full week before the Feb. 27 trade deadline. Everyone plays at least three games this week, and eight teams have four games on the schedule.

Games to watch:

New York Rangers at Pittsburgh (Feb. 21) -- If the Penguins have any hopes of catching the Rangers for the Atlantic Division lead, this is a game they have to win.

Vancouver at Detroit (Feb. 23; NHLN-US) -- The owners of the longest home winning streak in NHL history will get a tough test from the defending Western Conference champs -- who are also among the League's best on the road.

Washington at Toronto (Feb. 25; NHLN-US; CBC) -- The Leafs are trying to hang on to the final playoff berth in the East; the Capitals are among the teams trying to take it away from them.

Philadelphia at Calgary (Feb. 25; CBC) -- The Flyers, making a swing through Western Canada, visit the Scotiabank Saddledome for just the third time since the opening week of the 2002-03 season.

San Jose at Minnesota (Feb. 26) -- The Sharks visit the struggling Wild in the finale of a nine-game road trip that included five games in eight days.

Tough week ahead:

Boston Bruins -- The Bruins play the second half of their six-game trip with three games in four nights, beginning Wednesday in St. Louis.

San Jose Sharks -- The Sharks' sojourn through the East and Midwest continues with four more games as San Jose continues its marathon nine-game road trip.

Vancouver Canucks -- The Canucks, who ended a homestand on Saturday, see a lot of the U.S. in not a lot of time, with stops in Nashville, Detroit, New Jersey and Dallas in a six-day stretch.

Easy week ahead:

Carolina Hurricanes -- After a visit to Long Island on Saturday, the 'Canes are back home for games this week against Washington, Anaheim and Florida as they start a six-game homestand.

Toronto Maple Leafs -- After spending a week in Western Canada, the Leafs come back home for games this week against New Jersey, San Jose and Washington -- they get the Sharks toward the end of their long road trip and the Caps on the second half of a back-to-back.

Winnipeg Jets -- The Jets began an eight-game homestand this past Friday; this week's visitors to the MTS Centre include Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and St. Louis.

Quote of the Day

We've got a team filled with captains, that's what I think. With these first two games we got in, we're really dominating and moving the puck really fast, and it's worked out really good.

— U.S. goalie Brandon Halverson after a 6-0 win against Germany in the World Junior Championship on Sunday