LUONGO RETURNS TO FORM
Canuck captain Roberto Luongo
looked strong and confident at this morning’s team practice. It is only a matter of time before Luongo returns to his rightful place between the pipes and Canuck fans everywhere breathe a sigh of relief.
The goalie spent an hour and fifteen minutes on the ice Sunday with several players working though rushes, screens, rebounds, and tips under the expert eye of goaltending consultant Ian Clark. Luongo didn't experience any problems or soreness and was encouraged by his progress.
“I feel back to normal, so that’s good and I’m excited about it," said Luongo. "It’s nice to be back. One full practice after not playing for seven weeks, I’m not sure I’m ready to play a game, but like I said it’s nice to be back with the boys and be part of the group again.
"We’re full-go right now, I did everything in practice, I didn’t hold anything back and I’m just taking it as if I was back playing. I'm ready to go and back to 100 percent."
Since losing Luongo on November 22nd to a groin injury the Canucks have gone 9-11-3 in 23 games. Things are looking up for the team as Luongo gets set to return, although he has not determined his comeback game, noting Tuesday would be doubtful.
The team faces off against New Jersey at home on Tuesday before hosting Phoenix on Thursday and are eager to get their best player back between the pipes.
“[Luongo] had a long practice yesterday, another long practice today with more game-like situations and a lot of bodies coming at him and he reacted real well,” said head coach Alain Vigneault. “We’ll see in the next couple of days what happens.”
“He’s completely healed, it’s just a timing issue right now. This was obviously his first practice with the team, so I don’t know if it’s going to take one more or a couple more, I’m not exactly sure, but he looked good today, I think he felt good also. So we’ll see how he does on Wednesday.”
In response to speculation regarding Luongo's All-Star selection, the netminder admitted he would love to play in his hometown, but being healthy for his team is more important.
“I mean [playing in the All-Star game] is not my priority. It’d be nice, obviously, because it’s in my hometown, but the main priority is the Vancouver Canucks and making sure that I give my full attention to this team. Making sure that when I start playing and I’m back 100% that there are no worries."
Luongo’s return will force a decision to be made about who will fill the back up position, Jason LaBarbera or Curtis Sanford.
Sanford sports a 7-7-0 record, 2.62 goals-against average and .906 save percentage and LaBarbera, a 2-1-2 record, 2.72 goals-against average and .916 save percentage since being acquired from the Los Angeles Kings on Dec. 30 for a seventh-round draft choice.
"What's going to factor in is the assessment of their play and we're not there yet," said Gillis. "Jason has played very well and Curtis had played well in opportunities that he's had. Goaltending is a function of different factors and any decision won't be made in isolation." BACK ON TRACKSami Salo
and Taylor Pyatt both joined the team for the full practice today and their return to the lineup is expected within the next few games, bringing the Vancouver squad to almost full health.
Pyatt experienced no pain while skating today and hopes to play in tomorrow's game against the Devils.
“He is a game time decision," said Vigneault. "He’s recovered, it was his first practice with the team, he looked alright. He’s been skating for three days now, and looked good today, so we’ll see what we decide for tomorrow.”Sami Salo
will not play in Tuesday’s game as he is still experiencing soreness, although it is not preventing him from completing drills in practice.
“Today was a fairly long practice, an hour and a half and I’ll have to see how I feel tomorrow and go from there," said Salo. "I don’t really know the exact date that I’ll be back. [There's] some pain, but obviously it’s manageable. The only focus I had was not having any contact out there, but other than that it was pretty good.”
Mats Sundin, who scored his first goal as a Canuck in the 4-2 loss to San Jose, is finding his legs and feeling more like himself on the ice.
“I was a little tired on Sunday [after back to back games] but I feel alright,” said Sundin. “I think physically it’s been pretty good, I need some good hard skates, I had two good practices and then a couple games. I thought probably the second game of the back to backs felt better, the legs and all that and we had a good skate today, so hopefully I’ll keep improving.”
As the Canucks lineup begins to fill out and sport a healthier look, Vigneault is focusing his energy on motivating the group to improve their game and create a winning streak. In their last eight home games the Canucks are 2-5-1.
“There needs to be a bigger sense of urgency from our group to put some wins together here,” said Vigneault. “We’ve got a lot of guys that in my mind can play better and have to play better if we are to get on the winning track here.
“For a group that’s only five games above .500 we’re a little comfortable right now, and we need to get out of the comfort zone, challenge ourselves a little bit more. Good teams win at home and we’re not winning at home right now. We’re a much better team than we’re showing right now. With the parity in the league, the teams that win are the ones that show urgency, urgency from start to finish and urgency in key moments. And we’re not showing enough of that right now.”
“Every game is important at this stage, we all see the standings how they are,” said Luongo. “We know that no matter what time of the year it is, winning is important. We’re playing at home and these are games that we need to get points in, and more importantly wins. So this is going to be an important week ahead of us.”