The role of the goalie in tonight’s game is still uncast going into today’s game day skate. On stage left the Canucks have former captain Roberto Luongo, the team’s go-to goalie, while stage right waits Cory Schneider, Luongo’s understudy with a 1-2-0 record in the preseason.
Roberto Luongo has only played one full game and two periods in the preseason, less than half of his expected three games and 2 periods set out at the beginning of the preseason. He suffered a minor groin strain during Saturday’s win against the Ducks, caused in two parts, first when Andrew Alberts fell on him in the first, and exacerbated by Ducks centre Bobby Ryan whose stick got under Luongo’s pads and stretched his already sore groin.
Despite expressing a desire to play in the final game earlier this week, and practicing for the first time since the injury yesterday, Luongo has still not decided if he is ready to play tonight.
"Right now I don't know," Luongo said Thursday to Brad Ziemer of the Vancouver Sun. "I'm just trying to figure out what is the smartest thing to do."
Luongo and coach Alain Vigneault need to carefully consider what will be in his and the team’s best interest. There is no point rushing the goalie into the net before the season even starts if he isn’t completely ready, especially with Cory Schneider waiting in the wings, ready and eager for more NHL level experience before the team plays for points.
Schneider’s played in four preseason games so far, and despite recording only one win he’s shown some impressive skills, even being awarded the first star in Tuesday’s game, in which he stopped 28 of 29 shots.
Since joining the Canucks four years ago, Luongo has never played in less than 54 regular season games, but this season he is expected to sit out about 20 games. Resting the star goaltender will save him for the playoffs, and hopefully keep him sharper for the games he does play.
Rest and change have been the themes for Luongo going into the season, first in the form of full-time goalie coach, Roland Melanson and then giving up the captaincy, a source of unnecessary stress and distraction last season, when he had his lowest SV% (.913) since his rookie year.
Reducing his playing doesn’t mean a loss of faith in the goalie, but merely a different approach to how to best use Luongo. Schneider has the skill to play in the NHL, and Luongo needs to be able to sit out, comfortable in the knowledge that his team’s net is in good hands.
Luongo’s openness to resting for another game, even if it means less preseason preparation, is a sign that he acknowledges that he doesn’t have to carry the pressure of playing goal all season alone, and that Schneider is ready to share the load.
WAITING ON A CONTRACT
When the expected roster for tonight’s final preseason game came out there seemed to be one glaring omission: No Brendan Morrison.
Morrison joined the team on a professional tryout to start training camp but they do have the exclusive rights to sign him until October 6th. Tonight’s game would be the last chance to evaluate his play and make their decision. Yesterday Vigneault suggested that both Morrison and Peter Schaefer, also on a tryout contract, would play tonight. At this point, Schaefer is in but Morrison isn’t.
This brings up plenty of questions, especially in a city that embraced the chance to see the centre of the old West Coast Express back in a Canucks jersey.
His absence doesn’t mean that he won’t be a Canuck this year, the 35-year-old Pitt Meadows native seemed to be a personal favorite of Vigneault’s during the preseason.
"Without a doubt (his versatility) is a huge asset," Vigneault said Thursday. "The other thing that goes in Mo's favour is that we know him. We know the quality individual he is and the great leadership he has.”
Although Morrison does have experience and good old fashioned nostalgia on his side, Vancouver is crowded in the middle, currently occupied by Ryan Kesler, Henrik Sedin and Manny Malhotra. But that isn’t the only place Morrison can play, and he’s doing his best to prove that he can play wherever he’s needed.
"It's been a challenge but it's been a fun challenge to show I can be a guy who can be depended on in all situations,” he said to Jason Botchford of the Province. “Earlier in my career, I did it a lot - both special teams. I have no problem doing whatever they want of me.”
Besides experience and leadership but as a natural centre, Morrison provides extra assurance in the faceoff circle and plays valuable time on the penalty kill.
He won 57% of 14 draws in his last game and was under 50% in just one outing through the preseason.
During his last season with the Washington Capitals, he finished a plus-23, the 15th highest in the league, and had a 51.2% faceoff record and had 42 points (12-30-42).
GAME DAY NOTES
The Canucks play their final preseason game tonight at 7:00 against the Anaheim Ducks, the game will be broadcast on Canucks.com and Sportsnet Pacific.
The Canucks have a 2-5-0 record following a 6-2 loss in San Jose Wednesday, their worst preseason record since 2006 but hope to finish with a win before heading into an seven-day break prior to the start of the regular season.
The Ducks have gone 2-3-0 so far in their preseason, having been bashed 8-2 by the Kings Tuesday night. This is the Ducks worst preseason since they went 3-4-0 in 2007, where they beat the Canucks in both preseason match-ups.
In last week’s gritty matchup against the Ducks, which involved four fights and a full 26 minutes of combined penalties to Tanner Glass and Darcy Hordichuk (more than the entire Ducks lineup combined) the Canucks won their first preseason game.
The Canucks faced the Ducks twice in last year’s preseason, winning both games. During the season the teams broke even with two wins apiece. Vancouver finished the season first in the Northwest Division, while Anaheim finished a distant fourth in the Pacific Division and out of the playoffs.
Mikael Samuelsson will play with Daniel and Henrik Sedin on the first line tonight, a spot where he performed well last year, and likely where he’ll start the season.
Raffi Torres, who impressed with the Canucks only two goals in their last game, will take Samuelsson’s spot on the second line with Mason Raymond and Ryan Kesler.
Peter Schaefer, Cody Hodgson and Jannik Hansen make up the third line, while Tanner Glass, Alex Bolduc and Guillaume Desbiens round out the Canucks forward lines.
Keith Ballard and Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler and Christian Ehrhoff, and Andrew Alberts and Aaron Rome will man the blueline.