By Jeff Paterson
You could excuse the Washington Capitals if they loaded up their gear after the game in Denver and headed straight for Saturday's game in Edmonton without ever entering Vancouver air space.
They won't, of course, because the National Hockey League schedule says they'll be here to face the Canucks on Friday. But given the way Roberto Luongo absolutely owned the Caps last season, you couldn't blame them, if they had no interest whatsoever in being in the same province, let alone the same rink, as the new Canucks netminder later this week.
(This stuff is frightening folks, so you might want to cover your eyes and just sort of peak through your fingers as you read what follows.)
As a member of the Florida Panthers, Roberto Luongo was a remarkable 7-0 against the Washington Capitals last season with a 1.96 goals against average and a .949 save percentage. He gave up 14 goals in the seven games he played, winning a pair of 4-3 shootout games, four games by identical 3-2 counts and he made 44 saves in a 5-0 shutout win on February 7th.
He was good that night, to be sure, but it was nothing compared to the way he kept the Caps at bay in his defining performance of last season - and one of the best of his career -- December 18, 2005 at the MCI Centre.
Luongo made 53 saves that night, 18 in the first period, 18 more in the second and 17 in the third and gave his Florida Panthers, who were outshot 55-34 on the night, a chance to win. And that's exactly what they did, riding red-hot Roberto to a 3-2 win over the hometown Capitals.
Think about that for a second - the Capitals launched 55 shots at Luongo and could only manage to get two pucks past him.
Of course, this is a Washington team that boasted Alexander Ovechkin, the league's rookie of the year, and a 52-goal scorer in his first NHL season. However, only two of those 52 came against Roberto Luongo and both of those goals came in the first showdown between two of the best young players in the game. Ovechkin beat Luongo for a pair last October, but couldn't get a puck past him in any of the final six times they played. Oh, he had his chances. Did he ever.
Twice Ovechkin had 10 shots in a game against Luongo and finished the season series with two goals, five assists and 45 shots on goal. Alexander Ovechkin has already accomplished a lot in a short period of time in the NHL, but one thing he hasn't been able do to is lead his team to a win against the new Canucks puckstopper.
Interestingly enough, Caps' captain Chris Clark - not a noted goal scorer during his six years in the league, although he did finish with a career-high 20 last year -- had a hattrick against Luongo and the Panthers on March 18th. And it was the Clark who led all Washington goal scorers against Luongo last season with four goals on the year.
So Chris Clark may have found a way to put a few pucks past the Canucks new #1 guy, but that appears be the only positive the Capitals can find in an otherwise lost season when going up against Luongo.
Overall, a full 20% of Roberto Luongo's 35 victories last season came against the Washington Capitals and of the 115 victories he'd posted in his first six years in the NHL, Luongo has beaten the Caps more than any other team (13 times).
So you can see why the Washington Capitals may not be looking forward to Friday night's visit to the Canucks, but you can bet Roberto Luongo can't wait.
Another new Canuck is also likely excited to see the Capitals come to town. Taylor Pyatt scored just six goals in an injury-plagued season in Buffalo last year. Three of those six goals, however, came against the Caps - and they all came in the same game. Pyatt scored his second NHL hattrick November 17, 2005 in an 8-5 victory over Washington.
Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org