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Northwest Notes: Luongo continues to post home goose eggs

by Roger Phillips / Vancouver Canucks
Once again, we are reminded that the most appropriate name in the NHL belongs to Roberto Luongo, he of the long series of “0s” when it comes to the scoring totals of the Vancouver Canucks' recent opponents.

Luongo brought a three-game, 81-shot, 201-minute, 8-second shutout streak into Wednesday night's home game against  Colorado. The Avs ended Luongo's Canucks-record shutout streak at 242 minutes, 36 seconds when Paul Stastny scored 1:28 into the third period to tie the game at 1-1. Wojtek Wolski and Marek Svatos then scored in the shootout to give Colorado a 2-1 victory at GM Place, ending Vancouver's three-game winning streak.

"I didn't care about the streak," said Luongo, who already has five shutouts this season. "Our goal was to get the two points. (Not getting them) was more disappointing than any streak."

November has been Luongo's stingiest month for two-straight seasons now, at least when it comes to games in Vancouver. Last year in eight November home games, Luongo allowed seven goals, recorded three shutouts in a row in one stretch, and lost another game to the Oilers in a shootout after regulation and overtime ended in a scoreless tie.   

Factor in the three shutouts in the first four home games this November, and Luongo had six shutouts in his last seven November home games.

With Luongo leading the way, the Canucks have found their stride this November. Their current six-game homestand began with a 3-2 loss, but in the four games since, Luongo and the Canucks' defense has been nearly impenetrable.

After his 29-save performance in Saturday's 2-0 whitewash of division-rival Minnesota, his teammates were especially effusive.

"I think that was his best performance yet," center Ryan Kesler told the Vancouver Sun. "He kept us in it and was the main reason we won the game."

Luongo wasn't nearly so stingy in the first month of the season, and he says much of the credit for the recent binge of shutouts belongs to his defensemen and forwards.

"We're not giving up a lot of odd-man rushes right now and that's a good thing," Luongo told the Sun. "Anytime there is a shot on goal, a lot of guys are collapsing in front of me and there's not that many rebound opportunities. So that cuts down on a lot of scoring opportunities for the opposition and that's pretty much it."

But if his teammates are making Luongo's job easier, it goes both ways, coach Alain Vigneault told the newspaper.

"Obviously it makes everybody's job a little bit easier," Vigneault said of Luongo's play. "He's definitely found his groove and is playing with a lot of confidence and the guys in front of him are also doing a lot of good things out there, helping out by blocking shots, blocking lanes when they need to."

Those who make such judgments didn't have to think too long or hard before determining that Luongo was the NHL's First Star this week.

Three's a crowd -- Evgeni Nabokov started 77 games for the Sharks last season, barely leaving the need for a backup.

In Edmonton, however, the Oilers have started not one, not two, but three goalies this season, an unusual arrangement that one would think won't last through the entire season.

The question, of course, is how it will all shake out. Hockey fans already were plenty familiar entering the season with Oilers goalies Mathieu Garon and Dwayne Roloson. But they may want to start memorizing the name of the Oilers' third goalie -- and, yes, it might actually take some memorization to learn and retain the name of Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers.

But if he plays as he did in Sunday's 2-1 victory at New Jersey and Monday's 3-2 shootout win against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, Drouin-Deslauriers just might become a household name in the homes of the hockey savvy.

Drouin-Deslauriers stopped 37 of 38 shots in the victory against the Devils, improving to 2-0 as the third-stringer behind Garon and Roloson. Afterward, Drouin-Deslauriers deflected praise just about as deftly as he deflected shots during the game. He complimented his teammates for blocking 11 shots and making his job easy. Teammates, however, weren't buying it.

"Look at him, he played with a lot of confidence," Oilers defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky told the Edmonton Journal. "He was the best player out there."

"He made some big saves at big times," Sheldon Souray said. "That's all you can ask for."

Twenty-four hours later, Drouin-Deslauriers stopped 40 of 42 shots during the game against the Rangers, and didn't allow any shots to get past him in the shootout as the Oilers finished their seven-game road trip with a 4-3 record.

It's taken the 24-year-old Drouin-Deslauriers a bit of time to reach this point. He is just now getting his chance, more than six years after the Oilers selected him in the second round of the 2002 draft. Drouin-Deslauriers spent his junior career with Chicoutimi (if that doesn't ring a bell, consider that legendary goalie Georges Vezina was nicknamed the Chicoutimi Cucumber) of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

What followed were years bumping around the minors, with four different teams in the AHL and two teams in the ECHL. But during this preseason, Drouin-Deslauriers told the Edmonton Journal, he believed he was ready for his shot at the NHL.

"I said at training camp I thought I was ready to make the jump. I feel I have my place here, I just have to prove myself every night," Drouin-Deslauriers said.

At least for the moment, Drouin-Deslauriers can consider himself proven in the eyes of coach Craig MacTavish.

"He looked solid," MacTavish told the Journal after the Devils game. "There were lots of point shots, but he was in the right spot and didn't look at all nervous -- and he made a couple of really big saves. It's all about getting opportunity and taking advantage of it. We'd like to see somebody grab this and get on a roll and string a bunch of games together, but it's been hard to predict."

Sakic ailing -- In the three seasons before last, Avalanche center Joe Sakic missed only one game. But last season, Sakic was sidelined with injuries for 38 games.

And Wednesday when the Avalanche opened a road trip in Vancouver, Sakic was sidelined again, this time with a sore back. Sakic also missed a game last week because of the back injury.

"I don't think it's anything long-term," Avalanche coach Tony Granato told the Denver Post. “Since it's happened a second time after he came back, I think we'll be a little more conservative. ... Let's let him progress and get back to 100 percent."

The injury may not be serious, but it's a reminder that Sakic is getting up there. There was some thought he would retire this past offseason, and it's unclear how much longer he'll play. He's still productive with 12 points in 13 games this season. But he turns 40 next July 7.

Close call -- Flames defenseman Dion Phaneuf nearly suffered a serious eye injury when he checked the Blackhawks' Martin Havlat Sunday. Havlat's stick came up and caught Phaneuf in the face. He received a double minor for high sticking.

Monday, Phaneuf's left eye was nearly swollen shut. Naturally, he was in the lineup Tuesday night against the Leafs, and if there were any lingering doubts, they vanished with Phaneuf's second-period goal.

Relieved that his star defenseman wasn't seriously hurt, Flames coach Mike Keenan said he thought Havlat got off easy.

"The discussion I had with the League officials (was) of that being called a major," Keenan told the Calgary Sun. "That could have been a major for spearing."

Rumor mill -- The Canucks continue to deny newspaper rumors that defenseman Mattias Ohlund is being shopped. ... The Ottawa Sun suggested the Oilers and Canucks could be among the teams interested in Senators forward Antoine Vermette should be become an unrestricted free agent next summer. ... The Denver Post reported the Avalanche continues to search for an answer in goal, where Peter Budaj and Andrew Raycroft have been erratic. The Post suggested one possibility: defenseman Brett Clark to Montreal for the Canadiens' backup goalie, Jaroslav Halak.
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