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The Forgotten Man

by Jeff Paterson / Vancouver Canucks
It doesn’t happen often, but it looks like Roberto Luongo has become the forgotten man – or at least the overshadowed man -- when it comes to the Vancouver Canucks’ recent shootout success.

Certainly, it’s great that Alex Edler has stepped to the fore and risen to the challenge to score in recent shootouts in St. Louis and against the New York Islanders -- is there anything the kid can’t do? And is there any way he won’t be among the Young Stars asked to strut their stuff at the All Star Weekend in Atlanta?

But while Edler has been busy adding shootout sniper to his already lengthy list of accomplishments and joining Trevor Linden as one of the few go-to-guys on the hockey club, success in the NHL’s tie-breaking showdown requires strong performances at both ends of the ice. And very quietly, Roberto Luongo has upped his performance in the one-on-one situations.

Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight.

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The Canuck netminder announced last week that he would be taking a pass on this month’s All-Star game, but he probably felt like he was taking part in the skills competition Sunday. That’s because Luongo faced three separate Keith Tkachuk breakaways during regulation time and three more breakaways in the shootout.

Tkachuk managed to beat Luongo on one of two second period breakaways and would have been the fourth Blue to get a crack in the shootout, but Luongo made sure the tie-breaker didn’t get that far.

Both of Edler’s recent shootout goals have put the Canucks ahead, but he hasn’t been in a position to end those hockey games. That responsibility has fallen on the broad shoulders of Luongo who’s been given the chance to make game-winning stops. And both times he’s answered the challenge and done just that – forcing the Islanders’ Trent Hunter to misfire last Tuesday and staring down the Blues’ Andy MacDonald on Sunday.

Luongo stopped all three Blues he faced in the Sunday’s shootout after thwarting five of the six New York shooters at GM Place last week. And prior to that, the Canuck netminder stopped three of four Phoenix shooters in a game just before Christmas. Add up the numbers and it’s becoming clear that Luongo’s as tough to beat after overtime as he during the games themselves. In all, Luongo has stopped 11 of the last 13 shooters he’s faced in his past three shootouts and going back to the second round of the shootout in the game against Pittsburgh on December 8th, Luongo has denied 15 of the past 18 skaters who’ve lined up to test him.

 In that time, he’s stymied a few guys you may have heard of – Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Shane Doan, Bill Guerin, Mike Comrie and Paul Kariya just to name a few.

Luongo – and the Canucks – have now won three straight shootouts. And Luongo has evened his record in shootouts on the season at three and three after being beaten on four of the first nine attempts he faced this year in dropping games to the Oilers twice and the Penguins. (Curtis Sanford was in goal for the Canucks other shootout this season – (a 2-1 loss in Edmonton on December 15th).

The Canucks were forced to go to five shootouts in the first half of the 2007-08 season (and went 1-4), but have started the second half of the schedule with shootout wins in two of their first four games. With every point so valuable and things to so tight in the Northwest Division and Western Conference, it’s a safe bet that the Canucks will see more than five shootouts in the second half of the season.

It’s a calculated risk to leave Trevor Linden out of the line-up (as happened Sunday in St. Louis) since he’s four for five in shootouts this season and six for eight lifetime. But with Alex Edler stepping up to play hero at one end of the ice and Roberto Luongo clearly making life difficult on opposing shooters at the other, it looks like the Canucks are poised to grab their share of the bonus points that will be up for grabs in shootout games down the stretch.

And in the end, one of those shootout points could very well be the difference in winning the division or gaining home ice in the first round of the playoffs. And recently it has looked like that point is getting through to the Vancouver Canucks.
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