The acquisition of All-Star goaltender Tomas Vokoun has helped the Florida Panthers recover from the worst trade in franchise history. That, however, doesn't mean that Roberto Luongo isn't missed.
Luongo faces the Panthers on the road for the first time since the blockbuster deal that sent him to the Vancouver Canucks 19 months ago in a matchup of struggling teams Friday night.
Although he was Florida's best player in his five seasons with the team, Luongo was unable to lead the Panthers to the playoffs. With arguably the league's best goaltender set to hit the free-agent market, Florida decided to trade its marquee player to the Canucks on June 23, 2006.
Heading to Vancouver with Luongo was defenseman Lukas Krajicek and a sixth-round draft pick in exchange for two-time 30-goal scorer Todd Bertuzzi, goaltender Alex Auld and defenseman Bryan Allen.
|Roberto Luongo makes his first visit to Florida since he was traded 19 months ago.
Luongo, who signed a $27 million, four-year contract with the Canucks just six days after the trade, flourished with his new team, leading Vancouver to the Northwest Division title last season while he was selected as a finalist for the Vezina and Hart Trophies.
Bertuzzi, meanwhile, never appeared in a game for the Panthers and was traded to Detroit on Feb. 27 after sitting out most of the 2006-07 season with a back injury. Auld went 7-13-5 with a 3.34 goals-against average in 27 games in his only season with Florida.
Allen has become a serviceable defenseman for the Panthers, but has only eight points in 48 games this season.
Florida center Stephen Weiss was Luongo's teammate from 2001-06.
"I miss the guy, he's a good guy," Weiss told the Panthers' official Web site. "I loved playing with him. Obviously I hope he does really well, but not (Friday)."
Luongo is in the midst of another outstanding season, but has slumped with the rest of his teammates lately.
He allowed four goals on 27 shots as the Canucks (26-21-5) opened a four-game road trip Thursday with a 4-3 loss to Tampa Bay, the worst team in the Eastern Conference.
|Tomas Vokoun was strong against Buffalo, but his team failed to score for the third time in 14 games. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Vancouver, which is 2-7-1 in its last 10 games, played without four regular defensemen. Sami Salo sat out with a groin injury, joining Krajicek (shoulder), Willie Mitchell (back) and Kevin Bieksa (lacerated calf) on the sidelines.
"We're not going to use excuses," Luongo said. "We've had injuries before and we've had guys step up. We've got to play hard every night. I'm going to control what I can control and not be worried about anything else."
Luongo rejoined the team after missing the All-Star game and Vancouver's 4-3 loss to Dallas on Tuesday to spend time with his pregnant wife.
Florida (22-25-5) will need a strong second half to avoid missing the playoffs for a seventh consecutive season. The Panthers are tied for 13th in the East, seven points behind the eighth-place New York Rangers.
Poor play at home continues to plague the Panthers, who dropped to 1-5-3 in their last nine games at BankAtlantic Center with a 1-0 loss to Buffalo on Wednesday.
Vokoun had another strong performance with 40 saves, but Florida failed to score for the third time in its last 14 games.
Captain and leading scorer Olli Jokinen sat out the last two periods due to flu-like symptoms.
"He's our big shooter," Weiss said. "It's tough when you lose a guy like that. That stuff happens. We have to find a way to score goals without him."
Jokinen hopes to play despite missing practice Thursday.
The Canucks are unbeaten in their last seven meetings with the Panthers, winning five and tying two. Florida hasn't beaten Vancouver since Oct. 20, 1999.