Serving as captain of the Vancouver Canucks
certainly hasn't been the distraction to goalie Roberto Luongo
that naysayers predicted.
The Canucks bucked tradition this season, naming Luongo the team's captain in a move that generated much talk around the water cooler. Luongo became the first goalie since Montreal's Bill Durnan
, in the 1947-48 season, to serve as a team captain.
Critics of the move said there was a reason for the 60-year moratorium on goaltending captaincies in the NHL, suggesting the pressures of the job would weigh too heavily on a goalie’s mind and might blunt the mental focus at the foundation of any netminder’s game.
Well, Luongo has certainly put the kibosh on all that blathering.
The Canucks' goalie has turned in 3-straight shutouts, having gone 201:08 without allowing a goal, which earned him recognition as NHL First Star this week.
Luongo has 4 shutouts in his last 6 games and a League-high 5 for the season. Overall, he's 9-5-0 with a 2.34 goals-against average and .920 save percentage.
So much for being distracted, right?
"I do embrace the challenge, and I enjoy it very much," Luongo said. "So I don't think it really gives me a lot of added responsibility when I'm on the ice or in the locker room, per se.
"I do try to speak up in the locker room. But only what comes natural to me. I don't really try to go out of my comfort zone or get distracted by things like that. But so far it's really something that I love and that I embrace."
Not much has gotten Luongo out of his comfort zone so far this season. He is in one of those zones goalies dream about, a place where everything feels right and the puck comes off the shooter's stick looking like a tractor-trailer tire.
But Luongo has been around long enough -- 504 NHL games through Tuesday -- to know a goaltender’s lot can change in the course of a shot. He may need only 11:05 of shutout time Wednesday against Colorado to break his own team record for longest shutout streak, but Luongo is not getting too excited about his hot streak.
"I think you're aware that things are going well for you right now," Luongo said. "So you just want to make sure that you keep doing the things you've been doing the last 3 games and not shy away from that and think that it's going to be easy from now on.
"It's a matter of just building off the last game. And you can't really take things for granted when you're a goalie, because if you do, that's when you start getting in trouble. Always make sure you're on top of your game and doing the little things right."
Luongo said it would take "all day" to inventory the disparate of parts of his game that come together to put him in the zone we are seeing now. But there are a few things he always focuses upon when assessing his play.
"For me personally, there're always a few things that I always like to remind myself before the game," he said. "As I visualize and stuff like that, as far as where I want to be in regards to my crease area. I always want to be on top of my crease and make sure I'm not backing up too deep and challenging the shooter and making sure that I'm aware of other players that are in my zone, as far as if there were a pass to be made and stuff like that."
Perhaps the biggest thing for Luongo is not to think about his success. He knows that's a trap door that could lead to undesirable results in the blink of an eye. So he refuses to be distracted by all the talk about his frenzy of shutouts.
"It's funny because I don't really look at it that way," Luongo said. "I don't think there's a distraction to be had. I mean, I don't go into Wednesday night's game saying, 'Oh, I've got to get a shutout.' I just go in thinking about how I have to play. And if I do that, things will take care of (themselves).
"So I don't really find it to be a distraction. For me everything's the same. I still focus on my game. I'm not going into Wednesday night’s game thinking about beating the shutout streak. I'm just worried about getting the 2 points and playing my game."
It is that single-minded focus -- clearly not eroded in the least by his captaincy -- that also keeps him from looking too far into the future.
His hot streak has crystallized his candidacy to be the starting goalie for Team Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics, which will be contested in Vancouver. The recent injury to Martin Brodeur
, Canada’s goalie at the past 2 Olympics, only makes the groundswell for Luongo even more palpable.
Luongo, however, refuses to become involved in that discussion.
"Obviously being in Vancouver there's a lot of Olympic talk and stuff, but it's really something I try to stay away from," he said. "It’s still a long ways to go before we get to that, a year and a half. So a lot of things could happen and there's a lot of great goalies in this League.
"So for me it's just a matter of making sure I keep doing my job. And if things turn out the way they're supposed to as far as my play, hopefully I'll be there next season."
If he keeps playing like he has this week, not only will he be with Team Canada in Vancouver, he just might be that team’s captain, too.