Vancouver, British Columbia -- The Vancouver Canucks will make just one lineup change two days after having a six-game win streak snapped, with Roberto Luongo back in goal after Cory Schneider struggled in Friday’s 4-3 loss to the Dallas Stars.
That change will only increase the glare of an already bright spotlight on the Canucks' rotating goalie situation. But Luongo is the first person to credit the team in front of him for his NHL-leading 1.45 goals-against average.
Going into Sunday’s game against the St. Louis Blues, Vancouver leads the NHL with just 14 goals allowed while playing five-on-five. Four of those came Friday night, when they blew a 3-1 lead mid-way through the game. The Stars scored three unanswered goals to win that game, including two Schneider would likely want back. Despite the musical chairs in the Vancouver crease, Luongo insists this is as sound the Canucks have played defensively in his six-plus seasons here.
“It’s not just us goalies and the D, it's the forwards too. Coming back, putting pressure on guys, making sure they don’t have the time and space to make plays,” Luongo said. “It all starts with back pressure – we’ve barely given up any odd-man rushes. If you eliminate that from the game we already have a big jumpstart on other teams.”
Vancouver allowed just six goals during their six-game win streak, which coincided with Alain Vigneault's decision to break up his top defensive pairing of Jason Garrison and Alexander Edler, who is playing his first full season as a left shot on the right side. The Vancouver defense has been mostly airtight since the change.
“It’s an extremely tight team and we have close support, especially in our end and that’s been good to get out of our end," Garrison said. "You have quick, easy passes and everyone moves as a five-man unit.”
For Luongo, who will be making his seventh start this season on Sunday, it also helps to have forwards who are keen on hustling back to be part of that unit.
“So far this season it might be the best start ever, if you look at team defense, since I have been here” Daniel Sedin said. “We’re not giving up a lot of chances against, other than the last game. Our D group is really good and when we are at our best everyone is on the same page defensively, from the first forward to the last Dman.”
Here’s how the Canucks will look against the Blues Sunday:
Daniel Sedin – Henrik Sedin – Alexandre Burrows
Zack Kassian – Ryan Kesler – Chris Higgins
Mason Raymond – Jordan Schroeder – Jannik Hansen
Aaron Volpatti – Maxim Lapierre – Dale Weise
Dan Hamhuis – Alexander Edler
Jason Garrison – Kevin Bieksa
Keith Ballard – Chris Tanev
Injured: David Booth (groin, back skating but no timeline), Manny Malhotra (eye, out for season).
Scratched: Andrew Ebbett, Andrew Alberts, Cam Barker
Notes: Manny Malhotra was one of just five skaters to take part in an optional morning skate with the goalies. That decision surprised many considering it was just two days ago that general manager Mike Gillis announced the veteran center would be on injured reserve for the remainder of the season due to concerns over the eye injury he suffered almost two years ago.
“He’s still a part of our team and we want him to be around the players. We want him to continue to have that solid impact that he has with our group by the way he conducts himself,” coach Alain Vigneault explained, “And anytime he wants to step on the ice and skate with our guys he is more than welcome.”