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Super 16: Schneider leads Canucks' Rankings rise

by Dave Lozo
The good news for the Vancouver Canucks is they no longer are emitting signs of a Stanley Cup Final hangover, winning seven of nine after a 6-7-1 start to the season. They've climbed to seventh place in the Western Conference and are just two points behind the Minnesota Wild for first in the Northwest Division.

The bad news is the Canucks could have a headache -- perhaps one a lot of teams would like to have -- that's not a symptom of a hangover.

A goaltender controversy is brewing in British Columbia, with backup Cory Schneider making five consecutive starts. The first two were necessary, with starter Roberto Luongo out with an upper-body injury, but Schneider has been in net for the final three starts after Luongo declared himself 100-percent healthy Wednesday.

Cory Schneider
Goalie - VAN
RECORD: 6-4-0
GAA: 2.02 | SVP: 0.931
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault spoke Saturday after Schneider's 43-save performance in a 3-2 win against the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion, and this was his take on the current state of the team's goaltending situation.

"Louie (Luongo) is one of the most competitive players," Vigneault told Ben Kuzma of The (Vancouver) Province. "Obviously he wants to play, but knows Cory is playing well and he knows I'm going to do what's best for the team and that's not going to change."

If Schneider continues to play like this, it's hard to blame Vigneault for not wanting to shake things up.

In 12 games (10 starts) this season, Schneider is 6-4-0 with a 2.02 goals-against average and .931 save percentage. But he's been unconscious of late, going 4-1-0 with two shutouts and just eight goals allowed in that stretch. During the Canucks' current four-game winning streak, he has stopped 117 of 120 shots.

In 13 starts this season, Luongo has been far less impressive -- 7-5-1, 2.97 GAA, 896 save percentage. To his credit, he was showing signs of finding his game recently. He was 3-1-0 in four starts before suffering his injury, stopping 104 of 113 shots for a .920 save percentage.

Both goaltenders deserve credit for the Canucks' recent surge, but it's Schneider who has been the better goaltender this season. But Schneider, just like he did when he relieved Luongo in two games in Boston during last year's Stanley Cup Final, insists he's just keeping the job warm.

"He's such a great teammate and professional, he's going to get his chance and he'll be back in there sooner than later," Schneider told The Province. "He was looking good before he went down, so I'm sure he'll pick up where he left off. And maybe he'll look at it to be just as good (as Schneider) in his next start and that's good for us. When Lou is on his game he's really tough to beat. Two guys firing all cylinders does nothing but benefit the team."

After playing 14 of their first 23 games away from Rogers Arena, the Canucks open a four-game homestand Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. They shouldn't get too comfortable, though, as a five-game Eastern road trip awaits after that. The Canucks don't play back-to-back games at any point during that nine-game stretch, so when Vigneault does go back to Luongo, it won't be because of the schedule.

Where has this recent run placed the Canucks in this week's Super 16? Far below the top-ranked Bruins (sorry, Vancouverites), but they are this week's highest riser. What else has changed this week? Let's take a look.

1 Boston (14-7-1) 1 The B's haven't lost in regulation since Oct. 29. They've scored fewer than four goals in a game just three times in this 11-0-1 run. Brad Marchand is plus-13 during the stretch, with 6 goals and 7 assists.
2 Pittsburgh (14-6-4) 6 Sidney Crosby is on pace for 31 goals and 93 assists in 62 games. He's also on pace for 93 hits, which would be a career high. He's clearly not shying away from contact.
3 N.Y. Rangers (12-5-3) 7 With 27 points in 20 games, the Rangers are tied with San Jose for the League lead in points percentage. They're 9-2-0 since their "soft" win against Joe Thornton's Sharks.
4 Detroit (14-7-1) 9 Winners of five straight and nine of 11, they're the only team to beat the Bruins in more than four weeks.  Pavel Datsyuk has 4 goals and 4 assists during the five-game win streak.
5 San Jose (13-6-1) 3 The only reason the Sharks aren't riding a five-game winning streak is Schneider's brilliance Saturday. The 28th-ranked PK continues to be their Achilles' heel.
6 Chicago (14-7-3)
5 The middle portion of their six-game road trip was forgettable, but they still finished it 3-3-0. Corey Crawford was 3-2-0 with a 2.89 GAA and .891 save percentage on the trip.
7 Philadelphia (13-7-3) 4 They'll have five days off before a three-game road trip. No team has benefited more from a good start than the Flyers -- they're 9-0-0 when leading after one period.
8 Toronto (14-8-2) 11 We've heard it before, but goalie James Reimer could be back this week. Since his head/neck injury Oct. 22, the Leafs are 9-7-1. Jonas Gustavsson and Ben Scrivens have held the fort.
9 Vancouver (13-9-1) NR During their four-game winning streak, the Canucks have outscored their opponents 11-3 at even strength. They had been outscored at even strength 40-31 before that.
10 Phoenix (12-7-3) 8 The Coyotes are 8-1-1 coming off a loss this season. Daymond Langkow missed eight games after the death of his mother. He returned Saturday and had 2 assists in a Phoenix win.
11 St. Louis (12-8-2) 15 Ken Hitchcock is now 7-1-2 since taking over as coach. Your random stat of the day: The Blues have spent 118:26 on the power play, which ranks 29th in the League.
12 Minnesota (13-7-3) 2 The lack of offense became a problem in a pair of 5-2 losses to the Flames and Oilers. Of the bottom eight teams in goals scored, only the Wild currently hold a playoff spot.
13 Florida (12-7-4) 14 The Panthers overcame a three-goal deficit to win for the first time in franchise history Monday against the Devils. They'll start a three-game road trip Tuesday.
14 Buffalo (13-9-1) 12 Rookies Zack Kassian and T.J. Brennan scored their first NHL goals last week. Ville Leino has 1 goal in 22 games after scoring the winner in the Sabres' season-opener.
15 Edmonton (12-9-2) 16 The Oilers have their next six games at home. Five of those games are against teams currently out of playoff position. Now is their chance to make a big push.
16 New Jersey (12-9-1) NR They've won four of six, with the two losses coming after wasting a 3-0 lead in Florida and when Zach Parise's game-tying goal was overturned in the final seconds against the Isles on Saturday.
If you have any problems, questions, anger or praise for this list, you can let me know on Twitter: @davelozo
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