Going back to the future in goal
Steady in net: Luongo out to re-establish himself as one of the NHL's top netminders
At the beginning of last season, in this space, The Province ran a cover story, previewing the year ahead, about Cory Schneider.
The line was: "It's his time." Boy, were we wrong. The short-lived Schneider era is now long gone, and it's back to the future with Roberto Luongo, on a team that has not been reset as promised in the spring.
It's been rehashed.
The Canucks this season will be trying to wring the last drops of juice out of a core which was sensational in 2010-11, but dry, stale and overmatched in the post-seasons since. Instead of roster change, the Canucks did what they've done for years. They re-signed as many of their veterans as possible, and filled up any holes by picking through the NHL's recycling bin.
They do love that core. So the promised freshness, so obviously needed after the Sharks swept them, will need to come from the coaching change. Because it's not coming from the players.
And if John Tortorella is going to extract any improvement from the group, he will need a lot of things to go right.
The Canucks will need to cross their fingers that Ryan Kesler remains healthy and finds chemistry with someone, anyone.
The team has faith the Sedins can handle penalty-killing and continue to produce the points needed to carry the Canucks offensively.
We'll see if they're right.
The power play has to rebound significantly. Zack Kassian needs to prove he's a top-six player. Alex Edler has to show, once and for all, that he can consistently be a top defenceman. And then there's the third line and this question: Will the Canucks ever find one again? Yes, as the season starts, the questions seem to be everywhere. Except for the one spot that produced the most angst in the offseason.
The one rock the Canucks have is the one they have in net.
Luongo is like a three-chord rock song. You know exactly what you're getting, and it never seems to get old.
He is a virtual lock to get 35 wins, a .920 save percentage and end the season as one of the top 10 goalies in the league.
For all the discussion about his slow Octobers and playoff meltdowns, Luongo doesn't get nearly enough credit for his remarkable consistency over the years.
In his six seasons leading up to the last one, when he was the backup during a lockout-shortened year, Luongo averaged 37 wins and a .919 save percentage.
The fact he is desperate to do it again should mean more to everyone than whether or not he's happy in Yaletown.
"Winning motivates me, but reestablishing myself as one of the top goalies in the league motivates me more than anything else this year," Luongo says.
There will be concern about Luongo's workload. He hasn't played more than 65 games in four years. But this isn't the goalie who arrived in Vancouver who thought he could play every game.
"I did think that when I was younger," Luongo says. "But when you're young, you don't feel certain things. When you get older, you wake up the next morning, you don't feel as fresh as you did before.
"I found that over the last few years I became more aware of my body and how to manage it, as far as nutrition and rest. There's a lot of things I became in tune with my body that I didn't think about when I was younger.
"Then, I went home, ate, and got up the next day to play. Now, it's about warming up and ensure you're properly prepared every day." The Canucks go into this season planning to play Luongo about 65 games.
"I don't think we're talking about 70, 75 games here," Luongo says. "I think 60 to 65 is very manageable."
His biggest challenge in the regular season will be his first challenge.
His notorious struggles in October will be matched with a team trying to figure out some significant changes to the way it plays defence. The focus for the Canucks will be on more zone defence and more blocked shots.
Luongo will have to handle that learning curve with his usual issues early in a year.
"It's my job to make the saves," Luongo says. "It's going to be my job to bail the guys out when there are breakdowns.
"I have to be ready for that. "For sure, I think about (the slow starts). It's there."
But, with Luongo, the only story that matters is how he ends the season, not how he starts it.
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