October offence no longer a nightmare
Adjusting: Luongo, teammates take step in the right direction with a much-needed win over the Flyers
Never considered an average goaltender, Roberto Luongo has been historically average in October.
It's an old story about how the Vancouver Canucks' last line of defence can look so out of sorts in the first month of the NHL season, and then look so unbeatable as soon as the calendar flips to November.
But there's a new twist to the story because how Luongo adjusts to a new game being played in front of him - a defence still chasing the game in trying to grasp a zone system - will determine if this is a memorable or forgettable seven-game road trip.
Luongo and his teammates took a step in the right direction Tuesday. With Ryan Kesler converting a rebound for his second goal of the night with 2½ minutes left, the Canucks claimed a 3-2 victory over the struggling Philadelphia Flyers to end the angst that the system may not be the solution and that there's too much congestion and confusion in front of Luongo.
"I don't think it's bad," Luongo said following the morning skate.
"Sometimes, when you're not used to doing things, you notice the mistakes more and when we're doing it the right way they're not getting much, that's for sure. There are going to be breakdowns. It's my job to come up with a big save when there is."
When Chris Higgins finally scored his first goal of the season in the third period to make it 2-2 - banging home a neat Henrik Sedin feed from behind the net - Luongo was right where he wanted to be. Game on the line. Bring it on.
Luongo couldn't do much when the Flyers took a 2-1 lead early in the second period on a weird play off the sideboards. Jakub Voracek's backhander hit Claude Giroux on the wrist, changed direction and bounced to a wide-open Tye McGinn at the side of the net. It came after Jannik Hansen was thwarted after working around Braydon Coburn and having his left-to-right move across the crease stopped by Steve Mason. It was turning into that kind of night.
Luongo made a good left-pad save on Nicklas Grossmann in the first period, but the rebound went into the slot where McGinn was able to roof a rebound over a sprawling Dan Hamhuis. Just 10 seconds later, Flyers goaltender Steve Mason went behind his net to play a rimmed puck, only to have it take an odd bounce from a crease in the boards and change direction right on to Kesler's stick in the slot for the easy equalizer.
As the Canucks continue to search for offence, they sat the point-less Zac Dalpe and inserted the speedy Jordan Schroeder. After missing nine games with a foot fracture from blocking a shot, he centred David Booth and Zack Kassian while Brad Richardson dropped down to work between Tom Sestito and Dale Weise.
With the Flyers missing Scott Hartnell and Vincent Lecavalier to injury, and missing any semblance of offence with just eight goals in their previous six games, it should have been the catalyst for more against a club that was off to its worst start in franchise history with one win in six games before Tuesday's win. In the third period, the Canucks even had Henrik Sedin playing wing with Kesler and Higgins to generate offence.
The Flyers have been outscored 10-2 in the third period and their power play was ranked 28th and the offence 29th. If that wasn't enough incentive, they lead the league in minor penalties with 39, but took just one minor Tuesday to keep the Canucks from propping up their 25th-ranked power play.
All that only placed more pressure on Luongo not to surrender another goal once down 2-1. A lack of goals is the latest Canucks trend, but those October numbers suggest Luongo's lousy Octobers are also for real. He sports a 31-30-4 career October record with the Canucks. Aside from a 7-4-1 October in 2007, it's been a struggle for Luongo who's 3-3-0 this month and entered Tuesday's game with a 2.99 goals-against average (26th) and .898 saves percentage (29th).
Luongo was still the talk of the hockey world three days after the Great Gaffe. That crazy turning point own goal Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens - a snooker shot that went from Jason Garrison in the corner, to off the stick of Dan Hamhuis and off both of Luongo's skates before trickling over the goal-line - has been accompanied by The Great Debate. Who's to blame?
"I don't think it was anybody's fault in particular," Luongo said. "Three guys in the wrong place at the wrong time, and you don't see that very often. When it does happen, you're obviously going to face a little ridicule. That goes without saying. Once it (puck) got into my crease and felt it on my blade, I wasn't quite sure what was going on and I didn't want to move and knock it in. Little did I know that it was getting redirected by my own skate. That was a weird goal. Nothing you can do about it. It's over with."
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