VANCOUVER - Roberto Luongo is nearing a return to the Vancouver Canucks' lineup and could be ready for the team's weekend doubleheader in southern California.
The 34-year-old netminder suffered a groin strain Dec. 22 against the Winnipeg Jets and pulled himself from the game at the 16:30 mark of the first period. Luongo has missed three games since then, including the New Year's Night match Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“It was an Evander Kane shot down the wing that originally got me a little bit,” Luongo explained when queried on what caused the injury. “I tried to stay in the game for a few more minutes but I kept feeling it during the play. I felt it again on another shot so, before it got any worse, I just decided to get off there.
“I knew it wasn't anything too serious, given the fact I could still move around and skate off on my own.”
Luongo had an on-ice session Wednesday morning with goalie coach Rollie Melanson and then stayed out for the full team skate. He was happy with his progress.
“I've been skating now for a few days with Rollie but this was my first team practice and I'm feeling good,” he said. “Everything is progressing really well right now. We'll see what happens over the next few days.”
Asked about the weekend, when the Canucks meet the L.A. Kings and Anaheim Ducks back-to-back, Luongo replied: “Like I said, I felt really good out there today. I don't want to set a date. It was a good practice today and I think Friday is going to be an important day with the full team practice and all that stuff. We'll take it from there.”
KESLER SOCHI-BOUND: As expected, Canuck centre Ryan Kesler was named Wednesday to Team USA for the Sochi Winter Olympics. It will be the second Olympics for the 29-year-old from Livonia, Mich. He, of course, starred for the silver-medal winning Americans at the Vancouver Games in 2010.
The announcement was made following the Winter Classic in Detroit. By then, Kesler had left Rogers Arena so he could only speak hypothetically at the morning skate when asked about Sochi.
“Hopefully my phone will ring and if it happens, I'll probably be excited,” he said.
SAMI SIDELINED: Former Canuck and current Tampa Bay defenceman Sami Salo was eagerly awaiting the Lightning's visit to Rogers Arena but, typically, he was injured (upper body) and missed the game.
“Oh, for sure, it's disappointing,” said the Finn, now 39. “It was one of those games marked on the calendar. I have a lot of good memories. Vancouver is a special place and obviously I wanted to play. Being in the city for 10 years, you obviously make a lot of friends and have a lot of good memories. It's like coming home.”
During his time as a Canuck, Salo helped the team win six division titles, two Presidents Trophies and reach the Stanley Cup final in 2011. He never once played a full season, though, due to an endless string of injuries.
He said he has been pleasantly surprised by hockey interest in Tampa, long considered a non-traditional market despite a Cup victory in 2004 under John Tortorella.
“It's a bigger hockey city than people think and I was really surprised how many people like watching hockey instead of American football or baseball," he noted. “So it was a real eye-opener.”
Wednesday's game was just the sixth missed by Salo this season. He has one goal and six assists in 34 appearances.
TOM THUMB-ED: When Canuck coach John Tortorella was behind the New York Rangers bench, he coached against Tom Sestito, then a member of the Philadelphia Flyers. Torts was not impressed.
“As I told Tommy, when I saw him playing in Philly, he was playing like a clown,” Tortorella said at his Wednesday morning press session. “I thought he was an absolute idiot on the ice. He was accomplishing nothing. When I came here, I was concerned about what I had. But I've watched him grow as far as a teammate and how he steps in when he needs to step in. He understands the game within the game. He has assumed a role on our team this is very important and has certainly changed my outlook as far as what type of player he is.”
Sestito allowed himself a chuckle when informed of Tortorella's 'clown' comment.
“It's an opposing coach and I'm sure a lot of other coaches are saying the same thing right now,” Sestito said. “I don't take any offence to it. Maybe he just didn't like how I was playing against his Rangers. I think I had three fights in one game there so that might have something to do with it.”
According to hockeyfights.com, Sestito dropped the mitts with three different Rangers – Brandon Dubinsky, Stu Bickel and Brandon Prust – on Feb. 5, 2012.
QUOTABLE: “He is a great model for players who have been told 'no'. He was told so many things, that he couldn't play in the league. He and Henrik Lundqvist are probably two of the fiercest competitors I've ever coached. He is the real stuff as far as what's inside of him. It's a great thing to look at as far as the size of a player.” – John Tortorella on 5-8 Tampa Bay captain Martin St. Louis.
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