Eddie Lack’s ‘time to step up’ as starting goalie with Roberto Luongo sidelined
Joacim Eriksson called up from AHL to back up fellow Swedish netminder
VANCOUVER — How Swede it is in goal for the Vancouver Canucks.
With No. 1 man Roberto Luongo sidelined by a suspected groin strain — it's not believed to be serious, perhaps seven to 10 days — Swede puck-stoppers Eddie Lack and Joacim Eriksson will form the Canucks’ tandem for the time being.
Lack, of course, becomes the starter. He's been superb in his rookie NHL season, winning six of eight decisions while posting a 1.93 goals against average, fifth best in the league, and a .928 save percentage, eighth best. He's won four straight and hasn't allowed more than two goals in 10 of his 11 appearances.
The Canucks next play Sunday in Calgary (4:30 p.m., Sportsnet Pacific, Team 1040) and will be back home Monday to face the Philadelphia Flyers (7 p.m., Sportsnet Pacific, Team 1040).
“I've always thought I was capable of playing in this league and I've worked hard for a long time to get here,” Lack, 25, said Friday as the Canucks returned to practice following their four-day Christmas break. “Roberto is our No. 1 but now that he's out, it's time for me to step up. I'm just trying to take it day-by-day and not think too much about where I've been. I've only been thinking about what I can do to get better.”
Luongo was injured last Sunday in the Canucks' 2-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets and pulled himself from the game at 16:30 of the first period. He was involved in a pair of goalmouth collisions against the Jets, the first with Dustin Byfuglien and the second with Blake Wheeler.
Canucks head coach John Tortorella announced following the game that Luongo's problem was “lower body, day-to-day” and repeated the "day-to-day" statement Friday. He also reiterated that he has complete faith in Lack.
“It's not surprising, it's pleasing,” said the coach when queried about Lack's performance to date. “We have total confidence in his play. So he steps in. I'm not sure what's going to happen with Roberto but Lacker plays Sunday and we'll see where we go from there. Obviously he has given us flexibility in certain situations and picked up points for us, which was very important in the first half of the year.”
The Canucks, on a 9-1-1 run, have improved dramatically in the defensive part of their game since early season. They have allowed 17 goals in their last 11 outings and, leaving the Christmas break, stood fourth overall in team defence behind only the L.A. Kings, Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens. Their structure seems to be sound, which puts less pressure on the masked men playing behind them.
“I think our concept away from the puck has improved as we've gone along here but I also look at it another way,” Tortorella said. “I think our goaltenders sometimes give us confidence. We're getting big saves at key times.”
Lack's emergence as the Canucks' temporary No. 1 could not have come at a better time personally. His father and grandmother had flown over from Sweden to spend Christmas with him but did not figure they would see him play live at Rogers Arena. They promptly watched him relieve Luongo and beat the Jets. Presumably they will see him face the Flyers as well.
“My dad and grandma made the news in Sweden, too, and my dad got a lot of messages and stuff on Facebook,” Lack chuckled. “So he was happy. They're staying here until January 1st.”
Eriksson, meanwhile, isn't certain how long he'll be around. He was informed Monday that his presence was required in Vancouver and told to fly in Thursday. Eriksson, 23, has appeared in 20 American Hockey League games with the Utica Comets. He is 8-10-1 with a 2.77 GAA and .907 save percentage.
Prior to this season, he spent three years in the Swedish Elite League with Skelleftea and helped them capture the SEL championship last season. His adjustment to the smaller North American ice surface, he conceded, has not been entirely smooth.
“It's hard,” said Eriksson, a southpaw. “It feels like every time a team has a scoring chance, it's pretty dangerous. In Europe, it's more like they don't have that many big chances. Over here, there are always people in front of you and you have to try to find the puck all the time. I think I've worked on it a lot and now I feel much more comfortable. It's easier than at the start.”
Eriksson was spending his Christmas break in New York City, sightseeing with his girlfriend, when he received the call he was coming up to the big club.
“So it was a good Christmas,” he noted.
Injured Canucks Alex Burrows (jaw), Alex Edler (knee) and Jordan Schroeder (ankle surgery) continued to be absent from team practices and Tortorella was not forthcoming on their progress, not even in the spirit of Christmas.
“I don't believe in the spirit of Christmas when it comes to injuries so you get squat from me as far as that's concerned,” said Torts, although he did say it with a smile.
ICE CHIPS: The top three lines in practice Friday remained the same as Jannik Hansen skated with the Sedin twins, Ryan Kesler was between Chris Higgins and Mike Santorelli and Brad Richardson centred for David Booth and Zack Kassian. Spots on the fourth line were shared by Dale Weise, Tom Sestito, Zac Dalpe and Jeremy Welsh.
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