Alain Vigneault: Canucks ‘exactly where I thought we would be’
Roberto Luongo to start in goal Tuesday in Columbus against red-hot Blue Jackets
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Maybe Vancouver Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault knew something the rest of us didn't.
He admitted to reporters Monday that his team's position in the standings does not come as a surprise to him. The Canucks are currently wallowing in the muck of a four-game losing streak and sat sixth Monday in the Western Conference at 11-7-6. No, that wasn't his point. This was his point.
“We're at the midpoint of the season and, in my opinion, we're exactly where I thought we would be,” he explained following practice at the Xcel Energy Center. “We're fighting with 14 other teams to get into the playoffs. It's a competitive league and a competitive conference and we're right there.
“We've got a good team. We've got a team that reacts well under pressure situations. We're faced with some good adversity that I'm confident will make us better. Everybody right now is looking for answers and looking for solutions, the whole coaching staff and management.”
Monday's solution was to name Roberto Luongo his starter for Tuesday's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are somehow the hottest team in the West with five straight wins. Another solution was to put Dan Hamhuis on the struggling first-unit power play and to dispatch struggling rookie centre Jordan Schroeder to the American Hockey League's Chicago Wolves.
Veteran Andrew Ebbett, 30, will take Schroeder's spot and likely skate between Mason Raymond and Jannik Hansen, at least to start Tuesday's game. Chris Higgins, who was shifted to centre in the second period Sunday, will likely remain there. Higgins followed Alex Burrows and Raymond as wingers attempting to make the stop-gap transition until Ryan Kesler (broken foot) returns and/or general manager Mike Gillis swings a deal for help in the middle.
“Those are the options we have right now,” Vigneault said about the centre position. “Those are good players. Part of being a good player is being able to be versatile and those guys are going to have to show their versatility. I thought Chris did a good job when we used him there and it's one of our options.”
Deploying Hamhuis on the first-unit power play with the twins, Burrows and Alex Edler — all five shoot left — goes against Vigneault's philosophy of having at least one right-hander in the group. But Schroeder couldn't get the job done and the status of Kevin Bieksa (groin) remained unclear Monday. The power play is 0-for-20 the last eight games.
“That's sort of the options that we have right now,” Vigneault responded, the answer almost identical to the one about his centres. “We've had Dan there in the past and he's done a good job for us. Putting Edler on the other side might help a little bit. They've all played together before so, hopefully, the chemistry will come.”
Hamhuis was ready to give it a go.
“I'll do the best I can whatever role I'm given,” he said. “If that's what it is in Columbus, playing with those guys, hopefully we can get something going. We've been moving things around all year and we've had different defencemen up top, we've had different forwards up top, all kinds of different looks.”
Luongo, meanwhile, was statesmanlike in his comments Monday about riding the pine the last three games and watching Cory Schneider start five of the last six. Luongo has played once since the Feb. 24 debacle in Detroit where he was ventilated for eight goals.
“Obviously coming into this season, I kind of knew what the situation would be,” Luongo said. “The last couple of games I was in there, I had a really bad game in Detroit and then I gave up one bad goal against Calgary so you have to look at yourself in the mirror sometimes and expect more of yourself — and that's what I expect in Columbus.
“Like I said, I didn't know exactly how it was going to go but it was my point to make sure, no matter what the circumstances were, that I'd be ready when it was my turn and that I'd stay positive. I mean, you have to let nature take its course.”
He would not admit to any personal anger or frustration at wearing a ball cap while the team was struggling.
“I mean, we're frustrated and angry that we're losing,” Luongo said. “Other than that, I'm just trying to make sure that I give my team a chance to win, something I maybe didn't do in Detroit and obviously that bad goal in Calgary might have hurt us there.”
ICE CHIPS: The Canucks have lost four straight on the road, and been outscored 18-8, since beating the Nashville Predators 1-0 on Feb. 22 ... Idled forward Manny Malhotra (vision) is heading to the Chicago Wolves to spend four or five days working with Vancouver's prospects ... Agitating forward Steve Pinizzotto will play one more game Wednesday for the Wolves on his conditioning stint and then join the big club.
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