The good news keeps flowing for the Canucks as their best player was their best player for the first time in a long time in last night’s 3-0 shutout win over the visiting St Louis Blues for the team’s 11th straight win at GM Place.
Roberto Luongo has been pretty darn good while the Canucks have rocketed up the western conference standings with a 16-3-1 record over their last 20 games, even with those soft goals and give-aways when trying to play the puck behind the net, but he hasn’t been Luongoesque.
He hasn’t won games all on his own, but then again, he hasn’t had to either. In his last 15 games he has surrendered 2 goals or less in 12 of them, yet he has still received plenty of criticism. A lot of it is his own fault as based on what he has shown Canucks Nation in the previous two seasons, where anything less than perfection is somehow not quite good enough.
On Thursday night he was perfect on a night when his team mates weren’t, and if it wasn’t for his very strong performance, this probably would have been a loss against a gutsy St Louis squad who deserved a better fate as they scramble to stay in the playoff hunt with an injury decimated roster. He didn’t have to be spectacular, however a lot of that was because he was so on his game that his positioning and vision led to making the tough saves look fairly easy. The best goalies make the hard stops look simple and Luongo has been doing that for a while now since coming back from his 2-months on the sidelines.
Half way through the game the shot clock read 18-4 in the Blues’ favour and the Canucks didn’t register their first shot of the second period until more than 11 minutes into the middle frame. Alex Burrows then snapped the bagel-affair with his 8th goal in his last 9 games to break his massive one game slump and the Canucks picked up the pace in the 3rd to end up with a final score that flattered them.
There were still a lot of good showings from guys wearing Blue, but this was all about the goaltender, the same guy that any playoff success hinges on. The fact that the team is playing so well and not needing Luongo to steal games for them on a regular basis is what makes the potential of the coming post-season so intriguing.
No one works harder at his craft trying to be the best he can be than the Captain, and no one has more pride, so you just know that Lui will be there when his team needs him. Last night they most definitely needed him and he was most definitely there earning his 6th shutout of the season and 17th as a Vancouver Canuck … only 3 shy of Kirk McLean’s franchise record 20, and he’s done it in about 2 ½ seasons.
With the win the Canucks swept their 4-game home stand and now prepare for their last major trip out of town, a 6-gamer that gets underway tomorrow night in Phoenix and includes a game in 9 days against the, now, 5th place Black Hawks who the Canucks past in the standings last night.
Hopefully the Boys realize they weren’t at their best against the Blues and that the magic they have generated on home-ice won’t just happen in other barns because they’d like it to. However, if they can’t keep things going like they have, their best player just might be starting another one of those strings of games where he dominates. Streaks that Canuck fans have become accustomed to, and unfairly compare him against when he proves he is human, when he steps it up a notch or two and carries his team like almost no other goaltender can.
The Grades …
A … Luongo
B … Mitchell, Salo, Ohlund, O’Brien, Burrows, Kesler, Raymond
C+ … Bieksa, Henrik, Wellwood, Bernier, Johnson, Hordichuk
C … Daniel, Sundin, Demitra, Pyatt
C- … Edler
Those of you following along at home know that Ryan Kesler is my favourite player on the Canucks … having been to the very first game in 1970, I’ve obviously been around for a while and in those almost 40 years of living-and-dying with this team I have owned exactly 2 Canuck Jerseys and the other one has the name Linden on the back.
I’m not sure if that says my standards are too high or I’m just cheap, but I do know that wearing my #17 around town over the years is something that I’m not only proud to do, but, in my mind, the fact that my only other one is a #16 says all you need to know about Kesler.
The fact that he is now blossoming in to one of the premier all-around players in the NHL this year obviously brings me much joy, but his comments in yesterday’s Vancouver Province about being willing to take less money to stay here, just like his good friend Burrows did two days before, makes me feel like a proud papa.
For those of you who missed it, go here …
As he approaches negotiations that can commence July 1st (the same time as Luongo and with the Sedins being pending UFA’s), it is obvious that the guy just plain gets it, and comments like these are music to the ears of Canucks fans everywhere …
”That's what we need everybody to do. If we're going to win the Cup, we need guys to take pay cuts. The way the salary cap is now, you really can't get what you're worth now if you want to win. Everybody in this locker-room knows that, and for us to be a great team going forward, we're going to have to take a pay cut.I want to play here for a long time. I think we can win with the group of guys we've got here and that's the important thing. I like the direction. We're not in a rebuilding phase and I like that this organization wants to win badly.”
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Written by Mark Gage