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January 17, 2019
Luongo Leading the Way
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
The Vancouver Canucks, picked by many to finish near the bottom of the Campbell Conference, are currently atop the Northwest with a 9-6-0 mark. While they’ve received surprising offensive contributions from the likes of Alex Burrows, Mason Raymond, and Kyle Wellwood, the Canucks know it all starts in goal.
Roberto Luongo is once again carrying Vancouver into contention. Luongo has posted three consecutive shutouts, stopping 81 shots in blanking Nashville, Phoenix, and Minnesota. He leads the NHL with five shutouts and will try to keep the good times rolling Wednesday night against the visiting Colorado Avalanche.
“It's a matter of just building off the last game,” said Luongo during a Monday media conference call. “And you can't really take things for granted when you're a goalie, because, if you do, that's when you start getting in trouble. Always make sure you're on top of your game and doing the little things right.”
November shutout strings are nothing new to Luongo. Last season, he whitewashed Chicago, Anaheim, and Columbus during a three-game homestand at the end of the month.
”There's not much of a difference,” said Luongo when asked to compare the two streaks. “I mean, obviously you always work on your game, try to improve it and get better as the years go by. And I think mentally I wouldn't say that I'm better this year than last. I mean, I think I've always been pretty strong mentally. But there's little things in your game that you try to implement as years go by, and there's a lot of things involved with a shutout streak also. I think the team play and luck factor is also involved and you need all of those things to be going the right direction if you want to be part of a streak like that.”
Of course, Luongo isn’t doing it alone. He’s getting ample help from his teammates, including a vastly underrated blue line. Mattias Ohlund, Kevin Bieksa, and Willie Mitchell are all healthy, making a world of difference at both ends of the ice. And Luongo heaps the most praise on the unheralded Mitchell.
”He's the best defensive defenseman on our team by far,” said the star netminder. “I mean, he takes pride in killing penalties, which is rare. And he loves that stuff.
“And he's got a great stick. He cuts off a lot of passes and when guys are one-on-one against him, he knocks the puck off of them often. So it's nice to see a guy that takes so much pride in his play defensively.”
If his recent play is any indication, Luongo certainly isn’t buckling under the burden of Vancouver’s captaincy. The first NHL goalie to serve as captain since Montreal’s Bill Durnan in 1948, Luongo may not be allowed to wear a C on his sweater, but he’s the team’s unquestioned leader on and off the ice. It’s an honor he doesn’t take lightly.
“I do embrace the challenge, and I enjoy it very much,” said Luongo. “So I don't think it really gives me a lot of added responsibility when I'm on the ice or in the locker room per se.
“I do try to speak up in the locker room. But only what comes natural to me. I don't really try to go out of my comfort zone or get me distracted by things like that. But so far it's really something that I love and that I embrace.”