VANCOUVER, B.C. – Roberto Luongo says the slumps dogging his NHL season have taught him he’s only human.
But the Vancouver Canucks netminder is feeling refreshed after a couple of days off, a session with goaltending consultant Ian Clark and is eager to discover his game again.
“I’m a human being,” Luongo said after Friday’s practice that was preceded by 40 minutes with the Dallas-based Clark who will be with him throughout the playoffs. “I’m not a robot, I’m not a machine. I’d like to be but sometimes your mind and your body doesn’t co-operate like you want it to.
“Sometimes you’ve got to fight through it but sometimes you’ve got to realize we’re humans and we have bad days just like everybody else.”
After two soft goals in a 3-2 loss in Edmonton and backup Andrew Raycroft’s 30-save effort in a 4-1 win Wednesday over the Anaheim Ducks, Luongo will play Saturday in San Jose.
But on Wednesday the crowd was chanting “Raycroft, Raycroft,” not the usual “Lou-u-u-u-u.”
The Canucks captain has been hooked seven times by coach Alain Vigneault this season and his performance Tuesday against the Oilers lit up sports talk show phone boards.
There were suggestions Raycroft should remain in goal in the nationally televised game against the Sharks to give Luongo more time to find his game.
But Luongo, who signed a 12-year contract extension in the off-season that pays him US$10 million next year, would have none of that.
“The solution’s not to take a week off,” said Luongo who will face the firepower of Olympic teammates Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau.
“I’ve had two days and that’s more than enough for me. I’ve always worked through things. I’m a hard-working guy and I want to play. I don’t want to sit on the bench and watch games.”
While he ranks ninth among goalies in minutes played, it’s been a physically and mentally demanding year for Luongo, who talks with his goaltending guru after every game.
The Canucks began the first of 14 consecutive road games around the NHL’s Olympic break with his 25th consecutive start in Toronto.
Luongo was lifted in the first and last games of that travel odyssey.
In between, he backstopped Canada to Olympic gold through what amounted to four straight intense Game 7s, including the last one, 3-2 in overtime against the United States.
He’s registered four shutouts this season. His .915 save percentage and 2.48 goals-against average both rank a pedestrian 12th in the NHL.
Luongo’s save percentage over his last 16 starts is only .897 and there have been games where his teammates had to score the Canucks out of trouble.
Raycroft, unflappable against the Ducks in his first home start as a Canuck, has an 8-4-1 record, a 2.21 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage.
“It’s definitely gone,” Luongo said of the pressure-cooker demands of the Olympics. “The excitement of the playoffs is what is really more in the forefront now.”
First, the Canucks have eight games left to clinch a playoff berth and first place in the Northwest Division where they lead the Colorado Avalanche by five points.
And San Jose has been traditionally inhospitable for the Canucks, who face them twice on the road during their stretch drive.
“They usually have strong starts,” NHL scoring leader Henrik Sedin said of the Sharks, the Western Conference leaders who ended an 0-5 slump with two straight wins.
“They really come at you and if they get the first goal it’s tough to come back.
“It’s a great matchup for us going into the playoffs. These are the teams we know we’re going to have to beat to go deep.”
The Sharks have one of the best home records at 23-6-8 while the Canucks are 18-17-2 on the road.
“We won’t have any problems getting up for a game like that,” said Luongo. “They play really well at home. I’m looking forward to that. I want that challenge.”
Vigneault called Luongo’s struggles “a consistency issue.
“For whatever reason – and everybody’s analysing this in their own way – he’s had a couple of other games he’s been not what we’re used to seeing.
“If Roberto Luongo is our biggest problem right now, then we’re in pretty good shape.
“Let’s leave it at that.”
NOTES: Raycroft will be an unrestricted free agent after the season … Winger Pavol Demitra missed practice again after asking for time to deal with a family matter … Mikael Samuelsson (shoulder) skated before practice and Vigneault said his two-to-three-week rehab is on schedule.