VANCOUVER – Roberto Luongo wants to do things differently this time around.
The Vancouver Canucks goaltender is considered one of the best in the NHL, but he’s also known for slow starts to the season.
“In my career I think I’ve had only one really good October,” said Luongo, who has gone 18-20-2 in the first month of the season over the last four campaigns.
“I’ve had some good pre-seasons in the past and it didn’t necessarily translate into a good start. I made sure this week I kept on working on those things and making sure I felt good about my game.”
The Canucks open their season Thursday against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Rogers Arena.
Vancouver’s run to the Stanley Cup final last spring resulted in a short summer for the players. Luongo thinks the reduced time away from the game might actually help him to start the new season.
“We’ll see what happens,” said the 32-year-old Montreal native. “It was a different summer as far as dynamics, workouts and stuff like that.
“You pretty much shaved a month off training. It was less time between the last time I was on the ice and when I started skating. I feel good. I feel like my body is where it needs to be right now. Mentally I’m sharp. Hopefully it will translate into some good results early on.”
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault has full confidence in his goaltender, no matter the time of year.
“I think he’s aware of his past history here,” Vigneault said. “He’s trying like everybody else. When you are aware of the situation you try and deal with it. You try and correct it.
“He’s doing all the right things with his preparation and work. I feel he’s going to be ready. I felt that way in every camp. He works and prepares as well as any athlete I know.”
As good as Luongo can be, it still doesn’t always satisfy Vancouver’s rabid hockey fans.
Luongo appeared in 60 games last season, posting a 38-15-7 record with four shutouts and a 2.11 goals-against average. He was nominated for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender and was a big reason why Vancouver allowed the fewest goals in the regular season.
Still, many fans will argue Luongo’s performance in the final against the Boston Bruins helped cost the Canucks the Stanley Cup. He looked awful in three games in Boston where the Canucks were outscored 17-3 and was in net when the Bruins won Game 7 in Vancouver 4-0.
Luongo knows the criticism will begin again if he has a slow start.
For him, the key is to not listen.
“I don’t really read and listen to a lot of the stuff,” he said. “As an athlete you can’t let that stuff get to you.
“I don’t know anybody that likes to hear negative stuff about themselves. I would say most of the time I am OK with that stuff. You become accustomed to certain things. I understand the type of market we are in.”
Last summer the Canucks hired goaltender coach Roland Melanson to work with Luongo and that resulted in some changes to his style.
The big goaltender played a little deeper in his crease when the puck was in the Canucks zone. That shortened the distance he had to move to block a shot and reduced the movement he needed to control a rebound.
Luongo was also less aggressive. Instead of challenging shooters, he stayed closer to his crease. That again helped with rebounds.
During this year’s training camp Melanson has worked on Luongo’s glove hand. The plan is for him to hold is glove slightly higher.
A long season awaits the Canucks. Their goal is to return to the Cup final and complete some unfinished business.
Luongo said before the Canucks can think too much about the playoffs they must concentrate on the regular season.
“We have a lot of work to do before we get there,” said the goalie who is in the second season of a 12-year, US$64-million contract.
“It’s a tough grind. We have to focus on right now. Once we get there, we will be ready for it. Right now we have to worry about (opening) night.”