VANCOUVER, B.C. – Roberto Luongo became the Vancouver Canucks’ franchise leader in shutouts Sunday night, but he was more interested in talking about his team’s record than his own.
Luongo stopped 27 shots for his first shutout of the season as the Vancouver Canucks blanked the Edmonton Oilers 2-0. His 21st shutout as a Canuck moved him past Kirk McLean on the all-time franchise list. His response? Ho hum.
“It’s all right I guess,” said Luongo. “It’s not the most important thing I have in mind right now, but I’ll take it and work towards better things in the future.”
Rookie Michael Grabner and Henrik Sedin, with his first goal in six games, scored for Vancouver (6-5-0) as the Canucks recorded their third straight victory before a sellout crowd of 18,818 at General Motors Place.
With the victory, the hosts evened their season series with Edmonton at 1-1. That feat garnered more of Luongo’s attention than his 48th career shutout, which moved him into a tie for third among active NHL netminders with San Jose’s Evgeni Nabakov.
They’re both still well behind the record of 102 held New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur – Luongo’s rival for starting status with Canada’s Olympic team on the same Vancouver ice in February.
“I feel good,” said Luongo, who appears to be overcoming his usual October funk. “I can say I’ve been feeling pretty good the last couple of weeks and I think as a team we’re getting sharper and sharper, so that’s why there is more results.”
With Team Canada coach Mike Babcock in attendance, Luongo, who was pulled from two games earlier this month, helped the Canucks hand the flu-ridden Oilers (6-4-1) their second loss in two nights.
The Canuck captain was at his best when Edmonton had a five-on-three power play for one minute 32 seconds midway through the first period.
“Five on three, we did give them some quality chances, and I think that’s where Roberto really came up big, and sort of set the table for us for the rest of the game,” said Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault.
Luongo got his glove on a Patrick O’Sullivan slapshot and then foiled Shawn Horcoff on the rebound, came across the crease to thwart Dustin Penner and corralled an Ales Hemsky shot from the face-off circle to his right.
“We had plenty of opportunities to get ourselves back in this game,” said Edmonton defenceman Tom Gilbert. “We just needed to get more pucks to the net, make more crisp passes. We weren’t doing that.”
As a result, the Canucks led 1-0 and 2-0 by periods as they outshot the Oilers 29-27. The hosts, missing six regulars, continued to struggle offensively at even strength.
But Vancouver’s potent power play, which ranks among the league’s best, again atoned for the offensive inefficiency.
The Canucks converted one of four man-advantage opportunities while the Oilers were blanked on their six chances.
Grabner opened the scoring on a power play at 17:51 of the first as he deflected home Christian Ehrhoff’s point shot during a power play. After a poor pre-season, Grabner, the Canucks’ 2006 first-round draft choice, was demoted to the minors and not expected back any time soon.
He has been making the best of a second chance that resulted after perennial top scorer Daniel Sedin was sidelined four to six weeks with a broken foot.
The 22-year-old native of Villach, Austria now has five points his first six NHL games after being called up from Manitoba of the American League.
“It’s better than before,” said Grabner, who dominated in the minors the past two seasons but could still not crack the big club’s roster. “I’m getting more comfortable as days go on here and it’s a lot of fun to play right now.”
“Grabs has done an unbelievable job so far,” said Luongo, becoming almost verbose. “He’s playing really well, and other guys have stepped in as well and done a good job. So we’ve got a lot of depth on our team.
“I think that is an important thing for us to have, especially nowadays when there are so many injuries during the season.”
Grabner finished with a game-high seven shots and was unlucky not to score another goal or two.
Henrik Sedin’s mid-air deflection of Mikael Samuelsson’s seemingly lazy wrist shot from the point shot midway through the second put the Canucks ahead 2-0 midway through the second. It was his first goal since he scored a pair in a 7-1 thrashing of Montreal on Oct. 7. In a rare move, Canucks coach Alain Vigneault had criticized Sedin’s effort in Saturday’s victory over Toronto.
But Luongo had to come up big again in the final frame. The Oilers received a four-minute power play in six and a half minutes into the third as Grabner took a high-sticking double-minor for clipping defenceman Lubomir Visnovsky under his visor. Visnovsky appeared to suffer a cut, went to the dressing room briefly, but returned.
“It was very unfortunate,” Grabner said. “I just tried ot lift his stick and hit him in the face. I didn’t mean to do it but it was definitely a bad time.”
Luongo got his glove on a dangerous Hemsky shot during the extended power play. But it was only one of three shots that the Oilers could muster over the four-minute span.
“We’ll go back to the drawing board and figure what we can do better on special teams,” said Oilers captain Ethan Moreau.
Notes: The Canucks recalled rookie Sergei Shirokov from Manitoba to replace centre Kyle Wellwood, who suffered a broken toe Saturday against Toronto . . . Defenceman Mathieu Schneider, signed as a free agent in the summer, played his first game with Vancouver after recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. As a result, blue-liner Aaron Rome was scratched while winger Rick Rypien was again sidelined with a groin injury, but is considered close to returning . . . Edmonton centre Gilbert Brule returned to the lineup after missing three games with the flu. Steve Staios (concussion) Sheldon Souray (concussion) and Ryan Stone (knee) remained out with injuries while Mike Comrie missed his second straight game with the flu . . . Canadian Olympic team coach Mike Babcock scouted the game. He was in town early for his Detroit squad’s game against the Canucks on Tuesday . . . Canucks winger Alex Burrows, once a longshot to make the NHL, is one game away from 300 for his career.