VANCOUVER – Vancouver Canuck goaltender Roberto Luongo says he can’t “pitch 82 shutouts” a year, but admits he hasn’t played his best over a recent stretch of NHL games.
“You can’t be at the top of your game throughout a whole year,” Luongo said Wednesday prior to the Canucks playing the St. Louis Blues. “It’s physically impossible.
“Right now I don’t feel that I’m at my best but at the same time I don’t feel I’m costing games either. You have to fight through it, do your job, and let the distractions take care of themselves.”
Luongo, who finished second in balloting for both the Hart (MVP) and Vezina (best goalie) trophies last season, was reacting to comments from coach Alain Vigneault on Tuesday that his all-star goaltender needed to improve his game. Vigneault also suggested Luongo had been outplayed by the opposition goalie in some of Vancouver’s losses.
The Canucks took a four-game losing streak, their longest of the season, into the game against St. Louis.
Luongo said he hadn’t read Vigneault’s comments.
“I think we have an understanding between him and I,” said a sometimes testy Luongo. “There’s no issue whatsoever.
“He knows what type of person and player I am. I work hard every day.”
Vigneault didn’t back off his comments Wednesday.
“He (Luongo) brings his A game probably 95 per cent of the time,” said Vigneault. “We need him, like all teams need their goaltenders, to bring their A game to have a chance to win.”
The Canucks have struggled to score goals all year. That means Luongo has to be almost perfect most nights for Vancouver to eke out narrow wins.
“That’s the way it’s been since I’ve been here,” shrugged Luongo. “I’m used to that. I know that’s the way it works.”
Luongo’s acrobatic play and highlight-reel stops made him an instant fan favourite as he led the Canucks into the playoffs last year. With Vancouver losing some key games as the team battles for first place in the tight Northwest Division, there has been some subtle criticism directed at him lately.
But Luongo’s harshest critic can be himself. The Montreal native has a strict work ethic and hates to lose.
“It’s a tough stretch for me,” said Luongo. “I wish I could get a shutout every game. But this is part of life and these are things you battle through and you move on.
“I don’t think it’s as bad as I’m making it out to be myself. The fact we are losing really isn’t helping.”
Luongo’s teammates said most of the blame for the recent losses falls on their shoulders.
“He’s the leader on this team and he’s the best goalie in the league,” said forward Ryan Kesler. “We haven’t been playing that well in front of him.
“I think we as a team need to limit the chances that we give him. We can’t be relying on him every night. We have to win games by ourselves and we know that.”
Veteran Trevor Linden said no matter how good a player is, they have off nights.
“Throughout the course of the season great players go through periods of incredible greatness, like he has been, then they go through periods where they are just real good,” said Linden.
“I thinks it’s more about us not being able to bail him out when he’s really good. That’s not totally fair.”
Luongo missed three games in December with a rib injury but denied they are bothering him again.
“I don’t have any rib issues at all,” he said. “I’m not going to go into detail about anything else. It’s not anything that is affecting my game.”
Luongo has already said he will skip the Jan. 27 all-star game in Atlanta to spend time with his pregnant wife, Gina, at their off-season home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The baby is due in April.
He also has been given permission by the Canucks to miss Vancouver’s first game after the all-star break, Jan. 29 at home against Dallas.
Luongo, who earns US$6.5 million, denied the close media and public scrutiny he receives has affected his play.
“It’s part of the job, especially in a hockey market,” he said. “It’s not a big deal.”