VANCOUVER – Roberto Luongo is starting to get his groove back.
After being criticized often earlier this season and struggling with injuries, Luongo earned his first shutout of 2011-12 as the Vancouver Canucks blanked the Minnesota Wild 4-0 on Monday night.
“It takes every guy in this locker-room to get a shutout, and the boys worked hard tonight to preserve it and make sure we didn’t give up much—especially in the third period there,” said Luongo.
Luongo received his second straight start following a strong performance in a 5-3 win over the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Saturday. It was his fifth starting assignment in the past six games.
He improved his record to 13-6-2 after the Canucks started slowly.
“Obviously, we came out and execution wise we might have been a little bit off,” said Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault. “But that’s why you’ve got a great goaltender. He kept us in and (enabled) us to find our legs and find our hands.”
Luongo has played well most of the past six weeks after dealing with a slow start and an undisclosed injury that relegated him to backup duty for an extended stretch for the first time in his six-season Vancouver tenure. He also had to deal with a throat injury that sidelined him for part of one game Dec. 6 against Colorado.
In their first home contest after a four-game road trip in the Eastern time zone, the Canucks moved within three points of the Northwest Divison-leading Wild.
“We knew it was a huge game coming off the road trip, and we wanted to catch those guys,” said Luongo. “So it was a great team effort, and the shutout’s just a little bonus.”
Henrik Sedin scored a goal and added twoassists, and his twin brother Daniel added assists as the Canucks (20-11-2) posted their second straight win and 11th in 14 games. Daniel Sedin is consider the more pure scorer of the two, but he showed his playmaking prowess by recording the first assist on all three of the goals he set up.
“He made three unbelievable passes,” said Henrik Sedin of his sibling. “That’s what I’ve said all along. He’s as good of a passer as anyone else in this league. … It was just a matter of getting open.”
“When Hank shoots the puck, we’re a more dangerous line,” said Daniel Sedin. “It opens up things for me and (Alex Burrows) too if we can pass it to him once in a while.”
Henrik Sedin moved into a three-way tie for the NHL scoring lead with 39 points alongside Toronto’s Phil Kessel and Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux. Daniel Sedin grabbed sole possession of second place in the scoring race, just a point back with 38.
The second-overall Wild (20-9-5) are off to their best start in franchise history, but suffered a fourth straight loss.
“It’s not about the standings,” said Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom. “It’s the way we’re playing right now and that’s not our hockey.”
Luongo recorded 33 saves as he posted his sixth win in seven games, while Henrik Sedin extended his points streak to three games.
Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen also scored for the Canucks.
Despite missing five key forwards to injury, the Wild controlled most of the play in the first period while outshooting the Canucks 13-9. But Vancouver held a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes and then built its lead to 3-0 after the second.
“The boys took a period to get their legs under them,” said Luongo. “Fortunately, I was feeling pretty good in the first and made a couple saves and the boys took over after that.”
Henrik Sedin opened the scoring on a power play at 18:52 of the first as he fired off a cross-ice pass from his twin brother. It was the only goal the Canucks needed, but the Sedins and Luongo still put on a show.
“Hank’s line with Danny and Burr, they’ve got a certain way that they play that can, obviously, get the crowd off their feet,” said Vigneault. “They did it in Toronto and they did it again tonight.”
The Wild suffered its ninth straight loss in Vancouver since last winning Jan. 31, 2009. Minnesota has gone 0-7-2 at Rogers Arena since then.
“I really liked the start to the game,” said Minnesota coach Mike Yeo. “We were going really good doing a lot of good things and the next thing you know we took a penalty and of course they have some skill. They can capitalize when you make mistakes. We made a few of them tonight and they seemed to capitalize on every one of them.”
Luongo preserved his shutout with just under four minutes left in the game by stopping a Colton Gillies backhand following a giveaway deep in the Vancouver end. Moments later, Hansen closed out the scoring.
The Canucks goaltender registered his first outright shutout of the season after sharing a team shutout in the game he left early against Colorado.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Luongo of the solo credit. “It’s the win that counts.”
Notes: Canucks winger Mason Raymond left the game midway through the third period after he took teammate Kevin Bieksa’s clearing attempt in the face … Bouchard returned to the Minnesota lineup after missing two games with a broken nose. … Canucks D Aaron Rome is out three-to-four weeks with a broken thumb suffered Saturday while blocking a shot in Toronto. D Keith Ballard sat out with back spasms stemming from a flare-up of an injury that forced him to miss the last five minutes of Saturday’s tilt. He took part in the morning skate but the back did not loosen up sufficiently, according to associate coach Rick Bowness. … Meanwhile, D Alexander Sulzer drew into the lineup after sitting out 18 straight games as a healthy scratch. … RW Jed Ortmeyer played for Minnesota a day after being called up from Houston of the AHL. C Chad Rau did not dress after being called up with Ortmeyer. Rau is still waiting to play his first NHL game. … Wild forwards Mikko Koivu (leg), Devin Setoguchi (ankle), Guillaume Latendresse (concussion), Casey Wellman (wrist), and Justin Falk (back) remained out with injuries.