VANCOUVER – Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo returned to practice on Monday and declared he is “back to 100 percent” after missing most of the last two months with a groin injury.
“We’re full go right now, I did everything in practice, I didn’t hold anything back,” said Luongo, who also skated with a handful of teammates Sunday.
Luongo, who has missed 23 games since collapsing in a heap five minutes into a Nov. 22 game in Pittsburgh, said the only thing keeping him from returning to the lineup is a return to form. The two-time Vezina Trophy finalist insisted he hasn’t set a return date, saying he is “doubtful” Tuesday against New Jersey, but listed himself day-to-day, making Thursday against Phoenix possible.
“One full practice after not playing for several weeks, I’m not sure I’m ready to play,” he said. “It’s just a matter of the way things go in practice, the way I feel and make sure I’m at the level I need to be at to help the team.”
Luongo also thought he was close to returning in early December, but was forced to shut it down after leaving practice early on Dec. 10 because of lingering pain and discomfort. The 29-year-old insisted that wasn’t the case this time.
“It’s pain free. I wouldn’t be on the ice if I wasn’t,” Luongo said. “That’s done with as far as I’m concerned. I’m ready to go and back to 100 per cent.”
Luongo is 11-5-2 and ranks in the top five with both a 2.17 goals-against average and .928 save-percentage. Despite missing more than seven weeks, the Canucks star also remains tied for second in the league with five shutouts, just one behind Columbus rookie Steve Mason.
Those numbers earned Luongo a spot in the All-Star Game at the end of the month. After missing last year’s game to be with his wife in Florida during a difficult pregnancy, he hopes to attend this year, especially since it’s in Montreal.
“It would be nice because it’s in my hometown,” Luongo said. “But my main priority is the Vancouver Canucks and making sure that I give my full attention to this team and making sure when I start playing, I’m at 100 per cent.”
The Canucks are 9-11-3 since Luongo was hurt. They’re fifth in the Western Conference, but have fallen five points behind Calgary atop the Northwest Division while their cushion among the top-eight teams in the West is down to five points
Jason LaBarbera, acquired from Los Angeles in a Dec. 30 trade after regular backup Curtis Sanford hurt his groin, is expected to start Tuesday. He is 2-1-2 with a 2.72 goals-against average and .916 save-percentage since arriving.
Sanford, who returned Saturday to make 23 saves in a 4-2 loss to league-leading San Jose, is 7-7-0 with a 2.62 GAA and .906 save-percentage this season, but could be the odd-man out when Luongo does return to game action.