The way Roberto Luongo has been playing of late, it’s little wonder that scoring is down again in the NHL.
The Vancouver Canucks star netminder has resembled a wall since both he and his team stumbled out of the gate during a 5-7-0 October. Luongo led the November rebound by going 8-2-2 with a 1.56 goals-against average, .940 save percentage and four shutouts, stingy numbers in an increasingly stingy league.
That stretch included a franchise record shutout streak of 210 minutes 34 seconds that ended Sunday in a 2-1 loss to Minnesota. Still, the Canucks (14-10-2) are sitting pretty again in the Northwest Division, just two points back of the first-place Wild (15-9-2).
“As a team we really decided to regroup and realized that if we were going to win some games we were going to have to work hard but at the same time we were going to have to work smart,” Luongo said Tuesday on a conference call. “We adjusted a couple of things with our system as far as our forecheck and our play in our own zone and since then it’s been going well for us.”
That it has, and Luongo’s stellar goaltending has contributed to scoring being down to 5.4 goals-per-game through the first two months of the NHL season, compared to 6.2 goals-per-game at the same point of the 2005-06 campaign.
The issue came up during the NHL’s board of governors meetings last week in California, where it was decided to leave the game alone for now. That was a relief to Luongo, particularly because there’s been some talk of perhaps reducing the size of goalie equipment again.
“The one area that concerns me a little bit is they’re talking about the gloves,” said Luongo. “I’ve never had bruises on my hands like this in the past so I’m a little frightened to think of what they would be if they went smaller than that. …
“I don’t think the pads is something we want to touch, it’s pretty small as it is and with the knee guards, it’s already spilling out the sides there.”
Luongo believes the game is fine right now and feels it’s not a good idea to routinely making drastic rule changes in the quest for more goals. But if the league is adamant about adding offence, he feels there are simpler ways to get it done.
“I’ve said it 100 times before, if you want to increase scoring then just open up the game more and there’ll be more scoring chances and there’ll be more goals,” said Luongo. “That’s how you increase scoring.”
One problem for hockey’s great minds to ponder is that good defence leads to wins, and the Canucks continue to be proof of that.
With goal-scoring remaining an issue for them, a renewed commitment to strong play in their own end helped them right the ship in November. Impressively, they managed to do it without defencemen Kevin Bieksa (calf) and Sami Salo (broken nose), both injured in a 3-0 loss to Nashville on Nov. 1.
Salo returned to the lineup Nov. 23 while Bieksa is still out.
“It’s weird because two of our four best defencemen were out of the lineup, things kind of worked out better for us,” said Luongo. “It was kind of a blessing in disguise for our team. Everybody knows the system, we all know the type of game we play, so as long as the communication is open between me and my defencemen, things go pretty smoothly out there.”
The Canucks are tied with Boston for the fourth-fewest goals allowed this season at 62. Only St. Louis (53), the Rangers (55) and San Jose (56) have given up less heading into Tuesday night’s action.
One strange stat for the Canucks is that they’re an incredible 9-1-2 versus teams in their own division, but just 5-9-0 against the rest of the league. They’ll take a 3-4-0 mark against the Central Division into Wednesday’s road game versus the Chicago Blackhawks.
“They’re all high-intensity games to begin with, every team in our division is a good team and everybody has a chance to win the division so all those games are of high importance,” Luongo said of Vancouver’s success against Northwest opponents. “For some reason we play well against them, we just got to make sure on a nightly basis, we’re ready to play.”