It looks like the decision to give the Vancouver Canucks’ captaincy to Roberto Luongo was a good one.
The 29-year-old goaltender is off to a tremendous start this season and has helped the Canucks (9-6-0) move into first place in the Northwest Division. Luongo has posted three straight shutout victories and was rewarded Monday by taking the NHL’s first star of the week honour.
The Canucks broke tradition before the season by naming Luongo the 12th captain in team history. He became the first goaltender to serve as captain since Bill Durnan of the Montreal Canadiens in 1947-48.
“I do embrace the challenge and I enjoy it very much,” Luongo said on a conference call. “I don’t think it really gives me a lot of added responsibility when I’m on the ice or in the locker-room per se. I do try to speak up in the locker-room but only what comes naturally to me. I really don’t try to go out of my comfort zone or get distracted by things like that.
“But so far it’s really something that I love and that I embrace.”
Since being named captain, he has become one of the real voices of the team and usually draws the largest scrum of reporters after games. If his on-ice play is any indication, it’s a role he seems to relish.
Luongo, who has blanked the opposition in four of his past six starts, enters Wednesday’s game against Colorado with an active shutout streak of 201 minutes eight seconds.
He said the Vancouver defence, which is anchored by Willie Mitchell and Kevin Bieksa, deserves plenty of credit for the shutout streak as well.
“When we have a healthy blue-line, it’s one of the tops in the league for sure,” Luongo said. “This year so far we’ve been able to do that. It’s a huge difference, not only in the defensive zone but guys have been able to move the puck out of the zone quicker and start up a rush or something like that. It makes a difference also on the offensive side.”
Luongo is 9-5-0 this season with a whopping five shutouts, a 2.34 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage. He hasn’t allowed a goal since the second period of a 3-2 loss to Detroit on Nov. 2.
“The last couple of weeks we’ve really beared down in our own zone and (are) cutting down chances off the rush as well,” Luongo said. “I think that’s why we’ve been seeing more results as far as shutouts and wins.”
Luongo succeeded Markus Naslund as captain after the veteran forward signed with the New York Rangers in the off-season. NHL rules prevent Luongo from leaving his crease to talk with the referees or actually having a letter stitched on his jersey, although he did have a dark blue “C” painted on the bottom of his mask.
Luongo made 24 saves in a 4-0 win over Nashville last Tuesday, stopped 28 shots in a 1-0 victory over Phoenix last Thursday and turned aside 29 shots in a 2-0 win over Minnesota on Saturday.
Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Steve Mason was named second star and another netminder, Brent Johnson of the Washington Capitals, was the third star.
Mason was 3-0-0 last week with a 2.61 GAA and .907 save percentage in the first three starts of his NHL career. Johnson had a 2-0-1 mark with a 1.63 GAA and .953 save percentage.
Luongo, a six-foot-three 205-pounder, is playing his ninth NHL season and third with the Canucks. He came to Vancouver in June 2006 in a trade that saw Todd Bertuzzi go to Florida.
Luongo also has plenty of experience with Team Canada. He has worn the red and white at the world hockey championship, the World Cup and the Olympics.
To many hockey fans in this country, it’s never too early to talk about the potential roster for the 2010 Winter Games. And with many wondering whether New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur will regain his elite form after recent arm surgery, some are pegging Luongo as the early favourite for the job of Olympic starter.
But Luongo said such talk is premature.
“Obviously being in Vancouver there’s a lot of Olympic talk around here but it’s something that I truly try to stay away from. There’s still a long way to go before we get to that, a year and a half, a lot of things could happen and there’s a lot of great goalies in this league.
“So for me it’s just a matter of making sure I keep doing my job and if things turn out the way they’re supposed to as far as my play, hopefully I’ll be there next season.”