VANCOUVER – Netminder Roberto Luongo has made subtle changes to his game and they’re already helping the goal-starved Vancouver Canucks.
He’s faced a torrent of rubber but has a goals-against average under 1.00 through two games in which his teammates have struggled to get pucks past their opponents.
“I’m feeling good,” Luongo, now under the tutelage of new goaltending coach Rollie Melanson, said after Tuesday’s practice.
“My style is going to be the same but (there’s been) just a little bit of minor changes in positioning, the way you move around and stuff like that.”
Luongo’s stats would be even better as the only puck to get behind him in a 2-1 win over Florida on Monday was the result of a double deflection off two teammates.
“It’s great to know you have a goalie like that behind you,” said defenceman Alex Edler whose skate caused the second change of direction. “He’s making huge saves all the time.”
The Canucks lost their Saturday home opener 2-1 in a shootout after Luongo bailed out his club with six key saves against Los Angeles during a 4-on-3 overtime power play.
He’s made 74 saves while allowing only two goals over 125 minutes for a .973 save percentage.
The sputtering Vancouver offence is hoping to provide more support Wednesday in Anaheim and Friday in a rematch against the Kings.
Melanson has Luongo playing deeper in his crease while opponents have the puck in the Canucks zone. He has also changed his footwork.
“I keep pushing a little bit more,” Luongo said. “I’ve always been more of a shuffler around the crease area.
“I try to get key pushes going so I’m set a bit earlier for plays and shots.”
But Luongo will still leave the blue paint to challenge shooters on breakaways or odd-man rushes. The changes are intended to position him better for rebounds and back-door passes.
Melanson, who was on head coach Alain Vigneault’s staff in Montreal, was hired as a full-time goalie coach.
He replaces Dallas-based Ian Clark who worked with Luongo last season as a part-time consultant.
Luongo had built a relationship with Clark and was surprised by the change, but is buying into what Melanson has to say.
“The key is you’ve got to believe in it. If you have doubts it’s not a good thing to try and work through that,” Luongo said.
“I believe in what Rollie’s teaching me and I feel more comfortable so it’s nice to see some results right away.”
The results come after Luongo posted a .913 save percentage last season, the worst since his rookie year, and a 2.57 goals-against average, his worst in four seasons with Vancouver.
Canucks forwards have scored only two goals in two games and both came from Daniel Sedin on Monday.
Alex Burrows, who led Vancouver with 35 goals last season playing with twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin, is still recovering from shoulder surgery which has disrupted familiar line combinations.
Mikael Samuelsson is playing with the twins while his place on Ryan Kesler’s second line was filled Monday by Jannik Hansen after Raffi Torres played right wing in the home opener.
Torres dropped down to Manny Malhotra’s third line on Monday.
“That’s something we haven’t lost,” Kesler said of Canucks scoring, which last season was second only to Washington as six Vancouver forwards had at least 25 goals.
“Missing Burr (Burrows) is hurting not just Hank and Danny but it’s a trickle-down effect. It hurts our line, it hurts Manny’s line. We’re still getting a lot of chances, that’s the important thing.”
While the Canucks’ only goal came on the power play against Los Angeles, they didn’t get any man-advantage opportunities against the Panthers on Monday.
“That’s something we’re going to have to work hard on, get our feet moving and force teams to start taking penalties on us,” Malhotra said.
In Anaheim, the Canucks will face a hungry, winless club that has scored only twice while giving up 13 goals in three losses on a four-day road trip.
“Those are teams you’ve got to be aware of,” Kesler said. “You’ve got to come out, be ready to battle.
“We’re getting Grade A scoring chances, it’s just a matter of time before they start going in.”