For you Luongo haters out there, Monday night’s game between the Canucks and the LA Kings looks like more evidence for your case. The Canucks are ahead 2-0 by early in the second period. The Kings have had two chances on the power play and barely looked alive in the first period.
The goalie faces 28 shots, which is pretty much league average, and not an onslaught. And still he manages to lose. He does that by letting in a late goal (43.2 seconds left, other net empty) which ties the game and by allowing a shootout goal that sees the puck go in up over him after he bites on a deke.
After, he’s contrite, his face less confident than in years past, when a smiling mug greeted the press, win or lose. His statement is brief, going like this: “It’s tough to assess after a loss. You always want to find ways, maybe make an extra save somehow. Right now, it’s a bit disappointing to be on the losing end.”
The fact is, while all of the above is true, none of Monday’s 3-2 shootout loss can be put down to Luongo. In fact, he played one of the best games in the memory of any observer at Staples Center. And his history there is well known, with two recent playoff appearances to reflect back upon. When asked if he had anything to prove on this night against this team, he said, “No. It was just another game. I think that other than, I think facing the Stanley Cup champs is motivation more than anything else. I was excited to be in net. I hadn’t played in a little over a week, so it was nice to be back on the ice.” No bitterness about being taken out in the first round. And no smugness.
The LA media, by the way, awarded him the game’s second star, and well deserved.
His work in the second period, when the Kings were their best, was outstanding, though he began the period by blockering a puck out into the slot and right onto and LA stick (2010 Olympic replay, anyone?). As the frame went on, he stunned a few Kings’ players. Jordan Nolan whipped a wrist shot from the doorstep which Luongo got with his arm. He later stuck his chest out to make another save. That period saw the Kings fling their highest number of shots at him of the night, 12. The only one that got by was with a man down.
The two goals Luongo let in were nothing to his charge. The first was on a power play, the puck coming out in front just six seconds into the man advantage and Jeff Carter flinging it past Luongo. The one that tied it came from the point, a low wrist shot from Slava Voynov which appeared to hit a player or two on the way in. Official stats labeled the goal as Voynov’s, though it might have hit Jeff Carter or Justin Williams as it came to the net.
And to be fair, the shootout goal Luongo allowed was a brilliant deke by Carter, who roofed it, giving the goalie no chance.
The Vancouver players did nothing to help their cause after letting the two points slip to one so late by seeing it tied. In the shootout, their three chances were lazy, slow affairs by Burrows, Edler, and Kassian. In fact, Burrows’ was a hotdog try, with a spin and pass to himself right at the top of the crease followed by a backhand. Most observers thought that any goal scored would have disallowed even if Burrows hadn’t hit the post, because his forward progress was stopped, which is against the rules. Coach Sutter said after that his first thought, too, was that it would have been whistled dead, but that in talking with the other coaches, they thought it was “a legit thing.”
Jonathan Quick answered questions about the attempt with a bemused smile after the game. “I’m sure it would have went to review. I think the official rule is he has to continue moving forward. I don’t know if he definitely stopped or not, but it would have been reviewed, and I don’t know.” When asked if anyone had ever tried that move before, he said, “No, that was a new one for me,” with a laugh.
In fact, it was embarrassing and uncalled for. Read it maybe as Burrows’ admission that he had no other way to beat the wily Quick, or wait until Saturday when Don Cherry features it on HNIC as a disgrace to the dignity of the game. It was within a hair of all-star skills competition level silly.
But back to Luongo. After the game, he was sorry that the team hadn’t capitalized on their lead. “We were in control tonight, and we let it slip away, so uh, as far as team effort we played really well, but we fell a bit short.” All true, but the old Luongo would have done two things: made sure listeners knew how well he’d played, and made it clear that he didn’t blow the lead. Neither of those came through on this night. Perhaps this is not enough evidence to say that the man has been chastened into becoming a new person. But perhaps it is.
The Kings, meanwhile, had lots of scambly play to show for their effort. Though they got back in the game with a goal late in the second period to make it 2-1, they came out in the third with no urgency. Their lines were so mixed up that one person suggested to Coach Sutter afterwards that he was putting players in a blender to mix them.
His response? “Trying to pull some different energy, and get different guys going. Create a little bit more in terms of their work and their forecheck.” As the press conference went on, he refused to talk about a lot of players individually, but he did say that both Jake Muzzin and Davis Drewiske on defense had played good games, the former after having a tough start. “I used a lot of different players in a lot of ways tonight,” he summed up.
He further said that he thought his team had had some poor luck of late, three games particularly on the road where things went against them. (Fans will remember the game that was tied in the last few seconds in Edmonton as exhibit one). This turnaround, then, was something that was bound to come, and Sutter wasn’t about to apologize for taking two points when, right to the final minute, it seemed like his team was going to get none.
For you Penner fans, when Sutter was asked about when the big man would be back in the lineup, he said, “I don’t know. . . . We’re trying to get different guys up to a pace. I can’t change the rules and play them all, but I can certainly decide who is going to play, and they have to decide how they’re going to play.” The latter was said with a smile. More like a grin. (Read into this the obvious, Penner, if you’ve stayed with me this far.)
Follow Brian on twitter @growinguphockey and check out his newest book, My Country Is Hockey