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Staying Sharp

Sunday, 07.01.2007 / 12:00 AM / News
Vancouver Canucks
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Staying Sharp

JAN.07.07
BINGO BANGO

There's one guy everyone's looking at when you speak of the six-game winning streak the Canucks have started this year and that's Roberto Luongo.

Luongo's made 184 saves in the six games, including 87 against the Flames alone. He's averaging 2.17 goals against on this streak, which betters his season average 2.43.

His confidence is on the rise and with the way he's playing it shows. The last time Luongo won six straight he was a bright eyed junior.

"[Winning six straight] hasn't happened in my NHL career so it's a nice feeling right now, not to mention when you look at the standings in the morning and you see that you're in first place."

Thanks to Luongo, the Canucks currently hold first place in the Northwest and third in the conference, five points ahead of the Oilers, who currently sit at the bottom of the division.

Luongo came up big for the Canucks in the shootout win against the Stars, who were undefeated in shootouts prior to Wednesday night's meeting.

"In our last couple of games we were outchanced and we won both those one-goal games," said Vigneault. "It's huge to know as a player that if you make a mistake the goalie is going to bail you out and Louie does that on a lot of nights."

Luongo is now tied for second with the most wins going into tonight's meeting with his former team.

"It's going to be nice [to play Florida]," said Luongo. "It's going to be funny to see that jersey on the other side."

Although the season's only 42 games in, the playoff picture is much closer for Luongo, who's yet to play in a post-season game.

"I mean, we're in first place right now and look at Florida. They're really not in the playoff race. I'm just happy to be where I am. There's light at the end of the tunnel. I can feel it's close."

If he continues performing the way he has lately, what else can we say?

"Roberto has been a huge part of our success and he's been everything we wished for," said Markus Naslund. "I can't say enough good things about the way he's playing. We realize he's won a few games for us that maybe we shouldn't have won and that's why he's a star goaltender."


FIRST FEELS GOOD

It's official. The Canucks are first - in the division and their penalty kill.

Since winning five straight against divisional opponent, the Canucks have maintained first in the division for several days now and even widened the gap between the teams to five points.

Given, five points isn't a whole lot of security but when a couple weeks ago the separation was only a point or two, this is a wide gap - for now.

Remember back in December when the Canucks were 1-6-1 against divisional rivals? The Canucks have now climbed back to even (9-9-1) in the Northwest thanks to the series of wins over teams in the division.

"[Divisional games are] huge, anytime you play divisional teams it's big games," said Naslund. "We've had quite a few now and been able to win them so we're making up a lot of ground and it's good to see."

After killing 25 straight penalties and 35 of their last 37, the Canucks have improved to first place on the penalty kill.

The Canucks had the best on home ice for weeks now but after Friday night's game, they improved to 93.8 percent at home and 87.8 overall. The Canucks have only let in seven power-play goals at GM Place all year.

They face a challenge tonight against the Panthers' seventh ranked power-play as the Canucks try to continue their success on the PK.

"It's something I take pride in and I know the other guys do too," says Willie Mitchell. "I think our personnel is great and obviously the more you work together and stay on the same page, the better results you'll have."

"To be in the top six is a little outside where we want to be, but I think we can keep getting better at it. By the end of the year I think we can be in the top three."


SHORT REUNION

In their only meeting of the year, Roberto Luongo and Lukas Krajicek face their former team tonight at GM Place.

The much anticipated game against the Florida Panthers, will not hold as much excitement as originally thought with the absence of Todd Bertuzzi.

Bertuzzi's return to Vancouver was delayed due to a back injury and will not likely see action at GM Place for another three years.

In the blockbuster trade that brought Luongo to Vancouver, the Canucks also said goodbye to Alex Auld and Bryan Allen. However, fans won't see Auld between the pipes.

"Probably, my thinking was the same as in Toronto early in the season. I think people expected Eddie [Belfour] was going to play in Toronto. I used Alex then because I felt at that time Alex was hot. He was on a roll. It's basically the same thing here."

Only Allen will play tonight.

"Walking by the old dressing room is different, for sure," Allen said. "It's going to be different. There's going to different emotions and a little bit of nerves and a little bit of excitement. We don't always get these kind of games with big crowds and that emotion behind them."

Canucks fans won't have too be too disappointed though, there will no doubt still be drama when Luongo steps on the ice for the first time with a different crest on his chest and Krajicek with something to show.

"They traded me," he said. "I want to do my best against them."