With Sunday’s win over Nashville, the Canucks reached the 40-win plateau faster than any other squad in franchise history. If they can win 10 of their last 17 games they’ll set a franchise-best in wins and 24 more points would secure another franchise record.
But, really, that mark should be of little concern to this team and shouldn’t influence game plans. While it’s not time to coast into the post-season until the division crown is officially locked up, it is time to start thinking about giving some players a night or two off to rest from the rigors of the past month-and-a-half’s schedule.
The Canucks will return to GM Place Saturday for the first time since Jan. 27. You can be sure Roberto Luongo will be in net that night as the hometown fans are itching to welcome ‘Lou’ back to the arena where he won Olympic gold.
Big games against conference foes are must-wins from here on out, but you really have to think coach Alain Vigneault will give Luongo the night off in Phoenix, one night after playing a more important game against the Avs in Denver. His regular season was shortened by injury last year, so Luongo has already surpassed his number of games played from 2008-09. With 17 games left on the schedule, do you rest Luongo for four or five games? If he starts 12 more, he’d end up with 67 games played, which would be the fifth-most in his 10-season career.
While Luongo is certainly an elite, tried-and-true professional with impeccable work habits, he can still be overworked. If it can happen to Martin Brodeur, it can happen to anyone.
And this season isn’t your average year. Luongo did miss six games with a rib injury early on and the grind of playing on the road for so long, with a pressure-filled Olympic tournament in the middle, can’t do much good for the body as far as durability goes.
The Canucks look primed for a good run in the playoffs, but their primary concern now must be to make sure everyone is available. They’re already missing Kevin Bieksa and Willie Mitchell, two huge parts of the makeup of this team and if any other bodies were removed from the roster you’d have to think that’d be the last straw.
For the rest of the way, I’d look to sit Luongo against the Coyotes, Islanders, Oilers and Wild, then if the division is all wrapped up, in the final game against the Flames.
After all, if your starting goalie can’t give it his all every game through the playoffs because of nagging fatigue from a unique schedule, a record-setting regular season means nothing at all.
This article also appeared in the Vancouver Metro newspaper.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.