He’s ba-a-a-ck. No, not that Mats Sundin guy; that’s last week stuff.
Two months and 25 games later, Roberto Luongo has returned to the Vancouver Canucks crease, and not a moment too soon.
The Canucks were an impressive 12-6-2 when Luongo strained his groin in a game against Pittsburgh back on Nov. 22.
Not surprisingly, they couldn’t keep the pace going without their No. 1 netminder. Entering Thursday night’s action, Vancouver went 10-12-3 without its captain in goal (that still sounds weird); not awful, but not good enough.
But with Luongo back — he has pronounced himself “100 per cent” and said he just needs to find his form — the Canucks are a top Western Conference candidate once again.
Let’s face it, Vancouver has had the rare luxury of adding two top-flight players in Luongo and Sundin (in the middle of the season, no less). On that basis alone, the Canucks have made big gains on the rest of the West.
Assuming Luongo stays healthy for the remainder of the season and Sundin finds his legs, the Canucks should slide into the second tier of Western hopefuls, below mighty Detroit and stacked San Jose.
If Luongo and Sundin spark the Canucks in the second half, Vancouver has a good shot at overtaking Calgary for first place in the Northwest Division; that’s significant, of course, because it means a round or two of home-ice advantage in the playoffs.
There are other factors that have to go Vancouver’s way, of course: For example, the secondary scorers have to continue supporting Mats and The Sedins (the best band to come out of Sweden since ABBA, by the way), and the talented-but-brittle blue-line needs to stay healthy (especially the top four).
But these are the kinds of challenges that every team faces. Of course the best players need to stay healthy and productive; of course they need their No. 1 goalie.
The difference for Vancouver is, they actually have these top-end pieces in place on their roster. Now, they just need to figure out how to put the whole puzzle together.
This column also appears in the Vancouver Metro newspaper.
Sam McCaig’s From The Point column appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Have a point to make with Sam McCaig? You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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