Pavel Bure’s No. 10 climbed to the rafters of Rogers Arena on Saturday afternoon and the question of the players to follow the Russian Rocket into the hallowed annals of Vancouver Canucks history is almost universally answered by one name, the twins: Sedins.
The brothers who signed mirror four-year $28-million contract extensions on Friday, which will carry them through age 37 and their 17th seasons in Vancouver, are a certain bet to see Nos. 22 and 33 rise to the rafters, yes, but there is another name, Roberto Luongo, who has been half-forgotten in the wild swirl he’s been through in the past couple years.
As Saturday afternoon on Canada’s West Coast ebbed into a cold, wet evening – hello, November – Luongo was perfect as visiting Toronto went down 4-0, the Leafs run of luck running out. Luongo booked his second shutout of the season, and the 64th of his career, in a lively tilt full of raucous play and bursts of ire, sprinkled liberally with impolite chirping. Witness: Phil Kessel and Alex Burrows wrestling on the ice in the first period, both banged for five-minute fighting majors.
For the Leafs, the L hurt, as the team was badly outshot yet again, but it was a second-period injury to centre Dave Bolland, whose left ankle was stepped on by Vancouver’s Zack Kassian, that could sting much more. Bolland limped to the dressing room on the shoulders of two teammates, unable to sustain any weight on his left leg. It was initially called a leg laceration but obviously evoked the brutal injury to Erik Karlsson last year. It doubles the pain of the team that is also without centre Tyler Bozak.
Toronto’s James Reimer on Saturday did his usual excellent work under the typical duress, keeping his team in the game early as the Canucks piled on 11 shots to the Leafs’s zero through the first eight minutes of the game, but at the final buzzer it was Luongo who did the unblemished work for victory.
Luongo’s stats are not yet as gaudy as the likes of Reimer – who had led the league in save-percentage before the game – but the 34-year-old veteran, having been handed back the starting job on a team that had long tried to get rid of him, is putting together a strong opening season that has helped keep Vancouver in the thick of the tough Pacific Division. Luongo is 8-4-1 as the Canucks rose to 10-5-1.
The win is the 356th of Luongo’s career, which lifts him to 16th place among goaltenders all-time, rising past Rogie Vachon.
Luongo, if he and his team keep their play strong, could reach 13th on the last this year, which is held John Vanbiesbrouck and his 374 wins. Next year Luongo could reasonably crack 400 wins and challenge for No. 8 on the all-time rankings, held by Glenn Hall and his 407 wins.
On Saturday, as has been the case through much of this early season, Luongo was solid from start to finish. One of the biggest saves he delivered came with about five minutes left in the second. The Canucks were up 3-0 and the Leafs were making one of their relatively rare presses. Kessel, open in the slot, received a pass and got off a snapshot but Luongo made no mistake, enveloping the puck.
Luongo’s 64th career shutouts are good for 15th on the all-time list. On both wins and shutouts, Luongo is No. 2 among active goalies, behind all-time leader Martin Brodeur, another goaltender raised in the east end of Montreal.
Brodeur this past Wednesday on TSN radio was unequivocal about the goaltender who should start for Team Canada in three months at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the man who took over Brodeur’s job at the last Olympics, Luongo. “It’s kind of a funny year with some of the starts of some of the goalies but I said it this summer: I think it’s Luongo’s to lose,” said Brodeur.
Here’s a number: Before the game, Luongo’s save-percentage was 0.909, a tenth below his career average and behind lots of other names, including Chicago’s Corey Crawford and Montreal’s Carey Price, rivals for the net in Sochi, and Reimer who’s leading figure was 0.949. And speaking of his 0.919 career save-percentage, that number stands strong against any contemporary rivals or those from the past. One more thing: Luongo has done all this under a pelting (excluding Saturday’s Leafs match), where he has taken nearly 23,000 shots. Only seven other goaltenders have faced more.
Like the high-end hobbyist poker player Luongo is, he is well aware of his own stats but knows Ws are Ws.
So after Luongo’s long, long limbo, people will begin to pay attention to Luongo’s greatness again, with the fading of all the madness of the trade that never happened. The focus will be his long, strong career, his gold in Vancouver and, perhaps, a repeat in Sochi. There is still the elusive Stanley Cup, which the Canucks do not seem in the front-running for, but Luongo’s work over time, if it extends several more years, will deserve contention for not just a No. 1 retired at Rogers Arena but the Hall of Fame.
Perhaps such talk surprises, jars. The name Luongo has been sullied, unfairly. And, sure, the Hall has not loved goaltenders in the past 10 classes – 30 skaters for just two netminders, Patrick Roy in 2006 and Ed Belfour in 2011 – but Luongo is already looking like he is on the way to making it. People will start to realize it soon enough.