Roberto Luongo will get one last chance to salvage something from his October wreckage against the hottest team in the NHL.
The much-maligned Vancouver Canucks goaltender, going through his seasonal first-month funk, will start Saturday against the Washington Capitals (7-1), who are off to the best start in their franchise's history.
“I had a good practice (Friday) and I'm going to focus on what's going to be the most important game of the year (Saturday) night,” said Luongo.
The Canucks (4-5-1) are looking to shake off their early-season rust and regain the form that enabled them to come within one game of winning the Stanley Cup last spring. Luongo had the night off during Vancouver's last outing, a dismal 3-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday.
The 2010-11 Vezina Trophy nominee has just two wins in six games this season. He was pulled in the second period of his previous game Tuesday in Edmonton, allowing three goals in just over five minutes. Although Luongo has acknowledged his career-long October struggles and the difficulty of fighting through them, he has yet to find a solution.
“I'm just going to turn the page and get to work,” he said. “That's how you get over the hump. You can't dwell on the past. You've just got to worry about doing your job and putting in the work in practice and making sure that, when you come to the rink every day, you come in with a clear head and fresh head and your energy is put in the right place.”
Luongo, sporting a new short-hair look, and backup Cory Schneider stayed on the ice longer than their teammates Friday to get some extra tutoring. It should come in handy against the Capitals, who recorded seven straight wins before suffering their first loss in Edmonton on Thursday.
“It's a good challenge for our team, and I think it's what we need right now, to get amped up for a big game like that,” said Luongo.
Despite the poor results, Luongo said he has felt good in practice the past week, and he is confident the wins will eventually come. So is Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault — about his goaltender and his team.
“I expect Roberto to give it has best shot,” said Vigneault. “That's what he always does.”
Ironically, Luongo hopes Washington star Alex Ovechkin will be the tonic that he needs heading into November, a month in which he usually shines. The Canucks netminder has battled the Caps' captain since his earlier days with Florida as well as in the 2010 Olympics while guiding Canada to the gold medal.
“I've always enjoyed playing him. Obviously, I played him a ton when I used to play for the Panthers,” said Luongo. “He's a type of guy that poses a good challenge, and I get up for those types of things. So I'm obviously looking forward to playing him ... But I think they've got more than one weapon on that other side.”
Ovechkin has produced seven points in eight games, second on the team to Nicklas Backstrom's 10. But Ovechkin and Backstrom are well down on the NHL scoring chart. The Caps have won by rolling out all four lines and displaying more offensive balance than they have in years past.
However, Washington coach Bruce Boudreau is wary of his club getting complacent against the struggling Canucks.
“I hate it when you're playing a great team that's lost two in a row,” said Boudreau. “They're a great team. It's overshadowed, because they didn't win the Cup last year, of how great a year they had.
“It's the same team pretty well, same core, so we're nervous — because they're mad. We know it's going to be a tremendous test. The last two games we've played them, we've lost 4-2 and 3-2 and they've been really good hockey games.”
Accordingly, Boudreau is wary of waking up Luongo. He coached Luongo during his first pro season with the Lowell Loch Monsters of the AHL in 1999-2000.
Boudreau said he expects a strong performance from the Canucks' veteran.
“I know how good he can be, and I know how mentally strong he is. Every time he steps on the ice, there's that chance that he's going to be great.”
The Canucks are hoping their offence will be the story for a change — not goaltending. With only 24 goals for in 10 games, they are anxious to turn the red light on in the opposition's end. In the meantime, they continue to defend Luongo against intense public criticism.
“We hope that everything gets sorted out really quick,” said Vancouver forward Manny Malhotra, adding the Canucks win and lose as a team. “We talk about it all the time. We don't point fingers around here.”
Notes: Boudreau said injured defenceman Mike Green (ankle) will miss his fifth straight game. The coach hopes to see him back by next weekend. ... Injured Canucks defenceman Aaron Rome (hand) and winger Steve Pinizotto (shoulder) are expected to return sometime during the club's upcoming six-game road trip.