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Canucks’ Luongo on the verge of exorcising first-month demons

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo prepares to glove the puck during the third period of an NHL game against the New Jersey Devils, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013, in Newark, N.J.

Bill Kostroun/AP

Roberto Luongo may have exorcised his October curse.

The 34-year-old goaltender has mostly struggled during Octobers in his time with the Canucks, but in the 2013 edition of the ghoulish month, Luongo has put up fairly solid numbers – and produced his best win-loss record for the month of his Vancouver tenure.

After a win on Monday against the visiting Washington Capitals, with Luongo stopping Alex Ovechkin on a penalty shot one minute in, the goalie is 7-3-1 this October. It is, with one October match remaining Wednesday against Detroit, his best record for the month – one loss better than the 7-4-1 he posted in 2006.

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"We've got one more game left, so let's not jinx it," Luongo said with a laugh after the Caps game. (Indeed: Luongo yielded 13 goals in two games to the Red Wings last year.)

It doesn't hurt that two key figures from the Canadian men's Olympic hockey team watched Luongo's strong play – and will again see him Wednesday. Wings head coach Mike Babcock, who will coach Team Canada, and Wings general manager Ken Holland, who is a Team Canada executive, took in Monday night's match from the media box at Rogers Arena.

Luongo won the starting job on Team Canada for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and hopes to recapture the role for Sochi, Russia, facing competition from Corey Crawford (Chicago Blackhawks) and Carey Price (Montreal Canadiens), as well as Mike Smith (Phoenix Coyotes) and Braden Holtby (Capitals).

Luongo's futile Octobers have been hard to explain, particularly by the goaltender himself. A factor, certainly, has been the generally slow starts of the team as a whole. But the difference in Luongo's play has been striking.

In figures parsed by The Globe and Mail, his save percentage is telling. In six Octobers with the Canucks before this season, his October save-percentage was 0.906, the result of a journeyman. The figure for November through April jumps to a strong 0.921.

It bleeds heavily into wins and losses. In Octobers, before 2013, Luongo has gone 28-27-4 for the Canucks, whereas he is otherwise 205-94-40 in the regular season.

This year, he has a save percentage of 0.908, fractionally better than his average, and a goals-against average of 2.50, better than his 2.74 in previous Octobers. On both stats, this is his third-best October out of seven in Vancouver, behind his 2006-07 year, when he was stellar from the start, and 2009-10, when he played well but started 6-6.

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Luongo is keenly aware of his stats. He booked the win against Washington but faced only 19 shots, stopping 17, for a save-percentage of 0.895. Yet, he felt strong in the net, confident and spry.

It has been like that through much of this October, playing well, carrying the team at times, but the final numbers don't look too hot.

"Just like tonight, felt unreal, but under. 900," he said. "You know what I mean? It's one of those things where that's the way it's been going, but at the end of the day, it's all about the wins. We're winning some hockey games and that's what matters."

Before the Capitals game, he said much the same: "I feel good. Everything feels good, except for the stats."

On stats, as early as it is – Luongo noted a goaltender's broader body of work would also be considered in booking a ticket to the Olympics.

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