Roberto Luongo may still hit the daily double of an Olympic gold medal and Stanley Cup championship later next year, but in his first start at GM Place this season, the Vancouver Canucks goaltender didn't make it out of the second period.
Luongo was yanked after a three-goal flurry from the Columbus Blue Jackets early in the middle stanza on Monday, and the Canucks fell to 0-3 on this young NHL season. Columbus, playoff virgins last spring, improved to 2-0 after prevailing 5-3 in Vancouver's home opener.
"He gave up three goals on three shots," head coach Alain Vigneault said. "What more can I say?"
Luongo, torched for seven goals in Vancouver's playoff finale last May, was pulled less than six minutes into the period, after allowing four consecutive goals and making just eight saves. He was replaced by former Maple Leaf Andrew Raycroft, who is expected to start 12 to 15 games this season because of the condensed NHL schedule and Luongo's presumed Olympic duties.
But in a head-to-head matchup with Columbus's Steve Mason, another Canadian Olympic hopeful, Luongo failed miserably.
"Once the season starts, anything can happen," said Mason, an underdog to make the 2010 team. "So for myself, I've got to put the right foot forward right now. Hopefully, all goes well and I'll be named to that team."
Kristian Huselius's perfectly placed snapshot beat the Canucks goalie high to give Columbus a 2-1 lead just two minutes into the second. Two more goals in a 3-minute-44-second span marked his undoing.
Rostislav Klesla beat Luongo with a weak shot from the top of the faceoff circle that was deflected, and Nikita Filatov solved him just 22 seconds later with another stoppable offering.
Rick Nash had three assists, while Antoine Vermette, Huselius and Klesla each had a goal and an assist. Willie Mitchell did the same for Vancouver, netting a goal just seven minutes into the third period to make the score 4-3, but Blue Jackets defenceman Fedor Tyutin ended the drama with a power-play tally late on.
Mason finished with 40 saves, including a glove-hand beauty on a point-blank Mikael Samuelsson chance midway through the third. Raycroft, who was warmly received by 18,810 for his Canucks debut, made 11 stops.
Luongo was pulled for the first time since April 2008, when he was removed from the regular-season finale in an eventual blowout loss to the Calgary Flames. The fans cheered his removal, though the popular Luongo said his feelings weren't hurt and that he expected it given his performance.
"I think it was about a change of momentum and after that, we kind of got going a little bit," he said. "Obviously, I didn't really deserve to be in there at that point."
Vancouver, meanwhile, continues to struggle offensively when the Sedin twins are on the bench.
The top line factored into the team's first goal, but the second unit was so ineffective that by mid-game Russian rookie Sergei Shirokov was demoted and Samuelsson was minus-four. The line struck midway through the third period, setting up Mitchell's goal, but Samuelsson took a hooking penalty with five minutes remaining.
"He's still working to find out where he fits in," Vigneault said of Shirokov.
Luongo will be back in net Wednesday when Vancouver plays host to his hometown team, the Montreal Canadiens, in the middle contest of a three-game home stand. He said he and Vigneault always discuss a lighter workload at the beginning of each season, but that the theory never plays out because games become too important for him to miss.
"I'm not worried about it," Luongo said. "Obviously, the schedule is a bit different this year, so we'll take it as it goes."
The Canucks play the bulk of their home games between now and January because of a six-week winter stretch when their home arena will be unavailable. GM Place will host Olympic tournament games in February, and its conversion from NHL rink to 2010 venue and back will keep Vancouver on the road for six weeks and an NHL-record 14-game trip.
The Canucks moved within two goals midway through the second when defenceman Christian Ehrhoff, a German obtained in a trade with the San Jose Sharks this summer, scored his first goal for his new team.
The Canucks opened the scoring late in the first period when Henrik Sedin jumped on a loose puck just outside the crease and snapped it home.
The lead lasted almost four minutes, and failed to grow despite 79 seconds of a five-on-three power play. When the visitors returned to full strength, Nash began a three-on-two rush, and whistled a cross-crease pass to Vermette for an equalizing goal.
Blue Jackets forward Jared Boll left the game in the first period after just one shift. He was checked, simultaneously, from behind by Vancouver enforcers Darcy Hordichuk and Rick Rypien and crumpled to the ice. After several minutes on his back, Boll left under his own power, hunched over in pain, and did not return.
"He is not good, some kind of concussion right now and I'm sure the league will be looking at the hit," Columbus head coach Ken Hitchcock said. "He had his head smashed into the glass."Report Typo/Error