Canucks flirting with basement

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:39 AM ET

They were pegged to be an elite club with their franchise goaltender and twin stars having signed long-term contracts this summer.

However, Roberto Luongo has struggled, Daniel Sedin is injured and the Vancouver Canucks have stumbled out of the gate.

Heading into their contest last night against the Edmonton Oilers, the Canucks had yet to win on the road this season and were only better than the lowly Minnesota Wild in the division standings.

"We have high expectations of ourselves every year," said Luongo. "From the outside world, the expectations might be different this year, but as a team, we expect it every year.

"It's an 82-game schedule -- unfortunately we didn't get off to a great start, but there is a lot of hockey left to be played. We know what type of team we have in this locker-room and it's just a matter of putting it all together and start playing as a unit."

Luongo went into the game against the Oilers with an uncharacteristic 3.41 goals against average and a .870 save percentage through the first seven games of the season.

He's already been pulled twice, giving up four goals on 12 shots in a loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Canucks home opener, then allowing 19 shots in a loss last week to Calgary.

On Saturday, though, Luongo did bounce back and had a strong effort against the Wild in a 2-1 win.

"He had a good game last game against Minnesota, even though he didn't have a lot of work, he made the right saves at the right time," said Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault. "I'm not really concerned that much about his play. He's such a professional and a hard worker, that sooner or later, things are going to start rolling for him. Goaltending is such a key component for teams to win in the NHL. Once he starts to get on a roll we'll be in great shape."

Luongo, 30, is still expected to be Canada's starting goaltender at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Yet his struggles early on are a direct correlation to the team's woes.

"Name me one team in the NHL where that isn't the case," Vigneault said. "When you look at all the teams right now and you look at the save percentage of all the goalies, that's the one common denominator. We're no different than anybody else."

The Canucks' issues, however, are not limited to their starting goaltending.

They haven't played well defensively, and with the exception of their previous game against the Wild where they had 39 shots, have struggled to score.

"I think it's a combination of better puck management and better overall play on the ice," Vigneault said. "For whatever reason, we've been able to do it, but we haven't been able to sustain it. A lot of that also has to do with the opposition.

"We've played against some very good teams that have been playing some very good hockey.

"We're also missing some key performers. You don't replace guys like Daniel Sedin or Sami Salo. You just look at our record when he's in our lineup and when he's not, there is a huge difference there. Some other people just have to step up in some different situations on the ice."

DEREK.VANDIEST@SUNMEDIA.CA


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