If this was Roberto Luongo’s last game in Vancouver, it was a fitting final performance. Luongo was remarkable, flashing some vintage glove saves that sparked loud “Luuuuuu” chants in the crowd.
Then he was let down by the team in front of him failing to provide any goal support and, dejected, gave up a bad goal late when it didn’t matter any more. Classic.
In some ways, Luongo is more loved now in Vancouver than he ever was in his time as a Canuck, when he faced near-constant scrutiny and criticism. Certainly, a large part of the fanbase were big fans of Luongo, but there was plenty of vitriol as well.
Just look at the Canucks fans that blamed Luongo for the end result of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, despite Luongo posting two 1-0 shutouts during that series and the players in front of him combining for 8 goals in 7 games. Sorry to re-open those old wounds, but it still bothers me how much flak Luongo caught for that series.
There’s a reason why one of the earliest comics Pass it to Bulis did with Chloe Ezra as part of our “Pass it to Comics” series was one where Luongo passive-aggressively struck back at his critics.
In the intervening years, however, several things combined to colour past perceptions of Luongo with a rosy hue.
The revelation of his secret Twitter account @strombone1 revealed a cheeky, self-deprecating personality that was a far-cry from previous depictions of him as cocky or a whiner. Looking at Luongo’s career as a whole suggests he’s a near-lock for the Hockey Hall of Fame, as he’ll likely catch Ed Belfour for third all-time in wins.
Then there’s the old adage: absence makes the heart grow fonder. Or, as Joni Mitchell put it, “You don't know what you've got ‘til it’s gone.” Luongo continued to play at an elite level after he left Vancouver, helping some Canucks fans realize that he had, in fact, played at an elite level while in Vancouver.
Now it seems like Luongo’s career is finally winding down. He’s had some serious injury issues over the past few seasons and his save percentage this season sunk below .900 for the first time in his career. Could this be his final season?
If so, I’m definitely glad I saw him one last time in Vancouver when I watched this game.
- With Josh Leivo returning to the lineup, Adam Gaudette got shunted back down to the Utica Comets. The same reasoning that justified him getting sent down to Utica a couple weeks ago still holds: he’s waiver-exempt and will benefit from the extra ice time in all situations with the Comets. Still, it’s tough to see him sent down right after scoring a goal in his last game.
- Perhaps Jacob Markstrom was sensing the adoration for Luongo in the building, because he played like he was competing for Vancouver’s love. Every save was like Jim Carrey desperately trying to win back Jennifer Aniston in Bruce Almighty. “Love me,” whispered his right toe as it robbed Jared McCann in the opening minutes. “Love me,” said his right pad, as it stymied Evgenii Dadonov at the backdoor. “Love me!” screamed his glove, as it somehow stretched back to steal a sure goal from Niklas Bjugstad.
GL😍VELY pic.twitter.com/l6PHD6u7OH— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) January 14, 2019
- Despite allowing more goals, it still felt like Luongo out-performed Markstrom. Perhaps it was because Florida’s puck management in their own zone was atrocious, constantly coughing up the puck to the Canucks for clear cut scoring chances that Luongo stole away. They were giving away the puck like it was candy at a parade. At one point an errant Panthers pass actually hit Luongo in the skate and kicked out to Brock Boeser at the top of the crease, forcing a stunning glove save on the young sniper.
- After a goalless first period, the Canucks finally got to Luongo off yet another defensive zone turnover by the Panthers. Under pressure from Loui Eriksson, Mike Hoffman tried to send a saucer pass across the zone, but Eriksson neatly knocked it out of mid-air. Luongo, expecting a quick shot, came out to challenge, but Eriksson patiently went around him and slipped the puck in from a tight angle.
- Nikolay Goldobin can’t make a mistake at this point, which has to be tough on his confidence. I thought he was having a decent game up until he got caught flat-footed and took a hooking penalty early in the third period. The Panthers scored on that power play and Goldobin was benched for the rest of the game. He finished with 8:34 in ice time, his lowest total since opening night.
- As expected after last game, Ben Hutton and Erik Gudbranson were split apart. Hutton paired with Troy Stecher instead and the pair had a fantastic game together. Not only did they combine for a goal, but they controlled play, with the Canucks out-shooting the Panthers 10-4 when they were on the ice at 5-on-5. Hutton and Stecher love playing together, and it shows.
- Travis Green kept Hutton and Gudbranson together on the penalty kill, however, and they ended up on the ice for the Panthers’ only goal. Gudbranson hasn’t been entirely at fault for his latest streak — he’s been on the ice for eight of the last ten goals against — but on this one he was far too aggressive on the penalty kill, chasing the puck nearly to the point, leading to Frank Vatrano having a lane to the net through which he could drive a Herkimer Battle Jitney. Instead he just cut to the backhand and roofed it over Markstrom.
- Hutton and Stecher regained the lead a couple minutes later with a bit of a set play off a faceoff won by Jay Beagle. Stecher immediately skated down the right boards with the puck and sent a low shot off Luongo’s right pad. The rebound went right to Hutton, who had likewise jumped up on the left side, and he fired it into the open net.
- It isn’t surprising that Hutton was wide open: having both defencemen jump up off a faceoff is almost unheard of, and for good reason. If something goes wrong, there could have potentially been a 2-on-1 the other way, with only a forward, Jay Beagle, to defend. In a tie game, that’s a bold move, but Hutton confirmed in his post-game interview with Dan Murphy that they have the green light from Green to be aggressive. He also said it was all Stecher’s idea, just in case.
- Loui Eriksson had a great night, with some fantastic defensive plays to go with his goal, but then he made it even better by ending a couple of his teammate’s goal droughts. With Luongo pulled for the extra attacker, Eriksson set up Brock Boeser (no goals in six games) and Jay Beagle (no goals in 12 games) for empty net goals. Yes, goal droughts are relative when it comes to first and fourth-line forwards, but Eriksson came through for both of them.
- Boeser deserved better in this game. His line with Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi was dominant, with Boeser and Horvat each firing five shots on goal. Boeser should have had a goal or two earlier, so it felt right when Eriksson picked off a pass at the point and banked the puck to Boeser for the empty net finish. That was actually the first empty net goal of Boeser’s career.
- Jake Virtanen nearly triggered some Sunday night shotgunned beers with an empty net goal of his own after chasing down an Antoine Roussel clearance. Instead, he rung the post from a tight angle, ensuring a few fewer hangovers tomorrow morning.
- Even Jacob Markstrom tried to get in on the empty net action. At 3-1, a mistake wouldn’t immediately cost the Canucks the game, so Markstrom gave it a shot, but it was blocked in the Canucks’ end. You can’t blame a guy for trying; the last goalie goal was scored by Mike Smith back in 2013 and goalies only get so many chances to try it. The circumstances were pretty much perfect.
- The issue for Markstrom is that Eriksson didn’t pass it to him. Would have been a guaranteed goal. It was, at least, for Beagle. Horvat went in on the forecheck and Eriksson picked off the pass up the boards, then set up Beagle with the empty net. Not content to slide it home, Beagle went unnecessarily upstairs like Ernie “Coach” Pantusso.
- To top it all off, Markus Granlund busted a slump of his own. With Luongo back in net and his teammates in front of him evidently uninterested in defending, Tyler Motte burst into the Panthers’ zone. It took three Panthers to divest him of the puck, at which point Granlund picked it up and caught Luongo off-guard with a delayed short-side shot. The 5-1 goal made what was a tightly-contested one-goal game look like a blowout.
- I understand that lots of people were looking for some sort of retribution on Mike Matheson in this game, but I wasn’t one of them. Matheson got suspended and the Canucks won both games, so retribution for something that happened three months ago seems silly. Like Gudbranson said after the game, “Practicing with [Pettersson] every day, I think that he would much rather we bring home two points like we did tonight.”
- Gudbranson did fight Michael Haley, which was somehow loosely connected to the Matheson situation, I guess. The machinations of the “code” of hockey fighting all seem a little retrograde to me. I used to love hockey fights, a product of years spent watching Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em VHS tapes, but I just don’t anymore. Gudbranson’s tilt with Haley was a good one, as hockey fights go, but it didn’t do a thing for me.