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Luongo's struggles pop up at the wrong time

The SportsXchange

This is not what the Vancouver Canucks want -- or need -- as the playoffs approach.

With only two games to go in the regular season, a goaltending controversy is picking up steam in Canuck Nation, and it shows little sign of going away.

Starter Roberto Luongo was yanked after he allowed four goals on 15 shots in Vancouver's 5-4 comeback victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday night. Cory Schneider did not allow a goal on nine shots, although he was beaten by Teemu Selanne in the shootout.

Luongo, arguably, could be faulted on one, maybe two of Anaheim's goals. Ryan Getzlaf scored his first goal in 10 games and just his second in 33 on a drop pass from Corey Perry after a giveaway at the other of the ice. Perry netted Vancouver's second goal after he was allowed to skate out of the corner and put in a backhand.

Luongo probably should have had that one, although he had no defensive help whatsoever. Nor could the Canucks netminder be faulted as Rod Pelley and Devante Smith-Pelly scored on one-timers while being left uncovered in front of the net.

After Smith-Pelly's goal, which gave the Ducks a 4-2 lead at 7:03 of the second period, Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault did what most bench bosses would at that juncture. He pulled Luongo in favor of Schneider, who was serenaded like a returning war hero by the crowd.

But Schneider did not appreciate the fawning response from fans, which was an obvious sign of displeasure with Luongo.

"It's getting old," Schneider said. "I'm glad they like me and support me, but he's a guy that has done a lot for this team and this city, and he deserves a lot better than that."

As Vigneault said afterward, the move was merely designed to give his team some momentum -- not a statement on Luongo's play. To Luongo's credit, he fell on his sword afterward, although it was obviously difficult for him as he walked out of the back area of the dressing room to face reporters.

"Even though there were breakdowns on the plays, I've got to come up with the save," Luongo said. "I'm disappointed in myself that I didn't play up to my expectations, and I don't have a reason for it. So (I'll) just come back and work hard tomorrow."

Although he should not have been faulted for Vancouver's sub-par defensive effort in the first 30 minutes, his play was still cause for concern. Earlier this season, and perhaps in other games this week, he would have made a spectacular save to prevent the Ducks from building their advantage.

Also, Luongo said recently he pushed his reset button after struggling with his position's mental demands. The timing is bad, because he had difficulties in the first playoff round against Chicago last spring and also against Boston in the Stanley Cup finals.

He set the chattering classes on overdrive when most of the discussion should have been on unsung hero Max Lapierre scoring his third regulation-time goal in three games and the decisive shootout goal. To a degree, Luongo also deflected discussion away from Vancouver's struggling second line. David Booth missed a penalty shot, was benched in the second period and only returned in the third because Zack Kassian went down with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Meanwhile, Ryan Kesler was a minus-3, and Mason Raymond was his usual inconsistent self, although he drew a second assist on Lapierre's goal that created a 4-4 tie.

The second unit's woes could have been overlooked after Vancouver posted its seventh straight win -- even without injured top goal-getter Daniel Sedin (concussion).

But Luongo being Luongo, his difficulties, regardless of how reasonably they can be explained, are always cause for major concern.

The last thing the Canucks need is for him to be struggling mentally right now.
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