October 29 2009 11:42AM
The Vancouver Canucks play the first of back-to-back games in southern California, as they take on the red-hot Los Angeles Kings.
The Canucks, already hit hard by the injury bug, will be without captain and all-star goaltender Roberto Luongo tonight. Luongo suffered a cracked rib against the Maple Leafs a few games ago, and is finally sitting out of the lineup to let this injury heal.
Can the Canucks keep their heads above water without their most important player?
Tonight the goaltending duties fall on the shoulders of Andrew Raycroft, one of several free agent signings this past off-season by Mike Gillis. Raycroft has played less than 60 minutes all season, as Luongo has handled almost all the backstopping this season so far.
The game tonight offers the Canucks two distinct challenges. First, they need to rebound after a very lacklustre defensive effort against the Red Wings on Tuesday. While the Canucks forwards looked decent, the team's entire defensive play was very shaky. Up front, the Kesler/Raymond/Grabner continued to excite and produce and were really the lone bright spot in an otherwise forgettable effort.
They other challenge is that they are playing a surging Kings squad, featuing NHL points leader Anze Kopitar (13GP, 10G, 11A, 21 Pts). Before being held off the scoresheet last night, Kopitar had 9 points in his previous 4 games. The Kings are currently tied for top spot in the Pacific Division and are second overall in total goals scored.
This will be a formidable test for Raycroft, who gets his first start of the season tonight. While he has looked decent and capable in his two appearances in relief of Luongo, he has hardly faced a full test and will be in the spotlight tonight while the Canucks captain recuperates.
The Canucks will have to return to the form that they showed against Chicago, Toronto and Edmonton that saw them win all three games. In those games, the Canucks were sound and poised defensively. They need to play rock solid to give Raycroft the confidence he will need to succeed. If the Kings get to Raycroft early, his game will suffer and the Canucks will have a very long night ahead of them.
The Canucks need to play a near-perfect road game tonight. Boring, suffocating, limiting hockey and take their offensive chances when they can. If they can shut this game down, the Canucks should find success tonight. If this game gets into a run-and-gun style, the Canucks will likely be fishing a lot of pucks out of Raycroft's net.