Roberto Luongo returns home tonight as the Vancouver Canucks take on the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre tonight. Luongo will certainly be looking to rebound after a very shaky start in Toronto on Saturday, as he faces his hometown Habs the game after being pulled after only 20 minutes.
Luckily for the Canucks, Luongo has responded well in games after being pulled. In games immediately after being pulled, Luongo is 3-0, with a 1.33 GAA and a .943 SV%. One of those great performances this year came against these same Canadiens, in what became the Canucks first victory of the season. Furthermore Luongo always plays well when returning home to Montreal. One of Luongo’s most infamous performances happened in Montreal, when he beat the Canadiens a day after spending time in hospital for taking a puck to the throat.
As well as Luongo will likely play tonight, the Canadiens have also struggled offensively, and are now missing their leading scorer. Michael Cammalleri is now out 6-8 weeks with a torn right MCL, and were already missing Paul Mara, Miroslav Spacek and Andrei Kostitsyn. Despite a never-ending goaltending controversy, the team has done reasonaly well defensively this year. They are clawing at the top 10 in a number of defensive categories, and Jaroslav Halak’s numbers this year have been impressive (14-8, 2.45 GAA .927 Sv%).
The Canadiens hold a major statistical advantage on special teams. They have been great all year on both the power play and the penalty kill. As good as the Canucks have been on the power play this year, the Habs have been better. They sit 2nd in the league in total power play, however they are only 18th at home.
For the Canucks, the more time they spend at 5-on-5, they more success they’ll have. The Habs can wrestle control of this game if they can slow this game down and make it a messy, scrappy, ugly game. The problem with that is that the Canadiens don’t have the players to do that well. They have a small line-up and no real tough guys, so it will be hard for them to trap the Canucks and slow the game down. Vancouver also does very well on 2 days off, as they are 5-1-0 when they have 2 days between games.
Luongo and the Canucks should also be buoyed be the fact that they are 4-1 against the Canadiens in their last five meetings. I would expect that Luongo and fellow Quebecers Alex Burrows and Steve Bernier will have big games tonight. Bernier especially needs a big game to play himself out of the AV doghouse. There are players on the Manitoba Moose who are knocking on the Canucks door right now (Grabner, Hansen) and could easily take Bernier’s spot permanently. Bernier needs to show he’s worth a roster spot over the up-and-comers.
It’s been a bit of a one-sided match-up in recent years, and the Habs have struggled to maintain any type of consistency this year. The Canucks have hit a groove and are looking to continue this epic road trip with another win. This time in Montreal, at least they won’t have to rescue Luongo from an emergency room. Let’s just hope he puts his no-show against Toronto behind and rolls on to victory.