GAME DAY: TONIGHT, 6 p.m. (PST), ROGERS ARENA
EDMONTON OILERS AT VANCOUVER CANUCKS
Radio: Team 1040; TV: Sportsnet
Coach Alain Vigneault insists he is simply sticking to his plan by starting Roberto Luongo in goal tonight against the Edmonton Oilers.
“It was my plan that I had figured out a couple of days ago and nothing happened last night to change my mind,” Vigneault told reporters after this morning’s optional game-day skate at Rogers Arena.
There had been considerable speculation that Vigneault might come back with Cory Schneider, who was pulled after surrendering five goals on 14 shots in Saturday night’s season-opening 7-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks.
Vigneault, who seemed to be in no mood to talk about his goaltending, simply repeated what he had already said: “Nothing happened last night to change my plan.”
Luongo, meanwhile, said he was delighted to get the news.
“It is going to be fun to start a game with this logo on,” Luongo said. “It’s something I am happy to be doing right now.”
Luongo acknowledged that after what happened last April, when he lost his starting job to Schneider, he didn’t think he’d ever play again for the Canucks.
“Last April, no, I don’t think any of us would have, right?” Luongo said. “Probably most of you don’t believe it right now, either. But it’s fun, I am glad to be getting a start and be able to play again for the Canucks. It’s an honour and I am looking forward to it tonight.”
Although Vigneault said he informed his goalies Saturday night, Schneider said he didn’t learn he was not starting until after this morning’s skate when he was told by goalie coach Roland Melanson.
“They just told me this was planned from Day 1 of training camp, to split the two of us for this weekend,” Schneider said. “I think regardless of how last night went he would have been playing today. But I obviously didn’t help my case or show that I really deserved it, but sometimes you just have to throw yourself back in the net and go at it again.”
The Canucks, of course, had more than just goaltending troubles on Saturday night. Defensively, they were a mess.
“I think we have little time to feel sorry for ourselves about last night,” said defenceman Kevin Bieksa. “We are looking forward to tonight and that’s the beauty of back-to-backs, you can get right back at it and put this one in the rear-view mirror.
“They have a pretty explosive offensive team with a lot of good forwards, a lot of skill and speed, so our defensive play is going to have to be a lot better tonight.”
The Oilers had 12 players — including most of their top young forwards — play in the AHL or Europe last season.
“Well, they are young and fast and they have been playing together all year, so there is no rust in their system,” Luongo said of the Oilers.
The Oilers will go with a top line of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle. All three of them, along with rookie defenceman Justin Schultz, played during the lockout with Oklahoma City of the AHL. In fact, Eberle and Schultz are still first and second in AHL scoring.
“We played with each other last year, too, so we are going to have a little bit of chemistry,” Eberle said. “We know each other, but the NHL is a different level than the AHL. You have to be prepared to play agaisnt top lines and top defence pairings, so I fully expect it is going to be tougher, but I think we should be able to match the challenge.”
With all their young stars, the Oilers are an intriguing team this season. Schultz, the collegiate free agent from Kelowna who spurned the Canucks to sign with the Oilers, is excited about making his first NHL start in Vancouver.
“Excited, nervous, I’m sure I’ll have butterflies right before the game, but right now I can’t wait for 6 o’clock to come,” Schultz said. “A lot of friends will be at the game, my parents are up here, so it should be a special night.”
Other than the change in goal, the Canucks will go with the same lineup that played against Anaheim.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Canucks: All eyes figure to be on Roberto Luongo. If he plays well tonight, does coach Alain Vigneault come back with him Wednesday night against the Calgary Flames?
Oilers: Defenceman Justin Schultz could hear a few boos in his NHL debut from Canuck fans disappointed he chose Edmonton over Vancouver. He’ll be part of an all-Schultz defensive pairing tonight as he skates with veteran Nick Schultz.
The Canucks are without winger David Booth (groin) and centre Ryan Kesler (shoulder, wrist surgeries).
The Oilers are missing defenceman Andy Sutton (knee) and forward Ryan Jones (eye).
Newly acquired defenceman Mark Fistric won’t play tonight for the Oilers. Edmonton coach Ralph Krueger said he wants the former Vancouver Giant to have some time to get used to his new surroundings. . .Tonight is the Oilers’ season-opener as they were one of four teams that did not play on Saturday night. . .Defencemen Cam Barker, Andrew Alberts and Jim Vandermeer will be Vancouver’s scratches tonight.