VANCOUVER – Jason Garrison, Maxim Lapierre and Zack Kassian scored goals as the Vancouver Canucks beat the Colorado Avalanche 3-0 Wednesday night at Rogers Arena.
Now on to the really important stuff. Like who’s going to start in goal Friday night when the Chicago Blackhawks visit town?
Roberto Luongo threw a little gasoline on the goaltending controversy with another strong performance Wednesday night. A surprise starter, Luongo turned aside all 24 shots he faced to record his 61st NHL shutout.
He’s now played more minutes this season than Cory Schneider, who had been anointed Vancouver’s new starter last spring.
Many expect Schneider will start Friday night against the Blackhawks, who are 6-0-1 after losing 3-2 in a shootout to the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday night. But many observers also thought coach Alain Vigneault would start Schneider against the Avalanche.
Vigneault wasn’t saying anything about his Friday starter after the game.
“I’ll tell you tomorrow,” he said, then adding “again, I understand why this is an issue outside our dressing room. We’ve got two goaltenders who want to play 60 games in a 48-game schedule. I get it. But at the end of the day, they are both quality individuals, they are both team guys and they will do what I say and never complain.”
Luongo, of course, is accustomed to normally getting the next start after a shutout.
“I don’t know,” Luongo said when asked if he expected to start against the Hawks. “Like I have said before, I just get ready to play and whatever the decision is it will be fine.. I just want to be ready and whoever starts Friday is good.”
Chants of “Louuuuuuu” filled Rogers Arena in the dying seconds and the fans gave Luongo a standing ovation when the final buzzer sounded. It’s clear most Canuck fans appreciate the way Luongo has handled an uncomfortable situation.
“It was nice,” Luongo said. “It was a nice moment there the last few seconds and also coming out for the (first) star as well. It was something I very much appreciated.”
Luongo’s save percentage this season is .938 and his goals-against average is 1.61. Both are fourth best in the NHL.
Now, back to the game. The Canucks finally found a 2-0 lead they could hang on to after blowing three two-goal leads in their previous six games.
It should not have been a surprise. The Canucks have owned the Avalanche in recent years. Vancouver is now 16-0-2 in its last 18 games against the Avs. Talk about your Colorado Rocky Mountain High.
Garrison got his first goal as a Canuck at 7:34 of the first period and it came on Vancouver’s first shot of the game. Garrison’s shot from the left point got past a screened Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov.
“Always nice to get that first one,” Garrison said.
It had been all Avalanche up to that point. Colorado had a 5-0 edge in shots and practically all the play had been in the Vancouver zone. But Garrison’s goal seemed to wake up the Canucks, who finished the period with a 9-7 edge in shots.
Lapierre made it 2-0 at 15:12 of the second on a nice individual effort. He beat Colorado defenceman Greg Zanon to the puck at the Vancouver blue line and broke free for a two-on-one rush with Aaron Volpatti. Lapierre’s shot from deep in the right faceoff circle trickled through Varlamov’s pads.
“The puck was bouncing a little bit so I was going for a shot for sure,” Lapierre said. “I got a little lucky, but it was big.”
Lapierre’s goal came just seconds after Luongo had made a nice glove save on a Zanon shot from the left point.
Earlier in the second, the Canucks killed off a 5-on-3 Colorado power play that lasted 1:25.
Kassian’s goal came at 8:18 of the third on a Vancouver power play. Dan Hamhuis fed Kassian a perfect pass from the left point and the rookie simply had to redirect it past Varlamov from the edge of the crease for his team-leading fifth goal of the season.
“Dan made a great play on my goal and you can’t really do too much to screw it up other than tapping it in the back of the net,” Kassian said.
Earlier in the third, Luongo stopped Colorado centre Matt Duchene on a short-handed breakaway.
“It was a key point in the game and even though he was in alone, he had a couple of guys on his back so he really didn’t have much room to do much and I was able to challenge him and not give him much,” Luongo said.
“The guys did a great job of keeping most of the shots to the outside enabling me to do my job much easier and there wasn’t really any second or third opportunities either. First and foremost it’s ncie to get the win. It’s my third start and I really wanted to get in there and get a win for the guys.
The Avs were playing without three of their top four scorers from last season. Ryan O’Reilly is holding out for a new contract, Steve Downie is gone for the season with a torn ACL and new captain Gabriel Landeskog is out with head and leg injuries following a hit on Saturday by San Jose defenceman Brad Stuart.
The win moved the Canucks above .500 at 3-2-2, while Colorado fell to 2-4-0.
ICE CHIPS: Colorado defenceman and former Canuck Shane O’Brien sat out as a healthy scratch for the fifth time in six games. . .Andrew Ebbett, Cam Barker and Andrew Alberts were the Canuck scratches.