It might only be November but Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault is already in a playoff frame-of-mind, even if his squad wouldn't make the postseason if it started today.
The playoff instinct in question is the barely disclosed injury, a hallmark of those spring months when players fight through injuries that are shielded from prying eyes, the pressure to play, and especially opposing teams looking to exploit weaknesses.
After practice on Tuesday at Rogers Arena, Vigneault said struggling goaltender Roberto Luongo had an "upper-body injury" and would not start Wednesday night against the archrival Chicago Blackhawks.
Vigneault claimed he couldn't detail the injury because of Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller's concussion Saturday after being run down by Boston's Milan Lucic, suggesting goalies now face greater peril. Asked about Lucic's escape from punishment at the hands of league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan, Vigneault said: "I won't touch that one."
Ample skepticism abounded at Rogers Arena. Luongo skipped an optional practice on Monday but spoke with reporters and cited no problems. He missed Tuesday's practice and it was then that Vigneault said there was a problem. The presumed play on which Luongo was hurt came on Sunday night in the third period against the hapless New York Islanders. Luongo did wild splits to make a save - suggesting a groin injury - and the stop was made with his head, as a slapshot ricocheted off his helmet. Add that up with Vigneault's "upper-body injury," as well as the ailing Miller, and it was no surprise that the feared C-word was floated as a possible theory.
After the Islanders game, Luongo didn't hint at any problems and seemed spry, not clouded, or hobbled. Notwithstanding this new problem, Luongo needs to come into his usual form if the Canucks are to rise in the Western Conference and regain their Stanley Cup form. In the worst kind of annual tradition, Luongo had yet another terrible October and so far this season has yielded about three goals a game, which ranks him 45th among league netminders.
Before his injury, Luongo did backstop Vancouver to three wins in its past four games, including a drubbing of Chicago. But in the loss he was at his sieve-like worst, as he has been way too often of late. Luongo was hammered by Anaheim last Friday and yanked. On Sunday, he was solid against the Islanders, the league's worst team.
"I'm feeling good," Luongo said in an interview in the locker room after stopping 23 of 24 Islander shots. "Obviously, it was a slow start - the usual sluggish start for me. The last few weeks, I've been feeling like myself and, more important, getting some wins."