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Canucks coming on strong

Winners of five straight stay focused despite distractions

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VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks have passed an adversity test as the quarter point of the lockout-shortened NHL season approaches.

Heading into today's home game against the Minnesota Wild, the Canucks have fashioned a five-game win streak -- matching their best run of a season ago -- even though some questions remain unanswered.

With game No. 12 of 48 looming, Vancouver (7-2-2) has strung together wins while dealing with an ongoing saga about its goaltending situation and injuries to second-line forwards Ryan Kesler and David Booth that have forced lineup shuffles.

"Those questions were from the outside," said coach Alain Vigneault. "From the inside, like we've mentioned all along, we're focused on a game-to-game basis. We always knew that we had two good goaltenders who both have a team-first attitude and want the team to win.

"So we never thought that would be a big issue, and injuries are part of the game. We said at the beginning of the year that we were going to play with the guys that were healthy and available, and that's what we've done."

Not necessarily in convincing fashion.

The power play, ranked 20th in the league with a nine-for-56 conversion rate (16.1 per cent) has struggled, and Vigneault made tweaks to it during a practice Monday at Rogers Arena. Vancouver's penalty-killing, also ranked 20th (77.8 per cent kill rate) has not been outstanding either.

But the Canucks have caught a strong goaltending wave. Roberto Luongo, who will start against Minnesota, sits second in the league with a 1.53 goals-against average, .940 save percentage and 3-0-2 record.

Cory Schneider, who has drawn the backup assignment after posting wins over Calgary and Minnesota, also sports impressive numbers with one shutout, a 2.36 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.

"The good thing about (the streak) is we're finding different ways to win," said Luongo.

The Canucks, he added, are "rounding into form" by playing their systems really well. After getting burned for seven goals in a season-opening loss to Anaheim, the Canucks have allowed two goals or less in nine of their past 10 games.

"We take pride in that, not only the goalies but as a team," said Luongo. "It's important to play well defensively. We all know, at the end of the day, that's what's going to make us go far.

"We have the offence, but we're not going to score three or four goals every game. As long as we're playing well defensively, we'll keep ourselves in the game."

Luongo has also been able to keep his head in the game despite trying circumstances. He continues to excel while appearing calm and comfortable despite the uncertainty of a pending trade after he was displaced as the starter by Schneider in last spring's Stanley Cup playoffs.

"You don't want to be just moping around and bringing negative energy into the dressing room," said Luongo. "That would a huge distraction for the boys and for myself. It doesn't really do any good."

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 12, 2013 C5

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