Has Roberto Luongo Recaptured the Vancouver Canucks' Starting Goaltender Job?

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Has Roberto Luongo Recaptured the Vancouver Canucks' Starting Goaltender Job?
Rich Lam/Getty Images

This season was supposed to be the beginning of the end for Roberto Luongo as the Vancouver Canucks starting goaltender.

He was relegated to backup duty coming into the season, and there were lots of trade rumors linking him to several teams all through the lockout and after a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) was reached.

But with Luongo clearly outplaying teammate Cory Schneider so far, has the 33-year-old veteran recaptured the No. 1 job in the Vancouver goal?

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Luongo hasn't taken his old job back yet, but a quality performance against the rival Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night would give him a clear advantage over Schneider.

The Canucks and Blackhawks have had some amazing playoff battles over the last few years, and Chicago gave Luongo a lot of trouble in those series.

As Luongo prepares himself for his toughest test of the season, he welcomes the challenge that the Blackhawks present.

"It's exciting, nothing better than a game against the Blackhawks to get a little playoff intensity going there," said Luongo (via CanucksTV). "Those guys have been one of the top teams in the league so far so it's a good measuring stick for us."

Getting the start in the most important game of the year thus far is a huge opportunity for Luongo to show Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault, as well as general manager Mike Gillis that he's still the No. 1 netminder on this team.

The Blackhawks are one of three NHL teams that still haven't lost in regulation yet, and they are in second place in the Western Conference with a 6-0-1 record.

Luongo hasn't had a bad performance this season, and Friday's game versus the Blackhawks will be his third consecutive start after he shutout the Colorado Avalanche, Wednesday.

In fact, he's had more ice time than Schneider, and his stats are also more impressive.

  GP/GS W/L/OT GAA SV% SO
Luongo 4/3 1-0-3 1.61 .938 1
Schneider 4/4 2-2-0 3.13 .897 1

If the Canucks do want to trade Luongo, he's certainly not making it easy for them. He's acted very professionally this season even though he wasn't the starter for the first time since early in his career. He's also good friends with Schneider and has been very supportive of his teammates in the media.

Luongo is not only playing well, he doesn't look unhappy either, and since Schneider hasn't taken the No. 1 job with his performance, Gillis has no choice but to see if Luongo is capable of becoming the starter again.

Rich Lam/Getty Images

A victory and a strong performance against the Blackhawks would make it very difficult for Vigneault to keep Luongo in a backup role. He's looked more relax in net this season and also appears to be enjoying the game a little more.

Schneider might be the goaltender of the future in Vancouver, but Luongo has much more experience and is still capable of playing like a Vezina Trophy caliber goalie.

In a shortened season with every point making a big impact in the standings, the Canucks will need one goaltender to step up and carry the team through a three-team race for the Northwest Division title that includes the Edmonton Oilers and the Minnesota Wild.

Through seven games, Luongo has been the best goaltender in Vancouver, and a win against the rival Blackhawks would make him the undisputed starter in net for the foreseeable future.

This is a statement game for Luongo, and it will be interesting to see how he responds to the challenge.

 

Nicholas Goss is an NHL columnist at Bleacher Report, follow him on Twitter.

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