Roberto Luongo Eyes an Early Return: What This Means for Vancouver

Dylan O'BrienContributor IDecember 8, 2008

Aside from the Vancouver Canucks' recent slump, most news is good news in the BC.

The Canucks are sitting atop the Northwest Division, and tied with the Calgary Flames at 33 points. Mats Sundin is set to finalize his short list of teams he will consider for his late-December return, and it seems that Vancouver will be high up on his short list of possible contenders.

The biggest surprise, however, has been the lightning-quick recovery of star goaltender, Roberto Luongo. Originally set to miss four to five weeks after injuring his groin on Nov. 22 against Pittsburgh, Luongo has been skating for about a week now, and is expected to return two or three weeks early.

Today, The Vancouver Province reported that Luongo, who had eleven wins and five shutouts before his injury, is eyeing a Saturday return to the Canucks lineup when they face-off against the Edmonton Oilers.

In the seven games since Luongo's injury, the Canucks have recorded an awful 2-4-1 record while still managing to average more than three goals per game, twice tallying four or more goals in losing efforts.

Needless to say, the Canucks miss their captain. Now that the Vancouver offense has found its scoring touch, Luongo's 2.17 GAA and .928 save percentage have been sorely missed for the past two weeks. If Luongo had been around this past week, the Canucks would likely be sitting pretty as sole leaders of the Northwest division.

Only speculation, of course.

Sunny skies lie ahead in Vancouver. A solid return by Luongo will only help their chances to land Sundin and potentially blossom into a legit contender out West. We'll keep an eye on Luongo's situation as the Canucks are a much-improved team with Big Roberto between the pipes.

Around the League:

A few other notables are set to return from injuries in the next week or so—others, maybe not. We will take a quick look around the NHL and analyze a few impact players.


Windy-City Wizz:

Let's face the facts. The Chicago Blackhawks are back with a vengeance.The Hawks roster is absolutely oozing with talent, boasting young superstars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

Equally impressive is the Hawks' depth from the blue line. After signing, Brian Campbell in the off-season, Chicago added to the already solid defensive lineup including Duncan Keith and shut-down specialist Brent Seabrook.

The news just keeps getting better in the Windy City as James Wisniewski is set to return this week after being out all season with injury.

Wisniewski had a stellar season, and emerged as one of Chicago's best defensive players. Wizz showed himself to be a very solid two-way player, posting seven goals and 29 points last year for the Hawks, adding a solid plus-12 rating in 68 games.

Look for coach Joel Quenneville to juggle his defensemen around this coming week as Wisniewski is set to return Friday against Colorado. Wisniewski's presence should strengthen Chicago from the back-end, and look for the young defenseman to help one of the league's weaker defenses.


Some Hope for a Slumping Powerplay:

The Pittsburgh Penguins went one-for-seven with the man-advantage tonight in their loss to the Buffalo Sabres. After failing to connect during a full two minutes of a five-on-three play midway through the second period, the Sabres rallied back from a 3-2 deficit to win the game 4-3 on Tomas Vanek's NHL-best 20th goal.

The burning question for the Pittsburgh Penguins remains the lack of success with the man-advantage. They still hold the league's worst road powerplay, and with all that talent upfront, what's the deal?

Youngsters Alex Goligoski and Kris Letang have been tasked with carrying the offensive load for a team that usually sports the dynamic-blue line-duo of Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney.

Goligoski has been incredibly shaky at times, and coughing up the puck a whole hell of a lot. Letang had failed to tally a goal all season until tonight's game against Buffalo as well.

The Penguins' powerplay woes could be a thing of the past very soon—Ryan Whitney turned in his no-contact jersey over the weekend for the full-contact variety, and will be participating in full practice starting this week.

Whitney is a stud from the blue line, and will play top PP time alongside Malkin on the point. In 2006-07, Whitney posted 14 goals and 59 points, but slumped a little last season while suffering from an ankle-injury, posting only 12 goals and 40 points.

Regardless, Ryan Whitney's presence on the blue line will likely provide more solid rushes from the back end, better passing, and more experience. Look for the Penguins' powerplay to right the ship once Whitney is back in the lineup.

Day-to-Day: A Phrase Quickly Becoming a Joke in the Nation's Capital

Alexander Semin sure started the season off with a bang, posting 14 goals, 13 assists, and a +/-17 rating in a mere 16 games. All the media buzz was about the "new" Alex in Washington as Semin lit up the league.

All the flashbulbs, the interviews, and the Sidney Crosby trash-talk is a thing of the past.

Semin has been "day-to-day" since suffering an upper-back strain Nov. 15 against the Devils. Last time I checked, a month isn't "day-to-day." It's a month. Period.

While Ovechkin has been stellar in his absence, coach Bruce Boudreau sorely misses the second-best Alex on the Capitals to complete the Russian duo up-front.  Semin has been skating on-and-off with the team, and there is still no timetable for his return to action.

While overshadowed by the injury to Alexander Semin, the loss of youngster Mike Green on the blue line has been devastating to the Capitals offensive push.

Green possesses the classic hockey "intangibles"—incredible ice vision, blistering speed, nice shot, and solid powerplay quarterbacking make him invaluable to the Capitals. He has been sidelined with a bruised shoulder since being smashed into the boards by Chris Pronger on Nov. 20.

Green is also listed as day-to-day, but according to reports over the weekend, his shoulder is still not 100 percent. Progress concerning Green's shoulder has been very slow, but Coach Bruce Boudreau remains optimistic for a quick return.

Sadly, it seems the Capitals will have to do without these young superstars for the foreseeable future.


Watch for all these players to make a large impact on their respective teams in the near future. Happy watching!