VANCOUVER – Although Roberto Luongo is on the shelf suffering from an undisclosed upper-body injury, nobody in Vancouver is panicking.
In fact, many fans prefer having Cory Schneider in goal.
The 25-year-old showed why on Sunday, making several key saves – including two on breakaways and another point-blank chance in overtime – to lead the Vancouver Canucks to a 2-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators.
“We needed one of our goaltenders to come in and steal us a game where it wasn’t pretty and that’s what Schneids did tonight,” said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. “To win in this league and in a consistent fashion you need great goaltending. … I thought Schneids was our best player on the ice.”
Chris Higgins had the overtime winner and Henrik Sedin also scored for Vancouver (10-9-1), which rebounded from a 5-1 shellacking at the hands of Chicago on Wednesday.
Colin Greening scored and surprise starter Alex Auld, who got the nod in favour of injured Craig Anderson, made 25 saves as Ottawa (10-9-2) fell to 3-2-0 on its season-high six-game road trip.
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“They’re an elite team in the league and I thought we deserved a better fate tonight,” said Senators forward Jason Spezza. “We had some quality scoring chances and at the end of a real tough road trip we played a real good hockey game.”
Luongo got hurt in last Sunday’s victory over the New York Islanders and his return date is unknown. After Schneider’s performance on Sunday, there is no rush for him to come back.
Less than a minute prior to Higgins’ winner, Erik Condra snuck behind the Vancouver defence and tipped a pass on goal, but Schneider was in position for the save.
With the score 1-1 midway through the third period, Schneider did the splits and robbed Milan Michalek with a glove save on a breakaway after Michalek executed a pretty backhand deke.
Michalek had another breakaway in the first period and met the same fate.
“I’ve needed to come up with some more big saves and tonight I was able to,” said Schneider, who went 16-4-2 last season. “The last couple of starts I haven’t been able to keep it close and tonight I did.”
Higgins has also been strong for Vancouver, and came through in overtime. On a seemingly harmless play the hard-working forward parked himself in front of the net and deflected a Dan Hamhuis shot past Auld on the short side.
It was Higgins’ seventh goal of the season.
“I was just talking about it with (Kevin) Bieksa there,” explained Higgins. “He said, ‘Aw, if I was a forward I’d just go stand in front all day.’ We were talking about that before the game. It’s kind of where I score most of my goals.”
The Senators had tied the game 3:32 into the third, when Greening eluded Aaron Rome in front of Vancouver’s goal and one-timed a Spezza pass behind Schneider.
After a sloppy first period that saw neither team score, Vancouver’s league-best power play went to work early in the second frame.
With Sergei Gonchar in the penalty box for tripping, Henrik Sedin took a pass from Daniel Sedin and one-timed a shot past Auld for his seventh of the season.
The puck caromed off Ottawa forward Jesse Winchester’s stick before it snuck through Auld, who played for Vancouver from 2002-06.
Auld, who has struggled this season, made a surprise start after Anderson left the morning skate with neck stiffness. Anderson was well enough to play backup and is listed as day-to-day.
Auld, who entered with an 0-3-0 record and an .823 save percentage, played his best game of the season.
His most memorable save came with Vancouver leading 1-0 midway through the second period, when he moved from his right to his left on a Canucks 2-on-1 and robbed Ryan Kesler with a glove save.
“The last couple of weeks I’ve been trying to work on my game and get back to basics and it’s tough sometimes when you don’t play a lot,” said Auld. “But it’s what I’ve been focusing on and it definitely served me well tonight.”
NOTES: The victory was Alain Vigneault’s 246th with the Canucks, tying him with Marc Crawford on the franchise’s all-time wins list. Vigneault accomplished the feat in 430 games, 99 fewer than Crawford. … Ottawa’s last win in Vancouver came in March of 2004. … Canucks D Andrew Alberts drew into the lineup for Keith Ballard, who hurt his back in Wednesday’s 5-1 loss to Chicago. Alberts looked rusty and had two minor penalties, including a boarding call that could have been a major. The play may be reviewed by the league. “I just want (league disciplinarian Brendan) Shanahan to do his job,” said Senators coach Paul MacLean. “I’m not doing his. I have a hard enough job doing mine.”