Barry Jackson

Panthers’ Luongo opens up; Panthers making changes

Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida, September 22, 2017.
Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida, September 22, 2017.

There was a time when the idea of playing only half the games wouldn’t have sat well with Roberto Luongo.

No longer.

Now 38 and hoping to prolong his career, Luongo is perfectly content with the prospect of about evenly splitting the 82-game schedule with goaltender James Reimer.

"Of course I would love to play," Luongo said in a Panthers’ BB&T Center office in recent days. But "you get more mature and understand the situation better [as you get older]. You don't let things affect you. You want to contribute and have fun. There’s no reason to be upset and frustrated."

Plus, Luongo really respects Reimer, who is nine years younger at 29.

"Reimer is a starter in the NHL, no doubt about it," Luongo said. "He looks amazing, better than even he did last year. We are a partnership. It doesn't matter what the split is going to be."

Luongo said he doesn’t have in mind “a number" of games he wants to play and "I don't care. I want to win."

Luongo missed the final six weeks of last season with a hip injury but says he’s healthy and feeling great. And a strong comeback season is critical to this team’s success.

He closed last season with a 17-15-8 record in 40 games, with a 2.68 goals against average, his highest since 2005-06, which was his final season during his first stint with Florida before spending eight years in Vancouver.

This is his fifth year back with Florida.

"I feel 38," he cracked. "The biggest difficulty is once the game is over, the time that game ends until the next one - it’s getting your body ready for the next one, getting proper rest and recuperation. That’s what's different."

Luongo now spends about 45 minutes getting his body ready for practice with stretching and other exercises. When he was younger, it took five to 10 minutes.

"I'm not going to say I am as quick as 10 years ago," he said. "But I am smarter technically and maybe that compensates for the fact I'm 38 years old." 

The Panthers also have high confidence in Reimer, who was 18-16-5 with a 2.53 goals against average.

Reimer ranked 19th in GAA last season, while Luongo was an uncharacteristically low 28th.

• Defenseman Aaron Ekblad said under this new coaching staff, led by Bob Boughner, he’s experiencing things "that I haven’t experienced in the NHL."

Such as?

"They are so organized and direct and confident with everything they say," he said. "If we have a question, they have an answer and it's the right answer. The systems are a good blend of previous coaches I've had in World Championships and World Cup. It's a fun system to play."

Ekblad said the team will play faster.

Boughner’s son was "was one of my best friends growing up," Ekblad said. But "I don’t try to get too close [to Boughner]. I don't want to be a suck up."

• Luongo says fans can expect a different style of play.

"We're all pretty excited about the new coaching staff," he said. "Guys will be playing faster, more aggressive. Maybe we were sitting back a little too much in the last year or two.

"It's going to be a different brand of hockey. We're going to be a fast aggressive team, be in their face the whole game. That's the way Boogie [Boughner] wants us to play and I think it's going to be effective for us."

Here’s a fresh six-pack of Dolphins Friday morning notes.