Despite downplaying his return to Vancouver just four months after being relieved of his duties as head coach of the Canucks, clearly Alain Vigneault had to be hoping for better then what actually took place when his new team faced his old one Thursday night at Rogers Arena.
The Rangers were beaten in nearly every phase of the game---despite a 41-20 shots on goal advantage---falling to the Canucks 5-0, their third straight pre-season loss on this trip out West. They will look to close out their pre-season schedule with a win when they skate against the Los Angeles Kings in Las Vegas Friday night.
Vancouver was paced by Henrik Sedin---who scored twice, Alex Edler---who notched three assists, and Ryan Kesler---who added a goal and an assist, though it was the superior goaltending of Roberto Luongo that was the real difference Thursday night. Luongo was terrific in stopping all 17 shots he faced in the opening period when Vancouver grabbed a 2-0 lead despite firing nine fewer shots on goal. The Canucks goalie finished the night with 41 saves.
Henrik Lundqvist was not nearly as sharp between the pipes for the Rangers, surrendering five goals on 17 shots before being replaced after two periods of play. Though he did not receive much help from his teammates in clearing the crease or slowing down the Canucks forwards, Lundqvist did allow one,goal on a long first-period shot by Frank Corrado that he'd like to have back. He was also off-balance on two other goals---though Lundqvist was likely interfered with on Sedin's first-period power play goal.
It was the second straight game that the Rangers gave up five goals, a surprisingly high number even in pre-season action. Martin Biron, who relieved Lundqvist after 40 minutes of play Thursday, surrendered all five goals in Tuesday's 5-3 loss in Edmonton.
Perhaps more alarming on Thursday was that the Rangers dressed all six of their top defensemen and many of the regular forwards who likely will be on the opening night roster. The top defense pairing of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh was on ice for three even strength goals by the Canucks, while Rick Nash was a minus-two with a pair of penalties.
The Rangers did have several prime scoring opportunities Thursday night, but Luongo stoned them time and again. A pair of veterans fighting to hold on to roster spots---Taylor Pyatt and Darroll Powe---both had excellent scoring chances down low but were robbed by Luongo point-blank. Powe also had an excellent scoring chance off a shorthanded rush that was snuffed out in the second period by another big-time save by Luongo.
If there was one sequence Vigneault would want to show his team during a tape session, it was when John Moore broke up a 3-on-1 Canucks rush at one end of the ice, then joined the rush the other way to finish off a neat passing sequence with a blistering left wing shot that somehow was snagged out of the air by Luongo during the third period.
Unfortunately on this night, there was little else from a positive angle the coach could show his team in the tape room. Better to put this one behind and move on to Vegas Friday night.