How you do soothe the sting of losing two roster players to suspension? You play 16 veterans and muster 17 first-period shots to drive home one point.
If the Vancouver Canucks are indeed a pre-season work in progress to understand new systems and new coach John Tortorella, then a 6-1 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday at Rogers Arena was encouraging.
On a day in which they lost Zack Kassian for remainder of the pre-season (three games) and the first five regular-season games for breaking the jaw of Edmonton Oilers centre Sam Gagner on Saturday with an errant high stick — and Dale Weise for rest of the pre-season for his illegal hit to the head of Taylor Hall in the same game — the game they iced Monday was crisp and clean.
They won for the first time in 10 games, dating back to the end of the lockout regular season and playoffs, and after scoring just five goals in their previous three pre-season outings, the Canucks looked more tactful than tentative.
“We chased pucks down and our defencemen were up ice and pinched really well and it was just an aggressive attitude toward the game,” said Tortorella. “But there are still the habits and we want to try things another way. The biggest thing for me
is the mindset and it was a good night for us.”
The effort didn’t surprise Chris Higgins, who played for Tortorella with the New York Rangers. He believes three games in four days this week to conclude the pre-season and a week of practice before the Oct. 3 opener in San Jose will make a significant difference.
“The instincts for game situations are going to pick up rapidly,” predicted Higgins, who opened scoring Monday and played on an effective line with Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows. “We have pretty much a full roster and now we can start breaking down the mistakes, which will make a big difference.”
The difference against the Coyotes, who iced 14 veterans, was familiarity and flow. Jannik Hansen looked comfortable with Henrik and Daniel Sedin and gave the Canucks a 2-0 lead late in the first period when he dived in the crease to shove a power-play rebound home.
“Every day they throw stuff at us and we’re trying to channel it into the games,” said Hansen. “It obviously helps that I’ve played with them (Sedins) before. You don’t have the nervousness and I know my role — it’s driving to the net and getting pucks to them.”
Mike Santorelli roofed a rebound in the third period to solidify his roster spot and Tom Sestito even finished off a nice shorhanded feed from Bo Horvat, who had two assists.
“My mindset is to just get better every day and I keep saying that,” said Santorelli, who again received post-game praise from Tortorella. “We used our speed today and played quick.”
Roberto Luongo looked sharp and the only goal to squeeze by the starter was a Martin Hanzal redirect of a Radim Vrbata power-play feed in the second period. The Canucks got a brief scare midway through the first period when Luongo appeared to take an Oliver Ekman-Larsson one-timer off the left wrist as he sprawled to make a tough save before Vrbata put the rebound off the post. Luongo took some brief treatment at the bench and returned.
“I stopped it (shot) with the back part of my hand,” said Luongo, who was in some discomfort. “I wasn’t quite sure at the beginning, there was a pretty decent mark on it, but the pain subsided.
“That was a great team game — I thought we played really well right off the start. We stayed on top of them the whole game.
“I’m not worried about results, it’s more about the process. The forecheck was relentless and we did a good job in our own zone.”
Luongo sprawled to stop Mikkel Boedker, who danced around Kevin Bieksa, and stoned Max Domi after he worked around Andrew Alberts.
There was also good news on the back end. Yannick Weber wired a heavy point shot past the glove of a screened Thomas Greiss while Jason Garrison and Alex Edler unleashed heavy slappers to give Tortorella some interesting options. Garrison capped scoring with a hard point shot and finished with four shots and had another four blocked.
The Canucks recalled centre Zach Hamill from Utica and assigned Joe Cannata, Benn Ferriero, Patrick Mullen and Yann Sauve to their AHL affiliate.
Jordan Schroeder (foot), Nicklas Jensen (upper body), David Booth (groin) and Dan Hamhuis (groin) remain sidelined.