VANCOUVER - Alain Vigneault made Roberto Luongo a backup goaltender with the Vancouver Canucks, a demotion that led everyone, including Luongo, to believe he'd be traded. Instead, Luongo stayed and Vigneault was fired.
Thus, it was a little ironic that Luongo was the biggest reason the Canucks spoiled Vigneault's return to Vancouver with his new team, making 41 saves in a 5-0 rout of the New York Rangers on Thursday night.
"It wasn't really talked about," Luongo said of Vigneault's return. "We're focused on playing the best we can in the new system."
Despite being billed as the NHL's first coaching trade, with John Tortorella getting the Canucks' job after Vigneault replaced him with the Rangers, that was the focus for both teams and their new coaches after preseason struggles. The men behind both benches were more concerned about getting their new teams comfortable with the system and style changes they've implemented.
The early edge went to Tortorella, even if he and Vigneault both had good things to say about a Rangers team with a 41-20 shot advantage.
"The Rangers didn't play bad," Tortorella said of the team he coached for more than four seasons. "They played a pretty good hockey game."
Despite falling to 1-4-0 in the preseason, Vigneault wasn't arguing.
"To tell you the truth, I thought this was one of our better games," he said. "If I look at the way we played and the number of chances that we were able to generate, I like that part of our game. I didn't like our finish, obviously, but we met a goaltender that was sharp."
Vigneault has seen that before from Luongo. He won the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's top coach in 2007 - the same year Luongo finished as the runner-up for both the Vezina Trophy as top goalie and Hart Trophy as League MVP.
He expects to see similar from his new goalie, Henrik Lundqvist, who won the Vezina in 2012 and has long been one of the NHL's best goaltenders. But Lundqvist is also trying to adjust to a new defensive style in front of him.
"If you look at the last couple of games, there has been a lot of deflections and that's a big part of the game," said Lundqvist, who was pulled after giving up five goals on 17 shots in two periods but now plans to play the Rangers' preseason finale in Las Vegas against the Los Angeles Kings on Friday night. For him, it will be another chance to get used to the changes.
"Some are great plays by them, some we have to do better reads, and also I have to come up with the saves," he said. "I have to do better reads when the puck is coming at me. It's a big part of the game to defend deflections and we have to keep working on it."
In turn, Luongo is trying to adjust to Tortorella's system, which places a greater emphasis on shot blocking, asks the defensemen to play more of a zone in front of him and has the forwards collapse more, creating additional traffic.
It was a problem in Luongo's preseason debut -- he allowed four goals in less than 13 minutes against the Edmonton Oilers last week -- but didn't look like an issue against the Rangers. He fought through the increased traffic to get pieces of several deflected pucks, and went cross-crease to rob Derick Brassard and Taylor Pyatt on odd-man rushes.
"It wasn't a 5-0 game," said captain Henrik Sedin, who celebrated his 33rd birthday with two goals. "We didn't play our best but Lu was good."
Tortorella concurred, criticizing his new team as much as he praised his old one.
"We've got some work to do," he said. "Louie was really good. I think things could have been different if he didn't play the way he played. We've got a number of things to improve on away from the puck defensively as far as what we need to do there."
The Canucks started making changes after the game, sending defenseman Frank Corrado to Utica of the American Hockey League despite an impressive goal and an assist outing against the Rangers.
"He has to go play," said Tortorella, who also sent Zach Hamill to Utica and Brendan Gaunce back to his junior team. "We're not going to keep a young guy here to be a sixth guy or a seventh guy who's playing eight or nine minutes. He can go down there and play 25, 30."
The Canucks dressed most of their expected opening night roster, leaving out only defenseman Jason Garrison and suspended forwards Zack Kassian and Dale Weise. Forward David Booth, who was limited to 12 games last season due to injuries, also made his preseason debut, and 18-year-old rookie Hunter Shinkaruk made a bid to stick around by scoring his second goal of the preseason.
"Every day I come to the rink and hope my nametag is still on my stall," said Shinkaruk, who was picked 24th in the 2013 NHL Draft. "I have watched the high-end goalies a long time growing up and the chance to score on Lundqvist is something I am sure I will remember."
Lundqvist, who was knocked down on the first power play goal but whiffed on a long knuckleball for the second, would like to forget it. He had no chance on Henrik Sedin's second goal but got caught jumping awkwardly when Ryan Kesler tipped down a power play point shot from Alexander Edler, who had three assists. Shinkaruk rounded out the scoring, and Martin Biron took over in goal to start the third.
In addition to Lundqvist finding his game, Vigneault said Friday's finale in Las Vegas is a last chance for young players to make an impression.
"There are a lot of players right now that are close but haven't really shown me they can play at this level on a consistent basis," he said.
The Rangers re-signed their top scorer from last season, Derek Stepan, earlier in the day but he won't meet up with the team until Sunday in New York. They are also without Carl Hagelin and captain Ryan Callahan, both of whom are recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and expected to miss the start of the regular season, though Callahan was cleared for contact Thursday. New York has played all of its preseason games on the road and will play their first nine regular-season games away from home while the renovation of Madison Square Garden concludes.
"There's still a couple young guys that are going to get a chance but they are definitely going to have to do better," Vigneault said.
|Back to top|