Coincidently, this was the first time this pre-season when the on-ice product and end result were nearly perfect.
The Vancouver Canucks upended the Edmonton Oilers 4-1 in their pre-season finale Saturday night at Rogers Arena; Cody Hodgson paced the Canucks with two goals, Jannik Hansen and Mikael Samuelsson each had singles, while Roberto Luongo made 28 saves in his first win of the pre-season.
When cuts came down the pipe Friday and Hodgson was not one of the players sent back to his junior team, the 21-year-old breathed a sigh of relief and enjoyed the moment. Then, with the feeling absorbed, he rededicated himself to making the most of the opportunity put forth by the Canucks.
Centering Vancouver’s second line between Marco Sturm and Mikael Samuelsson, Hodgson had his best pre-season outing in seven games and it started with a first period power play goal where he tipped a low Dan Hamhuis point shot past Nikolai Khabibulin.
Hodgson then put the icing on Vancouver’s third pre-season win with an empty net goal with two seconds left in the third; the bookend goals were the second and third for Hodgson, who said he’s already starting to build some chemistry with linemates Sturm and Samuelsson.
“They’re great players obviously, they’re both good playmakers with good shots, so it went well tonight and hopefully it goes well in the future,” said Hodgson, adding that the only advice they’ve given him so far is to have fun on the ice.
The smile he had on the ice and in the locker room post-game was proof he’s taking their advice to heart.
“It was a fun game to be a part of, it was intense, it was a close game right until the end and I had a lot of fun. It was great playing with Marco and Michael, I thought we got some good chemistry there and it was a good night overall for everybody.”
Chris Higgins had three assists, Hamhuis had a pair and Manny Malhotra and Keith Ballard had a helper each to round out the Canucks scoring that had Vancouver net three third period goals en route to the win.
Onward and upward, Vancouver’s next appearance on home ice will be this coming Thursday during the 2011-12 season opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
For parts of Saturday night’s game, Roberto Luongo was under siege.
The Canucks netminder faced five two-on-one attacks from the Oilers and he stopped them all. The lopsided rushes failed to dent the scoreboard and instead got Luongo into a rhythm that saw him stop 28 shots.
This was only Luongo’s second pre-season start, but reading anything into pre-season play, for him, is meaningless. It’s about the work he’s putting in between games that will have him in fine form beginning in five days when the regular season rolls around.
“I’ve had some good pre-season and some bad pre-season, but it doesn’t necessarily mean anything,” said Luongo. “It’s just a matter of putting the work in, right now I’m feeling good, especially tonight I was reading the play well and seeing the puck well.”
Luongo looked as comfortable as ever in his first start at Rogers Arena since Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, but he was just as anxious on this night as if it were still the playoffs.
An Olympic gold medal champion filled with butterlies for pre-season? Not a chance, right?
“I get butterflies for pre-season games, that’s just the way it is,” he smiled. “You always get up for games, you always want to do well, you want to play to the best of your abilities. I had butterflies in Anaheim, I had butterflies tonight and I’m sure there will be a bit more on Thursday.”
Coach Alain Vigneault commented after the game that Luongo was the best player on the ice for Vancouver, so the butterflies can stay.