SEPTEMBER26 20132013 Vancouver Canucks battles New York Rangers in pre-season NHL game on September 26, 2013, at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, B.C. Steve Bosch / PNG staff photo) 00024139A
Photograph by: Steve Bosch/PNG staff photo, Canada.com
The score was 5-0, and Alain Vigneault’s New York Rangers wore the zero in his return to Vancouver with his new team. Yet he was upbeat and encouraged because that’s who he is.
He’s the guy who looked at the big screen in Rogers Arena before Thursday’s game, saw his own face up there as the Vancouver Canucks flashed the message “Thanks for seven great years,” heard the smattering of applause — nothing like the greeting he’d have received if the crowd hadn’t still been in the concourse, overpaying for beer — and shrugged it off later with: “It’s time to turn the page now.”
The score was 5-0 and John Tortorella’s Canucks scored those five against the club that fired him four months ago, but he wasn’t noticeably grateful.
“Nah. No,” he said, “I’m (past) it.”
He didn’t think the Canucks played particularly well. You don’t get the feeling that “A win is a win is a win” is ever going to be coach Torts’s motto.
The score was 5-0, and in most places, the words “lopsided” or “convincing” or “resounding” would be attached to the game story, but when it was over, neither coach would admit to paying attention to the numbers on the scoreboard.
Appearances, evidently, were deceiving. Appearances often are, during the National Hockey League’s exhibition season which (none too soon) has nearly, mercifully, run its course.
It’s the time of year when every result has an asterisk because of who didn’t suit up, and every game program ought to be entitled Caveat Emptor … when regulars sit, and kids think they have a chance to make it if they play well, only to learn that the salary cap picked the team before they got here … when grand conclusions are leaped to, most of them at least premature and possibly erroneous, about comebacks and breakthroughs and journeyman fourth-liners who look as though they’ve finally found a home at 28, right up until they get the plane ticket and thanks for coming.
The score was 5-0, and Roberto Luongo was responsible for the zero, but he sounded a cautionary note when someone wondered if he was encouraged by the shutout, considering his history of miserable Octobers.
“I mean, it’s definitely a step in the right direction, you want to keep building off that,” said the Canucks goaltender. “That being said … I’ve had some great pre-seasons before and it doesn’t mean it’s going to translate automatically into a great start (to the regular season).”
Henrik Sedin scored twice on his 33rd birthday — Daniel’s, too, of course — but he said it was of no special significance.
“No, no, no,” said the elder twin. “I’ve stopped celebrating birthdays.”
Reminded by us ever-helpful media at every opportunity that their best days are behind them, the Sedins may be forgiven for approaching their first training camp under Tortorella with a sizable burr under their backsides.
It’s that way, in fact, for all the Canucks, who worked their way up to elite status among NHL clubs, lost Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup final, then were bounced from the first round of playoffs the last two seasons and quickly were consigned to the has-been/never-were heap.
They didn’t look like has-beens Thursday, but how much was real, and how much illusion?
“I think you’re going to see some signs. It’s just nice to see the way we play. We ARE more aggressive, we turn more pucks over, I think we’re not seeing those 10-12 minutes in our own end where they’re all over us,” said Henrik.
For a pre-season game, Thursday’s seemed to carry greater meaning somehow, possibly because of the Vigneault-Tortorella switcheroo and the fascination with what successes or failures each may have with the other’s club.
But partly, also, because it had been nearly 18 months since Vancouver fans had seen an actual Eastern team, live and in person.
Considering all that the Canucks accomplished on this auspicious occasion, playing pretty close to their ‘A’ lineup, you’d have thought they might have been a little more excited about the score.
After all, they looked terrific on the power play, chased the great Henrik Lundqvist from the Ranger net after 40 minutes, got a cool, composed 39-save shutout from Luongo, had the chronically MIA David Booth back in uniform (and his speed was still there), gave Tortorella the gift of fleeting revenge even if he didn’t want it …
And what did it all mean? Hardly anything? A little bit of something?
Well, they beat Phoenix 6-1 at home on Monday night, then promptly lost 5-0 in San Jose on Tuesday. With the 5-0 win Thursday, their work week went as follows:
Home 16, Visitors 1.
No wonder coaches don’t put too much stock in pre-season games.
“I don’t care about the results, I care about the play,” said Tortorella, asked if he took both the big wins and the big loss with the same-sized grain of salt, given that it’s the pre-season.
“And really, the regular season … result is obviously a very important thing, winning and losing, but as a coach, you better understand how your team played, because you can win some games and play god-awful, and you can lose some games and play really well — because of the game of the goaltender. Goaltending is such an important part, it skews how you play.
“I thought Louie was really good. I think things could have been different if he didn’t play the way he played.”
The power play, such a staple of the Canucks’ game when they were riding high as Canada’s finest hockey club, has hit the skids at important times the last three playoff seasons, so watching it flicker to life now is not yet cause for elation.
“It’s felt good every time we’ve stepped on the ice. I think we have the jump back, where we feel something’s going to happen every time we’re on there,” said Henrik.
“It’s still a work in progress, though. It’s a lot of new things, for a lot of guys, but I think we showed against these guys, and against Phoenix, that when we get up close to where we want to be, we’re a good team.”
So the confidence is back, Henrik?
“Oh, I don’t know,” said the captain, speaking for players and fans everywhere. “We’ll see when the regular season starts.”
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