LOS ANGELES – They lost the lead in the game and their lead on the road trip. Six games into the National Hockey League’s micro-season, the Vancouver Canucks still simply look lost at times.
Playing for the fourth time in six nights and trying desperately to salvage a three-game trip that began so encouragingly up the interstate in Anaheim, the Canucks blew a two-goal lead and were beaten 3-2 in a shootout Monday by the Los Angeles Kings.
It left the Canucks 1-1-1 on their California tour and 2-2-2 for the season.
They played their best game of the month in Friday’s 5-0 win against the Ducks, then their second-worst on Sunday when they lost 4-1 in San Jose.
Monday’s game was somewhere in-between, and that’s where the Canucks are, too. Not awful, but certainly nowhere near where they need to be to win anything this season.
After leading for 46 minutes Monday, the Canucks surrendered the tying goal with 43.2 seconds remaining in regulation time when Kings’ defenceman Slava Voynov, completely open at the point, fired a slapshot through five skaters and goaltender Roberto Luongo to send the game to overtime.
It was settled in a shootout, on Jeff Carter’s backhand deke that beat Luongo and spoiled what was left of the Canuck goaltender’s fine night.
It was the third time in six games this season the Canucks blew a two-goal lead. Luongo, who was returning to the city where he was deposed by Cory Schneider in last year’s playoffs as Vancouver’s No. 1 goalie, was the difference through two periods but couldn’t see the puck on the tying goal.
Luongo has been waiting for a trade almost since the Canucks were bounced from the playoffs by the Kings last April, so this game meant a tonne to him.
Any start could be his last for Vancouver. He was desperate to win after going a week between starts. His Canuck teammates looked desperate, too – so desperate they were nervy with the lead, struggling to make plays with the puck when they weren’t icing it.
But they were compact defensively in the third period and gave up few quality scoring chances before finally blowing the lead.
The Canucks started much better than the previous night in San Jose. Instead of two giveaways, they merely iced the puck twice in the opening minute. And they didn’t trail, although they would have had Luongo not made a save in the second minute on Dustin Brown’s open shot from the slot.
Vancouver kept it simple, and if fans in L.A. were stupefied, so be it. The Canucks chipped pucks out, tried not to turn it over, and relied very heavily on Luongo.
It helped that he had a lead to play with when Zack Kassian opened scoring at 13:08. After Henrik Sedin won an offensive-zone faceoff, Alex Edler’s point shot hit Kings’ defenceman Rob Scuderi and bounced to Kassian, who easily guided it behind goalie Jonathan Quick for his fourth goal in six games.
Kassian scored only four all of last season – or half a season in his case – as an NHL rookie.
The Canucks seemed to go on full retreat, clogging the neutral zone, from that point on.
Luongo’s bad rebound allowed him to make a good save against defenceman Jake Muzzin two minutes into the second period, and the netminder was relieved to see Anze Kopitar should wildly from 10 feet in front of the net right after that.
At 4:05, Vancouver made it 2-0 when Quick, watching Alex Burrows behind the net, turned to guard the right post just as the Canuck darted toward the left one, tucking in the puck before the goalie could recover.
The not-turning-over-the-puck part proved challenging for Vancouver.
Luongo bailed out Edler by stopping Brown’s one-timer from the slot after a turnover, but could not prevent Los Angeles from scoring on the power play at 15:21.
The Canucks actually won a defensive-zone faceoff, but defenceman Jason Garrison got his geometry wrong as he chased the puck behind the net, and the Kings’ Simon Gagne reached it first.
A short-range shot by Mike Richards caromed to Jeff Carter, who whacked it past Luongo to make it 2-1.
It was Los Angeles’s first power-play goal this season, ending a 0-for-25 winter hibernation.
The Kings, 29th in the NHL scoring last season before exploding offensively in their Stanley Cup run, had scored only eight times in their first four games this season and would no doubt hope their first power-play goal might re-awaken their attack.
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