VANCOUVER - Remember all that talk about the importance of a fast start in this blink-or-you'll-miss-it season? Well, apparently the Vancouver Canucks weren't listening.
The National Hockey League is back. The Canucks are not and seem content to ease their way back into it.
Opening weekend was one the Canucks would just as soon forget as they followed up Saturday night's 7-3 beating at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks by blowing a two-goal lead and losing 3-2 in a shootout Sunday night at Rogers Arena to the Edmonton Oilers.
The Canucks got one point when they should have had two against the Oilers.
"I thought we played well enough five-on-five today to win, but our power play didn't come through when we had to," said Canuck winger Daniel Sedin. "We had two five-on-fours when we are up 2-1 in the third and can't score. That's where we have to step up and score."
The Canuck power play was 0-for-5 on the night and coach Alain Vigenault suggested a lack of practice time and some new personnel are partially to blame for its early struggles.
"As much as a lot of those guys have worked together in the past, Jannik Hansen is a new figure to the twins on that power play, so is (Jason) Garrison," Vigneault said. "You have to give it a little bit of time. They had some good looks, they had some good opportunities. I think they are on the right track."
The Canucks looked to be in control of the game, but Oiler winger Jordan Eberle gave Edmonton life when he scored on a backhand with 3.1 seconds remaining in the second period to cut Vancouver's 2-0 lead in half.
Ales Hemsky tied it on Edmonton power play at 14:05 of the the third, with Vancouver centre Andrew Ebbett off serving a lazy tripping penalty.
Roberto Luongo, something of a surprise starter in goal Sunday night, felt he should have stopped both shots. But Eberle's goal, while it came from a sharp angle, was a world-class backhand that beat Luongo up high to the glove side.
"Both goals I thought I could have done a better job to make a save," Luongo said. "They were not necessarily great plays that they made. Unfortunately, my timing on the rush right now has to be a bit better than what it has been."
Hemsky and Sam Gagner both beat Luongo in the shootout, while Alex Edler and Alex Burrows were both stopped by Edmonton goalie Devan Dubnyk.
"I thought we deserved to win," Luongo said. "Unfortunately, it came down to a shootout and I wasn't able to make any saves there."
Vigneault was able to find some positives in Sunday night's loss and suggested his team took a step forward. The Canucks did at least climb out of the hole the Ducks had buried them in 24 hours earlier.
"Well, we already analysed and talked about yesterday's game," Vigneault said when asked for his assessment of the weekend. "Today was a different game, a back-to-back situation against a team that was waiting for us and had 12 to 13 skaters playing since September. I thought for the most part tonight I liked what we did on the ice.
"I thought we came out real good in the first period. In the seocnd period I thought they had the better quality chances. That being said, though, I'm sure Louie would want to have that goal back at the end of the second period there, but those are things that are going to happen. In the third period we had a chance, had two (power-play) opportunities to put the game away, we couldn't do it and and their power play tied the game up."
Vigneault acknowledged his team was running out of gas late in the game.
"We didn't have much left in the tank halfway through the third period, but tried to battle through and we got a point and I beleive we took a step forward today."
There were some positives from a Canuck perspective. Winger Zack Kassian had a good night and was rewarded with some time on the first line alongside Henrik and Daniel Sedin.
Kassian scored Vancouver's second goal at 14:18 of the second period on a sublime setup by Daniel. Henrik slid a pass to Daniel behind the net and he skated toward the corner with Oiler rookie Nail Yakupov in pursuit, before feeding a no-look, backhand pass to Kassian, who was driving hard to the net.
"It's something special, they are two great players," Kassian said of his opportunity to play with the twins. "When you are out there with them you have to simplify your game and go to the net, create space for them and they kind of do the rest. It was a great pass. I don't know how he saw me."
It wasn't all good for Kassian. Moments before his goal, he committed a brutal turnover in his own end, allowing Oiler rookie Justin Schultz to skate into the deep slot and test Luongo.
"I do think he played a good game," Vigneault said of Kassian. "Except for that one turnover, he was strong on the puck, good on the forecheck and he was physical."
Kassian got the best of Oiler winger Ben Eager in a third-period scrap.
Edler gave the Canucks a 1-0 lead midway through the first period on a brilliant individual effort. He stripped the puck off Hemsky and skated from inside his own blue line before wiring a slap shot past Dubnyk.
ICE CHIPS: With Kassian playing with the twins, Vigneault experimented with Alex Burrows at centre between Chris Higgins and Hansen. . .The Canucks close out their season-opening three-game homestand on Wednesday night when they meet the Calgary Flames. . .Cam Barker, Andrew Alberts and Jim Vandermeer were Vancouver's healthy scratches Sunday night. . .The Oilers outshot Vancouver 32-29.
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