It took until the fifth round of the shootout before Vancouver Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault deployed Zack Kassian, but the wait paid off for the local National Hockey League team.
“I wanted to make this interesting,” Vigneault joked afterward.
Kassian, who turns 22 years of age on Thursday, gave the fans exactly that.
He confidently faked to his backhand, then forehand and to the backhand again before sliding the puck into a wide open cage to lift the Canucks to a 3-2 shootout win over the Calgary Flames Wednesday at Rogers Arena. Goalie Miikka Kiprusoff could only watch as he slid to helplessly out of the way.
“Every player has a couple moves they go to and that’s one of mine. Luckily it went in tonight,” said Kassian, who opened the scoring in the second period with a determined solo effort.
The shootout goal capped off the second straight game in which Kassian was the best Vancouver forward.
Put back on the top line with the Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, Kassian finished the night with 19:14 in ice time to go along with four hits.
After struggling with the Canucks last season following a trade deadline deal that brought him to Vancouver and Cody Hodgson to Buffalo, Kassian came into this year’s lockout-shortened camp simply trying to land a roster spot.
It’s still early, but he may have found a home on the right side with the twins. He can, as evidence by his fight with Edmonton Oilers tough guy Ben Eager on Sunday, also be the enforcer should the opposition try to take liberties with the Sedins.
“Obviously they’re two players that are well respected in the league and sometimes they get taken advantage of,” said Kassian.
“They’re two great players, they can make plays, they’re so good at protecting the puck. It’s really an easy game for any one of us to jump on that line. You have to simplify your game, go to the net, create space and anyone on the team basically can go in there and do a good job.”
At the other end of the ice stood the Canucks supposed number one goalie Cory Schneider.
Yanked in the season-opening start Saturday, Schneider – with help from his left and right pads – preserved two points for the Canucks. He stopped 34 of 36 shots in regulation and overtime, then made saves on four of the five Flames’ attempts in the deciding breakaway competition.
Schneider was beaten twice in the second period on a pair perfect shots off the post and in – first by Alex Tanguay, who also scored in the shootout, and Mikael Backlund – that got the Flames on even terms with their Northwest Division rivals.
But that was it.
His list of saves included a pair for the highlight reel. He robbed Jarome Iginla and Tanguay in quick succession in the first period, stretching out with the right pad when it looked like either shooter would have a sure goal.
“I was saying the other night that sometimes it just takes one big save to get you in the rhythm,” said Schneider.
“And that was kind of the first real tough save I had to make all year. It felt good to get that one out of the way and sometimes you just calm down a little bit and relax and just play your game.”
He did the same in overtime, this time with the left pad. Redemption for now, given Vigneault didn’t name his starting goalie for Friday’s road game against Anaheim.
“No one ever likes to get pulled, or embarrassed for that matter,” he said.
“It was a frustrating start to the year for me. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a long time and to start out like that was…you couldn’t write it any worse than that.”
His saves off Iginla and Tanguay kept the game scoreless after the first period.
Kassian opened the scoring at the 6:20 mark of the second period, and Mason Raymond gave the Canucks a two-goal lead exactly two minutes later.
But the Flames evened the score on goals from Tanguay and Backlund.
For the second straight game, the Canucks let slip a two-goal lead on home ice, failing to score on a pair of power plays with the game tied. This time it didn’t cost them two points.
“You look for that power play, if it’s not going to score, at least it’s going to build you momentum,” said Vigneault.
“You might only get one kick at it, but those are pressure points in a game and your top guys (have) got to come through for you.”