The Vancouver Canucks’ performance Wednesday was largely defined by sloppiness and confusion, and so they began the New Year in the loss column.
For periods of time, the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning controlled the run of play and made the Vancouver’s NHL team pay for their mistakes and miscues, as the Canucks lost 4-2 at Rogers Arena.
The loss drops Vancouver’s record to 23-12-7 and keeps them at 53 points in the Western Conference standings.
“I just don’t think we were ready to start,” said defenceman Dan Hamhuis.
“We came out sloppy and not as sharp as we needed to, and they did. They came out sharp, they were flying, they were moving the puck around and it felt like we were on our heels most of the game.”
Not even another demonstrative pep talk from head coach John Tortorella during a first-period timeout could get the Canucks on the right path.
The two teams finished the first period in a scoreless deadlock, but Tortorella’s decision to use the 30-second break to relay his message to his players came with Tampa Bay outshooting Vancouver by an 8-4 margin.
Goals came quickly in the second period.
Brad Richardson opened the scoring with his eighth of the season, ripping a wrist shot past Lightning goalie Ben Bishop and to the top corner.
The Lightning struck just over four minutes later, scoring twice in the span of 20 seconds to take a 2-1 lead.
Zac Dalpe responded for Vancouver 14 seconds after the Lightning jumped ahead, continuing the sudden flurry of scoring.
It was Dalpe’s first as a member of the Canucks, and a beauty it was.
He finished off a nifty passing play orchestrated by his fourth-line mates Dale Weise and Tom Sestito, tapping the puck into a wide open net.
The errors, however, continued for the Canucks. And they were costly.
With the Canucks on the penalty kill, a failed clearing attempt from the usually sure-handed Chris Higgins resulted in a Nikita Kucherov blast that beat Canucks’ puckstopper Eddie Lack over the glove and just under the cross bar.
The goal, which gave Tampa Bay a 3-2 advantage, came with just over two seconds remaining in the second period.
“The big play is, I just think we need to get out of that second period two-to-two. (Higgins) makes a play that is so uncharacteristic of him,” said Tortorella.
“That’s a team effort. It is, it is probably our worst game of the year. We deserved to lose that one and we did.”
Lack, making his third consecutive start with Roberto Luongo appearing close to a return from a groin ailment suffered prior to the holiday break, made 29 saves in the loss.
The team in front of him, for the most part, looked in a malaise.
Their top two lines – Jannik Hansen with Daniel and Henrik Sedin, and Ryan Kesler in between Mike Santorelli and Higgins – didn’t have much of an impact. One point between the six of them, to be exact.
In fact, the third line of Richardson between David Booth and Zack Kassian had the most jump early on, producing at least three good chances in the opening period, and the fourth line contributed a goal to tie the game in the second.
“We were fighting it,” said Dalpe.
“Some nights you fight the puck, it bounces early, you kind of get worn down on yourself. It was a weird game. I thought all day we had emotion and then came out, and a couple bad plays maybe got a little bit frustrated.”
The power play, which had dug itself out of the bottom of the league, has once again fallen into a slumber. It was 0-2 on the night, and is now 1-19 over the last seven games.
The Canucks don’t play again until Saturday, when they will enter a very difficult seven-game stretch in their schedule, including games against Pacific Division foes currently ahead of them.
They have a pair of games against the L.A. Kings, who sit one point up on the Canucks for third in the Pacific, and the division-leading Anaheim Ducks. Then add match-ups against the Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues and Phoenix Coyotes in there as well.