For wannabes and bubble guys, Sunday night’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks represented a final opportunity to make an impression on head coach Alain Vigneault and Vancouver Canucks management.
The Canucks have just three tune-ups remaining before opening the NHL’s regular season on Oct. 6 at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and anticipated cutting down to six forward lines and 10 defencemen before returning to the ice Wednesday in Anaheim. Their veterans are supposed to get the bulk of playing time from here on -- at least two games, according to Vigneault – especially since some of their stars, such as the Sedin twins, have yet to see a minute of game action this month.
“We had put our players through some pretty heavy paces,” Vigneault said of camp, while explaining the underwhelming lineups he has dressed through five preseason games.
But the biggest story in a 4-3 loss at Rogers Arena was that forward Steve Pinizzotto and defenceman Aaron Rome both left the game with injuries and will be lost for some time.
Pinizzotto, a 27-year-old journeyman who had offers from nine NHL teams this summer, left after taking a hard check from San Jose defenceman Douglas Murray and suffering a separated shoulder. Pinizzotto had been impressing in camp, mixing toughness and energy with a pair of assists in two preseason games.
“It should be awhile,” Vigneault said of Pinizzotto’s injury.
Rome, meanwhile, departed in the third period with a broken hand after blocking a shot. He played 56 regular season games last season, and 14 more in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and is expected to make the team and serve on the third pair, or as the spare defenceman. His absence will provide an opportunity for Chris Tanev and/or Andrew Alberts to receive more playing time.
“It’s going to be some time,” Vigneault said of Rome’s injury.
The coach said that “the picture got clearer” in terms of the final roster, adding that most veterans and regulars will play next Saturday in the preseason finale at home against the Edmonton Oilers.
“I’m very confident that after that, we’ll be ready to start the season,” Vigneault said.
San Jose’s Tommy Wingels scored two goals, while Andrew Desjardins and Brad Winchester added singles as the Sharks moved to 4-0 in preseason.
Thomas Greiss went the distance in goal, and stopped 26 shots to earn the victory. The Canucks managed just one shot through the first 15 minutes of the final period, but peppered the goal with late chances during two five-on-three power plays.
Eddie Lack was busier in the Vancouver net, making 30 saves on 34 shots while playing all 60 minutes. Lack is expected to serve as the organization’s No. 3 goalie, behind Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider, and start for the club’s new American Hockey League affiliate in Chicago.
Alexander Sulzer, an NHL veteran looking to crack Vancouver’s deep defence corps, opened the scoring with a seeing-eye point shot just five minutes into the first period. Cody Hodgson, one of 11 Canucks to play Sunday after dressing for Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks, knotted the score 2-2 in the second period, and journeyman defenceman Nolan Baumgartner got the Canucks to within one with just three minutes to play.
“We made it closer at the end, but unfortunately couldn’t get the win,” Hodgson said. “You play back-to-back in this league quite a bit, so you have to get used to it.”
The Sharks dressed an extremely impressive lineup given that it was a road game, and they had no fans to impress. Captain Joe Thornton, forward Patrick Marleau, and defencemen Dan Boyle and Douglas Murray were all in uniform. Vancouver dressed about eight regulars, but none of their top guns.
Earlier Sunday, the Canucks released veteran forward Steve Begin, who was in camp on a professional tryout, and re-assigned six players to the Chicago Wolves. After the game, the Canucks cut bait with veteran forwards Owen Nolan and Niko Dimitrakos, who were also in camp on professional tryouts.