Rick Tocchet is still in teaching mode two months into his tenure with the Vancouver Canucks.
And there were valuable lessons to be learned in a 4-3 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday, the head coach said.
“You’re playing against one of the better teams and you’ve got to be prepared to play,” Tocchet said. “And I don’t care who you are. We can’t afford to have three or four guys not ready for that type of game.”
Turnovers proved costly as the Canucks (31-33-5) went down 2-0 midway through the first period.
First, Phil Kessel picked off Ethan Bear’s errant pass at the Canucks’ blue line and dashed in on a breakaway. The veteran forward wrapped a shot around the outstretched leg of Vancouver netminder Thatcher Demko to open the scoring 3:01 into the game.
Later in the frame, Brock Boeser coughed up the puck behind the Canucks’ net. William Karlsson picked it off, then dished a pass to Reilly Smith, who blasted a shot up and over Demko’s shoulder for his 24th goal of the season at the 12:11 mark.
“We were ready, for sure,” said Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy. “And we made some plays and capitalized and we scored goals on the forecheck, we created offence off the rush. We took what was there.”
Teddy Blueger and Pavel Dorofeyev added goals for Vegas (44-21-6), while Karlsson notched a pair of assists.
The result marked a fifth straight road win for the Golden Knights, moving the team past the L.A. Kings for sole possession of the top spot in the NHL’s Western Conference.
Jonathan Quick stopped 32-of-35 shots for the visiting side in his 375th regular-season win and took second spot on the league’s list of all-time winningest U.S.-born goalies.
“You think about some of the guys that are at the top of that list and being in a category with them, it’s just an honour,” Quick said. “And obviously you think about all the guys that kind of helped me get a bunch of those wins and the work they put in and you are just very appreciative of everything.”
Vancouver got two goals and an assist from J.T. Miller, while Phillip Di Giuseppe scored and Quinn Hughes contributed a pair of helpers. Demko made 23 saves.
Miller’s first of the night came on a penalty shot 7:57 into the second.
The Canucks centre sprinted up the ice on a short-handed breakaway and was slashed from behind by Golden Knights defenceman Shea Theodore. He skated in slowly then sent a last-second backhand shot up and under the bar to make it 2-1.
Vegas took a 3-1 lead 10:22 into the second when Blueger fired a sharp-angle shot in from the bottom of the faceoff circle.
Miller put away his second goal of the night 12:42 into the middle frame when the Canucks got an extended period of four-on-three hockey.
After some slick passing around the perimeter, the centre launched a wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circle and sailed it in past Quick, cutting Vancouver’s deficit to 3-2 with his 28th goal of the season.
The Canucks went 1-for-2 with the man advantage Tuesday while the Golden Knights were 0-for-3.
The Golden Knights took a 4-2 cushion into the third after Dorofeyev buried his fourth goal of the season 17:19 into the second.
Di Giuseppe sealed the score at 4-3 at the 12:43 mark of the third.
“We kind of fixed up our game plan going into the third and tried to keep things more simple,” said Bear. “At the end of the day, simple is what works in this league. It’s a learning experience. It just shows us what works and what doesn’t.”
Canucks defenceman Kyle Burroughs was a late addition to the lineup after Noah Juulsen sustained a lower-body injury before hitting the ice for warm-ups.
Burroughs said he was in his car on the way to the rink about half an hour before puck drop when he received a call saying he was going to play.
“It’s a little stressful at first. You’ve got to get warm up in and, obviously, not touching any pucks before the game [is tough],” he said. “But it’s part of the job. When you’re called upon you got to show up. And obviously I’d like to have a couple of plays out there back.”
Elias Pettersson assisted on Miller’s second goal, stretching his point streak to nine games with five goals and eight helpers across the stretch. Smith is also riding a nine-game streak with four goals and seven helpers.
Logan Thompson returned to the Golden Knights’ lineup as Quick’s backup. The 26-year-old goalie has not played since suffering a lower-body injury in a win over the Minnesota Wild on Feb. 9.
Canucks: Host the San Jose Sharks on Thursday.
Golden Knights: Visit the Calgary Flames on Thursday.