- Vancouver Canucks lose 3-1 to the New York Rangers
- Rangers win eighth of past 10, Canucks lose third straight
- Martin St. Louis puts game away in third, scoring short-handed, his first goal as a Ranger
As the Vancouver Canucks stumble towards the end of their worst season in 14 years, it is suddenly groundhog day at Rogers Arena.
A week-and-a-half ago, against the worst team in the league, the Buffalo Sabres, the Canucks yielded the first two goals of the game in the opening period, though Vancouver managed to claw back in that contest and book a victory against one of hockey's truly awful teams.
This past weekend, the Canucks were again down 2-0 in the first, this time to the mighty Anaheim Ducks, and the two against came after an early chance for Vancouver, when Brad Richardson nearly opened the scoring short-handed.
And so it was again Tuesday night. On the first shift of the game, Daniel Sedin popped a nice backhand pass to Ryan Kesler in the New York Rangers zone and Kesler fired a wrist shot reminiscent of his best years in this town, but New York's Henrik Lundqvist was able to get a piece of the puck with his blocker.
New York scored not long after, on a weird play following a scramble in front of rookie Eddie Lack, a play that perhaps should have been whistled dead. New York scored again later in the first, on a power play to make it 2-0 for the visitors.
Again and again, the same story repeats.
Daniel Sedin after the game expressed exasperation: "It's unacceptable for this team to be in this position."
And to watch the show was at least a thousand empty seats in the lower bowl of Rogers Arena, despite the announced sellout crowd. Bill Murray was not, however, spotted.
If this season had unfolded differently, as in less bad for the Canucks, Tuesday night's game would be been a highlight on the calendar, the one-and-only return of disposed coach Alain Vigneault and his new team, the Rangers, the squad that Tortorella ran from 2009 before getting fired himself last year. Instead, Vigneault and the Rangers are headed to the postseason and Tortorella and the Canucks are going nowhere.
Outside, on television, and in the newspapers, the future of the Canucks is chewed over by all comers. On Tuesday, three young men outside the arena, one in a balaclava, brandished "Fire Gillis" signs to express their feelings about the team's general manager, only to be reportedly asked to leave the property by arena security.
In the local papers Tortorella is under considerable fire, with opinion among critics in Vancouver seemingly unanimous and certain that there is no way Tortorella will be back to coach another season in these parts.
For the 55-year-old coach, his mien has become something zen. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday morning, his keel was as even as could be, talking about his rookie goalie, the struggles of Daniel Sedin, and his own future. In track pants and a blue turtleneck, Tortorella had his elbows on the podium and his hands folded, a kind-of prayer pose. He spoke as a man comfortable with his future – with a big salary to come in years ahead to comfort even if he is shown the door.
"I go about my business by being in that locker room with the team and coaching the best way I know how," said the coach. "So all the noise and all that stuff out there, I get it, it's out there but I really don't pay too much attention to it. I don't worry about it. I feel very comfortable just continuing to work with this team. There's too many things going on here for me to do as a coach to worry about all the other stuff. But I know it's around. We're just going to go about our business."
It's such a fine line, between the smart guy and the idiot, to invoke the words of Tortorella on Monday, about himself, losing, and Vigneault, winning. The divide isn't always as great as one might think.
The Canucks are, in fact, a slightly better puck possession team this year, and the Rangers slightly worse. Vancouver's power play seems like it has cratered but last year it was 15.8 per cent – 22nd in the league – and this year it's 15 per cent, down at 27th. Worse but not much worse. Meanwhile, New York's power play is a good punch better.
On the penalty kill, Vancouver is mostly unchanged, while New York is improved, both teams in the league's top 10.
It's goals where the Canucks have really slumped, 2.36 a game this year, 28th in the league, down from 2.54 last year, 19th ranked. The Rangers mosey along, essentially unchanged, 2.62 goals a game last year under Tortorella, and 2.64 under Vigneault.
Tortorella also spoke Tuesday morning about his team still bringing it, working to win, working to get better.
Those words rang emptier – starting with the yet-again weak start to the game, down 2-0. The Canucks did find some life in the second period, battling. About six minutes in, Kesler won a faceoff in the offensive zone, getting the puck back to Sedin, who sent a sweet cross-ice pass that found Kesler and he made no mistake, burying it while closely checked by New York's Dominic Moore.
In the thick of the push to tie the game, the crowd came alive, for a bit, a "Go Canucks Go!" ringing out – before falling silent. Hearty, but brief.
There was hope, late, but the Canucks failed in the way that borders on humiliating.
Heading towards the midway point of third, the Canucks got a chance to tie on the power play, but could not, and immediately got the chance again, another power play. The Canucks had already ceded a short-handed breakaway on the first power play and the second time round, a poor pass by Zack Kassian in the offensive zone was intercepted and the Rangers were away, a two-on-one, and Martin St. Louis made no mistake, finally scoring his first goal as a Ranger in his 15th outing with the team.