The New York Rangers knew exactly what to expect from the Vancouver Canucks and made them pay dearly.
Mats Zuccarello scored twice and Henrik Lundqvist made 29 saves Saturday as New York steamrolled Vancouver 5-1 by taking advantage of the Canucks' tendency to pinch their defence at the opposing team's blue-line.
The Rangers scored on three odd-man rushes in quick succession to effectively put the game out of reach before it was seven minutes old.
"We pre-scouted, our coaches talked about that a lot," said New York defenceman Ryan McDonagh, who opened the scoring. "It was going to be a big job for our wingers to either hold onto pucks or not get it back to them or get it out of the zone.
"We were able to do that right away in the first period and we got some good looks because of it."
J.T. Miller and Marc Staal had the other goals for New York (13-10-4), while Rick Nash and Derick Brassard each added two assists.
"We talked about them pinching," said Lundqvist, whose team hadn't played since Monday and had lost two of its last three. "I didn't think they were going to go that hard every time. It was almost like a 50-50 puck they were going for it and we made them pay, especially in the first period."
Nick Bonino had the only goal for Vancouver (18-10-2), while Ryan Miller made 18 stops in taking the ugly loss.
"There's no excuse for that. We know that we've got to be better than that," said Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins. "Sometimes there's nights like this. They're never acceptable, but the only thing we can do is get better. We have no choice. The only choice we have is to get better."
The Canucks were playing at home for the first time since Nov. 25 after wrapping up a season-long seven-game road trip that saw them go a respectable 3-3-1, but finish with consecutive defeats in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.
Desjardins said changes will be coming in his team's approach ahead of Wednesday's home tilt against the Dallas Stars.
"You play a certain way and we played a certain way and now we're getting caught on it," he said. "We try to play an aggressive style and when it doesn't work it goes the other way and it was going the other way tonight.
"I think we have to make some adjustments in the system."
After a bad pinch from defenceman Ryan Stanton — one of many culprits on this night — Jesper Fast fed McDonagh on a 3-on-1 break for his first of the season at 2:36 of the opening period to make it 1-0.
The Rangers then somehow broke in on a 4-on-1 rush shortly after that failed to connect before J.T. Miller buried his third of the season on a 2-on-1 break with a nice move to the backhand at 3:19.
Zuccarello continued the onslaught at 6:46 on another 3-on-1, ripping home his fifth of the campaign as New York scored on three straight shots.
"Wrong decisions all over the ice," said Canucks captain Henrik Sedin. "Forwards not coming back, not keeping the third guy high, defence pinching when they shouldn't. On every one of those you can point out three or four mistakes. It's not just one guy, its from all five guys on the ice."
Ryan Miller couldn't be faulted on any of the goals, but still felt the sting of being down three so early at home.
"We got caught a few times and they made the odd-man rushes count. I would have liked to have been a little bit more available to make a save for the boys, but it didn't work out," he said. "They set up some plays and made them count."
Staal made it 4-1 at 7:17 of the second when his first of the season found its way through a screen past Ryan Miller, who looked especially frustrated and shrugged his shoulders as the Rangers celebrated at the Canucks' blue-line.
New York's Martin St. Louis was awarded a penalty shot just over five minutes later after getting hooked on a breakaway, but he couldn't beat the Vancouver goalie.
But any good feeling didn't last long as Zuccarello scored his second of the night and sixth of the season with 2:21 left in the period by tapping home a slick pass from Brassard.
"You've got to give yourself a chance to win and we didn't," said Desjardins. "We can't blame anybody but ourselves in the structure. It's the not the players, it's the coaches. It's my fault. If we're getting scored on like that then we've got to do some adjustments system-wise. We've all got to get better.
"The one thing about games like that is you just realize you need each other. You can't do it by yourself. One guy can't do it, you need each other. As a group we've got to get better."
Vancouver finally got on the board when Bonino broke Lundqvist's shutout bid at 4:20 of the third with his eighth of the season and first in 16 games, but it was far too late to influence an outcome that was decided early.
"You're going to go through a season, you're going to have to find a way to dig out of things," said Miller. "This is our first opportunity to have to dig out of a hole that's a little deeper than usual. See how we respond here. You're not going to go 82 (games) without a stretch like this.
"For us to be a team that is going to do anything worthwhile at the end of the season we're going to have to learn how to handle ourselves emotionally and handle the adjustments we need to make and go from here.
"I'd like to see a nice response next game and we'll see if we're ready to dig out or just dig it deeper."
Notes: Bonino's goal was his first point in seven games. ... Saturday marked the Rangers' first game outside of the Eastern time zone since the season opener against St. Louis. ... Canucks forward Derek Dorsett suited up for Vancouver after missing Friday's practice to be with his wife for the birth of their first child. Dorsett was acquired in an off-season trade with the Rangers. ... New York visits the Calgary Flames on Sunday and the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday.