VANCOUVER — Coach Bruce Boudreau hopes his Vancouver Canucks learned something this week.
Two nights in a row, the team came out flat, getting massively outplayed in the first period. The difference? The result.
On Tuesday, the Canucks weathered a sluggish start to take a 5-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes. On Wednesday, Vancouver coughed up five goals in the first en route to a 6-3 shellacking by the New York Islanders.
“Somehow, by hook or by crook we’ve hopefully learned a lesson in these two games and at the end of the year, I hope we look back and think it was a cheap lesson. But I hope we learned a lesson, for sure," Boudreau said after Wednesday's defeat.
The game had barely started when the Islanders leapt out to a massive lead with three goals in 31 seconds.
Zach Parise — playing in his 1,100th NHL game — was first on the board, jamming a shot through the pads of Canucks goalie Jaroslav Halak 3:25 into the first period.
Brock Nelson followed 18 seconds later, tipping in a shot from Adam Pelech inside the blue line.
Anders Lee deepened the wound 3:56 into the game with a long bomb that appeared to deflect off a body and into the net, giving New York an early cushion.
The start was "inexcusable," said Canucks defenceman Luke Schenn.
“They came out hard, they were flying, they were at another gear. We were on our heels, they were on their toes and they were all over us and obviously they capitalized on their opportunities, too," he said. "And before you know it, it was bang bang bang and in the net. And we’re chasing the game from there.”
Lee and Casey Cizikas each registered a goal and an assist for the Isles (17-17-6), while Matt Martin and Matthew Barzal also found the back of the net and Cal Clutterbuck contributed a pair of helpers.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Elias Petterson and Schenn replied for the Canucks (21-21-6).
Vancouver's sloppy play continued across the opening frame, with the home team struggling to get out of its own end and gifting New York scoring chances.
Cizikas scored at the 13:11 mark, collecting a pass from Anthony Beauvillier and firing a shot up and over Halak's pad.
Boos rained down three minutes later as Barzal sent a backhanded shot top shelf and in off a breakaway.
Halak was pulled after surrendering five goals in 12 shots. Thatcher Demko stopped 14-of-15 shots in relief.
Illya Sorokin registered 34 saves for New York, who were playing in their first game since Feb. 2.
It was a "massive" first period for the Islanders, Barzal said.
"Any time you get three in the first four minutes especially after a tough loss in Seattle and coming back from the break, we knew we had to start hot and get going and just to get a good lead like that was nice," he said.
"It's sometimes harder being up 5-0 in the first period. You know you're just gonna see heavy pressure the entire night and Sorokin made some big saves, so it was a good game for us to get back on track."
Ekman-Larsson gave the Canucks a glimmer of hope with less than two minutes to go in the first, picking up a loose puck and firing it past Sorokin stick side to cut the deficit to 5-1.
In Vancouver's locker room during the first intermission, Boudreau was frank with his team.
“I basically said ‘I don’t care what the score is. But we have to learn how to play better and we want to win the second period. And if we win the period by enough to even think about winning the game, then we’ll worry about the third period. But we can’t continue playing basically like we’re playing,'" he said.
"And I think they got the message and played a really good second period. Just when you give up five goals against the New York Islanders, you’re not going to catch them.”
Vancouver rallied and outshot the visitors 37-27 across the game, but couldn't dig itself out from the early hole.
Midway through the second, Pettersson collected a pass from Vasily Podkolzin below the goal line, then muscled his way to the top of the crease and forced a shot behind Sorokin's skate to make it 5-2 with his 13th goal of the year.
Schenn brought Vancouver within two at the 14:35 mark with blast from inside the blue line that squeaked through Sorokin's pads.
“Going into the second intermission, I think there was a strong belief in our room that we were going to be able to pull it off and come back," Schenn said. "Fortunately, we had some looks in the third, killed a big penalty there and had some chances down the stretch, but they got another one late and that’s the end.”
Cizikas set up the final goal of the night 14:19 into the third, chasing down Canucks defenceman Tyler Myers deep in Vancouver territory and picking his pocket. The centreman pulled up just before the goal line and dished a pass to Martin at the top of the crease and Martin beat Demko cleanly with his second goal of the season to make it 6-3.
"The message is that you got to get comfortable when the games are tight," said Islanders coach Barry Trotz. "Today we got off to a quick lead and then it started tightening up a little bit and then we became comfortable again. I liked the demeanour on the bench and I liked our commitment level."
The Canucks will wrap a three-game homestand Saturday when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Islanders continue on to Edmonton where they'll face the Oilers on Friday.
NOTES: Vancouver went 0 for 2 on the power play. New York was scoreless on its lone man advantage. … Wednesday marked the first time the Islanders have scored five goals in the first period since March 3, 1996, when they dropped a 7-5 decision to the Winnipeg Jets. … The game was the first between the two teams since March 10, 2020.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 9, 2022.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press