It was supposed to be the triumphant return of Roberto Luongo. It was anything but.
Joakim Lindstrom scored a pair of goals in the first period – including one on the game’s first shot just 1:50 in – as the Coyotes spoiled Luongo’s return with a 4-1 win at GM Place.
“Well, obviously we all struggled a little bit out there,” said Luongo, who missed the last eight weeks with a groin strain. “We seem like we’re thinking too much out there. We’ve just got to go out and play.”
“For myself, it was a rough start, and the next couple days are going to be really important for me in practice to try to sharpen up as much as I can.”
The loss is the Canucks’ sixth straight on home ice and allows Minnesota to climb within two points of second spot in the division with three games in hand. The Oilers are four back and have also played three fewer games.
“Our confidence is being tested right now, our character is being tested, and our leadership group is being tested. I understand the frustration our group is going through right now. I think it’s very important that we all try to be part of the solution, not part of the problem,” head coach Alain Vigneault said.
The Coyotes lacked none of that Thursday night jumping out to a 4-0 lead before taking the big red machine out of gear. They pumped 22 pucks on the Canucks net through the opening 40 minutes – most of which were genuinely tough shots for Vancouver’s keeper.
"[Luongo] is one of the best goalies in the world, if not the best, but if you are gone for that amount of time it's always hard to come back," Lindstrom said. "So, our game plan was to put pucks to the net and go to the net."
The Coyotes executed that plan to perfection. Lindstrom's second goal came while setting a screen, Keith Yandle scored on a long shot through traffic, and Peter Mueller added another power-play goal by driving hard to the net unchecked.
Ilya Bryzgalov made 31 saves to help Phoenix win for the third time in four games, but just the second in a month on the road. With the victory, Phoenix moved into a tie with Vancouver and Anaheim for fifth in the Western Conference.
"It was real important for us," said Coyotes captain Shane Doan, whose two assists matched the number of goals taken away by two great saves by Luongo.
"We had a great record last year on the road - I think we were fourth in the league - so we know we are capable of doing it. Our road record has slipped and we have to find a way to be better and we will."
Potted a pair in the first, including teh first goal on the 'Yotes first shot that clearly rattled the home side.
Two assists and a double shifted for most of the third. He's the heart of the Coyotes and he stepped up Thursday.
A goal and an assist, plus four blocked shots equals third star on Thursday.
Luongo made 27 saves. Vancouver is 2-5-2 in its last nine, and has lost six straight at home (0-5-1) to match a franchise record set during the inaugural 1970-71 season.
"His first game back we knew we had to get pucks on him," said Yandle, who also had an assist. "And he was battling a groin injury so just tried to get him to move all night and just get as many pucks on him as we could."
Luongo was beaten on the first shot, sliding across awkwardly as Lindstrom's unchecked shot from inside the right circle found it's way through his legs.
"It was a rough start," said Luongo, who missed 24 games. "Obviously, I wasn't feeling that comfortable at the start of the game but I think halfway through the second period I started feeling at little bit more comfortable."
By then it was already 4-0. Daniel Sedin ended Bryzgalov's shutout bid with 8:58 left on a shot that bounced in off a Coyotes defenseman's leg.
With the Coyotes on a power play, Stephen Reinprecht won an offensive zone draw back to Yandle and his point shot hit Lindstrom, who was unchecked on top of the crease to Luongo's left. The loose puck bounced back into the middle, and with Luongo's momentum carrying him to the left, Lindstrom easily tapped it in.
It was the first two-goal game of Lindstrom's career, and only a good blocker save kept it from turning it into a hat trick before the period ended. "That was an unbelievable save, he really showed why he was one of the best goalies in the world," said Lindstrom, who has three goals his last two games and seven in 17 contests since being acquired from Anaheim on Dec. 3.
Luongo got breaks when Enver Lisin and Shane Doan hit posts in the first 21:30 of action. But Yandle made it 3-0 2:22 into the second period with a screened shot off the right boards, and Mueller was left unchecked to drive the net and beat Luongo through the legs after another blown power play faceoff assignment.
"Obviously, Roberto would have liked to come in and probably have that first save and be a difference like he always was,” said Vigneault. “He played a good game, made some great saves. We didn't give him the help we're supposed to give our goalie to be successful."
“As a team we’re not playing with a lot of confidence at the moment and we’re making mistakes that you usually don’t see. But the group in here is going to change this around by working hard and making sure we do your own job and not try to over-do things.” – Mattias Ohlund
“We’ve got to get focused for games and bring the intensity from the first shift - do our job and trust each other. We’ve got five guys skating out there by themselves and that’s not how you win in this game.” – Daniel Sedin
“I think in a lot of circumstances we’re over-trying on the ice, overplaying, and when you do that, a lot of times you put yourself in trouble. It happened tonight on quite a few occasions, whether it be over-trying around the other team’s net and then we give up outnumbered situations.” – Alain Vigneault.
Notes: Coyotes C Kyle Turris, the third overall pick in the 2007 draft, played his first NHL game in his hometown after being a surprise healthy scratch when Phoenix visited in early November. ... Canucks G Curtis Sanford cleared waivers and was sent to Manitoba in the AHL after losing his backup job to Jason LaBarbera, who was acquired from Los Angeles on Dec. 30. ... Vancouver C Kyle Wellwood, who is second on the team with 14 goals, was a healthy scratch.
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Hi stick - double minor