It appeared the Vancouver Canucks were heading into a rebuilding year after firing their general manager and outspoken former coach while making significant changes to a roster that missed the playoffs last season.
Those moves appear to be paying off.
Vancouver can open a season with four straight victories for the first time in 22 years by beating the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night.
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Five days before the Canucks officially were left out of the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, Mike Gillis was fired as general manager and eventually replaced by Jim Benning.
Coach John Tortorella was let go after one season, and Benning hired Willie Desjardins to take over a club that traded former franchise goaltender Roberto Luongo to Florida in March, dealt Ryan Kesler to Anaheim in June and tried to rebuild around Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
Radim Vrbata, who signed a two-year, $10 million deal in the offseason, has scored in each contest while adding two assists. He scored in the second period Friday before assisting on Daniel Sedin’s empty-netter in a 2-0 win over Edmonton.
Ryan Miller signed a three-year, $18 million deal in July and made 28 saves for his first shutout with the Canucks, putting Vancouver on the verge of its first 4-0 start since 1992-93.
Desjardins believes his club will have to be at its best against the Lightning to complete a back-to-back set.
"We want to show what we can do," he said. "It’ll be a tough game for sure but it’ll be a good chance to prove we’re a good team."
Vancouver acquired Tampa Bay’s second-round pick in June in exchange for defenseman Jason Garrison, who signed a six-year contract with the Canucks in 2012. He’ll face his former team for the first time as the Lightning begin a five-game road trip.
Tampa Bay (2-1-1) got off to a solid start mainly due to its play on special teams, but neither unit was clicking in Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to New Jersey. The Lightning scored six power-play goals in their first three games, but it went 0 for 4 against the Devils and allowed the winner with Steven Stamkos in the penalty box.
They had killed off their opponents’ first 12 power-play chances.
"I thought we made a nice surge there in the third period but they came back and scored on the power play," defenseman Victor Hedman said. "It’s a tough game to lose because we had a chance to get the two points and didn’t make it happen."
After playing their first four at home, the Lightning will be gone for a total of 10 days on the trip.
”Getting five out of eight points (on the homestand) is decent," coach Jon Cooper said. "I truly believe you’ve got to be even better than that at home. But, five points is better than zero points.”
The highly touted Jonathan Drouin won’t be on the trip, though, after being sent to the AHL. The third overall pick in the 2013 draft has yet to make his NHL debut because of a slight fracture in his right thumb.
It’s unclear if injured defenseman Radko Gudas will play against the Canucks, who lost both meetings with the Lightning last season. Eddie Lack allowed four goals in each defeat, and he could be in net for this contest.