VANCOUVER – John Tortorella has been on his best behaviour since taking over as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks.
His team’s worst performance of the season brought some of the old temper bubbling to the surface Tuesday.
“We sucked,” Tortorella said after Vancouver dropped a 3-2 shootout decision to the lowly Florida Panthers. “It was easily our worst game of the year. We didn’t deserve a point.”
Having already lost four in a row, the Canucks came out flat against an opponent that has already fired a coach and endured a nine-game losing streak this season.
And while Tortorella didn’t have one of the post-game explosions he made famous during stints with the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers, he was clearly disgusted with the effort, especially in a first period that saw Florida carry the play and take a 1-0 lead.
“It’s lack of respect and we have no business (showing) a lack of respect to any hockey team,” Tortorella continued. “In the situation we’re in going into tonight’s game, I just don’t know what we’re thinking as far as how we started the game.
“I can’t explain it.”
Jonathan Huberdeau scored the only goal of the shootout, beating Vancouver netminder Roberto Luongo with a nice backhand-forehand deke on Florida’s first attempt. Chris Higgins came closest to scoring for the Canucks, hitting the post behind Tim Thomas on Vancouver’s final shot.
Like their coach, the Canucks were at a loss to explain the performance.
“They’re never easy. It doesn’t matter who you play,” said Luongo, who finished with 34 saves through regulation and overtime. “As soon as you start thinking that, it’s game over for us. There’s no easy points in this league. You’ve got to perform every night, every team’s going to give you a challenge.
“Especially given the fact that we lost four in a row, I don’t understand why we would think it would be easy.”
Shawn Matthias and Brad Boyes scored in regulation for Florida (6-12-4), which got 27 saves from Thomas and has now won three of its last four.
The 39-year-old Thomas, who took last season off to spend time with his family and clear his head, was back at Rogers Arena for the first time since leading the Boston Bruins to a their Game 7 victory over Vancouver in the 2011 Stanley Cup.
He signed with a Panthers team in the pre-season that prior to Tuesday had not won a game in Vancouver since 1994.
“That’s why he’s won before, he’s won a Stanley Cup before, he’s won a Vezina and that’s why,” Panthers interim head coach Peter Horachek said of Thomas. “He’s confident (and) he’s got a smile on his face when he is doing it.
“He gives our guys confidence.”
Jannek Hansen and Higgins replied for Vancouver (11-8-4), which has just six goals total during its five-game slide.
“I don’t think anybody played well. We looked lethargic at times,” said Tortorella. “It’s disappointing and it starts from the beginning. You need to respect your opponent. We didn’t.”
The Canucks killed off a full two-minute penalty in overtime, with Luongo making a huge pad stop on Huberdeau.
Vancouver then poured it on in the final minute of the extra period, but couldn’t find a way past Thomas.
Playing in just his second game back after a long absence with a lower-body injury, Hansen jumped on a bad clearing attempt and wired a shot past Thomas for his third of the season at 2:35 of the final period to tie snap a 1-1 tie.
After the teams exchanged chances, Matthias brought the Panthers back to level terms by ripping his third of the season past Luongo from the slot at 8:34.
Down 1-0 after that lacklustre first period, the Canucks came out with some renewed intensity in the second and were rewarded when Higgins beat Thomas through a maze of legs for his seventh goal of the season at 3:26.
Thomas, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP with Boston back in 2011, then made a big stop on Canucks forward Alexandre Burrows before Daniel Sedin sent a shot just wide.
Florida opened the scoring at 3:43 of the first against the NHL’s No. 1 penalty killing unit. With Hansen off in the box for goaltender interference, Aleksander Barkov’s shot off the post bounced right to Boyes, who beat a down-and-out Luongo for his eighth of the season.
Burrows, who has yet to score this season in 11 games, had Vancouver’s best chance of the period but he hit the post on a Florida power play with about five minutes to go.
“This clunker here, it just makes no sense to me,” said Tortorella. “I think a team should be chomping on the bit to get into a win column but it was a total lack of respect. There are no easy games in this game. It’s a lesson learned and I hope we do learn from it.”
Notes: Horachek replaced the fired Kevin Dineen on Nov. 8 … Canucks forward Dale Weise returned to the lineup after missing 10 games with a lower-body injury. He took the place of David Booth, who has just one goal and two assists in 13 games this season. … Former members of the Panthers on the current Canucks’ roster include Luongo, Booth, Higgins, Mike Santorelli and Jason Garrison. … Luongo, who was with the Panthers from 2000 to 2006 before being dealt to the Canucks, still ranks first among all-time Florida goaltenders for wins (108), games played (317) and shutouts (26). … The Canucks continue their six-game homestand on Friday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. … The Panthers are in Edmonton to take on the Oilers on Thursday for the third game of their four-game road trip. … The Canucks and Panthers meet again March 16 in Sunrise, Fla.