Vancouver Canucks netminder Roberto Luongo hadn't played since Nov. 22, so could be forgiven for looking rusty in his return to the lineup on Thursday night. But there was no excusing the poor performance by the rest of the team.
The Canucks were positively dreadful in suffering a franchise-record sixth straight loss on home ice, 4-1 to the Phoenix Coyotes before a displeased crowd of 18,630 at General Motors Place.
"I understand the frustration of the fans," Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault said. "They believe we have a good team.
"We believe we have a good team. We need to show it and, obviously, right now, we're not showing it."
Vancouver has been outscored 19-10 in its last four outings — all losses.
"We're thinking of it too much out there," Luongo said. "We're forcing things and that is generating chances for the other team."
Joakim Lindstrom staked Phoenix to a 2-0 lead with his first two-goal game in four NHL seasons, and Keith Yandle had one goal and one assist in the road win.
"We had a great record last year on the road," said Coyotes captain Shane Doan, who had two assists.
"We were fourth in the whole league on the road. We know that we're capable of doing it."
Peter Mueller's power-play tally in the second period completed the scoring for the Coyotes (21-18-5), winners in three of their last four games and now tied with Vancouver for fifth place in the Western Conference standings.
"I don't think you really allow yourself to think too much about [a playoff spot]," Doan said. "But it's fun."
Daniel Sedin had the lone goal for the Canucks (22-19-5), spoiling Ilya Bryzgalov's shutout bid with 8:58 remaining.
Both Bryzgalov and Luongo faced 32 shots.
"He is one of the best goalies in the world, if not the best," Lindstrom said of Luongo. "But if you're gone for that amount of time, it is always hard to come back.
"Our game plan was to put pucks on the net and go to the net. I thought we did a pretty good job of it."
'It was a rough start'
Luongo had posted a 11-5-2 record with five shutouts before he missed 24 games with a groin injury suffered in a 3-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Nov. 22.
Jason LaBarbera and Curtis Sanford combined to go 9-12-3 in the interim, but the Canucks have hit a rough patch of late (2-5-2).
Once Luongo regains peak form and newly signed Mats Sundin rounds into game shape, the feeling is Vancouver will have the makings of a Stanley Cup contender.
Not on this night.
"For myself, it was a rough start," Luongo. "These next couple days are going to be really important for me in practice to sharpen up as much as I can."
Phoenix scored on its first shot as Lindstrom, left unchecked, beat a sliding Luongo just 65 seconds into the contest.
Lindstrom was left alone in the slot as he whipped a rebound past Luongo to make it 2-0 with 6:44 left in the first period.
It marked Lindstrom's seventh goal in 17 games with the Coyotes, who acquired him Dec. 3 from the Anaheim Ducks for minor-league defenceman Logan Stephenson.
"The most important thing is to win the game," Lindstrom said. "That is my first priority."
Luongo kept Lindstrom from notching a hat trick with a splendid blocker save late in the period, and the Canucks remained within striking distance when Enver Lisin and Shane Doan hit posts early in the second.
Moments later, Yandle scored on a screen shot from the boards and Mueller made it 4-0 at the 8:34 mark.
Mueller retrieved the puck off a faceoff in the Vancouver zone and skated in uncontested on Luongo, beating him between the pads for a power-play goal.