(SportsNetwork.com) - After getting swept out of the first round of the 2013 playoffs by the San Jose Sharks, the Vancouver Canucks decided it was time for a change.
That led to the Canucks hiring John Tortorella as their new head coach and he makes his debut on Thursday night against the Sharks.
Vancouver reached the postseason in six of its seven seasons under Alain Vigneault, a run that included six division titles (including the club's fifth straight Northwest title in 2013), back-to-back Presidents Trophies in 2010-11 and 2011-12, and a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011. However, last spring marked the Canucks' second straight first-round exit, so general manager Mike Gillis cut bait with Vigneault.
Vigneault landed on his feet with the New York Rangers, who in a twist of fate has fired Tortorella, making him available for the Canucks. The fiery bench boss is expected to toughen up the Canucks and make the club more disciplined.
That includes the talented Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, who make their living racking up points. Henrik Sedin led the club with 45 points a season ago, while Daniel was next with 40 points before a big drop-off to Jannik Hansen, who was third on the club with 27 points.
Roberto Luongo will make a some-what surprising start tonight for the Canucks. That didn't seem likely after he opened last season as the backup to Cory Schneider, but after Gillis was unable to trade Luongo and his large contract, Schneider was instead dealt to the New Jersey Devils on draft day.
Luongo did well in the backup role despite playing amidst constant trade rumors and finished 9-6-3 with a 2.56 goals against average and .907 save percentage.
He also went 0-2 with a 2.58 GAA in three playoff games -- two starts -- while Schneider nursed an injury. Although the Canucks were swept by San Jose, the postseason loss could hardly be blamed on Luongo, as Vancouver's offense contributed only eight goals over the four games.
The Canucks are slated to begin the season on the road for only the 13th time in club history, having gone 6-5-1 when kicking off the season as the away club. They won't have Zack Kassian for the first five games of the season as he finishes off his eight-game ban issued during the preseason for a cross- check to the face of Edmonton's San Gagner.
The Sharks will play their first three games of the season at home and are 5-2-1 in their last eight openers. They made the postseason for a ninth straight year and pushed the Los Angeles Kings to seven games before falling in the semifinals.
San Jose opened last season by winning its first seven games, though was plagued by inconsistency afterwards. They'll try to duplicate the fast start, but are without forwards Martin Havlat (groin surgery) and Raffi Torres (torn ACL) while defenseman Brad Stuart is questionable with an unknown injury.
The Sharks appear on the verge of a rebuild, with center Joe Thornton, winger Patrick Marleau and defenseman Dan Boyle all unrestricted free agents at season's end. However, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski were both signed to five-year extensions this past offseason.
Thornton led the Sharks with 33 assists and 40 points last year, while Couture (21 goals), Marleau and Pavelski all finished with 31 points.
San Jose ranked sixth on defense with 2.33 goals against per game and have a workhorse in net in Antti Niemi.
Niemi started 43 games last season and went 24-12-6 with career bests in GAA (2.16) and save percentage (.924). He appeared in 2,580:46 of ice time to lead all NHL goaltenders while earning his first Vezina Trophy nomination.
In addition to the first-round sweep, the Sharks won all three of their regular-season meetings with the Canucks last season. The clubs face off tonight as division rivals, with Vancouver having joined San Jose in the new- look Pacific Division following realignment.