VANCOUVER – Ryan Kesler’s return to the Vancouver Canucks overshadowed another clinical performance from goaltender Cory Schneider.
Kesler scored in his return after missing 20 games to injury and Schneider made 19 saves to help the Canucks shut out the Phoenix Coyotes 2-0 on Monday.
The 28-year-old centre, who suffered a foot fracture in his first game back after shoulder and wrist surgeries in the summer, opened the scoring at 7:26 of the first period on what looked to be a failed odd-man rush.
Kevin Bieksa took a pass at the point from Zack Kassian but fanned on his point shot. However, the puck came right to Mason Raymond at the side of the net, who bounced it off the post where Kesler was to score the goal.
“It was a nice pass off the post,” said Kesler. “(Raymond) laid it up for me, got my confidence early. It just happened tonight.”
The story of the game could have been Schneider’s shutout had it not been for the fact he’s had a lot of them lately. He picked up his fifth shutout of the season, tying Phoenix’s Mike Smith and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne for first in the NHL. Four of them have come in the 11-straight starts he’s had in the Vancouver net.
“I think this is what they call a system shutout,” said Schneider. “It was more about my teammates than me.”
Schneider added he’s been working to focus in games where his teammates are picking up the slack.
“It’s just finding ways in games like tonight … where you are not seeing a lot of shots and your team is playing well that you don’t have that brain cramp, or that stand around moment when you haven’t seen a shot in 10 minutes and all of a sudden one sneaks through,” he said. “Part of it has just been me learning this year how to avoid those.”
After seeing just four shots through the first 18 minutes of the third period, Schneider and the Canucks had to kill off a penalty with just over a minute left in regulation when Kesler took a tripping penalty in the offensive zone. But Keith Yandle missed a pass from Antoine Vermette and the puck went the distance for a short-handed empty-net goal for which defenceman Dan Hamhuis was credited.
“It’s nice to get that extra goal there, being down six-on-four,” said Hamhuis. “They don’t draw pictures on the scoresheet so I’ll take credit for it.”
Canucks blue-liner Jason Garrison went off with 22 seconds to play, giving Phoenix a short six-on-three advantage but Schneider, Alex Burrows, Hamhuis and Jannik Hansen kept the puck away from the Vancouver goal.
Coyotes’ captain Shane Doan narrowly missed the net late in the third on a rush, mirroring the kind of night Phoenix was having offensively.
“Smith keeps us in the game so you’re looking for one break like that where you can maybe steal a point or two,” said Phoenix head coach Dave Tippett. “Those are the things to find a way to get points, that’s a play that can go your way or go against you and tonight we didn’t find that play that we needed to give us a chance to win.”
Smith finished with just one save shy of his season high, stopping 40 shots.
“They’re out there fighting for a playoff spot,” said Canucks’ captain Henrik Sedin. “We thought they were going to be ready … so we got a lot of pucks to the net but Mike, he’s a great goalie. He’s big and he’s great playing the puck, so it’s tough getting to him but I think we did a great job tonight.”
The Coyotes (17-16-6) had their three-game win streak snapped and missed a chance to edge closer to Detroit for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. It was their first regulation loss in seven games.
Vancouver (22-11-7) moved four points up on Minnesota in the Northwest Division standings thanks to their 9-2-0 record in their past 11 games, including three-straight wins.
Despite the low score, there were a few quality scoring chances that kept the 18,910 fans at Rogers Arena in their seats.
Martin Hanzal had the best scoring opportunities for the visitors in the first period and then tested Schneider again about 11 minutes into the second. He got the puck at the left hash marks but Schneider snared his quick snapshot with his glove.
Hanzal had a two-game goal scoring streak snapped Monday.
Perhaps the best save of the game came with just under six minutes to go in the second period. Derek Roy centred a pass to Hansen but the Danish winger’s one-timer was robbed by Smith’s pad.
“The only reason we were close was Smitty played great,” said Doan. “We weren’t as good as we needed to be, especially in the first 10 minutes. We fell behind and then you’re chasing it the rest of the way.”
Vancouver appeared to score a goal in the dying seconds of the second period on the power play. Henrik Sedin and Burrows crashed the Phoenix net on an Alex Edler point shot to knock the puck past Smith, but a review ruled the goal was scored with a distinct kicking motion and was waved off.
“Offensively this could have been one of our best games this year, as far as the number of quality chances,” said Canucks’ head coach Alain Vigneault. “It’s a tough league to score. If you look at the two goals we scored, the first one was kind of two lucky bounces and the second one they put in their own net 200 feet away.”
Scoring should improve now that former Selke Trophy winner Kesler is back in the mix.
“With Kesler and (newly acquired) Derek (Roy) coming in, it was a lot more balance throughout our lines,” said Hamhuis.
“It makes it easier and more fun … and as a team we’re going to have way more puck possession with those guys in the lineup.”
NOTES: The final shots were 42-19 in favour of Vancouver. The Canucks led 32-15 after two periods … Henrik Sedin had a two-game goal scoring streak snapped. … The game’s first penalty didn’t come until the 16-minute mark of the second period.