VANCOUVER, B.C. – After a lengthy and frustrating offensive drought, hockey is becoming fun again for Ryan Kesler.
The Vancouver centre scored and set up the insurance goal as the Canucks beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-1 on Monday night. Kesler has now scored in back-to-back games, and in three of his last four, after going 14 games without scoring.
“It’s about time,” said Kesler of his recent scoring. “I was biting it for a little bit there-14 games, but who’s counting? I’m getting bounces now and hockey’s starting to be fun.”
Sami Salo, with the game-winner, and Mason Raymond also scored for the Canucks. Raymond added an assist.
Alexander Frolov replied for the Kings, who struggled on the power play, going 0-for-5. The Canucks ended the night 1-for-5 and outshot the Kings 28-25 overall.
The Canucks (19-14-0) posted their third straight win and jumped over the Detroit Red Wings into a tie for eighth place in the Western Conference with the Dallas Stars.
Despite the loss, the Kings (21-11-3) retained first place in the West, but were denied a chance to move into first place overall in the NHL. The Kings were also unable to record points in nine-straight games for the first time since 1980.
In the nine games since the Kings last played in Vancouver – a 4-1 defeat – they suffered only a shootout loss to St. Louis. But the Kings generated little in the way of a sustained attack against the Canucks on Monday.
The Los Angeles power play is now 0-for-11 in three games against Vancouver this season – all losses.
“We didn’t come out strong as we wanted to,” said Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick. “We didn’t play that first 20 as well as we wanted to. It’s not an easy task coming into this rink and taking control in the first period but you still have to compete and fight off that wave of momentum they throw at you right at the beginning.”
Kesler opened the scoring on Vancouver’s first shot just 1:04 into the game, burying the rebound off a Raymond slapshot that was deflected by Mikael Samuelsson.
Canucks defenceman Shane O’Brien triggered the play by hustling into the zone to get a clearing attempt and then dropping a pass to Raymond.
“This game’s a lot about confidence,” said Kesler. “It’s a funny game that way. You have confidence and you’re working hard but it seems like it’s effortless out there but I’m getting the bounces and I’m feeling good right now.”
A minute after Kesler’s goal, Los Angeles coach Terry Murray tried to rally his troops during an early timeout. But Kesler helped keep the Kings off the scoreboard for most of the first.
“I thought that after the timeout we started to pick it up a bit,” said Murray. “I thought in the second and the third period, there were some good things happening. We had our opportunities on the scoring side of things. We just couldn’t get it done.”
Kesler played an important defensive role during a five-on-three L.A. power play for 46 seconds in the opening period. Moments after, Roberto Luongo came up big on a Kings power play by kicking out a Drew Doughty slapshot. Then Kesler threw himself in front of another Doughty point shot.
“It was one of our best (games) of the year,” said Luongo. “We came out with an early lead and really played well the rest of the way and never gave them much as far as scoring chances are concerned.”
Salo put the Canucks ahead 2-0 on a power play at 17:15 of the first with assists from twin brothers Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who both extended their point streaks to seven games. The goal was Vancouver’s fourth with the man-advantage in the past two games.
Frolov cut the deficit to 2-1 with just 17 seconds left in the first after Luongo failed to corral a Randy Jones rebound.
“I thought we really had control of the middle of the ice,” said Vancouver defenceman Willie Mitchell. “In the D zone, we really had them not in the dangerous areas. Therefore, they didn’t get a lot of chances, and we capitalized on ours.”
Raymond added the insurance goal, his career-high 12th in a season, at 14:48 of the third when he took a pass from Kesler before sneaking around defenceman Matt Greene and sliding the puck through Quick’s legs.
Luongo and Mitchell, who had a highly-publicized scuffle with the centre in practice last Friday, said it was just a matter of time before Kesler started scoring consistently again.
“Goals are like bananas,” said Mitchell. “They come in bunches. It just seems to happen where you get one, you get a few. He was getting lots of chances. Sooner or later, they were going to go in. Now, he’s scoring. We need that out of him.”
Notes: L.A. lost centre Jarret Stoll to a groin injury in the third . . . Canucks centre Kyle Wellwood returned to the lineup after being scratched from the previous two games. Wellwood took his first penalty of the season. … Vancouver recalled defenceman Aaron Rome from Manitoba of the American Hockey League, where he completed a seven-game conditioning stint. He was scratched along with winger Darcy Hordichuk. … L.A. winger Wayne Simmonds missed his second straight game with a lower-body injury. … The Kings appear destined to make the playoffs for the first time since 2001-02 under then coach Andy Murray. … In a sign that the Kings are cool again, L.A. hockey writers have resumed travelling with the club in mid-season. … Team Canada executive Kevin Lowe scouted the game.