VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks are rolling and Ryan Kesler is providing much of the momentum.
Kesler had two goals and an assist Tuesday as the Canucks defeated Philadelphia 6-2 for their first win on home ice against the Flyers in nearly 22 years.
“We’re playing with a lot of confidence,” Kesler said of a Vancouver club that has 12 wins and two regulation ties in its last 15 games.
“That’s what comes when you win hockey games. You gain confidence with each one and the thing with this group is we’re not satisfied with this streak we’re on. We want to continue to get better.”
Kesler scored his first goal 56 seconds into the second period and made it 4-1 four minutes later when he deflected Daniel Sedin’s power-play shot through his own legs and over Flyers starting goalie Brian Boucher.
He almost had his second career hat trick but hit the crossbar against Sergei Bobrovsky, who relieved Boucher. Jeff Tambellini buried the rebound to make it 6-1 in the third.
Kesler shares the team goal-scoring lead with Sedin at 19 after extending his points streak to eight games. He has scored nine goals in his last 10 contests.
“I’ve worked extremely hard,” Kesler added. “I haven’t been satisfied since I’ve been in the league and every year I want to get better and this year is no different … and I think each game I am getting better.”
He’s doing just that and his teammates have noticed.
“He’s really establishing himself as a superstar in this league,” said Tambellini, who has benefited from Kesler’s play since his call-up from the minors, contributing a career-high nine goals.
“He’s a guy that does it all at both ends of the ice. This year is really when he took the next step and became one of the NHL elite guys.”
Sedin, Manny Malhotra and Jannik Hansen also scored for Vancouver which improved to 22-8-5 and moved to within a point of Western Conference-leading Detroit.
The Flyers’ Jeff Carter was credited with a late power-play goal in a goalmouth scramble when the Canucks drew two minors to a match penalty assessed against Philadelphia’s Jody Shelley.
Shelley sucker punched Andrew Alberts during a scrum. The Canuck defenceman did not return and coach Alain Vigneault expects he’ll have a black eye for a few days.
Daniel Briere also scored for the Stanley Cup finalist Flyers, who went 7-0-1 before an uninspiring 5-0 home loss to Florida in the last game before their Christmas break.
The Flyers had dominated the Canucks on Vancouver ice for nearly 22 years, going 10-0-4 during that span, which began after their last loss in B.C. on Jan. 17, 1989.
But they were back on their heels from Tuesday’s opening faceoff.
“We should have been ready,” Boucher said after facing a 22-shot barrage in the first period. “We weren’t, and we paid for it.
“The last two games have not been very good. Maybe this game was circled on their calendar as a benchmark, and we weren’t ready tonight.”
Philadelphia dropped to 22-9-5 and are three points behind Pittsburgh atop the Eastern Conference.
At the other end, Canuck goalie Roberto Luongo said he’s enjoying Kesler’s work in the offensive zone but also admiring his diligence on defence.
“He’s a force for us right now,” said Luongo who left after the game for Florida for wife Gina’s cesarean delivery of their second child.
“Not only offensively but he’s taken some big draws, he’s playing the (penalty kill) and he’s doing it all so it’s nice to have a guy like that on your team.”
As well as Kesler is playing, he very easily could have been on the other side Tuesday night. He signed an offer sheet with Philadelphia in 2006 but it was matched by then-Canucks general manager Dave Nonis.
At the end of last season he was told by management to stop chirping at opposing players and focus more on becoming the player they expected.
“When he came in he was more of a defensive, checker type guy, kind of an agitator and get under your skin a little bit,” said Flyers defenceman Sean O’Donnell, who faced Kesler in many Western Conference battles.
“But he’s making the most of his power-play time, and he’s always been a good two-way guy. He’s doing a little less yapping, and more scoring. He’s having a great first half.”
Notes: The first period featured a spirited scrap between O’Donnell and Canucks rookie Aaron Volpatti. … It was the only regular-season game between the two teams … Bad weather in the eastern U.S. prompted the Flyers to begin their five-game road trip early. They had been practising in Vancouver since Boxing Day … Philadelphia defenceman Chris Pronger is about a month away from returning from a broken right foot. … Vancouver outshot Philadelphia 49-37.