VANCOUVER – Mikael Samuelsson has been around long enough to know there are ups and downs during the 82-game grind of an NHL season.
So when he found himself mired in a 14-game goal drought after a career-high 30 goals and 53 points last year, he knew exactly what to do.
“You’ve got to stick with it,” Samuelsson said Monday after scoring the winning and insurance goals in a 4-2 Vancouver Canucks victory over the woeful Ottawa Senators.
“It’s not going to go your way all the time. (A slump is) good sometimes. You stay humble and you really have to bear down and remind yourself what (worked) in the past.
“That’s what everybody has to do when they battle a little bit.”
Second-line centre Ryan Kesler was the architect of Samuelsson’s goal that gave Vancouver a 3-0 lead at 2:12 of the second period.
Kesler broke his stick on a clearing attempt, kicked the puck to linemate Mason Raymond, got a stick from Jannik Hansen at the bench, took Raymond’s return pass and fed Samuelsson for a tap-in.
“I just think Jannik was on his toes there and noticed I needed a right-handed shot and we don’t have too many,” Kesler said. “He should get a half an assist.”
Vancouver improved to 35-10-9 and has a four-point cushion over Philadelphia in the battle for bragging rights as the league’s top team.
The struggling Senators, who have only one victory in their last 17 starts, lost their tenth straight game and fell to 17-29-8. Ottawa hasn’t won in Vancouver since 2004.
Samuelsson, a six-foot-two, 218-pound native of Mariefred, Sweden, picked up his scoring after getting power-play minutes on the point when defenceman Alex Edler was injured five games ago.
“He’s a good offensive player and he takes pride in putting up points and scoring and when it wasn’t working for him he was still doing all the right things and finally he’s getting the bounces,” Kesler said.
Samuelsson, 34, who has played on all four lines this season and has been mentioned in the media as trade bait if the Canucks had to clear salary cap space, now has 11 points in the last six games.
Alex Burrows and Kesler scored one minute 10 seconds apart in the first period.
Samuelsson’s second goal came with Ottawa netminder Brian Elliott on the bench for a sixth attacker.
Elliott, who lost his previous 12 starts and was lifted after three first-period goals in Saturday’s 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders, saw the Canucks lead 2-0 in a period where they were outshot 12-5.
Ottawa coach Cory Clouston said Elliott looked nervous at the start but recovered to play well.
“It’s a broken record,” Clouston said of the latest defeat.
“We played well. I don’t know how many games we’ve lost by a goal or an empty-net goal.”
Nick Foligno and Jason Spezza drew the Senators to within a goal in the second period.
Spezza’s goal was his first since a shoulder injury sidelined him for 15 games and came on a three-on-none break when the Canucks got caught on a bad change.
“I guess the closest back-checker was (teammate Daniel Alfredsson),” Spezza said. “So I could have passed, but I’m glad it ended up in the back of the net.”
Ottawa battled and had some chances to tie it late. Alfredsson missed the net after Foligno centred the puck late in the third period. Alex Kovalev was thwarted by Canuck defenceman Dan Hamhuis during a goalmouth scramble.
“We’ve just got to figure out what we did well the second half of the game and bring that to our next game,” Spezza said.
“But it doesn’t make this one any easier. We’re not getting the wins and we’ve just got to find a way to start getting them. It’s frustrating.”
The Canucks lost another defenceman in Keith Ballard early in the game but still held Ottawa scoreless on five power plays.
“I thought we had more chances than them on the power play,” said Spezza. “It’s just not going in.”
Ballard injured his right knee in an awkward fall behind the Vancouver goal after getting entangled with Senator Milan Michalek.
Canuck coach Alain Vigneault an MRI is scheduled for Tuesday.
Sami Salo, who hasn’t played on the Vancouver blue-line all season since injuring his Achilles tendon playing floor hockey in Finland in the off-season, is getting close to returning to the Canuck lineup.
He is scheduled to play the last of three conditioning games with the AHL Manitoba Moose on Tuesday.
Goaltender Roberto Luongo, who has not lost in regulation since Dec. 5 and is on a 15-0-5 run, was in the medical room after the game.
Vigneault said he was told the netminder might have a touch of the flu.
NOTES:Henrik Sedin played his 781st game for Vancouver, fourth on the club’s all-time list … former Canuck Jarkko Ruutu was a healthy scratch for Ottawa … Vancouver defenceman Andrew Alberts returned from a shoulder injury to take rookie Chris Tanev’s place … Lee Sweatt, another rookie Vancouver blue-liner, suffered a foot fracture blocking a shot in practice on Saturday and is out six to eight weeks.