Tuesday, April 09, 2013

On Kesler's return and the hope for ensuing dominance

The last time Ryan Kesler made a triumphant return from long-term injury, the Canucks dropped a 4-3 game to the Dallas Stars and went on to lose five of seven games with the Selke-winner in the lineup.  This time around, the initial omens are far more encouraging.  Kesler's presence catalyzed a team performance that the final score failed to do proper justice.  Despite solving the Coyotes' irritable netminder just once, the Canucks outshot Smith and co. in excess of a two-to-one ratio. 

Currently averaging in the bottom-half of the league in shots on goal (28.3 per game), their 41-shot effort represents the Canucks' highest output thus far in 2013.  The only other time they hit 40 was February 4 against the Oilers, thanks to a seven-shot overtime.  (None sweeter than the last, mind you.)

It's no secret that without Kesler and to some degree, David Booth, Vigneault has employed a less-daring system than Canucks fans are used to.  It hasn't exactly been 2007-era hockey, but that 13-shot victory against the Kings just two weeks ago could do wonders in convincing you otherwise.  While Kesler's return wasn't the only significant factor in the Canucks' dominant performance, having him in the lineup clearly generates a sense of confidence that seems exclusive to a team with three bonafide centres.

Now the Canucks' most-skilled bottom-six forward in years, Derek Roy made several plays that a third-line centre should simply not be capable of -- outside of Jordan Staal in a Penguins uniform.  Mike Gillis may not currently have a bigger fan than Chris Higgins.  Daniel Sedin, meanwhile, threw a half-dozen shots on goal (sounds a lot more significant than "six", but mostly just makes me think of baked goods).  On most nights this season, that would have likely constituted a quarter of the team's total output.  And to put Vancouver over the much-anticipated edge, Cory Schneider turned in yet another performance that voters for the Vezina will look to by season's end.  And does anyone else notice he appears to exert literally no effort in doing so?

If the Canucks can continue to ride the high that having Kesler and Roy as a supporting cast seems to afford, the timing could be right for something significant come post-season.  With a mere nine games to go in the regular season and the team boasting of their best lineup in recent memory, the dreamers among us will tell you it's an inevitability.  Enter the mere sniff of a capable powerplay and downtown businesses might as well start boarding up their windows now.

Gear up, Vancouver.


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