| In the last couple weeks, Ryan Kesler has voiced his determination to play hockey with a different attitude. He knows he’s not a rookie anymore, he wants a bigger role, and is ready to be a leader on the team. On Thursday night, you could tell it wasn’t just talk.
Kesler exploded for a goal and two assists, leading the Canucks to a 5-4 win over the Oilers and claiming first star honours on the night.
Playing between 19-year-old Michael Grabner and 22-year-old Mason Raymond might have helped him feel out the new maturity he’s been aspiring to.
“I was a grandpa on the line tonight,” said Kesler.
But even at Grandpa Kesler’s ripe old age of 23, he can still move. So can Grabner and Raymond, which is what made their line so dangerous Thursday.
“They’re both great players,” said Kesler of his linemates. “They’re both highly skilled, and they’re a couple speedy wingers, and it’s always nice to play with guys of that speed.”
Kesler has been a favourite with both fans and coaches since he joined the team in 2003 – but being his fan or his coach is like renting an action-packed DVD from the video store, only to find a few big scratches.
Just as things start to get exciting, just as you’re on the edge of your seat, you’re interrupted. But you take your lumps. You clean the disc – taking only 10 minutes to do it when most people would take 12 to 16 – and put it in once more. And then the movie stops again and you throw sofa cushions and popcorn at the TV.
That’s what Kesler’s season was like last year. After his hip surgery, his determination to come back in 10 weeks – instead of the projected 12-16 – was inspirational, and showed a worked ethic any coach would drool over. And that’s why it was so heartbreaking when he broke his finger in his first game back.
But Kesler’s pulled out the Disc Doctor, and is ready to go for good.
“It’s the first time I really felt I was getting back into the swing of things,” said Kesler after tonight’s game. “It’s been a long time with the injuries and not playing a game, and I think I’m finally starting to get back into game form.
“Last year I was hindered by the injury. I think I got hurt early October, and it was hard to get warmed up and into the periods,” said Kesler. “Right now I don’t really feel anything, so I think my speed’s back finally.”
Alain Vigneault was impressed, and it seems like Kesler’s case for a second-line centre is a good one.
“I thought Kes was very good with the two kids,” said the coach. “He showed a lot of speed and a lot of determination on the ice.”
That determination led to Kesler’s well-deserved three points, a shot in the arm for someone who has only played a couple NHL games in the last eight months.
“It’s always nice to put a couple points on the board and prove that you can be a help,” said Kesler. “It’s going to be a fun year if I can do that every night.”
You’re telling me.
Read the Game Recap
2 – seconds left when Isbister scored the game-winning goal
100 – pre-season games the Oilers have lost all-time
3 – pre-season games in a row played by Ryan Shannon
7 – hits dished out by Mike Brown
12 – faceoffs won on 18 tries by Henrik Sedin
Certainly showed the best spark of all pre-season games so far. Lots of speed, good puck control on the boards, and about 10 quality scoring chances is what won Vancouver the game.
The young Canucks’ defenders only allowed 10 shots tonight – so it’s hard to fault their play. But there were a few moments when the speedy Oilers young guns like Andrew Cogliano had a bit too much room to move around.
The Canucks spent a lot of time on the penalty kill, and did a fine job, especially considering the players aren’t used to the special teams units. They gave up a couple power play goals, but they were both point shots that Cory Schneider could have picked up. As for the Canucks power play, as the game went on it got more and more dangerous, and both Sedins gave us a foretaste of why they’ll both have a good shot to break the 80 point mark again this season.