Kevin Bieksa looked just fine Thursday night.
Playing his first NHL game in almost four months, |
Bieksa logged 15:48 of ice-time and had three shots on goal as his Vancouver Canucks knocked off the Nashville Predators 3-2 in a shootout.
Bieksa missed 46 games after his right calf was lacerated by the skate of Nashville’s Vernon Fiddler on November 1.
“It feels great to be back,” said Bieksa.
So eager to get back to the big club was the 26-year old that he cut short a conditioning stint with the Manitoba Moose.
“Well, I went down there to, you know, get into a game type situation, get my timing back, you know, make decisions out there under pressure and I felt like I got that in my first game there. Game went to overtime, it was tight all game, so, you know, it served its purpose and now I'm back.”
Is he ever. Just ask Jordin Tootoo.
Bieksa lined up Tootoo just over four minutes into the second period. With the Nashville winger looking for the puck in his skates, Bieksa came off the blue line and gave him a solid bump. Tootoo’s saving grace may have been that he saw Bieksa in the nick of time, keeping the hit from being far worse than it could have been.
So rattled by the play was Tootoo that he immediately took a run at Henrik Sedin. Bieksa, naturally, took exception and sent Tootoo to the ice with a two-handed shot to the chest. Bieksa was issued a roughing penalty on the play for sticking up for his teammate.
While physical play is one element that makes Bieksa’s game stand out, his offensive prowess is another. Last season, the Grimsby, Ontario native scored 12 goals and led all Canuck defensemen with 42 points. He showed flashes of that offensive flair on several occasions Thursday night.
With just under three minutes to go in the first period, Bieksa tried to split the Nashville defense on a turnover. He nearly succeeded but the puck rolled off his stick.
Two minutes into the second period Bieksa again joined the rush, this time setting himself up for a one-timer on a mini 2-on-1. Unfortunately for Vancouver, Matt Cooke’s backhand saucer pass was blocked by Marek Zidlicky.
With Vancouver getting away on a rare 5-on-2 midway through the game, Daniel Sedin went cross-ice to Bieksa, who, again, had set himself up for the one-timer. But Dan Hamhuis read the play and blocked the shot.
While Bieksa failed to pick up a point, he looked dangerous at times and added another element to the offense of a team that will take goals any way they can get them.
Of course, it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine for Bieksa in his first game back.
On his very shift, Bieksa and Roberto Luongo played a game of, “You take it, I got it!” behind the Vancouver net. They recovered in time to prevent the turnover.
Late in the second, Bieksa fell behind his own net. He had to glove the puck into the corner to keep it away from the oncoming Nashville forward.
And on the game-tying goal, David Legwand passed the puck through Bieksa’s legs to Zidlicky for the one-timer.
But all in all, Kevin Bieksa did far more good than bad in his return to the Vancouver lineup. And adding the Bieks-Factor to a defense that already features Mattias Ohlund, Sami Salo, Willie Mitchell and Alex Edler can only mean more results like the one Vancouver picked up Thursday night.
2 – Points for Mason Raymond for the third time in his career. Raymond was Vancouver’s best skater and capped his night by scoring the winner in the shootout.
7 – Points in 9 games as a Canuck for Ryan Shannon, who had two assists.
22-0-0 – Record for Vancouver when leading after two periods.
49 – Saves for Roberto Luongo, the most he’s ever made as a Canuck in the regular season.
69 – Percent of the faceoffs Ryan Kesler took, he won (22-for-32).
On a night when the Sedins and Naslund just didn’t have it, Vancouver got some much-needed secondary scoring from the likes of Raymond, Shannon, and Edler. That’s really all this Canuck team can ask for.
Let’s just say the defense will be buying Luongo dinner… for the next twenty years. Lui made great save after great save – 49 in all - to keep his defense looking good on a night when they were anything but.
The PP finished a respectable 1-for-4 and gave the Canucks the lead after two. But the PK gave up two goals for the second consecutive night. That being said, Kesler, Burrows, and Mitchell were fantastic late in overtime and helped get the game to the shootout.