Ryan Kesler is getting his offensive groove back
Kesler scored twice and the Canucks' top-ranked power play scored two more as Vancouver downed the Ottawa Senators 4-1 at Scotiabank Place on Saturday night.
The goals were the sixth and seventh for Kesler, who missed the first five games this season as he recovered from offseason hip surgery and struggled for a while to find the form that made him a 40-goal scorer last season.
"I'm starting to feel better every night. I felt good tonight. It's still a work in progress," Kesler said. "I want to help the team win and contribute. I know I wasn't playing my best hockey when I came back. I just tried to stay positive and finally I'm getting rewarded."
Kesler's power-play goal early in the second period was the turning point during a night where the Canucks used their special teams to punish the Senators' lack of discipline. The Canucks, who came into the game with the top power-play percentage in the NHL at 25.8, scored twice in five opportunities. Alexander Edler also scored 5-on-4, while Dale Weise had the other goal and Roberto Luongo made 24 saves for the Canucks (18-10-1), who improved to 9-1-0 in their last 10 games.
"It was physical; we had to push back and in the end we made them pay for their mistakes," said center Cody Hodgson, who was leveled by Nick Foligno's first-period check and didn't return, though coach Alain Vigneault said he could have. "One more time, we're not comparing this year to last year. We're playing good hockey right now. I think tonight we had a better start than we had the past few games, and that's something we want to concentrate on. The power play is hot and [Luongo] is finding his stride, we have guys chipping in all over the place."
Colin Greening scored the lone goal for the Senators (13-13-4), who've dropped three in a row and are 1-3-2 in their last six.
"They've got the best power play in the League, and they made us pay," said goalie Craig Anderson, who finished with 24 saves. "It was a huge part of tonight's game."
Vancouver wasted little time making the Senators pay after Zack Smith was called for hooking 1:06 into the game. Kesler won the draw to Henrik Sedin, who fed Edler for a point blast that beat a screened Anderson four seconds later for a 1-0 lead.
It became 2-0 when Kesler flew up the middle to join the rush and redirected a pass from Jannik Hansen past Anderson at 8:23.
Vancouver's power play got its second of the night 15 seconds into Peter Regin's second-period hooking penalty when Kesler, stationed at the top of the crease, redirected a feed from Sedin into the net at 8:35 for a three-goal lead.
Vigneault is pleased to see Kesler returning to form.
"Ryan's a big part of our team, not to say a huge part of our team," he said. "We need him on his game. On the second power-play goal that we had, the battle that he had to find and get that puck was huge. He probably took that battle to another level and that's when he's at his best. Work is a big part of this game, and there are different levels of work. And that was a huge level."
The Senators got on the board with 1:12 left in the period when Jason Spezza skated past the net and passed back to Greening, who beat Luongo. It was Spezza's fifth assist in five games.
"(Greening's) goal was very timely," Smith said. "To get within two going into the third was a huge momentum boost. We tried to use it, but ended up killing penalties again in the third. That set us behind."
But Weise put the game away when he came down left wing and fired past Anderson's left pad with 3:30 left to play. It was Weise's first point since Nov. 1.
Ottawa went 0-for-5 on the power play, and was unable to get a shot on goal during a 1:18 5-on-3 in the third period.
"When it comes down to it, their power play was better than ours," Ottawa coach Paul MacLean said. "I thought the turning point was their second power play goal. We're always concerned when we don't win. I think the way that we did it tonight, we played hard against a real good team. We played them physical but there's still areas of our game that have to get better. "
Smith admitted that the amount of time his team is spending on the penalty kill is affecting their play.
"There's penalties we don't need to be taking," he said. "We got in trouble that way."
Hodgson appeared unstable when he left the ice after Foligno's hit and did not return, but Vigneault did not seem concerned. "He's fine; he wanted to play," Vigneault said. "Our medical staff wanted to be extra careful. I don't see any issues there. I thought that hit was fair."
Daniel Alfredsson left the ice in the third period after being cross-checked in the arm by Hansen. He remained on the bench for several minutes but eventually returned to the game.
Dan Hamhuis left the ice late in the game but Vigneault did not have an update on his condition.