Canucks Game Day: Ryan Kesler returns to lineup — ‘It’s good to finally be here’ (with video)
Star centre back after recovering from shoulder, wrist surgeries
VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Canucks, already riding the crest of a six-game win streak, will receive a further boost tonight with the return of Ryan Kesler.
After playing coy Thursday, the abrasive centre confirmed following today's morning skate that will play against the Dallas Stars (7 p.m., Sportsnet Pacific, Team 1040).
“It's been a long road and it's good to finally be here,” Kesler said. “It's pretty exciting for myself.”
Kesler had surgeries on both his left shoulder and left wrist last spring and hasn't played a game in nearly 10 months. In a normal season, he would have missed between 55-60 games. The lockout has limited his absence to just 12 outings.
“That definitely helped me out,” said the 28-year-old from Detroit. “The lockout wasn't a good situation but, for me, it gave me the time I needed to recover without pressuring myself to come back. I'm fully convinced it's not too early. I'm feeling good but I have to transfer that into a game now.”
Kesler will begin tonight's game on a line with wingers Chris Higgins and Zack Kassian. He also took reps on the first-unit power play during the morning skate, the second straight day he has practised with the Sedin twins, Alex Edler and Alex Burrows.
Cory Schneider, who starts in goal tonight, sits three stalls away from Kesler and said seeing Kesler in uniform again will be a pleasant sight.
“It's good to have Ryan back, his personality and his charm in the room,” winked Schneider. “We're really excited to have him around again. He's a pretty valuable part of our lineup but I think you have to temper your expectations a bit with a guy who hasn't played a game in almost a year now.”
Schneider is getting the start tonight even though Roberto Luongo now leads the league in goals against average at 1.45. The likely reason is that Schneider is 4-0-0 in his last four starts against the Stars and has allowed just five goals. (Luongo lost both his starts last season vs. the Stars and allowed seven.)
Dallas will have some new faces in its lineup tonight with the off-season additions of ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr, who turned 41 today, Derek Roy, Cody Eakin and ex-Canuck Aaron Rome. Gone are the likes of Mike Ribeiro, Steve Ott, Sheldon Souray and Radek Dvorak. The Stars are coming off a 7-4 loss Wednesday in Calgary but had won four straight prior to that.
“I've always viewed Dallas as a really good team, skilled offensively with mobile defencemen and great goaltending,” Schneider said. “I'm sure we're going to face a determined team tonight after their last game.”
Kari Lehtonen is slated to start in goal for the Stars. He is 2-7-0 lifetime against the Canucks with a 3.69 GAA and .879 save percentage.
Dallas head coach Glen Gulutzan is expecting another tough night from the Canucks, even though his team beat Vancouver twice last season, one of them a 5-2 victory at Rogers Arena.
“They're always a challenge,” Gulutzan said. “They've got a well-balanced team and they have those two Swedish guys. They're a well-oiled machine, they've been doing their thing for a lot of years and we have to play them hard and honest.”
The Canucks poked some fun at ex-teammate Rome by taping his name to their “wall of fame” in seven different categories, including MVP, unsung hero, best defenceman and leading scorer. A stay-at-home blueliner, Rome had 19 points in 148 games as a Canuck over three seasons.
“It's all in good fun,” chuckled Rome. “Guys like to have fun here. It's good.”
The Stars enter tonight's game ranked 14th on the power play and 13th on the penalty kill. The Canucks are 19th with the man advantage and 22nd while shorthanded.
ICE CHIPS: One-time Canuck left winger Curt Fraser is now an assistant coach with the Stars ... Referees for tonight's game are Ghislain Hebert and Dennis LaRue ... Surrey native Brenden Dillon is tied for the the Stars' lead in penalty minutes (16) with Vern Fiddler ... The Stars are 3-2-0 against Northwest Division teams this season... Dallas has been outshot in 12 of its 14 games.
INJURIES: Dallas winger Ray Whitney is out (foot). So is Canucks winger David Booth (groin).
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