Winning the only two games they played in a light week, the Canucks will look for one final good week to head into the holidays atop the Western Conference. A tight checking affair Wednesday against Columbus saw the Canucks escape with a 3-2 overtime victory on the back of a Ryan Kesler hat trick. Saturday the Maple Leafs paid a visit to Rogers arena, a game the Canucks would win 4-1 to preserve the long winning streak Vancouver holds over Toronto.
The Columbus Blue Jackets entered Rogers arena Wednesday looking to avenge a 3-2 overtime loss to Calgary the previous night, however, Ryan Kesler would dash those hopes. Kesler started his big night late in the first period, when he beat Mathieu Garon with a wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circle to give the Canucks a 1-0 lead heading into the first intermission. A tight checking – and rather boring – second period saw Columbus carry a slight edge in the flow of the play. The Blue Jackets would tie the game briefly, when Derick Brassark put one past Roberto Luongo at 9:02 of the second period, however, the tie was short-lived as only 1:48 later Ryan Kesler scored his second of the game. The game would remain 2-1 into the third period where Tom Sestito would score his first career goal to tie the game for the Blue Jackets and send the game into overtime. Halfway through the extra frame Columbus defenseman Jan Hejda was whistled for a boarding penalty giving the Canucks top ranked power play a chance to go to work four on three to end the game. Sure enough, Ryan Kesler was the recipient of a cross crease Daniel Sedin pass to score a tap in and win the game for the Canucks. For Kesler it was his first career hat trick. The Canucks would have a couple days off before the circus that is the Toronto Maple Leafs rolled into town Saturday afternoon.
Heading into Saturday afternoon’s game the Canucks had not lost to the Maple Leafs since 2003. Vancouver came out buzzing and generated a few early scoring chances of Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson who proved equal to the early task. The Maple Leafs killed off an early Tim Brent goaltender interference penalty before starting to take the flow of the play back to the Canucks. The Leafs would earn a five on three power play when Canuck defensemen Alex Edler and Dan Hamhuis both took delay of game penalties for flipping the puck over the glass in their defensive zone. The Canucks would kill the penalties, but the Leafs would keep the momentum and if not for Roberto Luongo might’ve taken an early lead in the game. Luongo, though, was steady and the Canucks would find their footing late in the period when Alex Burrows found a rebound sitting in front of him in the crease and swept the puck past Gustavsson to give the Canucks a 1-0 lead after one. The second period saw little action aside from Jannik Hansen scoring, the recipient of a nice passing play between he, Ryan Kesler, and Jeff Tambellini. The Canucks took a 2-0 lead to the third period. Halfway through the final frame Mikhail Grabovski beat Luongo on an innocent looking shot, giving the Leafs hope and pulling them to within one goal with half a period to play. The Grabovski goal saw the pace of the game pick up drastically, as the Leafs found life and tried to claw their way into a tie. Those hopes would be dashed with five minutes remaining when Christian Ehrhoff (who was returning to the lineup after missing time with vertigo) beat Gustavsson with a point shot to give the Canucks a 3-1 lead and end any hope of a Leafs comeback. Henrik Sedin scored into an empty net and the Canucks skated away with a 4-1 victory.
The Canucks continued their dominance on home ice last week, winning both games and improving their home ice record to 11-3-2. Only Detroit and Washington have collected more points on home ice than Vancouver, however both teams have played more games than Vancouver. The power play for the Canucks has started to run a little dry, as they’ve fallen from first to third in league power play percentage while scoring only one power play goal in two games this week; however, the penalty kill is at a season high. The team now sits fifth in league penalty kill.
The Canucks have a busy upcoming week that sees them play four games, three of which are on the road. The team will kick off its three game road swing Monday in St. Louis facing a Blues team that has been decimated by injury recently. The Blues remain a very good home team, injuries or not, and the Canucks will have to be sharp to extend their season long three game road winning streak. Following the St. Louis game the Canucks will meet with the Red Wings on Wednesday in a game that could very well be for first place in the Western Conference. Detroit currently leads the conference, but the Canucks are nipping at their heels only four points behind and having played two fewer games. The Wings have struggled a bit (by their lofty standards) recently and will be looking to get back on track in what will prove to be a measuring stick game for both teams. Columbus will play host to Vancouver the following night looking for revenge after the Canucks victory over the Blue Jackets last Wednesday. The final game of the week sees the Canucks return home for a Boxing Day matchup against the young Oilers. The Canucks own two victories in two games against the Oilers this season, however both were one goal games. The Canucks will look to extend their current three game winning streak into the holiday, and if they can, could find themselves with a Christmas present of sitting first in the conference.
Game of the Week: Wednesday @ Detroit. This game could easily be a battle for first in the Western Conference. Perennial power Detroit is showing that age doesn’t matter when you’ve got the talent that they boast, while Vancouver is looking to navigate uncharted territory as the team has never finished first in the Western Conference.
Player to Watch: Ryan Kesler. Notching his first career hat trick last week, Kesler has been the Canucks player over the month of December. He currently is on pace for a 40 goal season and is as good as ever defensively.