Along with Roberto Luongo’s iffy goaltending, a frustrating 4-0 loss to the New York Rangers and the Rick Rypien memorial ceremony at Rogers Arena, Ryan Kesler’s return has been one of the most talked about topics this week. After going through off-season hip surgery, Kesler missed the first five games of the season and has come back, if not in beast mode, at least as a good and solid forward.
“He left that San Jose series a god, in hockey terms, and returned Tuesday a mortal.”
That is how Cam Cole of theVancouver Sun described Kesler’s first game of the season against the New York Rangers on Tuesday. With the return of Kesler comes a lot of expectations and pressure. The pressure is not only on Kesler, but is also on the rest of his team, as the gap he had left is now filled. Unsurprisingly, Kesler is involved in almost every aspect of the team’s on-ice play. He plays during the penalty kill, is on the first power-play unit, is a top scorer, and is one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL. In other words, Kesler does everything. He’s got the moves, the skills, the speed and the work ethic. But can the energy of one man turn an entire team around?
“Superman was back in the building and although he wasn’t in beast mode, his debut was what we all expected – quality,” said Derek Jory of Canucks.com. Kesler proved himself as a world-class hockey player last year, and will now be expected to live up to the high expectations that fans, teammates and the hockey world have established. So far, in his first two games, it does not seem to be much of an issue.
“I expect to get better everyday,” said Kesler, who has obviously set the bar high for himself over the past year. He has amazing work ethic that rivals that of any other player in the league today.
“I felt good out there,” he said “Obviously there’s little things that are going to come and I’ve got to stay patient. It’s all in the process and that’s what I have to focus on and keep getting better every day.”
Head coach Alain Vigneault will not be taking any chances. He watched Kesler closely during the first game for signs of limping or his “pain face” and mentioned that if he saw either, he would limit Kesler’s ice time. The Canucks have had issues with players coming off long injury layoffs before (specifically Sami Salo), and want to prevent that as much as possible with Kesler. The Canucks are planning to return to the Stanley Cup Final and are fueling themselves to be champions – there is no time or room for Kesler or another one of their superstars to be injured.
So far, Vigneault has not had to take any action. On Tuesday against the Rangers, the only forwards who played more than Kesler were the Sedins. With 19:07 of ice time, including 7:21 on the power play and 1:27 on the penalty kill, Kesler played with effort and quality. He had a few chances, fanning on a pass from Cody Hodgson, and established good net presence. As expected, Kesler was even better in his second game on Thursday against the Nashville Predators, with more ice time than any other forward and four shots over his three shots against the Rangers.
The aspect of the Canucks’ play that Kesler was missed most on was their special teams, specifically the power play. Scoring his first goal of the season on Thursday on a 5-on-3, Kesler has done what he did last year on the power play – screening the goalie, making good moves and passes and helping his teammates execute well. But do not forget about his faceoffs – Kesler was 10-for-17 against the Rangers, already dominating in his first game back.
Lately Canucks fans have had a lot of things to worry about with the team’s slow start to the season. Already fans have expressed their high expectations and disappointment, booing Luongo in a loss, for example. However, when it comes to Kesler, there is not much to stress about. With his hip feeling 100 percent, and his big expectations for himself, Kesler has already shown that he is capable of playing just as well, if not better than last year. He has not reached his previous status of “god” yet, and still remains a “mortal,” but to the city ofVancouver, their favourite superhero has returned.