VANCOUVER – Ryan Kesler said Monday morning that he wasn't coming back from injury to be a savior or a hero for the Vancouver Canucks. He'll have to settle for the game-winning goal.
Playing his eighth game of the season after missing 19 with a broken foot, Kesler scored 7:26 into the first period and Cory Schneider made 19 saves to lead the Canucks to a 2-0 win against the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday at Rogers Arena.
“That's what everyone wants to do in this room is contribute and I was the guy tonight,” Kesler said. “I'm just another piece of the puzzle. There's a bunch of pieces and once we have them all together we're a good team.”
Goalie Mike Smith kept the Coyotes in it with 40 saves, but it wasn't enough to extend a three-game win streak that had put Phoenix back into the Western Conference playoff race. The Coyotes remain three points behind the eighth-place Detroit Red Wings, but fell to 4-9-5 on the road this season, and are away for six of their remaining nine games.
“They are a really good hockey team, especially on home ice and we didn't push back enough early and chased the game after that,” Smith said. “When you are facing elimination like we are, we've got to be more desperate than we showed.”
Schneider posted one of the easiest of his eight career shutouts. Five have come this season, tying him with Smith and Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators, including four while starting the last 11 straight.
“You'll take them, but I think this is what they call a system shutout,” Schneider said. “It was all about my teammates tonight, just a great puck possession game, great defensive game. They really didn't have a whole lot, maybe one or two chances, if that. Especially at the end there, a power play and they didn't get a shot. I can't say enough about how well the guys in front of me played.”
The Canucks are better than when Kesler scores. Since the start of the 2010-11 season, Vancouver is 43-4-5 when he notches a goal.
They only managed two against the Coyotes, and the second one, credited to defenseman Dan Hamhuis, was actually scored by Phoenix center Antoine Vermette when he tried to feed back to the point on a late power play and instead sent it the length of the ice and into the empty net vacated by Smith for an extra attacker.
“They don't draw pictures on the score sheet, so I'll take credit,” Hamhuis said.
Schneider wasn't busy for most of the game, but he made his three best saves on Martin Hanzal from close range to win for the ninth time in 11 straight starts, moving the Canucks four points ahead of the idle Minnesota Wild atop the Northwest Division.
The Coyotes best push back came after Smith was run over twice. Playing his second game back after missing six with whiplash symptoms after getting hit by Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler on March 21, Smith gave the Coyotes a chance and was in the middle of everything, including great saves off Daniel Sedin and Jannik Hansen in tight, a pair of disallowed power-play goals late in the second period, and the scrums that followed.
Alexandre Burrows was the first to push a puck – and Smith – into the net with 58 seconds left in the second, and Smith responded by giving the Canucks' forward a face wash with his blocker before the goal was waved off after a short review.
The puck ended up behind Smith again with 1.4 seconds left in the period, but this time it was waved off because of a distinct kicking motion by Canucks' captain Henrik Sedin. Replays showed Sedin didn't kick the puck, but did get the top of Smith's pad with his kick, and the puck, which had fallen behind it as Smith tried to corral a high point shot, was knocked. It was called off after another review – and another big scrum in Smith's crease after he was again knocked down.
“On both of them I don't know what really happened,” said Smith, who was careful when asked if having the goals disallowed was enough protection. “I'm not going to comment on it, they are tough plays. As a goalie you are trying to stop the puck, your head is down and you are the most vulnerable player on the ice, but it is what it is. I have to deal with it and keep competing and make the saves when I have a chance and let the League look after everything else.”
His teammates couldn't look after him on the score sheet Monday.
“The only reason we were close was Smitty played great," Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. “We weren't as good as we needed to be, especially in the first 10 minutes. We fell behind and then you're chasing it the rest of the way.”
Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett agreed.
"We were just slow moving, we were slow out of the gate for whatever reason," he said. "It's not a lack of confidence, we should have confidence coming off some good home wins, but we didn't execute well, we didn't skate well and that's what you get when you don't execute and don't skate."
FIVE FOR PHOENIX
1. Goalie Mike Smith stopped 40 of the 41 shots he faced and has stopped 64 of 65 shots since returning to the team from injury on April 6.
2. Center Martin Hanzal co-led the team with four shots on goal and co-led the team with four hits.
3. Center Antoine Vermette won 11 of 16 face-offs.
4. The Coyotes again played minus forward Lauri Korpikoski and defenseman Zbynek Michalek. Korpikoski has missed the past seven games because of an upper-body injury, and Michalek has missed the past 14 games because of a lower-body injury.
5. Six of Phoenix's nine remaining games are on the road. The Coyotes are 4-9-5 away from Glendale this season.