Canucks welcome Kesler back against Stars
(Sports Network) - Following a slow start to the season, the Vancouver Canucks have hit their stride over the past two weeks.
The streaking club is also slated to get a boost on Friday evening when Ryan Kesler is expected to return to the lineup for a showdown with the Dallas Stars.
The Canucks lost four of six (2-2-2) to begin the season, but has responded with six straight victories to charge to the top of the Northwest Division. All that came without Kesler, who has yet to play this season after undergoing surgery in the offseason on both his left shoulder and wrist.
The 28-year-old has scored at least 20 goals in six straight seasons, including a career-high 41 in 2010-11. He slipped to just 22 goals and 49 points in 77 games last season.
Kesler practiced in full on Thursday and even got work on the power play, but said afterwards that while he felt good, there was no timeline for his return.
However, head coach Alain Vigneault confirmed that the center has been medically cleared and pointed toward the former first-round pick returning on Friday.
"I think there's all indications that he's ready to go. Unless something changes from here until (Friday)," said the coach, who added that Kesler looked fit but will be eased back into the lineup.
"We'll feel the game out and see how he's doing. My initial thoughts are to keep the minutes reasonable."
The Canucks extended their winning streak on Tuesday with a 2-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild. Kevin Bieksa and Jannik Hansen scored the goals and Roberto Luongo made 25 saves.
"We're playing well defensively, our goalies are playing outstanding for us and our system is pretty good," said Vancouver forward Alexandre Burrows.
Luongo, who entered the season as the expected backup to Cory Schneider, moved to 4-0-2 this season with a 1.45 goals against average and .943 save percentage.
Schneider, though, is expected to start this contest, the third of a four-game homestand, and has also recovered from a slow start to move to 4-2-0 with a 2.36 GAA and .921 save percentage this season. He has allowed just two goals in winning his past two starts.
Henrik Sedin comes into this game still looking for his first goal of the season, having logged eight assists in his 12 contests. His 755 career points are one behind Vancouver's all-time record, held by Markus Naslund.
Sedin will try to at least match that mark on Friday against a Stars team that had a four-game winning streak halted with Wednesday's 7-4 setback in Calgary. Dallas yielded four goals in the opening frame and fell to 0-4-0 in the second of back-to-back games this season.
The Stars had won in Edmonton the previous night to begin a three-game swing through Western Canada.
"We weren't ready to compete. We were soft in the beginning, soft with our sticks and soft with our play," said Dallas head coach Glen Gulutzan.
Brenden Morrow tallied two goals, while Cody Eakin and Eric Nystrom also lit the lamp. Richard Bachman, in his second start of the season, gave up six goals on 22 shots.
No. 1 Kari Lehtonen is likely to return to net on Friday for the Stars, who have lost eight of their past 10 against the Canucks.
Dallas has also dropped six of seven and nine of its past 12 trips to Vancouver.