(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
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
"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
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
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