The Vancouver Canucks are riding high after beating their nemesis the Boston Bruins 6-2 Saturday night. The Canucks are undefeated in December, having won seven in a row since a miserable loss to the New York Rangers to end November. One of the primary components of the team’s recent success has been the return to prominence of Ryan Kesler. During the current winning streak, Kesler has tallied five goals and three assists and has been plus nine. Kesler’s strong play calls to mind his glory days during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, before injuries took their toll on the Canucks’ grinder.
Beast Mode Begins
Though there is certainly some dispute about who was the original purveyor of “Beast Mode,” (just ask fans of the Seattle Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch), there is little doubt that Kesler’s play in the 2010-11 playoffs was deserving of the label. His play in helping lead the Canucks to the Stanley Cup finals was the culmination of three excellent seasons by the Livonia, Michigan native.
In 2009-10, Kesler had 25 goals and 50 assists, not to mention 101 penalty minutes. This built upon the 26 goals and 33 assists he had contributed the year before. Kesler was fulfilling the promise the Canucks saw in him when the matched an offer sheet made by the Philadelphia Flyers in an attempt to steal Kesler away in 2006. Kesler had become a strong two-way player, scoring goals and often defending against the other team’s top line.
The beast really came alive as a goal scorer in 2010-11, when Kesler scored 41 goals and added 32 assists. He was also +24 for the season. His excellence on both offense and defense was recognized with the Frank Selke Trophy, given to the best defensive forward in the NHL.
It was in the playoffs that season that Kesler really vaulted himself to the highest echelon of play. He scored 19 points and amassed 47 penalty minutes on the Canucks first run to the Cup finals since 1994. In the six game Conference Semi-Finals against Nashville, Kesler contributed a goal or assist on 11 of the teams 14 goals, an astounding 79 percent. He truly put the team on his back and carried them into the next round to face San Jose. Kesler then scored the game tying goal in the dying seconds of final game of the series against the Sharks, which Vancouver went on to win in overtime.
Unfortunately, Kesler injured himself in that game, and his performance against Boston in the Finals fell off dramatically. This would be a continuing theme for Kelser over the next two seasons.
Injuries Derail Beast Mode
Kesler suffered a torn labrum in his hip in Game 5 against San Jose, and injury that required off-season surgery. Even though Kesler only missed five games in 2011-12, his play fell off considerably. He managed only 22 goals and 27 assists that season, a dramatic drop from the year before. Not only was he struggling to recover from hip surgery, he also tore the labrum in his shoulder in February 2012, further hampering his performance. He underwent surgery for that injury in May 2012, requiring a long, grueling rehab. At the same time, it was also revealed he was suffering from wrist problems, requiring further medical attention.
The lockout in 2012-13 meant that Kesler did not miss as many games as he normally would have for such major injuries, and he rejoined the team shortly after the labor strife ended. His bad luck continued, however, as he suffered a broken foot only seven games after starting his season. Kesler only ended up playing 17 games in the shortened season, contributing four goals and nine assists.
There was some question about whether Kesler would ever be the same again after suffering so many serious injuries. He started the 2013 season slowly, managing only three goals and one assist in the first ten games.
Beast Modo Triggers Hot Streak
The Canucks struggled in the early part of the season, posting a .500 record in the first few weeks of the new campaign. It was during this cold streak that Coach John Tortorella tried an experiment that yielded significant dividends. He put Kesler on the wing on a line with Henrik and Daniel Sedin, and his performance immediately took off. Kesler scored five times during a four game winning streak in late October, and the trio quickly received a nickname combining Kesler’s beastly status with the Sedins’ history with Modo in the Swedish Elite League.
Kesler returned to centering the second line after his run of success with the Sedins, and his success has continued. The finally-healthy American now has 15 goals (12th in the league) and 11 assists, placing him first on the team in goals and third in points. He has been logging heavy playing time, averaging just over 22 minutes per game, second in the league among forwards, behind only Sidney Crosby. He has even returned to scrapping, with a recent bout against Jarome Iginla helping inspire his team to a big win.
Kesler’s inspired play has been a critical component of Vancouver moving back into the playoff picture, jumping from ninth to sixth in the highly competitive Western Conference during the winning streak. The strength of the Pacific Division and the Western Conference means Kesler must continue to perform “beastly” if Vancouver is going to remain in the Top 8.
The Canucks will look to extend their winning streak Tuesday night on the road against the Minnesota Wild, followed by contests in Dallas and then against the defending champion (and currently league leading) Chicago Blackhawks.
Glenn covers the Canucks for The Hockey Writers. Follow me on twitter @glennkuper for opinions about hockey, the Canucks, and Seattle sports.