Ryan Kesler scored in his return to the lineup and Cory Schneider made 19 saves as the Vancouver Canucks defeated the Phoenix Coyotes 2-0 on Monday.

It was Kesler's first game back in the lineup in 20 games, suffering a foot fracture in his first game back after shoulder and wrist surgeries in the summer.

Kesler opened the scoring at 7:26 of the first period on what looked to be a failed odd-man rush. Kevin Bieksa took a pass at the point from Zack Kassian but fanned on his point shot.

However, the puck came right to Mason Raymond at the side of the net, who bounced it off the post where Kesler was to score the goal.

"It was a nice pass off the post," said Kesler. "[Raymond] laid it up for me, got my confidence early. It just happened tonight."

Schneider picked up his fifth shutout of the season, tying Phoenix's Mike Smith and Nashville's Pekka Rinne for first in the NHL. It was his 11th consecutive start and his ninth career clean sheet.

"I think this is what they call a system shutout," said Schneider. "It was more about my teammates than me."

Schneider and the Canucks had to kill off a penalty with just over a minute left in regulation when Kesler took a tripping penalty in the offensive zone. But Keith Yandle missed a pass from Antoine Vermette and the puck went the distance for a short-handed empty-net goal for which defenceman Dan Hamhuis was credited.

Western Conference playoff race
Position / Team Games remaining Points
3. Vancouver 9 50
4. Los Angeles 9 48
5. San Jose 10 47
6. Minnesota 10 46
7. St. Louis 11 44
8. Detroit 9 43
9. Phoenix 9 40

10. Dallas

10 39
11. Edmonton 9 39

Canucks blue-liner Jason Garrison went off with 22 seconds to play, giving Phoenix a short six-on-three advantage but Schneider, Alex Burrows, Hamhuis and Jannik Hansen kept the puck out of the Vancouver goal.

Vancouver (22-11-7) moved four points up on Minnesota in the Northwest Division standings, thanks to their 9-2-0 record in their past 11 games, including three-straight wins.

Smith stopped 40 shots for the Coyotes (17-16-6), who had their three-game win streak snapped and missed a chance to edge closer to Detroit for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. It was their first regulation loss in seven games.

"We just didn't create enough to give ourselves chances and good looks to put the puck on net," Smith said. "Credit to them, they did a good job of getting in our face and making it hard on us to get pucks back in their end, but when you're facing elimination like we are, we've got to be more desperate than we showed tonight."

Despite the low score, there were a few quality scoring chances that kept the 18,910 fans at Rogers Arena in their seats.

Martin Hanzal had Phoenix's fourth and fifth shots of the game, getting two cracks at Schneider just outside the blue paint with about seven minutes to go in the first period. But the Vancouver netminder held his ground, keeping the Canucks up 1-0.

Hanzal had the first good scoring opportunity of the second period as well, coming almost 11 minutes in. He got the puck at the left hashmarks but Schneider snared his quick snapshot with his glove.

Hanzal had a two-game goal scoring streak snapped Monday.

Daniel Sedin got a good shot off in the slot a minute later but Smith punched it away with his blocker, keeping the score 1-0.

Perhaps the best save of the game came with just under six minutes to go in the second period. Derek Roy centred a pass to Hansen but the Danish winger's one-timer was robbed by Smith's pad.

Vancouver appeared to score a goal in the dying seconds of the second period on the power play. Henrik Sedin and Burrows crashed the Phoenix net on an Alex Edler point shot to knock the puck past Smith, but a review ruled the goal was scored with a distinct kicking motion and was waved off.

"They're out there fighting for a playoff spot," Sedin said. "We thought they were going to be ready … so we got a lot of pucks to the net but Mike, he's a great goalie.

"He's big and he's great playing the puck, so it's tough getting to him, but I think we did a great job tonight."