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The Talented Mr. Kesler

by Sunny Dhillon / Vancouver Canucks
On a night when all the focus was supposed to be on Todd Bertuzzi, Ryan Kesler stole the spotlight. And with Kes’ speed, no one was going to catch up to him to get it back.

Kesler scored twice on the powerplay as the Vancouver Canucks spanked the Anaheim Ducks 4-0 Tuesday night at General Motors Place. The final score flattered an Anaheim team that lost its cool and spent much of the final two periods killing penalties.

“They were playing pretty undisciplined there and we just kept moving our feet and we were telling ourselves [the referees] are going to have to call something and they did,” said Kesler.

And then some. The Canucks earned ten powerplays over the final two periods. Midway through the second, after Markus Naslund opened the scoring with a vintage wrist-shot into the top corner, the Canucks took advantage of a 5-on-3. Kesler crashed the net and banged a rebound past Anaheim goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

Four minutes later, Matt Cooke tipped in an Alex Edler blast to make it 3-0 Vancouver. Kesler then struck again, taking a pass from Cooke in full stride and flying around defenseman Francois Beauchemin before firing a hard wrister past Giguere’s blocker.

“That was a great pass by Cookie to spring me on the powerplay and I just put my head down and bared down on the shot and it went in,” said Kesler.

Coach Alain Vigneault was noticeably impressed with his center’s play.

"I thought Kesler again played a really, really strong game against their top line and was able to contribute on the power play, which was nice to see,” said Vigneault.

Those who have been watching Kesler closely over the years have been waiting for the Vancouver center to finally put all his talent together and become the player he’s shown glimpses of being. Tuesday was the strongest indication yet that Kesler’s getting there.

“You guys have all been waiting for it, I’ve known it was there,” said Kesler. “It was just a matter of time before it came out and I think you’re starting to see it.”

Kesler’s now scored seven goals this season and, barring injury, looks poised to blow by his career-high of 10. Kesler’s 15 points have him on pace to nearly triple his personal best of 23. But as much as Kesler’s offense has improved, it’s just a small facet of his game. Kesler has become Vancouver’s shut-down center, squaring off against the other team’s top offensive unit on a nightly basis. His +9 rating shows he’s more than holding his own.

One reason Kesler’s been so successful in his shut-down role is that he’s become Vancouver’s top face-off man. Against Anaheim, the Livonia, Michigan native was 11-for-13 in the circle. That makes him 55-for-82 over his last five games, meaning Kesler is winning draws a staggering 67 percent of the time. And if all that wasn’t enough, he’s a pest. A big one.

Kesler has demonstrated a superhuman ability to get under the other team’s skin. Just ask the usually-cool Marian Gaborik who threw an elbow at Kesler’s head.

Tuesday, Kesler took a cross-check in the back from Chris Pronger two full seconds after he had potted his first goal of the night. The play will certainly be reviewed by the league office and occurred less than two minutes after Kesler had words with defenseman Shane Hnidy behind the Anaheim net.

Did Pronger take notice of that conversation? Maybe.

Kesler, understandably, was not impressed with the big Anaheim defenseman’s antics.

“Seeing the replay on the jumbotron, you can clearly see my hands are in the air already and [Pronger] just wanted to get a lick on me, I guess,” said Kesler.

But while the cross-check to the back undoubtedly stung, Kesler should, essentially, consider it a form of flattery. He’s becoming more and more of a threat to opposing teams on both ends of the ice. He’s just as likely to blow by you at your blue line as he is to strip you of the puck at his. And if you take your eye off him for even a second, Kesler has no problem depositing you onto your own bench (see: Patrick Kane).

And as you’re trying to get right-side up again, it’s quite likely Mr. Kesler will chirp at you about it. While any discussion about team MVP undoubtedly starts and ends with Roberto Luongo, Canucks fans are starting to realize that Kesler’s not lagging too far behind. And with his lightning speed, can any gap really be impossible to close?

-2 – For Todd Bertuzzi in his return to Vancouver. Because of his team’s penalty trouble, Bert logged only 13 minutes of ice-time and failed to register a shot.

3 – Hits and two points for Matt Cooke in what was, arguably, the Cooker’s best game of the season. How Shorty and Larscheid left him out of the three stars, I don’t know.

7 – Goals for Markus Naslund in seven games. Naslund has 11 points over that stretch.

135 – Minutes without allowing a goal for Roberto Luongo. The last time a puck beat the Vancouver netminder was in the third period against St. Louis.

The Canucks will win most of the games in which they get scoring from three lines, as they did on Tuesday.

The Sedins and Naslund, at times, appeared to be toying with the Anaheim defence and are showing no signs of cooling down.

The defence got Vancouver through a shaky first period when the Canucks were outshot 15-5.

They limited Anaheim’s second-chance opportunities and, for the second time in as many games, helped Roberto Luongo register a shutout in which he didn’t have to stand on his head.

The powerplay tallied twice on the night, but wasn’t particularly sharp late in the second and early in the third when the Ducks took five minor penalties in three-and-a-half minutes.

With Anaheim hogging all the attention from the referees, Vancouver’s penalty kill, essentially, had the night off.
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