GLENDALE -- With his new helmet visor protecting an eye that met up with the butt end of a stick in Chicago six days ago and a sudden explosion of offensive prowess, Coyotes defenseman Rostislav Klesla has picked up a new nickname among his three Czech teammates and friends.
"Oh, you mean 'Nicklas Klesla' over there?" Phoenix sniper Radim Vrbata said, talking loud enough for the next three locker stalls in "Czech Corner" to hear. "Did you see the goal celebration he has? I remember that from when we were in juniors when he used to score 50 points a year. Don't let him fool you. He knows what do to with that puck."
|Rostislav Klesla |
It's been more than a decade since Klesla was the fourth player taken in the 2000 NHL Draft, as much for the offense he could deliver than his ability to be physical and defend against skilled players. He's never lived up to those offensive projections. But during these playoffs, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound shot blocker and crease-clearer has enjoyed a flashback to the old days when goals were a surprise and points were expected.
Klesla had a big second period Friday with a goal – on a scoring chance he created – and an assist for starting a transition break that led to Mikkel Boedker's goal as the Coyotes started the Western Conference Semifinals with a 4-3 overtime win against Nashville.
And while Ray Whitney goal celebration in overtime was played again and again on replay, The Coyotes were talking about Lidstr … um, Klesla dropping to one knee and delivering a few fist pumps after putting his own blocked pass attempt by Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne on the backhand.
"Rusty is hot. I'm serious," said fellow Czech Martin Hanzal, who couldn't wait to chime in on the subject. "He's going to stay hot too. When he got that first goal in Chicago (during a three-point night in Game 3) he got more confidence and it's been working for him."
That three-point night in Chicago was only the second three-point night of his NHL career – and the first in more than six years. The Coyotes won 3-2 in overtime and Klesla had a hand in each goal. He played only nine minutes in Game 6 – wearing a full face cage to protect the gash on his eye – but the three-day break after eliminating the Blackhawks gave him time to heal, and fire up the offense again.
When you look at the Phoenix scoring leaders so far in the postseason there is Klesla, tied with Antoine Vermette with six points (two goals, four assists) and among the leaders with 16 shots on goal. Klesla's six points are the most by an NHL defenseman so far this postseason. While he's doing the job in the offensive zone, Klesla still leads the team in hits (six), blocked shots (three) and logged nearly 25 minutes of ice time.
|Photo by Norm Hall. |
This from a guy who had three goals and 13 points in 65 games during the regular season and has just 10 goals in his last 186 games. But go back before 2008-09 and you will find a player who scored 21 times for Columbus over three seasons (2005-08) and collected 59 points over that span.
"I had so many chances early in the year, I just couldn't bury them," Klesla said. "Now you get a couple of lucky bounces and you're getting points. I know my job, to play good defense and frustrate people and not give them any free nights. Only the top-top defenseman can put up offensive numbers and still be part of a shutdown pair.
"But the fun of the game is playing both end of the ice. When there are opportunities, I'm going to jump up in it and try to create something. When you can have a chance to pinch, the forwards love it they don't have to come back every time."
The forwards also love it when a player who sacrifices so much for the team is rewarded by lighting the lamp.
"That's what the playoffs are all about, different heroes on different nights and our team gets contributions like that all year. They just aren't as noticed," captain Shane Doan said. "You look at (fourth-liners) Daymond Langkow (four postseason points), Gilbert (Brule; two goals, three points) and (Kyle) Chipchura (one goal, two points) -- that line is as good as we had Friday."