May 04 2011 10:47AM
Kesler celebrates his game winning tip.
(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Yesterday - the Canucks team effort was solid, but for a second straight game the Canucks allowed the Predators to score late, forcing overtime. Thankfully, however, the team from Vancouver pulled out the win.
That the Canucks won last night was in large part thanks to Kesler's gamesmanship, and soft hands. In OT, Kesler drew a rather weak penalty on Shea Weber with a scrappy “chicken-wing” maneuver. Kesler's chicken-winging was unclean and theatrical, but it was also as timely as Milhousian flood-pants. On the ensuing power-play, the Canucks resident Selke nominee tipped a Samuelsson shot 5-hole for the game winner.
Kesler's game-winning goal was the cherry on-top of his big game Sundae. Alain Vigneault's roster changes got most of the attention yesterday, but by far AV's most important adjustment was in his deployment of Kesler. In the series against Chicago – Kesler was used as a “tough-minutes” centre, he was relied on to play Chicago's top-line and start regularly in his own defensive zone. Even in games one and two of the Predators series – Kesler was sharing D-zone starts with Lapierre. Last night Kesler played sheltered minutes – starting in the offensive zone twelve times, and the defensive zone only twice.
My take on this: Ryan Kesler is a great player, and he'll perform superlatively at any task assigned to him. If you want him to be a shut-down centre, he'll battle one of the leagues best (Jonathan Toews) to a stalemate. If you want to give him the chances required to be a centre who contributes offensively – he'll do that too. Is asking him to do both at the same time a little much? Probably.
This was the type of subtle, game-changing adjustment that we've seen far too rarely from Alain Vigneault in previous second-round playoff series. Against a “pop-gun” offensive team like Nashville – it makes sense to trust Lapierre to play the tough minutes, and allow Kesler to focus on scoring. It made all the difference on Tuesday night.
THREE BIG STATS
1. 4 of the last 5 Canucks games have gone to overtime. And in all four cases, the Canucks held a third period lead. I'm not the type to blame Luongo in particular for all of these goals (and one of them was scored on Cory Schneider) – but the Canucks inability to hold a third period lead is a troubling trend. Obviously, the team will be hard-pressed to win a couple more rounds without solving this issue.
2. +21, +18, +18. Those are the corsi numbers for the Kesler, Higgins, Raymond line - #21 was the one who posted the +21. Sure these numbers are inflated by the lines plentiful offensive zone-starts, but this is what happens when you shelter Kesler's minutes – he starts more shifts in the offensive zone, and generates shots. It helps that he's got Higgins (who is a grade-A puck battler) and Raymond (a personal favourite, whose recent play hasn't surprised me in the slightest) on his wings. That line looked great last night, and I'm hopeful that we'll see them used as an offensive unit for the rest of this series.
3. 7 - As in 7 total shifts for Canucks blue-chip prospect Cody Hodgson. He only played 5:13 in the game last night, most of it in the first half of the game. He didn't see the ice in overtime, and he played only one shift in the third period. I realize that the Canucks depth at centre isn't great – but surely Bolduc/Glass or Tambellini could give Vancouver 7 replacement-level quality shifts per game.
In the meantime the Moose had a big game last night, and gutted out a narrow win over the very good Hamilton Bulldogs. That series has been intense, closely contested, and is currently at 2-1. I'm not sure it's worth playing Hodgson 5 minutes a game in the NHL, when he could be cutting his teeth on a first line with Shirokov and Marco Rosa in Winnipeg. I'm finding his usage to be very frustrating, and I suspect the Canucks may be doing themselves a disservice in the medium-term with their handling of Mr. Hodgson.
THREE BIG MOMENTS
1. Ryan Kesler's game winning goal is pretty clearly the games "biggest" moment. Nice puck movement leading up to the goal by the 1st power-play unit. Asks youtube commenter Therobeet, "whats wrong, Rinne? Having trouble carrying the whole team on your shoulders?"
2. I'll go with the Higgins goal as the games second big moment. Just a tremendous effort from the Canucks left-winger. Higgins gets in on a partial breakaway, and does a wonderful job protecting the puck from Shane O'Brien. He makes a quick cross-crease move to his back-hand, trying to sneak the puck five-hole on Rinne. Rinne, because he stops everything that isn't a tip shot or a rebound, makes a great save, however, the puck bounces back to Higgins just outside home-plate on the right side. Higgins is able to pot the goal before Rinne can get back in net. Great stuff. Also great stuff, this @andrewbuchholtz #gettinghiggywithit tweet.
3. Ward's game tying goal was probably a bigger moment than this, but we're a Canucks blog here so I don't feel any need to be objective. Here is Kesler's first of the game and of the playoffs. Excellent patience shown by Christian Ehrhoff on the set-up. Ehrhoff, like Kesler, had a really nice game last night.
Game 4 goes Thursday night in Nashville.