Top 10 Moments of 2011-12: Ryan Kesler, Shoot First Pass Later

To say that Ryan Kesler has tunnel vision at times would be accurate. The gifted two-way pivot was criticized at times last season for failing to properly use his linemates (Kesler isn’t totally blameless, but he did see a revolving door of wingers and seemed out of sorts for much of 2011-12 after rushing back from offseason hip surgery).

There is a reason why Kesler looks to shoot – he has a great shot. In 2010-11, he used a newly-developed wrist shot to score a sizable chunk of his 41 goals. Teams seemed to key on his go-to move last season, which was a major reason (along with fewer power-play opportunities and shooting percentage regression) for the decline in goals (only 22). He loves rushing the puck up the ice on his off wing or up the middle, cutting in, and firing a wrist shot across his body to the blocker side of the opposing goaltender (or the glove hand side for the righty catchers).

On January 21st, 2012, Kesler scored a beautiful goal by doing exactly what got him 41 goals one season previous – rushing the puck up the ice, taking it to the middle of the ice, and scoring on a wrist shot. The difference with this goal is that he was a bit tighter in to the goalie, and he added a deke before shooting the puck.

The goal:

Let’s break it down.

The play starts with Kesler pouncing on a loose puck at center. The word pouncing gets overused in sports (pounced on a rebound, pounced on a loose ball… you get the point), but it works perfectly to describe how much he wants the puck here.

Chris Higgins, as he is known to do, works his butt off to lose his check. And would you look at that – actual photographic evidence of Kesler looking at a teammate. How about them apples?

Perhaps the nicest part of the goal – Kesler evades the back checking Sharks forward with a slick toe drag. He also recognizes that Dan Boyle only half-commits to block the pass, leaving Antti Niemi vulnerable to the back door play.

A lot is going on here. Higgins pulls up to bang home a rebound, since he knows Kesler is shooting it. Boyle has pulled a 180 and is now parallel to the goal line, while Niemi’s glove hand appears to be anchored to the ground, leaving only one place for Kesler to shoot the puck. Spoiler alert: it isn’t along the ice.

Kesler looking at Higgins from a different view, just in case you didn’t believe me.

Why does this goal rank in the top 10? Well, it was one of a few glimpse of how dominant Kesler can be when all of the parts of his game are working. Shortly after this goal was scored, in early February, Kesler got injured and I’m not sure we ever really got to see him at "full speed" for an extended period of time last season. Two, it was a big goal at a big point of the year against a top rival in the Western Conference.