There are three things you can always count on when it comes to Ryan Kesler. The first is dead air during his interviews — Kesler doesn’t answer questions; he swats at them like flies. The second is his clinical austerity — sure, Kesler shocked the world last year with the running joke that was Keslurking, but generally, he takes things very, very seriously. The third is that Kesler responds to criticism surrounding his pay raises like a boss. In May of 2007, Kesler signed a three-year, $5.25 million contract with the Canucks, despite only tallying 6 goals the previous season. People murmured. Kesler responded with his first 20-goal season and established himself as a formidable two-way centre deserving of his cap hit. Then, in March of 2010, Kesler signed an extension that would pay him $30 million over the next six years. Again, people chattered, and again Kesler responded, besting his career-high of 26 goals by scoring a team-high 41. Frankly, Mike Gillis blew it when he shut down contract negotiations for the next six years — annual, controversial pay increases could have yielded annual breakout seasons.
As we examine Ryan Kesler’s entire scoring season, you will no doubt be reminded that, in 2010-11, the Vancouver centre transmogrified into two things he never was before: 1) an elite net presence, and 2) an elite sniper. In front, Kesler established himself as one of the league’s best shot-tippers and rebound-hunters. Meanwhile, on the rush, Kesler’s sudden, whippy wrist shot graduated to the Ovechkinian levels of effectiveness. In sum, Kesler became a bona fide threat to score every time he crossed the opposing blue line. And thanks to the addition of Manny “The Enabler” Malhotra, he crossed the blue line a lot. Here’s part 1 of Ryan Kesler’s lengthy entry in the Every Goal series.
Kesler’s first goal of the season comes, as many others will, on the powerplay. We see right away why he’s the perfect complement to the Sedins’ meticulous guile — he ain’t got none. Kesler is basically hemi-powered, and he gives evidence to that here, powering a rising slapper past Cam Ward and just inside the post. Have you ever, in your life, seen the Sedins score on a one-timer? Pretty sure if Daniel tried it, he’d wind up vibrating away from the puck like when a cartoon character hits a gong.
Kesler shovels in a rebound on the backhand for his second of the season and the Canucks’ second of the game, taking advantage of a rare Mason Raymond foray to the goalmouth. Raymond does well to tie up Brent Burns here, as well as create the traffic that prevents Jose Theodore from being anywhere near this loose puck. I like Raymond’s little bunny hop to make sure this puck doesn’t hit him in the groin.
This goal is sort of like if the first two goals had a baby. Like goal 1, Kesler scores on the powerplay here, shovelling a rebound past Peter Budaj with eerie similarity to goal 2. You’ve gotta feel for Jonas Holos, who probably does the right thing when he lifts Daniel Sedin’s stick, but can’t do anything, as a result, to stop Kesler from taking the loose puck right out from under him.
Kesler’s fourth of the season and third in as many games comes on yet another rebound in front, as he scoops a loose puck up and over Martin Brodeur on his backhand. Good play by Mason Raymond to throw the puck in front rather than do what he often does, which is skate it to the point and leave it there. Also worth noting: Kesler has a goal celebration unique to him, and this clip is probably the best evidence of it. More often than not, after putting the puck in the net, Kesler will put his legs together, arch his back, then hold both his arms out at the side, angled slightly upward and smile with his mouth wide open. If you’re having a hard time picturing it, it looks like this.
Here’s the first showing of Kesler’s lethal wrist shot, as he streaks across the blueline at full speed and beats Peter Budaj with a quick snapper from that spot at the top of the circle he’s so fond of. But this goal isn’t just the product of Kesler’s great shot — Daniel Sedin’s skills as a setup man are on full display as well. With all four Avalanche defenders closing in on him, Daniel spots T.J. Galiardi asleep at the wheel and feathers a cross-zone, tape-to-tape pass through the Colorado box to spring Kesler onside and in full stride.
This play begins along the wall, where Kesler loses his footing in a battle with Ottawa’s Brian Lee. The puck squirts up the wall, where the famously unmotivated Alexei Kovalev takes his sweet time moving it, and Dan Hamhuis makes a fabulous pinch to keep the play alive. After Raffi Torres pokes it to Jannik Hansen, Kovalev makes his second lackadaisical defensive play, attempting a lazy pokecheck that Hansen, pokechecker supreme, knows all too well how to evade. (Seriously, watch the second replay. You’d think Kovalev was using a fairy wand, his touch is so gentle.) Unharmed, Hansen glides into the middle of the ice and makes a nifty pass to Kesler, alone down low. Once fed, Kesler pays it forward, feeding the back of the net.
Kesler bangs home another loose puck right in front of the goal for his second of the night. He takes a bit of a beating to get it, too, suffering a slash by Senators’ defender David Hale just as he knocks this one in. The play is the result of some great work by Mason Raymond, who evades a check along the boards to move the puck to Mikael Samuelsson in a shooting area.
Kesler continues his torrid Movember with this goal. After losing the puck on a Kris Versteeg pokecheck, Kesler drifts to the far side of the goal while Mason Raymond collects the puck in the corner. Watch Tomas Kaberle’s gingerly stroll towards Raymond in the corner. Yeah, this guy has a Cup ring. Anyway, Raymond moves the puck to Samuelsson, at which point Luke Schenn is lulled to sleep by Kaberle’s hypnotic laziness and Samuelsson takes advantage of Schenn’s unfortunate narcolepsy by making a beautiful cross-crease pass to a wide open Kesler.
Kesler’s second of the night comes on a perfectly-executed powerplay that takes all of three seconds to convert. After Kesler wins the draw back to Christian Ehrhoff, Ehrhoff immediately fires the puck on net, and Kesler tips it past J.S. Giguere. This is the first appearance from last season of Kesler’s supreme tippiness, which, by the year’s end, rivalled poorly-built canoes. We didn’t hear a lot about it, but I’d imagine that, after being moved to the top powerplay unit, Kesler spent an exorbitant amount of time trying to improve his deflection skills. He got really good at it in a hurry.
Kesler’s 10th of the season is a strange one. After a nice feed from Mason Raymond at the wall, Kesler fires a shot on net. Peter Budaj makes the save, but the puck shoots straight up in the air. As it comes back down below the crossbar, Jeff Tambellini takes a whack at it. He misses completely, instead bludgeoning Budaj in the side of the mask. The impact knocks Budaj’s head backwards, and he winds up headbutting the puck into his own goal. Silly Peter, why would you do that? Somehow, this is an acceptable hockey play, and Kesler gets credit because Tambellini never touched the puck. All told, though, the best part of this clip is how lovable homer John Garrett somehow fails to mention Tambellini’s blatant high stick.
Previous entries in the Every Goal 2010-11 series: