Safe to say Sunday night’s 5-1 victory over the Calgary Flames was a coming-out party for the line of Chris Higgins, David Booth, and Ryan Kesler. The trio combined for 8 points in the win — 1 goal and 2 assists for both Higgins and Booth, and 2 assists for Kesler — and each was named one of the game’s three stars.
An explosive and productive game of this sort was only inevitable. The line has been noticeable since Alain Vigneault put them back together five games ago versus the Phoenix Coyotes: Booth has five points in that span (3 G, 2 A), Kesler has 7 (2 G, 5 A), and Higgins has six (1 G, 5 A) and is riding a four-game point streak.
(Of course, considering this trio boasts naked Kesler, the abtastic Chris Higgins, and David Booth’s overall Adonis-ness, they were always going to be noticeable, right ladies? But I digress.)
This is the second tour of duty for Team America, who were deployed as a unit early on in the season, only to disappoint and find themselves redeployed throughout the lineup. Suffice it to say, they’ve been considerably better this time around.
So what’s changed between then and now? Lots of things.
First, Kesler and Booth are beginning to round into form individually. While Chris Higgins has never really struggled this season, Bull and Grizz have been looking for their game since they joined the team a month ago.
After struggling to score at even-strength over his first month since returning from hip surgery, Kesler has 9 points in his last 7 games, and only 2 of those points have come on the powerplay. While it seems odd to be celebrating a lack of powerplay production, it’s a good sign. If Kesler isn’t dominating 5-on-5, the Canucks are in trouble.
Booth has been playing far better as well. While he initially concerned fans by looking lost, he’s recently begun to concern defenders by looking easy to lose. Booth has been going hard to the net, backing people off with his speed, and making space for his teammates. Two of Sunday night’s goals were the direct result of him taking the puck to the goal in the exact same way. Plus he’s found his hands, which, as he points out, are difficult to lose.
Just as promising: After finding themselves, Kesler, Booth, and Higgins have begun find each other. After watching all three try to do too much on their own at times when they were first put together, they’ve begun to develop actual chemistry this time around. I was especially struck by a shift on Thursday versus the Predators when the line turned up ice on an odd-man rush. Kesler started out first, but Higgins blew by him with unbelievable speed (he may not be the fastest, but he skates the hardest), soon getting ahead of the play and backing Kesler’s defender off. The puck came to Kesler, who suddenly had a boatload of room, and he found Booth streaking through the seam just as the trio crossed the blue line. While the play didn’t result in a goal, it resulted in a penalty. With this team, that’s almost as good.
But the line hasn’t just been impressive in terms of scoring: They’ve also dominated possession. Discounting Mason Raymond (whose Corsi is absurdly high after one game, which is a story in itself), Kesler and Booth are the two best Canuck forwards in terms of possession, with team-leading Corsi ratings of 22.7 and 20.7, respectively.
And, while Chris Higgins has a slightly lower Corsi, he’s the top Canuck forward in terms of takeaways, meaning that, even if he’s not the team’s best player at maintaining possession, he’s among the best at gaining it. The team’s second best forward in the takeaway statistic? Ryan Kesler again.
In short, this trio is going to have the puck, and if Sunday night was any indication, this is going to be a very good thing.Tags: booth, higgins, Kesler, team america