In the postgame scrum following the Canucks’ 4-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators, Alain Vigneault described Dale Weise’s end-to-end rush as “phenomenal,” and while I don’t disagree that it was an impressive individual effort, it wasn’t my favourite goal of the game.
Nice as it was, I was far more taken with the one that preceded it: Ryan Kesler’s second goal of the game, which stretched the lead to 3-0. It was both a fantastic example of the strengths of the Canucks’ first powerplay unit and a comedy of errors for the Ottawa penalty kill. Let’s break it down.
Henrik Sedin loses the faceoff, but Ryan Kesler battles three guys to poke the puck back to him in the corner. Watch the up-close replay and marvel at the way he fends off Jared Cowen and Chris Phillips in particular. It’s an impressive show of strength. Kesler doesn’t just finish this play — he also starts it by outmuscling nearly the entire Senators’ penalty kill.
We often marvel at Kesler’s powerplay production, but another of his immense contributions to this unit is the work ethic he exhibits in gaining control of loose pucks.
The Sedins are strong as well, especially alone their spines, which have been hardened from years of abuse by defenders. These days, they don’t just shake off a crosscheck — they absorb its power like a solar panel. That’s what happens here, as Henrik Sedin uses Chris Phillips’s attempted crosscheck to propel himself forward while leaving Phillips behind, flat-footed.
Take a look at just before and immediately after the crosscheck: Henrik gains a foot of separation without ever taking a stride.
As Henrik comes up the wall, Daniel Sedin catches Zack Smith watching the play, and slyly drifts off the boards, making himself available for a backhand pass. It’s such a subtle shift that Erik Condra (#22) doesn’t see it either, and assumes this pass is coming out to Alex Edler at the point. He bolts towards the lane, thinking he can intercept it, but simply winds up putting himself behind the play. When Daniel collects the puck, Condra’s out of position and the Senators are facing a 3-on-2 down low.
Cutting into the slot, Daniel demonstrates that trademark Sedin optimism, thinking it wise to send Kesler a waist-high, backhand pass, hoping for a mid-air tip-in at the side of the goal.
It doesn’t work, as Chris Phillips ties up Kesler’s stick and then rides Kesler into the crease.
Of course, considering Kesler just recently outmuscled three guys for a loose puck, one of whom was Chris Phillips, it’s probably safe to assume he goes down a touch easily here. The fact that he sells it as entirely Phillips’s fault that he’s kneeling in the crease is a jerk move, but that’s Kesler.
It’s also the second time in this shift that Phillips’s physical play has been used against him.
And finally, Zack Smith blows it again, overskating the puck behind the goal. This allows Henrik Sedin to skate onto it. In a split-second, the Canuck captain draws Craig Anderson out of the goal, then tucks a nifty little backhand pass between Anderson and the post to Kesler.
I think most people just assumed that this puck squirted through to Kesler fortuitously, but a closer look shows that Henrik Sedin threaded it through a gap hardly any wider than the puck itself. Crazy pass, especially surrounded by red shirts.
And finally, Kesler suddenly becomes strong enough to fend off Chris Phillips yet again — the fourth time the Ottawa defenseman has lost a battle on this play — to drive the puck home.Tags: breakdowns, featured, Kesler, Ryan Kesler