Canucks play keepaway in Dallas; why Kesler prevents that from happening more often (VIDEO)

Henrik Sedin has two goals this season, and neither are a result of the Canucks’ Captain making the choice to shoot. In both instances, Alex Burrows has made the choice for him with late, unexpected return passes that leave Henrik with no room and no choice but to do anything other than put the puck towards the goal.

This is the rub when it comes to the Sedins, and Henrik especially: sometimes you have to force the issue. Henrik Sedin has led the NHL in assists for three years in a row. He’s a pure passer; passing is his jam. If he were on the Price is Right Showcase Showdown, he’d pass twice.

We saw yet another example of Henrik’s pass-first mentality Thursday night when he spearheaded a full, two-minute session of keepaway in Dallas. When the Stars went down a man one second before the two-minute mark, it became apparent to Henrik that, in order to nurse the Canucks’ one-goal lead home, all he and his teammates had to do was maintain possession for 120 seconds. No shooting. All passing. Here’s Henrik living the dream, as the Canucks’ powerplay trolls the Dallas Stars:

A couple observations on this razzle-dazzle showing of complete lack of offensive intent:

Henrik takes possession of the puck at 0:40, and holds it for twelve seconds. You can hear the Dallas fans screaming at him in the corner. As a Canucks fan, it’s funny, but how infuriating would that be otherwise? I doubt anyone keeps track of this sort of thing, but I’ll bet that’s near the longest duration someone has ever had the puck in an NHL game without making any sort of motion towards the opposing net. (Actually, nevermind.)

At 1:18, Henrik makes a backpass around the boards that eludes two tired Stars’ checkers and reaches Ryan Kesler. Kesler rings it right back to him. That’s the last straw for the American Airlines Center crowd, which you can understand, considering Captain Humble just held the puck for 12 seconds not too long ago. The moment it’s back in his grips, the fans streaming towards the exits.

And lastly, at 1:38, Kesler tries an absurd one-timer. He bails on the shot, putting it wide of the goal and spilling towards the boards. While completely unsuccessful and ill-timed, this attempt for goal is everything the Canucks powerplay has been missing this season.

We joke about Henrik and Daniel’s love of passing, but there’s an element of truth in there. As pass-first players, they’ve always lacked a little urgency. They’re always looking to make that one extra pass, to open up a larger shooting lane or more net, hoping to set up that perfect shot. It’s what makes them such incredibly playmakers, and as two of the NHL’s most productive players, they’ve certainly earned a pass when it comes to their approach. But their patient, measured way of generating offence can leaves viewers downright aneurysmal when there’s a clock counting down from two minutes. I think we’ve all seen the Sedins show about this much desire to score on powerplays when they’re trailing by one.

This where Ryan Kesler comes in. The Canucks’ special teams took a massive step forward in 2010-11 when Newell Brown moved Kesler from the second unit to the first, and I’d argue that the big difference Kesler brought was a hair-trigger. Kesler is the Sedins’ polar opposite, a bull-headed, shoot-first player so arrogant he thinks his shot will hit the back of the net from just about wherever he releases it. He literally can’t handle just throwing the puck around for two minutes. He has to take an off-balance shot.

Kesler has been back for four games now, and the Canucks’ first unit has given Vancouver a goal in three straight. While only one of them belonged to the former Selke winner, it’s clear that he’s injected the powerplay with an element of impatience.

You can see it very clearly on his goal. Keep an eye on no. 17 in the lead-up to his shot. He’s waving for the puck even before he’s an option. He wants a pass right now.

Fortunately for Kesler, he gets it.

Kesler’s demand for the puck has drawn criticism at times, but on a powerplay led by hockey’s chillest twins, unburdened by the pressures of the game clock, his tendencies help to concentrate the entire unit’s attention towards the goal.

The underlying stats point to Kesler’s influence. Over the last two seasons, the Canucks have averaged 56 shots per 60 minutes of 5-on-4 icetime. (Actually, 56.0 in 2010-11 and 56.1 in 2011-12. Yes, they saw a slight increase in shot production last year without Christian Ehrhoff.) For two straight years, they’ve been one of the league’s top five teams at generation shots on the powerplay.

But this season, through 16 games, the Canucks are averaging just 40.8 shots per 60 minutes. It leaves them squarely in the NHL’s bottom five.

What’s the major difference between Vancouver’s powerplay so far this year and the last two years? Ryan Kesler hasn’t been on it. He’s a shot-forcer, and without him, Vancouver’s shooting frequency 5-on-4 has plummeted.

Thursday night’s final powerplay was hilarious and, situationally, a very good idea. But Ryan Kesler’s main job on that first unit is to make sure it doesn’t always look like that.

s/t to Thomas Drance for reminding me that Behind the Net has numbers.

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25 comments

  1. the olde coot
    February 22, 2013

    The question here is hardly moot
    You cannot score unless you shoot

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    Rating: +19 (from 23 votes)
    • jenny wren
      February 22, 2013

      Although Olde Coot you must confess
      One cannot argue with success
      All the while you’re screaming, “Shoot!
      The twins Sedin are just too cute.”
      It seems to me that you forget
      How oft the puck’s put in the net

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      Rating: +17 (from 23 votes)
      • the olde coot
        February 22, 2013

        And just how oft sweet Jenny Wren
        “Oh shit! They’ve lost the puck again.”

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        Rating: +10 (from 16 votes)
        • chicken chick
          February 22, 2013

          And sometimes someone blocks the shot
          A breakaway another’s got
          But Cory Schneider makes the save
          Burr takes the pass Bieksa gave
          Toe drags the puck to split the “D”
          And ties the effing game at three

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          Rating: +13 (from 17 votes)
          • tj
            February 22, 2013

            This is just to say
            Would the newbies please stop down-voting these poems!
            They are a long-standing and beloved part
            of the collage of amusements on PitB —
            even when they are gloatingly painful

            Carry on you nasty poetry-producing Hawks fans… Proof that not all of their fans, like not all of ours, lack in humour and ‘talent’!

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            Rating: +6 (from 18 votes)
            • Rituro
              February 22, 2013

              Agreed. The poetry corner of the comments section is always enjoyable.

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              Rating: +5 (from 11 votes)
            • jenny wren
              February 22, 2013

              Chicago fans we sure are not
              Except perhaps for Chicken Hawk
              But thank you for this thumbs up thought
              From many members of the Flock

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              Rating: +5 (from 5 votes)
  2. Joe
    February 22, 2013

    I was actually infuriated by Kesler’s fire-away attitude during that 2 minutes of keep away that Henrik was trying to make happen. In a one goal game and with Dallas not even trying to force the issue why on earth would you risk giving the puck away in that situation?

    He’s a selfish player which can work in the right context, but a lot of the time he just makes himself look like an ass.

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    • jannik Handsome
      February 22, 2013

      I’m sure he appreciated the gravity of the situation during that powerplay, but it’s just that he “literally can’t handle throwing the puck around for two minutes”. He just could not handle it.

      Thanks for this article, made me laugh!

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      Rating: +5 (from 5 votes)
  3. peanutflower
    February 22, 2013

    I want to know why it is that one person banging on the glass down in the corner sounds like it’s right next to Shorty’s mike. I want to know that.

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    • nick
      February 22, 2013

      the matrix has you

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      Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
    • Zach Morris
      February 22, 2013

      It’s actually Shorty banging on the glass
      “I don’t want dead air!”

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      Rating: +5 (from 5 votes)
    • Siz
      February 22, 2013

      @peanut… shorty and garrett sit quite high up in the buiding. they do however, have other mikes recording crowd noise. As far as buddy banging on the glass goes; a lot of fans think that hitting the glass will distract a professional player enough to make him look silly. I think the tradition began one fateful night when a calgary fan banged on the glass and distracted our old friend Dan Cloutier.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLco0k3kYBY

      cheers!

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      • ???
        February 23, 2013

        I don’t get it. What does the youtube clip have to do with a Calgary fan? This is the infamous Lidstrom goal, we’re playing Detroit at home in this clip.

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        Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
    • Rituro
      February 22, 2013

      The production crew likely have PZMs (Pressure Zone Microphones) near all the high-impact zones of the boards so they pick up that nice “crunch” sound when a big hit is thrown. The only downside is that when some inconsiderate fan starts pounding on the glass and the audio guy either (a) left everything on auto, or (b) isn’t paying attention, it can be extra-annoying for the viewing audience.

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      Rating: +4 (from 4 votes)
      • JoGuitar
        February 22, 2013

        The trouble is they have both PZMs and Boundary Mics in the boards but there are also condenser mics on top of the glass pointed down to catch those lovely skate blades digging into the ice. Can’t turn off everything or you’ll lose all the ambiance. Sadly that ambiance sometimes includes troglodytes performing taiko drum solos on the plexi.

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  4. JoGuitar
    February 22, 2013

    The Dallas feed I was watching immediately cut to a shot of Jagr hanging his head in distress watching it on the bench. Just pure agony.

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    Rating: +4 (from 4 votes)
    • JoGuitar
      February 22, 2013

      Here is a link to said distressed Jagr.

      https://twitter.com/kaileyfay/status/304805107428642816/photo/1/large

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      Rating: +2 (from 4 votes)
    • tj
      February 22, 2013

      I’d like to see that clip, myself. But yeah, it must have been miserable to watch from the other side. Daryl Reaugh tweeted he’d never seen anything like it. Hashtags included ‘keepaway’ and ‘gulp.’

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      Rating: +4 (from 4 votes)
  5. Barry
    February 22, 2013

    To be fair, Daniel does take a shot as well with 1:07 remaining

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    Rating: +2 (from 2 votes)
  6. best behaviour
    February 22, 2013

    Love the commentator at 1:56: “Give it back to Henrik. There you go.” Henrik knows who should have the puck. Us.

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    Rating: +2 (from 2 votes)
  7. akidd
    February 22, 2013

    what a swell example and point made. that’s pretty much it in a nutshell. kesler is the shooter, not the playmaker and after a season of not having a shot, he’s pretty stoked to have it back, even if the timing hasn’t quite woken up yet.

    it takes all kinds, is the moral of the story. the selfish and the selfless. the sedins and the keslers, the bieksas and the hamhuis’…//cue Different Strokes theme music. it’s a feel-good sitcom AND a sports show.

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  8. steveB
    February 22, 2013

    I could not believe so-called “fans” leaving a one goal game, especially given the Canucks recent penchant for allowing short-handed breakaways.

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  9. Innovation
    February 22, 2013

    Not too often you get to bust out the word “aneurysmal” in a sentence. Well done.

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    Rating: +4 (from 4 votes)
  10. jrc
    February 22, 2013

    “…they’ve certainly earned a pass when it comes to their approach.”
    ISWYDT
    Sometimes, I play a game reading PITB, and don’t look at the byline at the top; I try to guess from the writing style. “Aneurysmal.” That could only be Harrison. Daniel, your move.

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    Rating: +3 (from 3 votes)