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.Henrik Sedin, powerplay, Ryan Kesler, Stars, The YouTubes, videos