Gameday Preview – It’s All About the Kesler

 

ryan kesler Pictures, Images and Photos

 

For Flames fans, this season has been terrible for two distinct reasons: one of them is obvious while the other is the fact that the Vancouver Canucks are currently the best team in the Western Conference. If not the league. On top of all that, Ryan Kesler is the main reason for their dominance.

The Sedin twins get a lot of the billing and they’re obviously teriffic. However, Kesler earned his Selke nomination last year and, if anything, he’s been even better this season so far. He still routinely faces top competition, he starts in the offensive zone just 46.7% of the time and he has one of the best corsi rates amongst regular skaters on the Canucks (+14/60). The Sedins have slightly better possession rate (+17/60 or so), but their zone start hovers around the 70% (!!) range. Each of them has seen about 120 more o-zone draws than the alternative thus far. That’s equivalent to roughly an extra +96 to their raw corsi scores. Kesler has taken 21 more d-zone draws, worth about -16.8 corsi. If we adjust things accordingly, the Sedins get knocked down to about +69 raw corsi or +7.08/60. Kesler moves up a tad from +127 raw to +144 (+15.86/60) – more than double the Sedins adjusted rate.

Whats more, Henrik and Daniel are always playing with each other, meaning a high quality of line mate. Kesler, on the other hand, has regularly skated with Jeff Tambellini, Mason Raymond, Jannik Hansen and Mikael Samuelsson this year. Not exactly a murderers row. Raymond and Tambellini in particular have benfitted from playing with Kesler the last couple of seasons. Neither of those youngsters was knocking the ball out of the park prior to playing with Kesler – hell, Tambellini was an AHLer before being recalled by the Canucks due to injuries this season. Now he suddenly has a better corsi rate than any of the Flames regular skaters not currently on the revelatory fourth line (+14.54/60). Kesler plays the heavies and drags some anchors along with him while doing it.

Speaking of fourth lines, Moss and company are in for another big night assuming they continue to get matched up against the Cancuks "energy unit" (considering the success of the Flames other trios, they may just move up the rotation). Vancouver’s bottom six used to be their weak point, but with the additions for Malholtra and Torres, that chink in the armor has shrunk to the bottom three. Guys like Tanner Glass and Alex Bolduc continue to get completely buried by Alain Vigneault in terms of zone starts (which is how the Sedins become so privileged) and they aren’t the best hockey players in the world to begin with. Note to career checkers and tough guys: as long as AV is in Vancouver, signing with the Canucks is a career killing move.

The Flames are obviously in tough tonight. No team in the league has been better than the Canucks over the last 10 games (9-0-1). They sport the best goal differential in the NHL (+36), the second best PP (24.8%) and the seventh best PK (85%). Some percentages at ES are lubing the Canucks slide into the upper echelon thus far, but they’re more than good enough to beat the Flames absent any favorable bounces. If Calgary decides to sleep through another first period, this one could be over after 20 minutes.

  • BobB

    For the first time in a very long time…if ever, I quite literally don’t want to watch this game. I have little reason to believe it isn’t going to be a bloodbath.

    I’ll still watch of course, but I’m not looking forward to it.

    Could you imagine what it would be like if Stajan, Bourque, GlenX and Hagman all actually showed up tonight? Then maybe I wouldn’t be so worried.

    However, I can see a pretty simple formula for Vancouver:

    1. Kesler line – Outskate the Iggy line, pressure/body Jokinen and Tanguay, play zone vs Iggy.

    2. Sedin line – Kick the teeth down the throat of the Flames “second” line.

    3. Malholtra line – play Backlund hard, keep the puck deep, come out even.

    4. Glass/Bolduc? – Fight them, hit them, take the flow out of the Flames current most effective line.

    Sedins change vs Babchuk and Pardy, exploit Babchuk’s (and Sarich) side deep with speed (which is great for LW Daniel)

    Crash the net, bump Kipper at every opportunity.

    They do all that and it could be 7-1 all over again.

    • Gange

      I’m with you. I have next to zero desire to watch this game. Luckily there’s a gold medal game on at the same time that I hear should feature an “underdog” Canadian squad that made a “favored” US team look terrible.

      So I have a distraction, at least for a little while.

      Canuck fans irritate on the best of days, imagine if they eventually have a success to beak about? They’ll be worse than Oiler fans.

      😉

    • SmellOfVictory

      I disagree with you on Iggy. For the last season or so, he’s been taken more physically. He’s not big enough to cause the same concern that he used to in that sense anymore.

    • BobB

      I am not being sarcastic, but seriously who is the Flames’ second line these days? You have Hagman-Stajan-Kotalik and Glencross-Morrison-Bourque as the contenders. I suppose it is the Stajan line, but if that is the case why is Kotalik playing with them instead of Bourque?

      As for the rest of this game, I will be curious who gets shuffled with the Backlund call up.

      I don’t see Tanguay-Iginla-Jokinen getting changed, nor do I see the Jackman-Moss-Kostopolous line getting broken up. If your game planning by Vigneault is accurate (as I think it will be) then Brent has to pick which of Backlund or Stajan to put out there. I would prefer a Hagman-Backlund-Bourque line, playing mostly with Regehr and Bouwmeester, which should limit the damage and then let Glencross-Stajan-Kotalik see if they can’t do some damage against lesser lights.

      Also, Bouwmeester better be about 1000 times better than he was against the NYI or this one will be really ugly, really fast.

  • the-wolf

    It will get interesting as the trade deadline approaches… I wonder who will go when Salo comes back?

    If the Flames show up tonight they will loose 5-3.
    If they don’t… they will loose 7-2.

    • BobB

      If the Flames show up they can beat the Canucks, I’m certain about that. No team in this league is so dominant that they are unbeatable, and Vancouver has many holes as any of the other elite teams.

      My concern is, as always, that the Flames won’t show up as a complete team. They’ve done it so few times in the last three years, I don’t know why I would expect it tonight.

      “Always expect to beat your closest rival”… yeah, what happened to that?

      Calgary’s recipe is simple: Speed through the neutral zone, chip pucks deep, hit everything that moves, short shifts… and Kipper has to out play Luongo (which is tough when he’s facing a fast creative offense, that quite nearly always has the extra pass option whereas Luongo will get to eat up belly burners all night). Calgary just has to do what Team Canada has to do, and what they already did vs the USA Jr’s. Stajan should be the odd man out tonight.

      @ SOV

      If Iginla can get Kesler to engage him, that’d be boon for Iggy, cause he’s near useless when he’s not ‘going’. I’d put money on that line starting by playing him tenaciously through the neutral zone, back pressuring him hard, but being pretty passive in their own end, keeping him to the outside, and collapsing to the net vs their line. Imagine all those beauty attempted cross-ice passes by the likes of Jokinen that they can turn into 3on2’s.

  • everton fc

    @negrilcowboy

    Agreed on Malhotra and Torres. But remember how everyone thougth signing Malhotra at that price tag was crazy?

    Malhotra’s certainly proven his worth. And Torres at that price-tag? Superb signings (we signed Stajan to $3mill year, and are stuck w/Kotalik and Staois price tags, as a comparison. Incredible mismanagement of funds)

    • everton fc

      Please remind me, I cannot remember who made such statements. The Chilean Bull was greatly missed 2 hours north, ask any knowledgable Oiler fan what am impact he made on that team. Heavy hitter with some scoring touch.Raffi has hit the 20 goal mark most of his career.A million bucks is 2 Connies.

  • Yankee Canuck

    Fantastic picture.

    “Note to career checkers and tough guys: as long as AV is in Vancouver, signing with the Canucks is a career killing move.”

    I’d agree with that from previous seasons, but he gave a few rookies (Bolduc & Desbiens) roster spots this season over broken guys like Ryan Johnson and has tried out a number of others from the Moose (Bliznak, Andersson & Volpatti who is still with the team). Glass – our lone tough guy – is having a great year, even skating with Kesler a few times; works hard without hurting the team (unlike Hordichuk). Collectively the fourth line has chipped in eight goals so far whereas last year’s kicked in six all season.

    • I think the reason AV is giving various guys shots on the 4th line is because the Canucks basically treat them as inter-changable cannon fodder. If Ryan Johnson asked for any kind of raise, then it makes sense to ignore his request and go with the cheaper player.

      As for Glass, I’m guessing the only reason he seems to be having a decent year is a PDO of 103.4 (including an incredible ES SH% of 12%). His possession rates are bottom-of-the-league awful (-29.82 corsi/60) as are all the rates of the guys like Bliznak and Volpatti who have gotten turns in the bottom 3.

      • Yankee Canuck

        Good point. Gillis was up against the ceiling (still is obviously) so skimping on the fourth liners makes sense.

        The Corsi rates make sense for them too; I seem to recall the last two or three seasons Johnson/Hordichuk/Rypien were all in the bottom 10 in the league there. But if you have to piss away a few minutes a game to ice goon – your favorite type of player right 😉 – I’d favor the bad Corsi over bad Corsi plus penalties. Hordichuk was the definition of a liability every time he stepped on the ice and VAN didn’t have the PK to manage it well.

        Subtle shades of gray.

  • Yankee Canuck

    I really wish I didn’t live in Vancouver for games like this. The whole city is going to harass me. At least I didn’t wear my Flames jersey today, that would have been too hard.

  • everton fc

    The Flames only chance in this game is if Kipper stands on his head. The Canucks have more talent than the Flames, more speed than the Flames, and more often than not, outwork the Flames. If we want to win this game, everyone has to play well and Kipper needs to be lights out.

  • everton fc

    @negrilcowboy

    I meant the reaction to Malhotra’s deal. Not Torres.

    The Oilers should have never let him go. Agreed.

    Malhotra has certainly proven a wise pickup, as well.

    If Stajan is not the odd man out tonight… I’ll be surprised.

    • Yankee Canuck

      Who questioned Manny’s deal? Anyone who knows squat about hockey or Manny knows what he brings to the team. Great on draws, good d, grreat in the room, can add some scoring.is a fitness freak. If 3 mill buys a third liner these days 2.5 for a special teams guy is a better bargain these days.

  • Yankee Canuck

    Did anyone else see the ad on the front page of the Sports section in the Herald for Last Minute Club tickets to the game against the Islanders tonight?

    Apparently the team weren’t the only ones unaware that game was starting on Monday.

  • Tonight could get ugly fast.

    Vancouver is a team you have to play really smart against, they capitalize on slip ups.

    I remember that game in January or February last year where we beat them in the shootout. What a great game….hoping it’s one of that variety tongight.

  • Yankee Canuck

    i feel awful for mikael backlund.

    the kid wants to succeed and contribute SO BADLY that i can’t help but foresee him getting eaten alive tonight, thereby further shattering his confidence (which has been a focal point his entire career).

    let’s hope i’m wrong. let’s hope he scores a hattrick (and gio checks both sedins simultaneously into the homeside bench), enroute to a 7-0 rout that leaves ol’ johnny canuck stunned and saddened.

    what’s the over/under ?

    • Yankee Canuck

      You are right about Backlunds psyche, very fragile at this point as any young player would be. Miss a check and you sit and watch for a month, terrible handling of a future “core”.

  • Yankee Canuck

    It’s been a joke how Backlund has been treated. I honestly don’t get it. How can you ever expect him to get better sitting in the press box. He should be playing top line minuites in Abostford. I believe that a player will become what you teach him to be. right now the flames are teaching Backlund to be a 3rd or 4th line grinder that has a very tight lease. Sooner or later that’s the kind of player he’ll be if this keeps up. it sickens me.

  • everton fc

    If my memory serves me, the price tag for Manny had some “experts” scratching their heads a little. As if it was too high.

    Radio… television… I think those were the sources.

    I remember, because I thought Manny might make a good Flame. And I was also amazed we got Tanguay for less.

    Regardless, Manny and Raffi are good pickups.

    • Yankee Canuck

      The Flames already had a guy in place to play the manny type role, Connie. Sorry that might have been four years ago.Tanguay was a low risk gamble, there were a ton of questions surrounding his game. If memory serves me correct Tangs wasn’t to well liked in Calgary alot of people questioned his heart.