Calling out Ryan Kelser: Where Has the American Gone in the Stanley Cup Finals?

Chris HuebnerContributor IIIJune 8, 2011

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 06:  Rich Peverley #49 of the Boston Bruins celebrates past Ryan Kesler #17 of the Vancouver Canucks after Mark Recchi (not pictured) #28 scored a goal in the second period against Roberto Luongo #1 of the Vancouver Canucks during Game Three of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on June 6, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Ryan Kesler is no longer a pest. This season he ended his practice of yapping and slashing after the whistle and decided to focus on what happens on the ice in between whistles. He changed himself for the better. Kesler is now a two-way star.

During the regular season he quickly developed into a solid offensive threat, tallying 41 goals and 32 assists, and becoming a Selke Trophy finalist. He is arguably the Canucks' top face-off winner, behind face-off savant Manny Malhotra. He has become a player that the Canucks can rely on to make timely plays both on the offensive and defensive sides of the ice.

When the playoffs began, Kesler’s offensive abilities seemed to diminish. Perhaps it was because he was matched up against another two-way star, Chicago Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews. Kesler only had four points, with no goals.

However, Kesler was still valuable to his team because of his defensive ability. He prevented Toews from scoring a single goal until Game 7 of that series. He also finished the series with a plus-4 rating.

The next series, against the Nashville Predators, was when Kesler appeared to bloom. He scored 11 points in the six-game series. That statistic becomes even more impressive considering that Vancouver scored 14 goals. Kesler was involved, either with a goal or an assist, in 78 percent of his team’s scoring. Throw in his defensive prowess and a face-off success rate well above 60 percent (including a game in which he won 80.8 percent of his face-offs) and the Nashville series would be enough to consider Kesler a Conn Smythe candidate.

But during Vancouver’s series against San Jose, Kesler offensive numbers took another hit. He only tallied two goals and one assist—though one goal was extremely important and sent Game 5 into overtime, where the Canucks eventually won. But again, Kesler was matched up against San Jose’s best two-way center (Joe Thornton) and still played strong defensively and in the face-off dot.

His timely scoring and strong defensive play, therefore, are why Kesler topped the Conn Smythe charts in many predictions.

But so far the Stanley Cup Finals have been abysmal for the young American. He has only one assist, though it was from a phenomenal play to win Game 1, and he is coming off one of his worst games of the playoffs.

Game 3 is 60 minutes that the entire Canucks team wishes they could forget; but Kesler should want to put this game behind him more so. He was on the ice for the first four Boston goals, including one that he scored on his own goaltender.

When Mark Recchi received a pass from Michael Ryder during a second period Boston power play, Kesler was too high in the zone and well out of position. So he skated quickly back toward his own goal line hoping to prevent a passing lane. Unfortunately for him, he was overzealous in his mission to make up for his mistake. Recchi threw the puck through Luongo’s blue paint and it deflected off of Kesler’s stick and into the net.

The goal was not directly Kesler’s fault (it was an accidental deflection after all), but it was helped by an uncharacteristic defensive error that he made.

Game 3 also included a performance from Kesler that has been, for this season at least, quite uncharacteristic. He became his former pest-self, slashing and yelling at the Bruins after the whistle, until he was involved in a fight with Dennis Seidenberg and kicked out of the game. All in all, the usually disciplined Canuck was awarded a whopping 17 total minutes of penalty time.

Ryan Kesler needs to return to his 2011 regular season form. Vancouver Canucks coach Allain Vigneault needs to be able to rely on his American star to create offense for his team and stifle the offense of the opposition.

In the playoffs, he has proven that he is capable of shutting down the likes of Thornton and Toews. He has proven that he can carry the goal-scoring burden of his team. If Kesler and the Canucks want to win this series, no matter how long it lasts, Kesler needs to play the two-way style of hockey that is deservedly expected of him. Otherwise, the Cup may be visiting Boston over the summer.