Ryan Kesler

Five Thoughts: Ryan Kesler breaking out just in time

We’re a bit overdue for this today, but we hope you’ll indulge us at lunchtime with our Five Thoughts.

1. The arrival of Ryan Kesler to the party during the Canucks’ series with Nashville has been just what they needed to help turn what could’ve been another dogfight of a series into one where Vancouver is one win away from the Western final. With two goals in Game 3 and a big goal in Game 4, Kesler has been a difference maker now in two straight games in Nashville. Kesler is the leading scorer for Vancouver in this series with three goals and four assists. Pretty solid work against a team that prides itself of defending.

Sure, you might want to complain about some of his exaggerations on penalties, but right now he’s playing like the guy who scored 40 goals during the year and was one of the best two-way forwards in the NHL. With Kesler stepping up his game while the Sedin twins remain mostly non-factors shows how dangerous the Canucks could be if they were playing at full capacity.

2. We know we’ve been marveling at Pekka Rinne’s play in this series, but imagine where the Predators would be without him? All of a sudden Rinne’s work in Game 2 to stand on his head and steal one for Nashville is the only thing keeping this series from being another sweep. Rinne’s had to be outstanding because Roberto Luongo’s been even stronger at the other end of the ice.

We know that defense is what makes the Predators go but without a virtually flawless goalie like Rinne, they’d be dead in the water. Sure he didn’t look too hot against Anaheim and the Preds offense was able to support him in that series, but that might just speak more to how flawed the Ducks were. Against a beast of a team like Vancouver, Rinne has to be outstanding and the offense has to find a way to make it better. The latter is not happening. Unless the Canucks get complacent and the Predators get back to playing “Predator hockey” they’re toast.

3. While Alex Ovechkin is headed to Slovakia for the World Championships, his teammate Alexander Semin is not and it’s because Russian national coach Vyacheslav Bykov had strong reasons why. Dmitry Chesnokov from Puck Daddy updated via Twitter that Bykov told Sov Sport, “We won’t invite Semin under any circumstances. His play in the last Washington game was very weak.”

Now we don’t want to say that the Russian national coach noticed something that perhaps the Caps staff hasn’t, but that’s a damning statement when your own country doesn’t want to take you in for a tournament where the added help would go a long way to helping a Russian team that’s struggled. The Caps go year-to-year with contracts for Semin but he looked awfully poor against Tampa Bay after looking decent against the Rangers. Perhaps he’ll be part of a roster shake-up in Washington this summer.

4. If anyone is thinking that this year’s version of the Flyers has it in them to do what last year’s Flyers did to Boston I think you’re fooling yourself. Last year’s Flyers team showed a lot of guts throughout their first few losses against the Bruins in that series. This Flyers team hasn’t shown any of that and on top of things, they’re playing sloppy.

If nothing else though, the Flyers can be proud of how these playoffs have become James van Riemsdyk’s coming out party as an offensive force. The former second overall pick in the draft has been outstanding in the playoffs and he along with Claude Giroux and Daniel Briere have been their steady offensive guys. With Jeff Carter hurt and Mike Richards doing more to earn a poor reputation than leading the team to wins, they’ve needed it… It just hasn’t been enough.

5. Crazy to think that if all the teams that are leading win their next game, the second round will be over with. It’s a decided letdown after the excitement of the first round and while we don’t expect that every round will be bonkers, one sweep along with two potential other sweeps and a fourth series that could end in five leaves us feeling a little flat. Perhaps we’re just spoiled.

That said, the series that are setting up for the next round have us tickled, especially for what could be coming from out west with a possible San Jose-Vancouver Western Conference final.

Goalie nods: Reimer returns to Toronto, but he won’t start and the Leafs (reportedly) won’t recognize him

Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer reacts during a break in the first period of Toronto's NHL hockey game against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, in Toronto. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
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James Reimer was drafted by the Maple Leafs in 2006, made his NHL debut four years later and, all told, spent six seasons wearing the blue-and-white, playing in over 200 games.

And tonight, he might get the spotlight on him for a couple seconds.

Reimer will back up Roberto Luongo when the Panthers visit Toronto, and it sounds like he’ll do so with minimal fanfare.

Per the Sun, the Leafs are “unlikely to officially recognize Remier” during the game, opting instead to “put the in-house camera on him for a few moments.”

(Now feels like a good time to mention Edmonton had a video tribute for Nail Yakupov.)

Reimer — dealt to San Jose at the deadline before joining the Panthers this offseason — has only played twice this year, making 25 saves in a shootout loss to Tampa in his debut, then allowing three goals on 22 shots in a loss to Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.

And while he’s likely to receive little attention this evening, Reimer did play to a large media contingent on Wednesday, and had a pretty good quip about Auston Matthews taking his old No. 34 (“that’s brutal… I can’t believe he did that.”)

His former teammates, meanwhile, recalled a guy that battled hard and provided some good memories — specifically, backstopping the Leafs to the playoffs in 2013.

That, of course, led to a not-so-good memory:

For the Leafs, Frederik Andersen starts in goal.


Devan Dubnyk starts again as the Wild visit Buffalo. The Sabres will counter with Anders Nilsson, who continues to play with Robin Lehner (illness) sidelined.

Louis Domingue, who was called out by his head coach recently, goes back in goal for the Coyotes after Justin Peters started last game. He’ll go up against Steve Mason, who starts for Philly.

Jaroslav Halak returns to the Isles net after Thomas Greiss started the last two games. Marc-Andre Fleury is likely to go for the Pens.

— Tantalizing matchup in Montreal as Ben Bishop at the Bolts take on Carey Price and the Canadiens.

Petr Mrazek and the red-hot Red Wings — winners of five straight — look for No. 6 in St. Louis. Jake Allen is the likely starter for the Blues.

— It’s Antti Niemi versus Connor Hellebuyck as the Stars and Jets play in the second of a home-and-home series.

— Nashville used both Pekka Rinne and Marek Mazanec in last night’s 6-1 blowout loss to San Jose, so no word yet on who goes tonight in Los Angeles. The Kings will continue to ride Peter Budaj.

Sergei Bobrovsky, he of the .929 save percentage, gets the start for Columbus. He’ll be up against Martin Jones in the Sharks goal.

Vigneault explains decision to put McIlrath on waivers

New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault runs a practice at NHL hockey training camp Friday, Sept. 13, 2013, in Greenburgh N.Y. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
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The New York Rangers took a gamble today, placing defenseman Dylan McIlrath on waivers for the purpose of assigning him to the AHL.

While it wouldn’t be a surprise if McIlrath gets claimed, for GM Jeff Gorton and head coach Alain Vigneault, it was a decision that couldn’t be put off any longer.

“Gorts and I and our staff had a long talk last night after the game, and we just felt that at this time, Dylan needed to play,” Vigneault said this morning. “We all appreciate him as a person, he’s done everything that has been expected of him, and more. But on our team right now, he’s our eighth defenseman, and keeping him here and not having him play and the money going against the cap…”

Vigneault added that Gorton “looked around” in search of a trade, but obviously no deal was made.

“Selfishly, I hope he clears waivers and goes to Hartford and plays,” said Vigneault. “But if somebody would pick him up and give him an opportunity, I’d be very happy for him.”

McIlrath, meanwhile, held himself accountable for the situation. The big blue-liner has appeared in just one game this season, and he only logged 9:14 in it.

“I’m never going to blame this on the coaches,” he said, per Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post. “This was all about my play and not earning a spot in the lineup.”

Little (lower body) out another month, and that’s a big hole in the Jets lineup

WINNIPEG, MB - JANUARY 18: Bryan Little #18 of the Winnipeg Jets skates down the ice in third period action in an NHL game against the Colorado Avalanche at the MTS Centre on January 18, 2016 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Marianne Helm/Getty Images)
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Bryan Little hasn’t suited up for Winnipeg since the first game of the year, when he suffered a lower-body injury in a collision with Carolina forward Bryan Bickell.

Unfortunately for the Jets, he’s not expected back anytime soon.

“We’re two weeks out today, and we’re shooting for the end of November,” Jets head coach Paul Maurice said on Thursday, while updating his team’s health situation.

To give an idea of how big a loss this is for the Jets, consider what Maurice had to say about Little’s absence, compared to missing unsigned d-man Jacob Trouba.

“[Trouba’s] not in the room, that has a big factor in terms of the distraction. It’s no different — well, it is different than Bryan. We’ve got a number of solid defensemen in our lineup.

“The Bryan Little injury is probably a bigger frustration than anything else, because that really changes the look.”

Little, 28, opened the year as Winnipeg’s No. 2 center, on a line with Drew Stafford and Shawn Matthias. As mentioned above, he was hurt in the first game of the season and — prior to the Bickell collision — set up the club’s first goal of the year, registering an assist on Matthias’ first-period marker.

When healthy, Little’s a productive contributor for the Jets.

He posted a career-high 64 points during the ’13-14 campaign, and a career-high 24 goals the season following. He’s also one of the club’s top faceoff men.

With Little out of the lineup, the Jets have rolled with Mark Scheifele, Mathieu Perreault, Adam Lowry and Alex Burmistrov at center.

It’s fair to suggest Little’s absence has played a big role in Winnipeg’s slow start to the year. It has just two wins from six games, but will look to get things back on track tonight when it welcomes Dallas to the MTS Centre.

It’s still early, but Preds looking nothing like Cup contenders

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 26:  P.K. Subban #76 of the Nashville Predators looks on after being defeated by the Anaheim Ducks 6-1 in a game at Honda Center on October 26, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

The acquisition of P.K. Subban, after last season’s addition of Ryan Johansen, made the Nashville Predators a trendy preseason pick to win the Stanley Cup.

Six games into their schedule, however, and the outlook doesn’t seem so rosy. Last night’s 6-1 loss in Anaheim left the Preds with a 2-4-0 record, and one frustrated head coach.

“We have to be tougher to play against, just generally speaking,” said Peter Laviolette, per NHL.com. “[Even-strength] play wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. Specialty teams just swung the pendulum tonight in the wrong direction, the shorthanded goals and the power-play goals were too much for any team. We have to do a better job just being harder to play against, defending our goaltender and defending our end better. We gave up too many chances.”

The Ducks scored three times on the power play and twice while shorthanded. Obviously, special teams was the big factor last night.

But like Laviolette noted, the Preds weren’t great five-on-five either, and they haven’t been great in that situation all season. In fact, per Hockey Analysis, they’ve been outscored 12 to 6 in five-on-five action. It’s their power play, which has converted 10 times already, that’s kept their start from being a serious disaster.

It’s only been six games, so there’s no need to panic quite yet. But the Preds play tonight in Los Angeles and Saturday in San Jose, so it’s not going to get easier any time soon.