Ryan Kesler

Ryan Kesler gives Americans a reason to root for Vancouver

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So perhaps you’re not a Bruins fan at all and you’re not exactly gung-ho in rooting for Boston to win their first Stanley Cup since 1972. You’re looking at the Vancouver Canucks and not really falling in love with them either. Either you’re weirded out by the Sedin twins or you’re harboring ill feelings toward Roberto Luongo for being the winning goalie during Team Canada’s run to the gold medal over Team USA in the 2010 Olympics. If you’re an American hockey fan, getting warm and cozy even for one series with the Vancouver Canucks might be a bit difficult.

Ryan Kesler is here to tell you that it’ll be OK if you root for Vancouver because of him.

Kesler is a Livonia, Michigan native who spent his formative years playing hockey with the United States National Under-18 team and then for a year at Ohio State University. While we’re pretty sure Jim Tressel had nothing to do with him being there, Kesler’s season at Ohio State was good enough for Vancouver to pluck him out of Columbus and get him working in their system with the Manitoba Moose. While Kesler spent a year and a half with the Moose, upon graduating to the NHL he’s turned himself into one of the NHL’s best two-way forwards, ultimately turning in his best pro season this year scoring 41 goals and adding 32 assists this year and a Selke Trophy nomination for best defensive forward.

In the playoffs, Kesler is perhaps the leader for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP right now after scoring seven goals and 11 assists through 18 games in the playoffs. A point-per-game pace at anytime is great to see, but in the playoffs that’s the sort of thing that helps win you hardware. Add all that to his appearance in the 2010 Olympics with Team USA and you’ve got yourself a player that the American version of Don Cherry would be awfully proud of as a “fine American boy.”

Joining Kesler as Americans fighting for the Cup for Canada are backup goalie Cory Schneider (Marblehead, MA), forward Chris Higgins (Smithtown, NY), and defensemen Keith Ballard (Baudette, MN) and Andrew Alberts (Minneapolis, MN). While Boston’s Milan Lucic might be in a weird position as a native of Vancouver trying to win the Cup against his hometown team, Schneider being a Marblehead native and former goalie at Boston College makes life a little conflicted for him too.

Such conflict could be squared away though thanks to Kesler as he’s been a dominant force on the Canucks second line and as a penalty killer and defensive shutdown center. If he can help rein in David Krejci or Patrice Bergeron while scoring goals he’ll be a legend in Vancouver and back home in Michigan too.

Video: Simmonds drops the gloves with Wood

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Wayne Simmonds is not only a productive power forward, but he’s one tough customer.

He showed that again Saturday, dropping the gloves with Miles Wood of the New Jersey Devils during the first period.

The fight occurred right after Wood drove Radko Gudas hard into the boards on the forecheck. The scrap didn’t last long, however, with Simmonds landing a few shots and then taking the Devils forward to the ice.

Simmonds was assessed an extra roughing minor.

We have a (minor league) trade to announce

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 28:  Michael Latta #17 of the Los Angeles Kings during a preseason game at Staples Center on September 28, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Chicago Blackhawks and L.A. Kings have made a minor league trade on Saturday.

The Blackhawks acquired forward Michael Latta, who has 113 games of NHL experience with the Washington Capitals, in exchange for defenseman Cameron Schilling.

Latta will report to the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs, according to the Blackhawks. In 29 games this season with the Ontario Reign, Latta has two goals and six points.

Schilling, 28, is expected to be assigned to the Reign, the team said in a release.

In 40 games this season with the IceHogs, Schilling has seven goals and 17 points.

Singing the Blues: St. Louis continues recent skid

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 21:  Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues walks on the ice in game four of the Western Conference Finals against the San Jose Sharks during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on May 21, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Make that three straight losses for the St. Louis Blues, who have only four wins in their last 10 games.

The Blues lost to the Winnipeg Jets by a final score of 5-3 on Saturday. Late attempts at a comeback from four goals down were fleeting and unsuccessful. Once in competition for the Central Division, St. Louis has fallen off the pace in these times of struggle and is now part of the pack fighting for a wild card spot in the West.

In the last three games, the Blues have given up 18 goals. Eighteen goals.

That is highly uncharacteristic of a Ken Hitchcock-coached team, and the Blues have been one of the stingiest clubs in the NHL over the last five years. Jake Allen‘s struggles have been well documented and he didn’t even travel with the team to Winnipeg.

These are difficult times for the Blues, who turned to Pheonix Copley, who had never started an NHL game before today, in goal versus the Jets.

Despite giving up five goals on 29 shots, Hitchcock praised the play of Copley. And he likes the amount of scoring chances his team is producing. But their own mistakes keep piling up, and they keep piling into the St. Louis net at what is now an alarming rate.

The Blues trailed 2-1 entering the third period, but gave up a Bryan Little power play goal just over two minutes later and they fell further behind. It was a critical moment in the game for St. Louis. The floodgates opened from there for the Jets.

“We left the game out there ,” Hitchcock told reporters.

“It’s tough. Quite frankly, we’re allowing too many goals against, obviously. Too many easy scoring chances. We’re getting scored on killing penalties now. If we clean up our own end, both five-on-five and five-on-four, it will help us a lot.”

Desjardins: Horvat is ‘fine’ after taking a slap shot to the head

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Before the celebration of Henrik Sedin reaching 1,000 career points, there was plenty of concern for one of the Canucks’ top young players.

Late in the first period, Bo Horvat was skating behind the Florida net when he was struck in the back of the head by a Nikita Tryamkin slap shot. Horvat immediately hit the ice. He was down for a brief period, but did skate off under his own power.

The good news: He returned to the game after missing a brief time.

On Saturday, the Canucks sent out a photo showing the damage Horvat suffered — a fairly large cut to the back of his head, which required several stitches.

“I would assume he was forced out by the spotter,” said coach Willie Desjardins following Vancouver’s win on Friday. “Whenever you see something like that, you’ll probably check it out, especially if he was bleeding.”

“They took a look at him and he’s fine.”

More good news for the Canucks.

In his third NHL season, Horvat is emerging as a critical component of this team. He’s 21 years old, is tied with Henrik for the team lead in points, with 30 in 47 games, and is on his way to next weekend’s NHL All-Star event. Further to that, the Canucks are in a transition, with a younger core expected to eventually take over from the lasting members of the current core, most notably Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who are both 36 years old.

The Canucks are also in a fight for a playoff spot, and injury to one of their top centers, which Horvat is, would certainly make the hunt for the post-season that much more difficult.

Sitting one point out of the second wild card spot in the West, the Canucks begin a three-game road trip by facing the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday.