Vancouver should be careful with Ryan Kesler; hopes to be ready by opening night

During the last two seasons, Vancouver Canucks two-way forward Ryan Kesler’s star has risen as much as any other player in the NHL – at least if you narrow down the field to players who already showed promise. Kesler put an exclamation point on his Selke Trophy-winning 2010-11 season by dominating the Canucks’ second round series against the Nashville Predators, but rumors of injuries surfaced beginning in the Western Conference finals.

Kesler underwent hip surgery in early August, leaving many to wonder if he might miss a chunk of regular season games to start the 2011-12 campaign since the rehab window called for about 10-12 weeks of recovery.

Kesler seems (dangerously?) optimistic

Missing the beginning of next season remains a genuine possibility, but NHL.com passes along reports of Kesler’s optimism about being ready for action on October 6. Dan Rosen points out that Kesler already bounced back from a hip surgery earlier than expected once in his career. Kesler underwent a similar surgery in January 2007 and came back in 10 weeks (and in time for the playoffs), well ahead of the 12-16 week window that was originally given.

“It’s going good; small victories here and there,” Kesler told Canucks TV from his hometown of Livonia, Mich. “I just got off my crutches and I’ll start strengthening so everything is back to normal. I’ll start skating here in the next couple of weeks and hopefully be back by that first game.”

Kesler’s history with hip labrum surgery suggests he might just make the opening night lineup. He had a similar surgery in January 2007 and returned 10 weeks later — in time for the start of the playoffs. He was initially told he would be out anywhere from 12 to 16 weeks.

“I know what it takes. I know the rehab,” Kesler said. “It might even make me braver to try things I probably shouldn’t be trying, but it’s going to make me come back quicker and hopefully I can play in that first game.”

That last statement raises a red flag, though: “It might even make me braver to try things I probably shouldn’t be trying.” It’s inspiring to see hockey players fight through tough injuries, but the bottom line is that such actions sometimes have the disappointing consequence of limiting their on-ice effectiveness. It would be a shame if Kesler ends up only being a fraction of the world-class player he’s been for the last two seasons after rushing back from the surgery – or worse yet – if he greatly increases his chances of aggravating the injury by coming back too soon.

Canucks, Kesler should proceed with caution

Ultimately, it’s the job of the Canucks and their training staff to make sure that Kesler doesn’t come back too soon. Kesler is in the second year of his six-year, $30 million contract, so Vancouver would be wise to take the long view with their versatile center.

The Canucks aren’t the same team without Kesler’s speed, skills and tenacity, but Vancouver rolled with a lot of injury-related punches last season and probably needs to accept the possibility of a small hangover from last summer’s disappointments anyway. Obviously, the decision is up to both sides, but GM Mike Gillis & Co. would be wise to take a cautious approach with an important player who is just about to turn 27 years old.

‘It’s all my fault’: Mike Babcock takes responsibility for penalty box blunder

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Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock is often regarded as the best coach in hockey, but even the best make silly mistakes sometimes.

During last night’s game between the Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets, Babcock’s error forced his team to play an extra 1:54 shorthanded.

Early in the third frame, Roman Polak was given a five-minute penalty and a game misconduct for boarding Oliver Bjorkstrand (Polak is scheduled to have a hearing with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety on Thursday morning). Instead of sending someone to the penalty box to serve the major infraction, Babcock decided to leave the box empty.

Coaches aren’t obliged to send someone to the sin bin right away. During any stoppage in play before the end of penalty, they can send someone to finish serving the infraction. Unfortunately for the Leafs, Babcock never did.

So when Polak’s five-minute major expired, the Leafs couldn’t simply throw someone onto the ice from their bench, they had to wait for a stoppage in play.

Toronto players tried to ice the puck a couple of times, but that didn’t work. So finally, Brian Boyle flipped the puck into the Columbus bench to get a whistle, but not before his team spent nearly seven straight minutes shorthanded.

They ended up winning 5-2, but they held a slim 3-2 lead at the time.

Luckily for Babcock, his penalty killers did an incredible job, as they only allowed one shot on goal throughout the kill.

After the game, he took full responsibility for what happened.

“I’m doing better now, but can you imagine?,” said the Leafs bench boss, per the Toronto Sun. “It’s all my fault, me, the two assistants on the bench, two in the video room and 15 players on the bench. And we can’t get that done right? Often it happens and you just fire a guy in the box. It could have cost you. It will never happen in my lifetime again, I will never wait to put a guy in. But our penalty kill was really good.”

PHT Morning Skate: Ovechkin will be rocking incredible custom skates for Russian Heritage Night

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–With only a few weeks remaining in the regular season, we’re starting to get a better idea of who will be in and out of the playoffs. With that being said, The Hockey News put together a list of five players that could benefit from playing on another team. Devils goalie Cory Schneider is at the top of the list. Schneider’s been solid since joining New Jersey, but the team hasn’t had much success. (The Hockey News)

Erik Karlsson has always been known as an offensive defenseman, but this year, he’s made several defensive improvements to his game. The changes have made him so effective that his head coach, Guy Boucher, believes he should be in the running for a Hart Trophy. (Canadian Press)

–The Washington Capitals will be hosting a Russian Heritage Night tonight. During the pre-game warmup, Alex Ovechkin will be rocking these custom skates honoring his home land and his American home. He’ll be auctioning off the skates too. (CSN Mid-Atlantic)

–The New York Islanders trailed the Rangers 2-1 heading into the third period, but thanks to goals by Nikolay Kulemin and Andrew Ladd, they were able to come out on top. You can watch the highlights from last night’s “Battle of New York” by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Vegas GM George McPhee chatted with Sportsnet’s Gene Principe about being able to build a team from scratch. McPhee called the experience “fantastic” and “really neat”. He also discussed his vision for the team and how he’s approaching the expansion draft. (Sportsnet)

–The Detroit Red Wings have been a model franchise for quite some time, but they’ve on the verge of going through some pretty big changes. First, Joe Louis Arena will be closing its doors and secondly, their long playoff streak will be coming to an end this season. Sports Illustrated takes a deeper look at the old barn and the third-longest playoff streak in pro sports. (Sports Illustrated)

–Many people feel like the Calder Trophy race will come down to Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, but Bob McKenzie says there’s more than two worthy candidates because Zach Werenski has been equally good this season. But who is McKenzie leaning toward?

Ducks take control of second in Pacific after edging Oilers

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Connor McDavid was fantastic on Wednesday, but the Anaheim Ducks overcame his strong showing for a significant win in the Pacific.

McDavid scored a goal and two assists, yet Ryan Getzlaf was right there with him with three assists, helping the Ducks win 4-3.

With that, Anaheim is clearly ahead of Edmonton for second in the Pacific. The Ducks would hold home-ice over the Oilers if the playoffs began today, and better yet for them, a division title isn’t out of the question:

1. Sharks – 91 points in 73 games played
2. Ducks – 89 points in 73 GP
3. Oilers – 87 points in 73 GP
4. Flames – 86 points in 73 GP

As you can see, the Oilers aren’t exactly far ahead of the Flames for third, either.

Going forward, the Oilers have an interesting schedule: a mix of games against cellar dwellers (two apiece against the Canucks and Avalanche) plus two games apiece versus the Kings and Sharks.

The Ducks’ schedule includes two matches against the Flames, one against the Kings and one more match at Edmonton on April 1.

Long story short, the jockeying for position is far from over, but this was a pretty significant win for the Ducks.

Video: Connor McDavid shows off speed and skill (again)

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Connor McDavid‘s 26th goal of 2016-17 was a lot like many others: an impressive display of skill and speed. He didn’t blaze past the Anaheim Ducks like has against opponents on other occasions, but his rare wheels still came in handy.

Maybe more than sheer speed, this tally is a reminder that McDavid could do impressive things while losing little or no momentum. It’s one thing to have straight-line speed, but he has the hands and hockey IQ to take advantage of his swift skating.

McDavid already has two points in this one, pushing him to 84 points. He also extended his point streak to five games (three goals, six assists if he stays at one of each on Wednesday).