Despite heavy workoad under Torts, Kesler feels ‘great’

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SOCHI, Russia — You know Ryan Kesler plays in an obsessive hockey market when he has to come to the Olympics to fly under the radar.

The 29-year-old was a side attraction Wednesday afternoon following United States practice, with almost all the attention on coach Dan Bylsma’s decision to start Jonathan Quick over Ryan Miller for Thursday’s opener versus Slovakia.

That said, Kesler will be expected to play a front-and-center role for his American side, just as he did four years ago. A two-way center with a Selke Trophy on his resume, he was on the U.S. team that fell just shy of gold in 2010. Not long after, in the same Vancouver arena no less, he fell just shy of winning the 2011 Stanley Cup when his Canucks lost Game 7 of a nasty series with the Boston Bruins.

“That’s in the past,” Kesler said when asked if he still thought about losing the two biggest games in hockey. “It’s experience that you draw upon when you need it. But it’s a new tournament, new Olympics.”

Kesler has been a workhorse this season under new Canucks coach John Tortorella. In fact, no forward in the entire NHL has played more total minutes than the Livonia native. He also leads Vancouver with 20 goals in 60 games.

Given the Canucks’ struggles of late, Kesler’s ice time — along with that of the Sedin twins — has been an especially hot topic in the hockey-mad city.

“I think I play maybe two minutes more per game,” he said. “I mean, it’s not that much more. My body feels great, and I’m ready to get this going.”

And all those people in Vancouver making a big deal out of it?

“A lot of people in Vancouver make a lot of everything,” he said. “It’s two minutes. It’s two shifts. It’s not that big a deal for me.”

At U.S. practice, Kesler has been skating on a line with Patrick Kane and Dustin Brown, the latter of whom he fought in an NHL game just a month ago.

“We talked about it,” Kesler said with a smile. “We made amends.”

Senators GM: ‘Priority’ to re-sign Erik Karlsson, ‘no rash decisions’ coming

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As he stood at the podium on Thursday with the Ottawa Senators’ bye week over, general manager Pierre Dorion said he still had hope for the playoffs.

He also laid out the scenarios for the second half that would potentially get the Senators into the postseason. In looking at the last four seasons and the point totals of the teams that grabbed the final spot in the East, Ottawa would need 57 points in their final 39 games to hit that number of 95 points.

That’s a tall ask for this Senators team. Dorion noted they would have to go 28-11-1, 27-10-3, 26-9-5 or 25-8-7 to have a shot. But then it hit him. “We have to be patient, and I can tell you that no rash decisions will be made,” he said. “We have to be realistic and understand our situation. If we don’t make the playoffs we have to start planning for the future, and that might me to take one step backwards to take two steps forward.”

Do you see this Senators team getting 57 points from 39 games when they’ve only managed 39 points in their first 43 games? They’re a negative possession team that is bottom-five on both the power play and penalty kill and their goaltenders have combined for a .907 even strength save percentage. Doing a complete 180-degree turn would be a monstrous accomplishment. It’s time to look forward.

Mark Stone and Cody Ceci are restricted free agents this summer, and there are a couple of players making big money who will be looking for a raise in 2019 — Matt Duchene, Derick Brassard and, of course, Erik Karlsson.

[Karlsson deserves every penny he can get, and he knows it]

Brassard’s name has been out there and flipping Duchene a few months after trading away Kyle Turris for him would be an interesting development. The big one will be Karlsson, who’s already stated publicly that he’s going to get what he feels he’s worth in his next contract. That’s something that could prove tricky for a Senators franchise whose owner isn’t known for shelling out the big bucks for players.

“Our first priority with Erik is to sign him. He’s a special player, but Wayne Gretzky got traded,” Dorion said. “If a team offers you an offer you can’t turn down, you listen. But our first priority is to sign Erik Karlsson and Erik Karlsson to be a Senator for life.”

After coming within a goal of reaching the Stanley Cup Final last season, it’s all come crashing down hard for the Senators. If the slide continues and Dorion starts selling off assets with an eye toward the future, how Will Karlsson feel about that? He won’t want to be a part of a sinking ship, not at 27, and not with a monster contract coming his way within a year’s time.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL on NBCSN: Kings look to end losing streak vs. Ducks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues on Friday night, as the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks meet at Honda Center at 10 p.m. ET. You can stream the game by clicking here.

A five-game losing streak has knocked the Kings out of the Western Conference playoff picture. Currently, they sit just on the outside of a wild card spot due to a tiebreaker and one point behind the Calgary Flames for the third spot in the Pacific Division. The Ducks are not far behind with 51 points as they prepare for the second game of a five-game homestand.

Back tonight for the Ducks will be Andrew Cogliano, who was suspended two games for a hit on Adrian Kempe when the teams met on Saturday night. The ban ended Cogliano’s consecutive games streak at 830. As expected, it was a feisty evening, with three fights in the first period.

[WATCH KINGS-DUCKS LIVE AT 10PM ET]

Friday night will be Adam Henrique’s 22nd game with the Ducks, and he’s familiar with the rivalry theme having been a part of many games between the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers.

“Those games, they always have a little extra,” Henrique said via the Orange County Register. “You circle them on the calendar. It’s that playoff-type atmosphere from the fans, on the ice. And it’s always ramped up to another level. It’s always something you got to be prepared for but it’s always the fun games to play in.”

The game is a big for LA, who has not only lost five straight but seven of their last nine games. Penalties did them in in Thursday night’s 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, but head coach John Stevens felt his team took a big step toward getting out of this current funk. One question will be whether Dustin Brown will play after his game misconduct for boarding Justin Schultz in the third period. The Department of Player Safety could see it as that was punishment enough. (UPDATE: Brown will have a hearing on Friday.)

Whether Brown plays or watches from the press box, he tried to get a message across to his teammates postgame.

“If you’re not frustrated, there’s something wrong with you,” Brown said via the LA Times. “But we’re just trying to channel that frustration into positive energy that you can use to win games, because there’s going to be ups and downs, and you’ve got to find a way to dig yourself out.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

No-NHL 2018 Olympics makes for unique preparation strategies

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When Brian Gionta last played in the Olympics in 2006, his final NHL game before the break allowed him just three days to fly to Italy and get acclimated before suiting up for Team USA.

This time around, the semi-retired U.S. captain and his Olympic teammates will get four whole practice days before opening the tournament against Slovenia on Feb. 14.

”With the NHL setup, you fly over there, you have a small window to practice in and then you’re right into the games,” Gionta said. ”We’ve had the added benefit of being able to go over to the Deutschland Cup and be together for that week. A lot of the guys that were there are on the team and have a good understanding of each other. But I think that’s a nice change, I guess, from previous Olympics.”

Still, the U.S. lost all three games at that tournament in November and didn’t score more than two goals in any of them. Preparation under a new coach, learning the nuances and habits of new teammates are certainly key, but every men’s hockey team going to South Korea is in a much different situation from any previous Olympics.

Before NHL players began participating in 1998, national teams were centralized and spent months together – much like women’s teams do now. In contrast, the past five Olympics featured quick turnarounds when it came to training because so many players were also in the NHL, which decided this time around not to pause its 82-game regular season.

However, no NHL didn’t automatically translate into more practice time as the teams were put together.

Almost everyone on an Olympic roster is playing professionally or in college, so there isn’t much of an opportunity for training camps – though Canada, Russia and other countries are making the most of any time they have to get together. Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League has its final games before the Olympic break Jan. 28, and other European leagues will release players shortly after that so they can prepare.

Chock full of stars from the KHL, including former NHL players Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk, Russia should be the first to have its full team together and will play exhibition games in Moscow on Jan. 30 and Feb. 4. Canada is gathering as many players as possible in Latvia on Jan. 28 and will play two exhibition games there and one more in South Korea before the Olympics begin as it tries to win a third consecutive gold medal.

”We have access to our players very early, and we’re going to take advantage of that,” said Scott Salmond, Hockey Canada’s vice president of hockey operations and national teams. ”We’re actually going to simulate the first two games of the Olympics with the ice times and the game times and try to get used to that kind of quick turnaround from a 9 p.m. game and a day off and a noon game.”

Sweden, which has a handful of former NHL players and projected 2018 No. 1 draft pick Rasmus Dahlin , will gather in Seoul for four days of practice before facing Canada on Feb. 12. The Czech Republic will hold training camp in Prague from Jan. 29-Feb. 6 before practicing in Seoul and playing an exhibition game against Finland on Feb. 11, while the Swiss are scheduled to play Germany in Kloten, Switzerland, on Feb. 6 and Norway in Goyang, South Korea, five days later.

USA Hockey general manager Jim Johannson said his team won’t play any exhibition games with most U.S. players arriving in South Korea on Feb. 8. Johannson said the U.S. will practice Feb. 10-13 and get in a game-day skate Feb. 14, which coach Tony Granato feels will be enough preparation.

”We’ve all been parts of multiple tournaments like this, so we’re not unfamiliar with them,” said Granato, who played 49 games with the U.S. national team prior to the 1988 Olympics and currently coaches at the University of Wisconsin. ”A lot of the excitement and build-up leading up to it makes it that much better – you’re going to get there, we’re going to jump on the ice, we’re going to practice and then a few days later we’ll be center stage and ready to play.”

Seventeen of the 25 U.S. players were at the Deutschland Cup in November and won’t be back on the ice together until nearly three months later. The U.S. women’s team? They gathered in Florida in September, played a series of games against top Olympic rival Canada and have been together since.

”It’s a huge bonus and a huge advantage to be together all year,” forward Meghan Duggan said. ”(It’s ) a difference from a world championship year, a non-Olympic year where we play with our pro teams and our club teams or college teams and get together for certain periods of time whether it be for world championships or Four Nations Cup or training camp.”

Canada’s men’s team took part in several Olympic tune-up tournaments for evaluation purposes. GM Sean Burke, who played in goal for Canada in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics, is trying to make the most of this hybrid schedule to put coach Willie Desjardins and his team in the best position to succeed.

”We’ve had a lot of time to not only evaluate our players but have them together to do some team-building and we’re going to get a good two-week training camp. I like the process,” Burke said. ”Our coaching staff can really get down to working on our systems and having everything in place that they’re comfortable with. That’s a real nice luxury to have.”

AP Sports Reporters Teresa M. Walker and James Ellingworth contributed.

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

PHT Morning Skate: Kane talks future; NHL responds to Kid Rock backlash

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Likely-to-be-traded Evander Kane on his future with the Buffalo Sabres “One thing I’ve always said is that I’ve really really enjoyed my time here and will continue to do so for as long as I’m here.” [Buffalo News]

• The NHL explains the decision behind having Kid Rock perform during next weekend’s All-Star Game, which has garnered a bit of backlash. [ESPN]

Jack Johnson and John Tortorella talk about the Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman’s decision to request a trade. [Dispatch]

• Before he became one of the league’s top scorers, Anders Lee was chucking the pigskin as a top high school quarterback in Minnesota. [Sports Illustrated]

• How has Willie O’Ree not been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame? [Stanley Cup of Chowdah]

• With Paul Martin in the AHL, Brent Burns has a lot of lifting to do to improve his game. [NBC California]

• It’s taken some time, but Kyle Okposo of the Buffalo Sabres is finally feeling comfortable following a concussion suffered last season. [Buffalo Hockey Beat]

• It’s time that Phil Kessel gets more respect around the league. [FanRag Sports]

Sebastian Aho is out of the lineup indefinitely. How can the Carolina Hurricanes replace him? [Canes Country]

• The Olympic rosters for South Korea’s men’s and women’s teams have a touch of North America on them. [Olympic Talk]

• A look at the good and bad of the NHL partnering with women’s hockey teams. [The Ice Garden]

• Why Adam Lowry is important to the Winnipeg Jets. [Arctic Ice Hockey]

• Solid breakdown of Eric Nystrom’s lawsuit against the Nashville Predators. [On the Forecheck]

• Trying to explain why some players missed out on the 2018 NHL All-Star Game. [Featurd]

• Finally, here’s Eddie Olczyk telling the story of the time the Toronto Maple Leafs traded him to the Winnipeg Jets while he was in the delivery room with his wife:

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.