Kesler gives Ducks the Selke Trophy type that Cup champs usually have

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It was no coincidence that Ryan Kesler’s best season in the NHL coincided with the best team in Vancouver Canucks history.

In 2010-11, Kesler scored a career-high 41 goals as the Canucks won the Presidents’ Trophy and came within a game of winning the Stanley Cup. For his efforts, he was awarded the Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward in the league, snapping Pavel Datsyuk’s string of three straight seasons winning the award.

Unfortunately for Kesler and the Canucks, 2010-11 was the high-water mark for player and club. As a result, he’s now a member of the Anaheim Ducks, after the 29-year-old requested, and was granted, a trade out of Vancouver.

“I’m going to Anaheim to win a championship,” said Kesler. “That’s going to be my sole goal, and my team’s sole goal.”

And history shows that championship teams often have a player with a Selke on their résumé — be it Datsyuk in Detroit, Jonathan Toews in Chicago, Patrice Bergeron in Boston, Rod Brind’Amour in Carolina, or going all the way back to Bob Gainey in Montreal. The 2007 Ducks team that won it all had a Selke nominee in Samuel Pahlsson.

“I think I can fit into this team and be a good No. 2 behind Ryan Getzlaf,” said Kesler, who played behind Henrik Sedin in Vancouver. “We have size, speed and grit. I’d say that Getzlaf is one of the best centers in the game. I’m going to come in behind him and do my job.”

Motivation shouldn’t be a problem for Kesler, who’s suffered the two biggest losses a hockey player can possibly suffer. In 2011, he lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. In 2010, he lost the Olympic gold-medal game as a member of Team USA.

Health, however, could be another story. A veteran of 655 regular-season NHL games, Kesler’s body has taken a lot of punishment. He had hip surgery in the summer of 2011. He had shoulder surgery in the summer of 2012.

Yet despite all the hard miles he’s logged, Kesler still managed to lead the Canucks with 25 goals in 2013-14, while averaging 21:49 of ice time per game. Among NHL forwards, only Sidney Crosby (21:58) played more per contest.

In fact, Kesler’s increased ice time under coach John Tortorella became a hot topic in hockey-mad Vancouver, where there’s rarely a shortage of hot topics.

“A lot of people in Vancouver make a lot of everything,” Kesler said in Sochi during the Olympics. “It’s two minutes [more per game]. It’s two shifts. It’s not that big a deal for me.”

Shortly thereafter, it was reported he wanted out of Vancouver.

Kesler has two years remaining on his contract before he can become an unrestricted free agent. For Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau, the addition of the Livonia native makes Anaheim “a bona fide threat to become an elite team.”

Said Boudreau: “I’ve never coached a team in the NHL that’s had a second-line center that you’re going to have with Ryan Kesler. It’s a great [acquisition], and it gets you excited.”

To be sure, the Ducks still have question marks, namely on the blue line and in goal. But assuming he can stay healthy, Kesler should make them a tougher out in the playoffs.

“After the season in reviewing things, we knew we had to fill that,” Anaheim general manager Bob Murray said. “Not that [Kesler is] a second-line center, but we knew we needed someone behind Ryan Getzlaf. This is a huge move for our hockey team.”

The Buzzer: Stamkos seen, rising Rangers, Crosby’s back

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Three Stars

1. Steven Stamkos

The Lightning did not take it easy on the other team from Florida in the first full game since Vincent Trocheck‘s jarring ankle injury. They hung seven goals on the Panthers, and Stamkos was leading the charge with a goal and three assists for four points.

After a relatively quiet start to 2018-19, Stamkos is heating up, even if there are still some scoreless nights here and there. Wednesday’s surge represents Stamkos’ fifth multi-point game since he generated three on Oct. 30.

Tampa Bay can win in a lot of different ways, and they might need more offense here and there as Andrei Vasilevskiy heals up. A keyed-in Stamkos could make a big difference in that regard.

The Lightning needed this win to maintain their lead in the competitive Atlantic. They’ve played the same number of games (22) as the Maple Leafs and Sabres, maintaining a slim one-point lead.

2. Sidney Crosby

After anxiously awaiting a return from an upper-body injury, Crosby wasted little time in making an impact for the struggling Penguins.

Number 87 generated a goal and two assists as Pittsburgh handled the Stars on Wednesday. Crosby extended his point streak to four games (three goals, five assists for eight points) with one of his better performances of 2018-19.

Will the Penguins right the ship? Outputs like these sure provide optimism.

3. Alexandar Georgiev

The 22-year-old Rangers goalie earned the first shutout of his NHL career, making 29 stops. He’s now won four of his last five games.

There are a lot of things to point to when you explain how the surprisingly strong Rangers are winning games, but noting that they’re currently able to stay in games even when Henrik Lundqvist is getting a breather is a good place to start.

The Rangers are on a dizzying 9-1-1 tear in their last 11 games, including an active three-game winning streak. How much longer will this go before we should forget any notion of a rebuild?

Factoids

This is bad … but at least the Senators are scoring enough goals to make their stumbles more palatable to watch than some expected.

Through thick and thin, Mike Hoffman is scoring for his new team, the Panthers:

Pekka Rinne‘s been awesome so far this season, and he’s also enjoyed an outstanding career. Need more to cement that? He broke his tie with Miikka Kiprusoff for the all-time record for Finnish goalie wins:

Highlight of the Night

It’s been a tough season for the Ducks, who’ve had to lean on John Gibson way too much most nights. Still, Ryan Getzlaf alone means you can’t take them lightly, either.

Lowlight

Bad hit by Stars forward Brad Ritchie on Jusso Rikkola of the Penguins:

Scores

NJD 5, MTL 2
NYR 5, NYI 0
PIT 5, DAL 1
WAS 4, CHI 2
CAR 5, TOR 2
BUF 5, PHI 2
DET 3, BOS 2 (OT)
TBL 7, FLA 3
NSH 4, STL 1
MIN 6, OTT 4
VGK 3, ARI 2 (OT)
ANA 4, VAN 3
CGY 6, WPG 3
COL 7, LAK 3

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Flyers can’t cool off red-hot Sabres

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The Buffalo Sabres are so hot right now.

Buffalo roared to a 4-0 first period, ending Alex Lyon‘s first 2018-19 appearance for the Philadelphia Flyers early. Philly made a game of it, but the Sabres ultimately prevailed by a score of 5-2, giving Buffalo an impressive seven straight wins.

If you needed a reminder, consider that the NBCSN telecast noted that this is Buffalo’s first seven-game winning streak since October 2006.

This was Buffalo’s first sellout since opening night, and a national audience witnessed an affirming win for the Sabres.

Jeff Skinner began the scoring early, giving Buffalo a 1-0 lead just 3:38 in. Tage Thompson and Evan Rodrigues followed with goals of their own, putting the Sabres up 3-0 less than nine minutes into the game.

There were stretches during that opening frame where it felt like things might get even uglier for Alex Lyon, who appeared overmatched for a Flyers team that just isn’t enjoying any luck in net this season.

Johan Larsson showed nice touch on the 4-0 goal, but it’s also the sort that Lyon can’t yield, particularly with the Flyers already reeling:

Credit the Flyers for coming back with two goals in the second period, rather than rolling over altogether. Sure, it’s plausible that the Sabres might have relented a bit with such a lead, but Philly at least made a game of it. Jack Eichel‘s hustle helped set up Sam Reinhart‘s 5-2 empty-netter to wrap up the scoring.

Wednesday’s loss felt like a lot of the same for a Flyers team that’s been frustratingly middling, right down to the seemingly perennial headaches about goaltending.

There was one thing that was different, though: the not-quite-bullies got into their first fight of 2018-19, as Scott Laughton dropped the gloves with Larsson following his 4-0 goal.

Did that scrap spark that mini-rally for the Flyers? Believe that if you want to, but it wasn’t enough for Philly to end the Sabres’ impressive run.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Penguins get all-too-rare win in Crosby’s return

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November has been a ruthlessly brutal month for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but for one night, all felt mostly well.

Of course, the most important element was that the Penguins got a win. By edging the Dallas Stars 5-1 on Wednesday, the Penguins ended a four-game losing streak, and earned just their second win in 11 games (2-7-2).

It was about more than merely winning on Wednesday.

Sidney Crosby suiting back up was almost guaranteed to be a comfort for Pittsburgh, like Thanksgiving’s looming belly full of tryptophan. The extra gravy came in Crosby playing so well, though.

His first goal back in the lineup was quite impressive, while he finished the game with three points.

Crosby also did some great work to set the table for what was eventually a Patric Hornqvist goal:

Naturally, the Penguins’ issues don’t really revolve around their big names in Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang.

Instead, those stars haven’t been able to hoist up an increasingly soggy low-end of talent, as the likes of Matt Cullen, Riley Sheahan, and others simply haven’t been good enough.

With that in mind, it’s a promising sign that Tanner Pearson is showing early signs of being another stroke of buy-low trade brilliance for Penguins GM Jim Rutherford. After failing to score a point in his first two games with the Penguins, Pearson scored a goal to give him points in consecutive games (two goals, one assist overall). That’s a hot streak relative to what had been a shockingly abysmal season with the Kings (zero goals, one assist in 17 games).

The Penguins coughed up a 4-1 lead to fall to the Buffalo Sabres in their last game, yet they at least eked out an overtime point there, so they’ve generated some standings points after free-falling for much of the past month. Considering their struggles so far, they’ll take it.

Still, Pittsburgh has a long way to go, and you could probably argue the same for the Dallas Stars. Dallas only mustered 19 shots on goal against a Penguins defense that leaves a lot to be desired, and only managed 17 SOG as they lost to the Rangers on Monday.

[PHT Q&A with Stars coach Jim Montgomery.]

So, the Penguins beat a team that is talented-yet-struggling much like they are. And there remains a lot of work (and winning) to do to make sure they can earn a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

You can only do so much in one game, though, and the Penguins showed promise on Wednesday.

***

One other thing to watch: will Brett Ritchie be suspended for this hit on Jusso Riikola?

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Sabres host Flyers on Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers at the Buffalo Sabres at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

PROJECTED LINES

FLYERS

Claude GirouxSean CouturierTravis Konecny

Oskar LindblomNolan PatrickJakub Voracek

James van RiemsdykJordan WealWayne Simmonds

Dale WeiseScott LaughtonJori Lehtera

Ivan ProvorovRobert Hagg

Shayne GostisbehereChristian Folin

Travis SanheimRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Alex Lyon

[WATCH LIVE – 7:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

SABRES

Jeff SkinnerJack EichelJason Pominville

Tage ThompsonVladimir SobotkaSam Reinhart

Conor ShearyCasey MittelstadtKyle Okposo

Zemgus GirgensonsJohan LarssonEvan Rodrigues

Jake McCabeRasmus Ristolainen

Rasmus DahlinZach Bogosian

Nathan BeaulieuCasey Nelson

Starting goalie: Carter Hutton