Ryan Kesler is the Anaheim Ducks’ go-to defensive center for every situation. In fact, the NHL veteran was nominated for the Frank. J. Selke as the league’ top defensive centerman for the fourth time in his career. However, if you ask players around the league, he’s not just known for his ability to break up scoring chances.
The Ducks’ secret weapon plays an antagonizing style of play that has seemed to get under the skin of multiple elite players over the years. When he doesn’t have the puck, he is likely found checking you behind the play, getting his stick up or generally taking liberties on anyone he can get his hands on — especially the opposing team’s top player.
Last series, it was NHL superstar Connor McDavid who was on the receiving end. The Edmonton captain tallied just five points in the seven-game series, which the Ducks eventually won. McDavid was held to no points and only four shots on goal in the final two games of the series.
This series, it’s Nashville top-line center Ryan Johansen feeling Kesler’s wrath. And it’s clear he doesn’t enjoy it.
“I mean, it just blows my mind watching,” Johansen said after the Predators’ 5-3 loss in Game 2. “I don’t know what’s going through his head over there. Like, his family and his friends watching him play, I don’t know how you can cheer for a guy like that. It just doesn’t make sense how he plays the game. I’m just trying to go out there and play hockey, and it sucks when you’ve got to pull a stick out of your groin every shift.
“He doesn’t do anything that makes sense. He thinks he’s getting under guys’ skin, but I don’t know what he’s doing.”
The Ducks were the home team in the first two games of the series, allowing Anaheim head coach Randy Carlyle to match the Predators’ top line with Kesler’s line. Johansen saw a lot of Kesler through the first two games, which resulted in numerous exchanges between the two forwards. One included Kesler’s elbow finding Johansen’s head, while another saw Johansen’s stick meet Kesler’s face.
“I play the game hard, and obviously he doesn’t like that,” Kesler said in response.
Last year, the National Post polled NHL players as to who is the dirtiest player to play against, as well as who is the dirtiest player in the league. Kesler ranked among the top of both polls.
Despite his aggravating play, the 2010-11 Selke winner has never received an NHL suspension. He’s reached 100 penalty minutes in a season only once in his career (2009-10, 104), and he has 28 penalty minutes this postseason, which is tied for second among all players and is first among players from the remaining four teams.
Johansen racked up two assists in the Predators’ 3-2 overtime victory in Game 1, but Kesler was not on the ice for either. The former Columbus Blue Jackets draft pick is tied for sixth in postseason points (13), which leads Nashville.
Game 3 tilts to Bridgestone Arena in downtown Nashville, which will allow Predators head coach Peter Laviolette the last change. His game plan will be to get Johansen on the ice when Kesler won’t be. The battle begins at 8 pm EST / 7 pm CDT.
Don’t miss when this war of words returns to a war on the ice.
Stay tuned with the Everything Hockey blog for coverage throughout the playoffs, including previews and predictions for each round.
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