This is probably the eighth Ryan Kesler/Connor McDavid matchup article you’ve read this postseason. Not to mention all the articles you have probably seen with a couple of paragraphs devoted to this epic battle.
We’re beating a dead horse, you say?
So why read this one, you ask?
This is an epic clash of a Selke finalist vs. arguably the most exciting young player to come along in a generation.
The story of the heir-apparent to Sidney Crosby as the best hockey player on the planet trying to find success against one of the NHL’s most infuriating skaters to play against is one of triumph, heartbreak, frustration, and soiled pants.
Who doesn’t want to read this story?
Not too shabby.
Although when you realize that McDavid is a point-per-game player or better against 22 out of the 30 other NHL teams in his brief career, it puts that number into perspective.
The bottom line? Very few teams have been able to slow down Connor McDavid.
This is why Ryan Kesler, the agile agitator, will need to limit his chances and get under his skin if the Ducks are going to neutralize the Oilers.
Kesler has averaged almost 10 minutes of ice time per night against McDavid, according to TSN’s Travis Yost. A lot of this is due to the fact that Randy Carlyle is head-over-heels in love with the matchup game, possibly more so than any other coach in the league.
Yost also notes that Kesler’s line has controlled only 46% of the shots against the McDavid line, which actually isn’t too bad considering the level of talent they are playing.
While linemates Andrew Cogliano and Jakob Silfverberg are outstanding defensive forwards who can help contain him, it’s Kesler that is tasked with hanging on his every move. The Ducks having last change at home for the majority of the game means that Kesler’s ice time should come close to matching McDavid’s.
Every faceoff he takes, Kesler will be there to cheat a bit and throw him off. Kesler finished the regular season with a 57.4% faceoff win percentage, good for 7th in the NHL. McDavid, on the other hand, finished with a measly 43.2%, good for 95th in the league.
It’s not just the faceoffs. Watch any Ducks vs. Oilers game and take your eyes away from the puck for a few seconds to watch McDavid. Kesler is almost always giving him extra shoves, crosschecks, and slashes behind the play.
The entire point of this is to get one of the best players on the planet to lose focus and become more concerned with physically getting back at Kesler rather than play-making and scoring.
To be honest, I would not be surprised if Kesler attempts to get McDavid to drop the gloves if he can rile him up enough.
Don’t believe he can do it? Let me present to you the Ryan Kesler vs. Jonathan Towes fight that almost was:
If Kesler can get Captain Serious to drop the mitts, who says he wouldn’t be able to get a 20-year-old in his first NHL playoffs to do it too?
So what is the secret to stopping McDavid?
Perhaps the best answer is for Kesler to do what he does best: walk the line between dirty and pest. Try to infuriate McDavid so much to the point that he loses focus and cannot generate scoring chances.
As McDavid goes, so do the Oilers. Edmonton simply does not have the scoring depth to survive McDavid being pissed off and losing his cool.
Carlyle knows this. Kesler knows this. The rest of the Ducks know this.
Expect to see the referees breaking up a lot of scrums with Kesler and McDavid in the middle. And hope no one gets hurt in the process.