The Stanley Cup playoffs are a narrative-driven product.
From a narrative perspective, the responsibility of stopping the young phenom falls on the shoulders of one man: Ryan Kesler.
Good or bad, the outcome of that matchup will be more closely attached to Kesler’s reputation than either of his linemates.
Anyone who follows the game, though, knows that Andrew Cogliano and Jakob Silfverberg will have just as much of an influence as Kesler here.
In fact, it’s up for debate who’s really driving the success of that line. Kesler’s numbers were declining in his final years in Vancouver, yet magically resuscitated when he arrived to Anaheim and was paired with Silfverberg and Cogliano.
Anyway, I’m not here to make an argument on the legitimacy of Kesler’s 2017 Selke candidate. But the broader context is worth noting, and the heavy role that the two wingers will play will be just as critical as the 32-year old center.
Carlyle will hard match Kesler with the McDavid line all series long, just as he did throughout the regular season. If we’re to put any stock into the regular season, then that situation might not be so rosy for Anaheim.
With Kesler on the ice against McDavid in 50 minutes of even strength play, the Ducks posted a paltry 43 percent Corsi and an absolutely abysmal 25 percent goals for percentage.
Those numbers aren’t pretty any way you look at it. With a full-on series to hone in McDavid’s every move, however, then perhaps Anaheim can be more effective in slowing down.
If the Ducks proved anything in round one, it’s that they can get opposing players frustrated out of their minds. Johnny Gaudreau was visibly irate towards the end of the series, and Ryan Getzlaf’s physicality goaded Dougie Hamilton into taking a crucial penalty.
Kesler will undoubtedly be in McDavid’s hair all series long. If the Edmonton star snaps even once, leading to an Anaheim penalty, then the veteran’s antics will have been worthwhile.
What’s unfortunate with the whole “Kesler versus McDavid” narrative is that it discounts the possibility that Josh Manson could have a massive hand in all of this.
Manson — one of the lone Ducks who had a good first round from a puck possession perspective — will surely be heavily deployed by Carlyle. He’s struggled as well against McDavid this season, but you have to think that he would elevate his game if he was completely honed in on that assignment.
Of course, there’s really no way to stop a player of McDavid’s ilk. But if Anaheim can at least limit him — without coming at the expense of their own offense — then they should have a real chance to advance.