It Takes Two
Different paths, same goal - Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows team up.
| They’re the Sonny and Chers, Batman and Robins, and Simon and Garfunkels of the world. They can stand alone, but as the song goes, it’s always better when they’re together. Music’s got its fair share, there’s no short supply in movies, and of course, in sports there’s a full arsenal of dynamic duos and perfect pairs.
While the Sedin twins have earned quite the reputation as a talented and terribly effective twosome in Vancouver, there’s a new duo moving on up.
“Oh, Frick and Frack,” said Canucks defenseman, Willie Mitchell. That’s Canucks slang for the team’s leading shut-down pair, Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler.
This past season, both Kesler and Burrows have stepped up as the go-to-guys for shutting down opposing, offensive juggernauts.
Last December, Sidney Crosby made his first visit to Vancouver since being drafted in 2005. He came to Van city with a boatload of hype and fanfare, and left minus-1 and without a point. Checking tandem, Kesler and Burrows had a lot to do with Crosby’s lack of scoring.
“Pittsburgh was a great game,” said Canucks centre, Ryan Kesler. “We shut down Crosby...When you shut down a guy like that of that caliber, that’s a pretty good achievement by both of us.”
More impressively, Kesler and Burrows both left that game with a point in hand and a plus-1.
While emerging as checking specialists, the pair are both on pace to post career numbers in goals and assists. Kesler eclipsed his previous career with a game-winner against the New York Rangers Jan. 3.08, and he’s three off his career-high in assists with 20 games left to play. Burrows topped his career-high in goals, Feb. 16, and has more than doubled his previous output in assists already.
Frick and Frack had their own explanations for the seemingly newfound scoring touches.
“Well…first of all our main role is to shut down the other team’s top line as a checking line. That’s what we want to do every night—make sure they don’t get on the score sheet so we have a good chance to win the game. But obviously those guys, they like to cheat offensively and if we play well defensively we’ll get our chances offensively,” said Alex Burrows.
The formula sounds simple enough, but in most cases it’s easier said than done.
“It’s a fine line. Some nights you’re not going to get anything offensively because that’s just the night it is and you’ve got to worry about your own end. Other nights you’re going to get a lot of chances. And I think the nights we get a lot of chances are when they’re cheating offensively and we’re frustrating them and it gives us a little better jump on them,” said Kesler.
Lately the other teams have cheated their way out of a handful of games. Kesler has seven goals since the New Year, including a two-goal effort against the league-leading Detroit Red Wings. Burrows has five to his credit in that span to go with his six assists.
While they were able to fly under the radar in seasons past, the increase in scoring has resulted in more media coverage than ever.
“It’s funny how scoring goals is the thing always at the end of the day that players get recognition from,” said Mitchell. “There are a lot of things [Burr] does without the puck that are extremely important for our team. Kes is much the same.”
One of those things has caught the eye of fans lately. Both Burrows and Kesler have shown a willingness to man up and drop the gloves when the bell rings.
For Burrows, squaring off hasn’t been so much about his own frustration, but loyalty.
“It’s just a matter of sticking up for my teammates. In training camp I did the same. I’m just trying to help the guys. If something happens I’ll be the first one to jump in there to help my teammates,” said Burrows.
Like when Minnesota Wild forward, Brian Rolston took a run at Willie Mitchell, Burrows stepped in. But sometimes it’s just a result of the gritty, in-your-face style of play that characterizes Burrows and Kesler.
"When [Burr] does [fight], he usually sticks up for someone or he ticks a guy off so much on the other team that they just start fighting with him. Just like in Tampa Bay when Lecavalier fought him, and when Ribeiro fought him two nights later. I think that’s something that’s a good trade off for us when we have Lecavalier going off with Burr. Not to take anything away from Alex, but Vinny’s a great player and when you get him off the ice for five minutes, that’s key,” said Kesler.
Despite the scoring and willingness to drop the gloves, many across the league still label the pair as pests. A label that’s not lost on the gritty forwards, but not costing them any sleep at night either.
“I think being a pest is a compliment. For me at least,” said Kesler. “I don’t think a lot of guys in this league like being played hard and the kind of in-your-face style that me and Burr play. It frustrates guys and that’s when you get high-end [players] like Lecavalier, and I guess Jokinen and Ribeiro fighting—something they normally don’t do. I think that’s when we’re at our best and when we tend to get those guys off their game.”
Kesler played a role at keeping Jokinen off his game in the Feb. 1 contest. The two exchanged blows and Jokinen, the leading scorer for the Panthers, left the game with just one powerplay assist.
It’s that ability to get under opponents’ skin that makes the pair so effective, but hasn’t earned them any friends.
“If people want to call me [a pest], that’s alright,” said Burrows. “If they say they don’t want to be my friends, they don’t like me or something, I’ve got enough friends back home or in this locker room, so it doesn’t bother me.”
One of those friends is none other than his checking counterpart, Kesler. The two roomed together on the road last year and have skated alongside one another almost since day one. Though both skaters took remarkably different paths to the NHL (Kesler was drafted in the first round and Burrows got his start in the ECHL), the duo seems to have hit stride at the same time. And that’s made all the difference.
9 - Goals for Burrows this season (career-high)
16 - Goals for Kesler in 2007-08 (career-high)
5 - Career game winning goals for Burrows (19 career goals total)
54.2 - Kesler's faceoff percentage through 61 games (1st on the team and 23rd overall in the NHL)
Alex Burrows Highlights
Ryan Kesler Highlights