ANAHEIM, Calif. — Connor McDavid is about to get to know Ryan Kesler very well.
When the Edmonton Oilers visit the Anaheim Ducks for their second-round playoff opener on Wednesday night at Honda Center, all eyes will be on the Oilers’ 20-year-old superstar and the Ducks’ All-Star centre, who is usually assigned to stop the world’s best players.
“(Kesler) has been up for the Selke (Trophy) for however many years in a row, so that speaks for itself,” McDavid said. “He understands his defensive role.”
Kesler centres the Ducks’ shutdown line alongside Jakob Silfverberg and Andrew Cogliano. After a fairly quiet playoff debut in the first round against San Jose, McDavid and regular linemate Leon Draisaitl are about to be tested by that trio in even more taxing ways.
“They’re playing against probably the best defensive line in all of the NHL,” said Edmonton’s Patrick Maroon, who was traded by the Ducks 14 months ago.
McDavid had just two goals — one an empty-netter — and two assists in six games against the Sharks, scoring just one point at even strength. Edmonton ran through the defending conference champions anyway, while the Ducks were impressively steady in a four-game sweep of Calgary.
While many NHL teams hesitate to match lines these days, particularly in the amplified intensity of the post-season, Ducks coach Randy Carlyle has been doing it all year with Kesler’s line. He intends to get his veteran trio on the ice early and often against McDavid, even when the Oilers have the last change in Edmonton.
“We all want to play against the best players and have the toughest matchups,” Silfverberg said. “(McDavid) is a fast skater, and he’s good with the puck. It’s going to be a challenge for everybody.”
Here are more things to watch when the clubs meet in the post-season for the first time since the 2006 Western Conference finals, back when Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry were wide-eyed rookies:
ON A ROLL: Anaheim hasn’t lost a game in regulation since March 10 while winning its fifth consecutive Pacific Division title, but the Ducks finished just two points ahead of the Oilers. They had to hold off Edmonton down the stretch for the division title and home ice. While the Ducks are an established playoff contender just two seasons removed from Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, the Oilers are in the post-season for the first time in 11 years.
ON THE WING: The Ducks’ top three defencemen all have injuries, but the blue line group could be back to full strength soon. Anaheim routed Calgary even though All-Star Cam Fowler didn’t play and Sami Vatanen was limited to one game. Hampus Lindholm also didn’t finish Game 4 due to an upper-body injury. After a week of rest and practice, Fowler and Lindholm are optimistic about returning for Game 1, but must be approved by doctors. “We’re looking at the possibility of having all three players back,” Carlyle said.
YOUTH IN REVOLT?: McDavid, Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse are all under 23 years old, leading Edmonton to be labeled as a youthful powerhouse. Carlyle won’t allow his veteran club to see the Oilers as youngsters, however. “I don’t look at them as a young team,” he said. “they’re not young. They have some very good young players, one specifically in McDavid that stands out, a young defenceman in Nurse that stands out … but after that, they’ve got a lot of veteran talent.”
OLD FRIENDS: The Ducks will get a reunion with Maroon, who started his NHL career in Anaheim and played on a line with Getzlaf and Perry. He fell out of favour with the Ducks and was traded for a fourth-round pick and a prospect, but he has revitalized his career with a 42-point season for the Oilers.
DRAISAITL’S TIME: McDavid is the star, but his German linemate has a knack for wounding the Ducks. Draisaitl scored six goals in five games against Anaheim this season, including two game-winners in overtime.