The ageless wonder, Ray “Wizard” Whitney is getting a lot of attention after scoring the gamewinning goal in overtime of the first game of round one, and for good reason. Whitney is just shy of his 40th birthday, yet is coming off one of the best seasons of his career and is an offensive leader for the hard-working Coyotes. It’s tough to imagine Whitney retiring after putting up 77 points while playing all 82 games, but a long playoff run would be a fine culmination of his career.
Whitney’s two-point night on Friday was capped off by the OT winner, where he made like a savvy veteran and slipped to the front of the net off a faceoff, kicked Martin Hanzal’s pass up to his stick and tipped the puck past Pekka Rinne. The goal happened so quickly that it was almost unbelievable the game was over.
He wasn’t the only player with 2 points for the Coyotes, however. Rostislav “Rusty” Klesla also put up a goal and an assist, increasing his point total in the postseason to 6 points in 7 games, leading not only the Coyotes in scoring, but all NHL defencemen. As Michael Bluth might say, “Him?”
Okay, technically Klesla is tied for the team lead in points with Antoine Vermette, who also has 6 points, but he holds sole possession of the top spot among NHL defencemen. It’s definitely an odd sight. I have nothing against Klesla, by any means, who is a solid top-four defenceman with a great slap shot that he doesn’t use anywhere near enough, but he’s definitely not the type of guy you look to for offensive production.
Sidenote: I have long harboured a secret wish for Rostislav Klesla, Ryan Kesler, and Phil Kessel to all end up on the same team at some point in their careers and combine on a goal while Bob Cole was doing the play-by-play.
In 65 regular season games for the Coyotes, Klesla scored 13 points. That’s a respectable number, particularly considering his shutdown role on the team, but it placed him tied for 133rd in the NHL in scoring from defencemen. It’s not his job to score: it’s to face the best the opposition has to offer and battle them to a standstill.
No defenceman on the Coyotes started more in the defensive zone this season than Klesla and he faced the toughest competition among Coyotes’ defencemen as well. In addition, he led all Coyotes’ defencemen in time on ice on the penalty kill, got no powerplay time, and spent most of his ice time blocking shots: 150 of them, leading the Coyotes in that category by nearly 60.
His usage in those tough situations enabled the offensively-minded Keith Yandle to face the weakest competition and start more often in the offensive zone than all other Coyotes’ defencemen this season. That’s a big part of Yandle putting up 43 points this season, his third straight 40+ point season.
Klesla, on the other hand, has a career-high of 22 points from 2006-07 with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He played 75 games that season. He already has 6 points in the postseason in just 7 games, nearly halfway to his regular season total from this year and on a pace to beat his career best 22 regular season points if the Coyotes go all four rounds. Of course, his scoring is extremely unlikely to continue at this rate. Leopards that go to bed with spots usually wake up with spots the next morning.
That said, it’s the playoffs: weird things happen.
One reason that it might continue is that he’s getting more shots on net than usual. He averaged 1.34 shots per game during the regular season. He has 16 shots in 7 games, a neat little jump up to 2.29 per game. In his career year, he averaged 2.12 shots per game, scoring a career-high 9 goals. As Justin Bourne pointed out not too long ago, if you’re getting a lot of shots, that’s usually a good sign that you’re going to get more points.
He’s also getting more than a bit lucky. Take a look at Klesla’s goal against the Predators on Friday night at the top of the page. It’s an attempted centring pass that hits the sprawled out Roman Josi and sits neatly in the crease, waiting for Klesla to poke it into the open net. That’s definitely a nice piece of luck, but he also deserves credit for his aggressive pinch down the boards that created the scoring chance. Some credit has to be given to luck for scoring streaks, but luck can breed confidence as well.
Here’s another thing: all of his scoring has come at even-strength. The only other defenceman in the top-10 in playoff scoring who can make that claim is Andrew Ference, who had a goal and 3 assists in the first round. The rest all have scored some of their points on the powerplay.
Game one of the Coyotes/Predators series caught people off guard, as it was predicted to be a tight, low-scoring series featuring two impressive goaltenders and two teams known for their defensive systems. Instead, the two teams combined for 7 goals, thanks in part to Rostislav Klesla, the offensive juggernaut.