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Ryan Kesler is back, but not all the way

Ryan Kesler is back, but not all the way
Ducks' Ryan Kesler, right, shoots past Vegas Golden Knights center Jonathan Marchessault during the second period on Dec. 27. (Chris Carlson / Associated Press)

Ryan Kesler was back in the fold Wednesday night, a welcome sight for a Ducks squad that has been battered by injuries all season.

When the familiar No. 17 jersey was being strewn around in the thick of a brouhaha behind Vegas Golden Knights goalie Malcolm Subban early in the game, the Ducks could finally breathe a sigh of relief: He's back.

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Agitating antics aside, Kesler wasn't truly himself in the 4-1 defeat against the Golden Knights on Wednesday. The 33-year-old admitted as much.

He logged more than 16 minutes of ice time in his first game of the season, played on both special teams units and registered three shots, but he also produced a game-worst minus-3 rating. That's especially uncharacteristic for a man who once won the Selke Trophy, awarded to the NHL's best defensive forward.

And for a long time, Kesler has been exactly that for the Ducks. His ability to lock down the opposing team's best player should pay dividends for the team down the stretch as they try to secure a sixth consecutive Pacific Division crown, but it's going to take some time for the center to find his game.

After all, this was his first game, 38 games into the season, after he underwent offseason hip surgery.

"It felt good. Obviously, a little rusty," said Kesler, who was forced to learn to stride again after 14 weeks on crutches. "I said my reads were probably going to be a little off, and they were.

"But I think as the game went on, I kind of settled in. It was nice to get Silvy [Jakob Silfverberg] and Cogs [Andrew Cogliano] back together. Get the old line back together. After that happened, I thought we put together a couple good shifts."

Kesler began the game centering Cogliano and Chris Wagner, but coach Randy Carlyle switched the units up mid-game and reunited the familiar No. 2 line. Wagner was moved down and played alongside Adam Henrique and Kevin Roy.

Carlyle wouldn't commit to keeping the Cogliano-Kesler-Silfverberg line together Friday against the Calgary Flames, but it's clear the Ducks need to find something that works.

Kesler suggested one solution: "We gotta start playing mean." And there's no better player to lead that charge.

That nasty streak Kesler so often exhibits should benefit the Ducks as they push for precious points in an attempt to contend with teams like the first-place Golden Knights.

He also provides valued leadership and the "A" was back on his sweater. Cam Fowler maintained his status as alternate captain, but he'll probaly relinquish that honor once Corey Perry returns from a lower-body injury.

And soon, the Ducks hope opposing players will be relinquish pucks to Kesler too.

UP NEXT

DUCKS VS. CALGARY FLAMES

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When: Friday, 7 p.m..

On the air: TV: Fox Sports West; Radio: 830.

Update: This is the first meeting between the clubs since the Flames shut out the Ducks at Honda Center in the third game of the season, 2-0, behind a 43-save performance from Mike Smith. Since then, the former All-Star goalie has continued to impress in his first season in Calgary with a .919 save percentage and a 2.53 goals-against-average. … Rickard Rakell extended his goal streak to three onWednesday, and leads the Ducks with 11 goals. … Center Dennis Rasmussen was placed on waivers Thursday to make room for Kesler. The 27-year-old Swede signed with the Ducks over the summer after two seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks. He played in 27 games this season with one goal and three assists. … Andy Welinski, who was a healthy scratch Wednesday, remains with the big club after making his NHL debut this season.

sports@latimes.com

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