Everyone in the Pacific Division has now played in at least ten games, and I’m here to break down what is the most interesting division in all of hockey this season. The Sharks are on fire, the Kings, Ducks, Coyotes, and Canucks are all playing well. The Flames have been quite surprising early, and the Oilers who most expected to finally make something of this season have done next to nothing.
The Pacific is tight, the entire Western Conference is tight for that matter. The Pacific is separated by only four points in the top five teams. If the season were to end right now, all five of those teams, San Jose, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Anaheim would all make the playoffs, leaving only the top three teams from the Central to compete for their seeds.
A+ Starting with the San Jose Sharks who have started the season exactly how they would have liked to, the Sharks have points in nine of their ten games, posting a record of 8-1-1, seventeen points, and that’s good enough for first place in the entire Western Conference. San Jose’s high powered offense has been hard to stop this season, they rank first in the NHL with 41 goals for. Antti Niemi is off to a Vezina Trophy type season, playing in every minute of the Sharks season so far, Niemi has a goals against average of 1.68, and a save percentage of .927%. The Sharks are also third in the NHL with goals against sitting at 18, with a league best +23 goal differential. The Sharks goal differential alone is larger than the amount of goals scored by the Nashville Predators, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils, and the Buffalo Sabres. San Jose remains unbeaten on their home ice, posting a record of 5-0-0, as long as the Sharks can continue to play well away from home they’re going to have a successful season. Could the Sharks finally be in route to the Stanley Cup Finals?
B+ In second place in the Pacific Division is the newly appointed head coach John Tortorella and his Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks have fought off a tough road schedule to start the season and have done well while playing away from Rogers Arena. The Canucks hold a record of 5-2-1 away from home, helping sustain their overall record of 7-4-1. The Canucks have started their season well, and look to continue building on the early success they’ve found in such a tough division. Vancouver is lucky enough to have played the San Jose Sharks twice already this season, they lost both contests, but won both of their other divisional games against the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers. Five of the seven wins the Canucks have this season were by only one goal, while their four regulation losses were all two goal losses or more. Roberto Luongo has played well in net so far this season, and the Canucks offense has been led my Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin. Coming to no surprise, the Sedin twins are off to a great start combining for seven goals and nineteen assists between the two of them. Vancouver has the skill to compete in this division, but will they be able to keep it up under Tortorella for an entire season and into the playoffs?
A- The third place Anaheim Ducks stumbled in their first game of the season being blown out by the Colorado Avalanche but turned around and won seven straight games. The Ducks were able to stay on course for a while, but may have hit another speed bump, losing their last two games. This happens though, I don’t want to read too much into it since the Ducks are still sitting in third place in the toughest division in the NHL with a 7-3-0 record. The Ducks are still perfect on home ice this season with a 5-0-0 record, and the offense has been solid. The Ducks first line continues to be their main source of offense, but they have been able to get help from their depth forwards as well. Jonas Hiller has played well in the absence of Viktor Fasth while he’s been out injured, and the defense has done a decent job of keeping the pressure away from their own net. The Ducks were one of my favorites to come out of the Pacific on top this season, but unless the Sharks slow down sometime soon, they might have to settle for second or third place. Either way, second or even third place won’t come easily, and they’ll have to continue to win games in bunches.
B- The Los Angeles Kings are sitting in fourth place of the Pacific Division at the moment. The Kings started the season a bit sloppy, but since have cleaned up their game and gotten back to winning in ways that we all expect. Jonathan Quick hasn’t been stellar so far this season, but has plenty of time to get into his groove, and while he’s still finding it, the Kings are scoring goals and keeping the Kings in games so there isn’t as big of a rush as maybe there should be to get him into midseason form. The Kings have been led by Jeff Carter‘s five goals on fifty-one shots, and Anze Kopitar‘s ridiculous playmaking abilities to rack up ten assists already this season. The Kings have scored three short handed goals already this season, the third coming last night against the Phoenix Coyotes. Mike Richards took the puck from Radim Vrbata in the neutral zone and skated off all alone on Mike Smith to score short handed, it even ended up being the game winning goal, and the turning point for the Kings to take back over the game. The Kings are off to a good start and will look to continue to play well down the stretch.
B- The Phoenix Coyotes are sitting in fifth place in the Pacific at the moment, but they’ve played really good hockey this season. The games I have seen they’re hard on the puck and always look hungry. They took what appeared to be quite a beating from the Kings last night, but they rallied from a two goal deficit before Richards netted his short handed game winner. The Coyotes are 6-3-2 so far this season. The offense has been there, scoring 35 goals, the defense just has to lock down their opponents a little better. They’ve surrendered an equal 35 goals to opponents. Mike Smith can’t be blamed completely for this, I’ve seen him stand on his head time and time again for the Yotes. The defensive breakdowns and turnovers lead to goals, everyone knows that. All in all, Dave Tippett has done a good job with his Coyotes squad this season, but they still have a few things to work on if they want to keep up in the chase for a playoff spot at the end of the season.
C+ The Calgary Flames have been a huge surprise for me this season, and I’m sure I can’t be the only one to say that. The Flames have found offense when I thought they would struggle mightily. The defense hasn’t been superb, and the goaltending hasn’t been great either, but the offense has been enough to keep them in games and earn them a record of 4-4-2. I don’t think the Flames will be able to keep up with the rest of the division this season, but they’ve definitely made things interesting to start the season. In recent news, the Flames opted to keep Sean Monahan in the NHL instead of sending him back to the junior level after his nine game tryout had concluded. Monahan was selected sixth overall this past summer, and has been exceptional for the Flames. I really enjoy watching him play and am excited to see him for the rest of the year. The Flames keeping Monahan within the organization has to say something though, right? Do they think they can compete for a playoff spot? This was a team that was entering the stages of a rebuild after trading Jay Bouwmeester and Jarome Iginla, and losing Miikka Kiprusoff to retirement last season.
D- The Edmonton Oilers are a hot mess in Canada right now. The Oilers have been less than great to start the season, and their record of 3-7-1 unfortunately directly reflects their play on the ice. Goaltending has been a huge issue, and even a topic within many trade rumors. The defense has been absolutely no help to Devan Dubnyk and his cause to keep the net for himself, and Edmonton has been searching for a defenseman in the market as well to start the season. It’s probably still too soon for any general managers to pull the trigger on a trade, but if a trade were to be done soon, I would guess it would be something on the back end in Edmonton. There’s still work to do with the Oilers, and many, even Mark Messier, believed the work in rebuilding the franchise was concluded. Not so fast Mark, you’re forgetting about the other side of the blue line. You need players to protect your own net, and until Edmonton finds the missing piece to the puzzle, they’re going to continue losing, and they’re going to stay right where they’re at in the standings: last place in the West.
Tags: Anaheim Ducks Antti Niemi Anze Kopitar Calgary Flames Daniel Sedin Dave Tippett Devan Dubnyk Edmonton Oilers Henrik Sedin Jarome Iginla Jay Bouwmeester Jeff Carter Jonas Hiller Jonathan Quick Los Angeles Kings Mark Messier Mike Richards Mike Smith Mikka Kiprusoff Pacific Division Phoenix Coyotes Radim Vrbata Roberto Luongo San Jose Sharks Vancouver Canucks Viktor Fasth Western Conference