Carson Babbini | December 23rd, 2018
As the calendar flips over to 2019, the NHL season is heating up, and the division races are getting closer. One division that is tightly contested as we head into the new year is the Pacific Division. In our analysis of each division, it’s time to take a look at the Pacific Division.
Currently, in the first Wild Card spot in the conference, the Anaheim Ducks are an interesting team with a -14 goal differential, the worst of any team sitting in a playoff spot in the conference so far. One of the biggest blows to the Ducks this season is the loss of Corey Perry after undergoing surgery to repair a meniscus and MCL injury in his right knee. Replacing a player of Perry’s caliber is difficult, but the Ducks made an effort by acquiring Daniel Sprong from the Pittsburgh Penguins. They also made a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs to acquire Adam Cracknell, who is a gritty forward and a veteran presence for the team. However, when talking about the Ducks, John Gibson is always a part of the conversation, and this year is no different. Gibson once again is having an outstanding year with a 2.52 GAA and a .926 save percentage in his 31 appearances this year, with 30 starts. With Anaheim’s several other injuries to key players such as Cam Fowler however, it’s hard to tell the Ducks’ true potential in the division when they aren’t healthy. But if they can stay in this position once Fowler and Perry are fully healthy, the Ducks will be a team that could be poised to make a deep playoff run.
It may be a slow process, but the Arizona Coyotes are moving in the right direction. After making the trade with the Chicago Blackhawks, acquiring Nick Schmaltz for a very high price of the former third overall pick of the 2015 NHL Draft, Dylan Strome, and former fourth overall pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, Brendan Perlini, the Coyotes are winning the trade early on. Schmaltz is producing in bunches so far for the Coyotes, with 11 points in 13 games with the organization. So far, they are winning this trade handsomely. However, their goaltending situation could easily give cause for concern among Coyotes fans. Their regular starter, Antti Raanta, is out for, potentially, the rest of the season. While they have a good rotation of goaltenders including recent waiver claim Calvin Pickard, Darcy Kuemper, who will be coming back from an injury of his own soon, and Adin Hill, it’s hard to replace Raanta’s veteran experience. While the Coyotes are a team that most don’t see as very threatening, they are a team that could be a dark horse to make the playoffs.
One of the bigger surprises in the league this year, the Calgary Flames currently lead the Pacific Divison with a record of 22-12-3. One big reason that the Flames are doing well is the efforts of their captain, Mark Giordano who already has 35 points in 35 games played. Last year, Giordano had 38 points at the end of the season, so he is well on his way to passing that number, and perhaps having a repeat of his 2015-16 year where he had 56 points at the end of the season. They also have one of the better defenses in the league, with a team GAA of 2.65, which is good enough for eighth best in the league. With multiple other contributors like Johnny Gaudreau with 48 points in 37 games, trade acquisition Elias Lindholm with 39 points in 37 games, among others, Calgary is a team that will be a force to be reckoned with in the Pacific.
What a difference a year makes. After falling short of the playoffs last year at 36-40-6 after a stellar 2016-17 season finishing with a record of 47-26-9, the Edmonton Oilers are tied with the Dallas Stars for the second Wild Card spot with an 18-14-3 record, which gives them 39 points. With the Vancouver Canucks only one point behind them, the Oilers will need to continue to have the strong play they’ve been exhibiting as of late, going 6-3-1 in their last ten games. One big reason for their strong play has been the emergence of goaltender Mikko Koskinen who has cemented himself into the starting role over Cam Talbot. After spending six years overseas, Koskinen has come back to the NHL with force. With a record of 11-5-1, a GAA of 2.34 and a .925 save percentage, he has been a big reason for the turnaround of the team.
One other major change the Oilers have made is firing head coach Todd McLellan after the team started the season 9-10-1. In the interim, Ken Hitchcock is now behind the bench and has gone 9-5-2 since taking over the Oilers. Hitchcock has installed the necessary coaching changes to lead this team, at least for this year. Led by captain Connor McDavid, who continues to be one of the best players in the NHL with 52 points in 35 games for far, as well as large contributions from Leon Draisaitl, who has 43 points in 36 games, and a resurgent Ryan Nugent-Hopkins contributing 33 points in 36 games, the Oilers will be an interesting team to watch once again this season.
Los Angeles Kings
To say that the Los Angeles Kings have struggled this year would be a massive understatement. The team that just last year went to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and just four years ago won the Stanley Cup itself now sits near the bottom of the NHL, with a record of 13-20-3 and a -27 goal differential. They’ve tried to change this trend by firing their head coach John Stevens, after starting the season 4-8-1 and replacing him with former Vancouver Canucks coach Willie Desjardins. Since Desjardins took over, the Kings have improved somewhat going 9-12-2 under their new coach.
One thing that has really hurt the Kings this year is the play and the ongoing health concerns of goaltender Jonathan Quick. After healing from a torn meniscus and the subsequent surgery, Quick has only appeared in 13 games for the Kings this season with a 4-8-2 record, a 3.06 GAA, and a .900 save percentage. Across the three goalies used by the Kings this season including Quick, Jack Campbell, who is on his way back from surgery of his own, and Cal Peterson, they have a combined 2.74 GAA which is fourteenth best in the NHL in that category. The Kings this year, in general, have been a team plagued by injuries as well. With several players having spent time on the IR including free agent signing Ilya Kovalchuk, trade acquisition Carl Hagelin, and many others, have hurt this team immensely. The rebuild may be at hand for the Kings, and this season will prove to be a painful one for Kings fans.
San Jose Sharks
For the San Jose Sharks, their offense has been a crucial reason for their great start early on this year. Tied for seventh in the NHL in GPG (Goals Per Game) at 3.3 on average, the Sharks are, as they have been in the past, an offensively minded team. However, their big acquisition was the trade to land All-Star defenseman Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators to go along with Brent Burns and Marc Edouard-Vlasic, two All-Stars themselves on the blue line. While the team is also seventeenth in the league in GAA with 2.81 goals against per game, it has been the amount of offense that has given them the edge. Timo Meier has been a big help this year putting up 34 points in 34 games, which puts him two points away from his career high of 36 last year. Needless to say, Meier will have a new career high in points this year. With Logan Couture being an offensive powerhouse as well, with 36 points in 37 games, the Sharks are well on their way to the playoffs currently sitting in second place, only three points behind Calgary for the lead in the Pacific Division. Look for the Sharks to make a good run again this year.
In their first year without the Sedin twins, the Canucks have had an up and down year to start, but find themselves only one point out of a playoff spot. A big reason for the Canucks’ offensive output is the performance of Elias Pettersson who has been outstanding in his rookie year with 36 points in 33 games. One thing the Canucks will need to improve is their defensive efforts. Their GAA is tied for eighth worst in the league at 3.00 and their two goalies, Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson are separated by just .14 in their GAAs, 2.87 and 3.01 respectively. Their goal scoring is thirteenth best in the NHL with 3.1 goals scored per game. If the Canucks want to get in that playoff position, the defense needs to get better, and they will need to help out their goaltenders. With the young core the Canucks have including Pettersson, a resurgent Bo Horvat, and wonderkid Brock Boeser, they will make the playoff race in the division much more interesting.
Vegas Golden Knights
The Cinderella story has taken a hit this year but continues somewhat as the Vegas Golden Knights currently hold the third division spot with a record of 20-15-3. One big reason for their continued success has once again been the exquisite play of Marc-Andre Fleury who has gone 20-10-3 with a .907 save percentage and a 2.61 GAA. Fleury has once again been phenomenal and will most certainly be considered for the Vezina trophy. Their penalty kill is also among the best in the league, ranked fourth in the league at 84.1 percent. William Karlsson has continued to be the team’s main source of offense, with 29 points in 38 games, and Alex Tuch has emerged as well with 26 points in 30 games. The Golden Knights may have fallen a little bit from their Western Conference championship run, but they will no doubt make noise in the playoffs once again.
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