The Pacific Division Race in the NHL

Nickolas Loza | March 9th, 2020

In the NHL’s Pacific Division, it’s been a bumpy ride all year long, with the top of the division and fifth place in the division being separated by only eight points. The contending teams are The Vegas Golden Knights, the Edmonton Oilers, the Calgary Flames, the Vancouver Canucks, and the Arizona Coyotes. All of those teams are in order from division leader to fifth. Only three teams can make it to the playoffs as a division qualifier, and one or two could make it as a wild card qualifier. It’s time to map out who will make it and who will falter down the stretch.

The Las Vegas Golden Knights are in the division lead currently, but only by two points. This is in large part due to the fact that they went on an eight-game win streak, where they dominated because of team balance, which is their strength. They have four 20-goal scorers, and they have six players with 40 or more points. Their lead goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has done an admirable job this season, but he hasn’t been as sharp as he has his past two seasons with a goals-against-average of 2.79. The Knights have a tough next couple of games ahead against the rival Flames and Oilers. These two games will be absolutely essential to the Knights’ season. If they win these two road games, this will set them up for the toughest stretch of the season, with eight of the last nine games coming against potential playoff teams. With the way the Knights are playing right now, they should be able to contend in each and every one of these last 13 games.

The Edmonton Oilers are back in contention this year after having a down season, this is due in large part to the MVP level play of Leon Draisaitl, who is leading the league in points by a stunning 15 points over his teammate, the always stunning and jaw-dropping Connor McDavid. The Draisaitl and McDavid combo has 205 points combined. The problem with the Oilers isn’t scoring, it’s getting scored on. The net has been split this year between Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen, who both have their ups and downs, with Koskinen having slightly better stats all around. If the Oilers want to win the Pacific Division and make the playoffs they need to win their game against the Knights at home, and stand up to their tough schedule, which includes six division games.

The Calgary Flames have had an up-and-down season, but recently it’s been filled with a ton more ups than downs, with the Flames being on a three-game win streak. They are in third place in the division thanks to their balanced scoring, with the Flames having five 40-point achievers and balanced goal-scoring all around. But just like their Albertan counterparts, the issue is in net, where David Rittich has left something to be desired as a starter. Cam Talbot is his backup, and a lot of people have been saying lately that Talbot deserves a look at being a full-time starter. I agree with that statement and it’s a fair assumption that Cam Talbot could do better. The Flames schedule isn’t exactly easy either, with games against division opponents coming eight of the next 13 games to close the season. For the Flames to be a contender, they’ll need to find their full-time goalie and make sure they’re able to score enough goals to help him out.

The Vancouver Canucks have had a mixed bag of a season, on one hand, they’ve made a dramatic improvement from last year, on the other they’ve been struggling lately without their workhorse goaltender, Jacob Markstrom. Markstrom has been amazing this season, he’s stopped an average of 40+ shots a game, and he has a save percentage of 91.5%. The offensive side of the Canucks is a lot more powerful than usual also, having four 20-goal scorers and six 40-point achievers. The Canucks will face a difficult schedule with nine division games ahead. They’ve played the least amount of games out of the five contending teams, so they have two more opportunities to pick up points than the other four contenders do.

The Arizona Coyotes have been possibly the biggest surprise out of any of the teams in contention in the Pacific, and it’s due in large part to their outstanding duo of goalies, Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta, both of which have a save percentage of 92.0% or higher. On the other side of the ice it’s a completely different story, the Coyotes lack offensive punch and its been their kryptonite all year long. If the Coyotes want to make a push for a wild card spot or a spot in the division, they’ll need to step up offensively and keep playing well defensively.

As for who will make the playoffs, I think the two wild-card spots will go to teams in the Central Division, so that leaves three playoff spots for the Pacific Division teams. Those three teams will be the Knights, Flames, and Oilers, in that order from 1-3. The Canucks and Coyotes have brutal schedules and have injuries to boot, so I don’t see them making the playoffs. The Wild Card has six teams all within six points of each other, so it’s a dogfight to see who gets into the playoffs. The postseason this year will be exciting with so many teams being so close together in talent level and in roster strength, so we’ll have to see how things play out.

Hope you all enjoyed!

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Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images

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