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Taking Stock in the NHL's Pacific Division

How do the eight teams in the Pacific Division look heading into Christmas? Adam Proteau breaks them all down.
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This is the final in our four-part analysis of where all 32 NHL teams are at this point in the season, by looking at the Pacific Division. 

We began the analysis Monday with an examination of the Atlantic; Tuesday we scrutinized the Metropolitan Division; and most recently, we looked at the Central Division

All teams in the Pacific have played at least 28 games; six have played 30 games; and three have played either 31 or 32 games. We’re breaking down the Pacific’s teams in order of their place in the standings:

1. Vegas Golden Knights. Games Played: 32. Record: 20-12-0.

What went right: Despite starting the year just 1-4-0, the Golden Knights entered the holiday break as winners of eight of their past 10 GP. They’ve also won all three of their games that went to a shootout. With an average of 3.47 goals-for per game, their offense is fourth overall in the NHL; and their goals-for total of 114 is second only to Colorado (115) in the game. And they were the winners in the Jack Eichel sweepstakes, acquiring the star from Buffalo to give them the franchise center most teams need to have ultimate success in hockey’s top league.

What is cause for concern: The Golden Knights have the eighth-worst penalty kill in the league. Injuries to star forwards Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty taxed their depth. They’ve been unable to pick up “loser” points by taking many games to overtime. Goalies Robin Lehner (3.03 goals-against average, .905 save percentage) and Laurent Brossoit (2.72 G.A.A., .904 SP) haven’t stolen games for them. Eichel isn’t close to returning from back surgery. Their defense also isn’t impressive, with a 3.06 goals-against average per game (putting them 20th overall in that category) and a penalty kill (76.9 percent efficiency) that’s the league’s eighth-worst.

Rest-of-season outlook: Vegas sits tied with the surprisingly competitive Anaheim Ducks for top spot in the Pacific, and they’ve ironed-out some of their wrinkles to get back to that place in the standings. Now they’ve got legitimate stars in Eichel, Stone, Pacioretty, and defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore. They should remain in the chase for first in the Pacific, and enjoy a productive post-season. The quality of Eichel’s return to health should help dictate how deep they go in the playoffs.

2. Anaheim Ducks. Games Played: 32. Record: 17-9-6.

What went right: Most analysts thought the Ducks would be better than they were last season, but few saw them challenging for first place in the Pacific. It didn’t look good for them out of the gate, as Anaheim won just two of their first nine GP (2-4-3). However, after a six-game losing streak, they reeled off eight straight victories, all but one of which saw them allow two goals or fewer. Four of their top six D-men have at least 13 points. Their special teams are impressive, with their power play fourth in the league at 26.7%, and their penalty kill is fourth in the league at 85.5%. Youngsters Trevor Zegras, Troy Terry and Sonny Milano are their top point-producers. Veteran Ryan Getzlaf has a team-best 20 assists in 27 GP. Backup goalie Anthony Stolarz’ record of 6-2-1 (including two shutouts) and his G.A.A. of 2.13 and SP of .932 are outstanding.

What is cause for concern: Since their eight-game win streak ended Nov. 18, Anaheim has gone 7-5-3. Calgary and Edmonton, who occupy the third-and-fourth spots in the Pacific, are only four points behind the Ducks, and the Flames have four games in hand and the Oilers have three in hand. There’s a little more separation in the standings after that, but the L.A. Kings also are within striking range, only seven points behind Anaheim, with two games in hand on the Ducks.

Rest-of-season outlook: The Ducks have a long road to hoe if they’re going to make their first playoff appearance in the past four years. No. 1 goalie John Gibson hasn’t been bad, but he’ll need to be at least as good as he was in 23 GP (11-7-5, 2.71 G.A.A., .913 SP) to keep Anaheim in playoff contention. Head coach Dallas Eakins has done yeoman’s work so far this year, but as the Oilers, Flames and Kings challenge them down the stretch, the Ducks likely will need more time/experience to get back into the post-season. Another year, and they’ll probably be a regular playoff team again.

3. Calgary Flames. Games Played: 28. Record: 15-7-6.

What went right: Few, if any other NHL team has been as hurt by the COVID-19 virus as the Flames have been, with some 20 roster members testing positive for it. That puts a damper on everything else they’ve done this season, but people shouldn’t forget how good they’ve looked for the most part. Starting goalie Jacob Markstrom has been phenomenal, with a whopping five shutouts, a .933 SP and a 1.94 G.A.A. in 21 GP. It shouldn’t be a shock that a Darryl Sutter-coached team is good at defense, but the Flames have the second-best goals-allowed average (2.21) in the league. Star winger Johnny Gaudreau rebounded from a sub-par season last year and now leads all Calgary point-producers, with 20 assists and 30 points in 28 GP. Forward Andrew Mangiapane has been a revelation, with a team-high 17 goals, including four game-winners. And the Flames are an above-average road team (11-4-2).

What is cause for concern: Since they beat the New York Rangers 6-0 on Nov. 6, the Flames have posted an 8-6-3 record, and they dropped their final four games before the holiday break. For some reason, they’re also not a good team in their own building (4-3-4). Only four of their players have more than 15 points. They’re currently tied for second place in the Pacific, but the Kings are only three standings points behind them.

Rest-of-season outlook: Sutter has been a good influence on this lineup, and Markstrom has been a Vezina Trophy frontrunner. It’s difficult to see how that changes in Calgary’s remaining 54 games. They may not be in a position to go on a deep post-season run just yet, but after last season’s letdown, the Flames are demonstrating they still can battle with the best of them.

4. Edmonton Oilers. Games Played: 29. Record: 18-11-0.

What went right: The Oilers went 9-1-0 in their first 10 games this season, and their record still looked good after 21 games (16-5-0). Superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were tied for first oveall in individual point production. Despite dealing with a serious bout of COVID-19, Edmonton managed to stay in a playoff spot as the holiday break arrived. Forwards Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jesse Puljujarvi are both putting up points at nearly a 0.90 points-per-game average. First-year Oiler Zach Hyman has 11 goals and 19 points in 26 GP. Overall, their offense (at an average of 3.41 goals-for per game) is sixth-best in the league. And their power play is No. 1 in the NHL at a fantastic 31.9% effectiveness.

What is cause for concern: Edmonton’s lack of games won in overtime – they’ve won only once in OT this season – has, for now, at least, cost them top position in the Pacific. Goalies Mike Smith (who has been limited by injury to 3 GP) and Mikko Koskinen have not been especially effective. After boosting their record to 16-5-0, the Oilers went on a six-game losing skid, with their offense providing two or more goals per game just twice. With this collection of skilled players, that should happen much more rarely.

Rest-of-season outlook: Oilers GM Ken Holland is feeling the heat because of Edmonton’s recent struggles, and he has no salary cap space with which to address his team’s deficiencies. There’s more than enough talent on paper for the Oilers to make the playoffs, but they’re now only five points ahead of sixth-place San Jose, and six points up on the brutal, seventh-place Vancouver Canucks. It shouldn’t be this difficult for them to solidify a post-season berth.

5. Los Angeles Kings. Games Played: 30. Record: 14-11-5.

What went right: The Kings’ defense (2.60 goals-against average per game) tied them with the defending Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning for the NHL’s sixth-best total in that department. Veteran netminder Jonathan Quick has a .930 SP and 2.19 G.A.A.. Star forward Anze Kopitar is producing offense at nearly a point-per-game pace (27 points in 30 GP), and before he was hurt, cornerstone defenseman Drew Doughty had 10 assists and 13 points in 11 GP.

What is cause for concern: Offense doesn’t come easy for the Kings, who have just one player (Kopitar) with 20 or more points. Doughty’s absence has shone a light on how L.A.’s defense corps still requires more depth. GM Rob Blake doesn’t have any cap space for the remainder of the season. The Kings also have only 11 regulation-time victories, meaning any tiebreakers will probably go in favor of their divisional rivals. Twice in the start of this season, they’ve gone on losing streaks of at least five games.

Rest-of-season outlook: Some believed the Kings were on the cusp of taking their next competitive step this season, and that may still come to pass. That said, they haven’t been consistently good enough to assure themselves of making the playoffs for the first time in four years. Kopitar, Quick and L.A.’s defense need to get more support on offense from the rest of their lineup; if they do, it’s easy to see them staying in the playoff race through the rest of the season.

6. San Jose Sharks. Games Played: 30. Record: 15-14-1.

What went right: Veteran goaltender James Reimer had a very good 1.96 G.A.A., 9-5-1 record and .936 SP in 16 GP, to help San Jose get off to a 6-3-0 start to the year. Winger Timo Meier has a team-best 17 assists and 29 points, including five game-winning goals. Defenseman Erik Karlsson has eight goals and 19 points in 24 GP; that’s about as much as he had last season when he generated eight goals and 22 points in 52 GP.

What is cause for concern: San Jose faltered after their strong start, going 9-11-1 entering the holiday break. The saga of controversial winger Evander Kane has not been fully resolved, with the veteran languishing at the American League level, and hoping for a trade that may not come quickly. The health-related absence of GM Doug Wilson cast a pall over San Jose’s positive results. Their rebuild will likely take at least another season before they can confidently expect to make the playoffs.

Rest-of-season outlook: The Sharks aren’t looking like they’ll be able to produce more offense; they averaged 2.60 goals-for per game, and they don’t have sufficient depth up front to attack opponents’ goalies with. There may be individuals who are success stories on San Jose, but as a team, they’re just not talented enough to run with the best teams in the Pacific.

7. Vancouver Canucks. Games Played: 31. Record: 14-15-2.

What went right: It’s a measure of Vancouver’s awful season that, even after they won eight of nine games (and six games in a row) heading into the holiday break, the Canucks remain six points behind Calgary and Edmonton, with the Flames and Oilers holding three-and-two games in hand, respectively. Goalie Thatcher Demko has been solid, but when you’re brutal enough to trigger changes at the GM and coaching levels before the mid-season arrives, you know there’s not much at all to appreciate as a positive. Despite looking different under new head coach Bruce Boudreau, the Canucks are almost certainly going to miss the playoffs for the seventh time in their past nine seasons.

What is cause for concern: The Canucks have no cap space to make bigger moves for the seasons to come. It’s going to be difficult enough for them to absorb the remaining five years on the contract of D-man Oliver Ekman-Larsson, but that’s where the Jim Benning GM Era has delivered them to. Vancouver has just three players with more than 19 points this year. Young star forward Elias Pettersson has struggled, with only six goals and 16 points in 31 GP. New GM Jim Rutherford is an established wheeler-and-dealer on the trade market, and he cannot return the same group of players next season. Someone from the core – winger Brock Boeser, maybe? – will have to go to change the culture and the bigger picture for the Canucks.

Rest-of-season outlook: Boudreau and Rutherford essentially are playing with house money for the remainder of this season, but it’s unlikely the honeymoon stage new management is enjoying will last well into the rest of the year. The level of underachievement is going to leave a foul taste in the mouths of Canucks fans for some time to come, and it will take another reset to truly effect meaningful change in this hockey-mad market.

8. Seattle Kraken. Games Played: 30. Record: 10-17-3.

What went right: Finally, elite-level hockey returned to Seattle – but anyone who thought the Kraken would play as well as the Golden Knights did in their first NHL season was quickly disabused of that viewpoint. They’ve had a very modest win streak of a maximum of two games on just three occasions this season, and they lost five of their past six games prior to the holiday break. GM Ron Francis has more than $7 million in cap space to use for the building project, but that won’t get him anything to improve their current situation.

What is cause for concern: With veterans Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger acquired this past summer, goaltending wasn’t expected to be a problem for Seattle. However, at an average of 3.57 goals-allowed per game, the Kraken’s defense has caused fits for head coach Dave Hakstol. Like any expansion team, overall depth is a sore spot for them.

Rest-of-season outlook: No team will be stepping up to do the Kraken any favors personnel-wise, so it’s probable they’ll languish at the bottom of the Pacific for at least the rest of this season. Vegas is the outlier, not the norm, for first-year franchises. Francis has a license to turn some of the veterans he acquired during the expansion draft into building block components over the long term, and he’ll need excellent returns on deals to speed the Kraken’s construction.

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