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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Around The Pacific: The, uh, Golden Knights are in first now

This is a weekly feature in which I’ll look at the performances and narratives of the teams in the Pacific Division.

After a big week, the Vegas Golden Knights have taken control of first place in the Pacific Division. And they’re actually playing well! Elsewhere, the Flames welcomed in a new goalie, a Canucks rookie joined impressive company, and the Oilers put their fans through an emotional rollercoaster.

1st: Vegas Golden Knights

15-6-1 (31 points) / +15 goal differential / 

I just don’t even know anymore. The Vegas Golden Knights won all three games they played last week, beating the Ducks, Sharks, and Coyotes, to extend their winning streak to five games. They’re now 15-6-1 on the season and sit in first place in the Pacific Division.

The wild thing about this is that the Golden Knights aren’t just inexplicably stumbling their way to victory. In all of their games on the winning streak, they’ve outshot their opponents, which wasn’t the case earlier on in the season.

2nd: Los Angeles Kings

13-8-3 (29 points) / +13 goal differential / 

Since getting off to a hot start, the Kings have cooled in November. Last week, they went 1-1-1, with a win over Anaheim, a loss in regulation to the Jets, and an overtime win over Arizona. That win against the Coyotes was just their second win in their last nine games.

Goal scoring has been an issue for L.A. as of late, as they’ve scored more than two goals in a game just once over than nine-game span. That isn’t really all that surprising looking at the roster and it seemed inevitable the performances of high shooting percentage players like Adrian Kempe and Trevor Lewis would slow down.

3rd: Calgary Flames

13-9-1 (27 points) / -3 goal differential / 

The Flames had another pretty good week and are continuing to climb up the Pacific Division standings. They went 2-1-1 last week, with wins over Washington and Colorado, a regulation loss to Dallas, and an overtime shutout loss to Columbus. The issue for Calgary, though, is that they can’t get any winning streaks going. They’ve gone 7-3-1 in November but haven’t had a streak this season longer than three games.

Part of that comes down to poor goaltending. The Flames waived Eddie Lack last week and he predictably cleared. Lack had a .813 save percentage in four appearances with the Flames and the team had to play Mike Smith more than they’d like because of it. David Rittich picked up a win in his first NHL game, saving 24 of 26 shots against the Avs. Either him or Jon Gillies being good in relief of Smith would be huge for the Flames moving forward.

4th: San Jose Sharks

12-8-2 (26 points) / +8 goal differential / 

After a rough week, the Sharks pulled themselves together last week and apparently remembered how to score. They went 2-0-2, beating Arizona and Winnipeg and losing to Vegas and Anaheim in overtime and a shootout.

Prior to last week, the Sharks had a massive stretch where they scored more than two goals just once in nearly a month, but last week they exploded for four goals in back-to-back games. They’ve managed to climb up to 28th in the league in goals for rather than 31st, which is a step in the right direction.

5th: Vancouver Canucks

11-9-4 (26 points) / -2 goal differential / 

The Canucks continued to grind last week with a 2-2-0 showing that featured back-to-back 5-2 wins over Philadelphia and Pittsburgh but back-to-back losses against the Devils and Rangers. They’re four games through a six-game road trip and after that they have a pretty light schedule.

The story for the Canucks has been the hot play of Brock Boeser who leads the team with 22 points in 21 games. Of players drafted in 2015, only Connor McDavid and Mat Barzal had better starts over their first 25 NHL games.

6th: Anaheim Ducks

10-9-4 (24 points) / -4 goal differential / 

It seems the injuries are catching up to the Ducks. They went 1-2-1 last week and are sliding down the Pacific Division standings without Ryan Kesler and Ryan Getzlaf in the lineup. The worst showing they had was an absolute spanking by the Golden Knights in which they lost 4-2 but were outshot 49 to 19.

If not for the play of Ryan Miller (.950 SV%) and John Gibson (.923 SV%), the Ducks would be dead in the water by now. Still, all they’re looking to do is stay alive until their top two centres return to the lineup.

7th: Edmonton Oilers

9-13-2 (20 points) / -15 goal differential / 

It was a rollercoaster of a week in Edmonton. The Oilers got pounded 8-2 by the Blues for their worst loss of the season, rebounded with a great 6-2 win in Detroit, but then went on to lose to the terrible Buffalo Sabres 3-1. They capped things off with a 4-2 win over the Bruins and ultimately had a decent 2-2 week.

Still, the Oilers can’t seem to get any momentum going. They’ve won back-to-back games just once this season and badly need a winning streak to climb back into contention.

8th: Arizona Coyotes

6-17-3 (15 points) / -31 goal differential / 

The Coyotes went 2-2 last week. It was highlighted by a 4-1 win in Toronto that capped off a perfect, three-win trip through Eastern Canada. Still, they’re very bad and sit in last place in the Western Conference. But they’re only five points back of the Oilers!

  • TheWheeze

    Maybe they should try putting Brodie back with Giordano. Gotta try something. Like Monahan and Gaudreau, there are certain pairings that just are magic.

  • 51Geezer

    Bettman’s expansion rules made VGN instant contenders at the expense of the rest of the teams, most of which are not contenders. Not fair, IMO. Aren’t expansion teams supposed to be weak and then improve through the draft? Let’s see if the expansion rules are so generous when the NHL goes into Houston, Kansas City or another hockey hotbed.

    • truthseeker

      I don’t mind. Teams got to protect a ton of their best pieces and Vegas still had to pick through the left overs. People need to stop whining about it. That’s what should happen if someone wants to pay hundreds of millions for a team. More power to them. Even if my team isn’t as good.

    • tkfisher

      That roster on paper isn’t the reason they’re winning. THE PLAYERS are winning because they are all buying into the system, working hard, crashing the net and playing sound defense. They played a big stretch of the year with their 3rd, and 4th, string goalie. That isn’t an expansion rule thing, its a team thing.

    • WillyWonka

      how did the rules make them contenders? that doesn’t add up.
      they are winning off of effort, buy in to systems, and outworking teams.
      And even so, why isn’t it “fair”? that’s a silly suggestion that they are supposed to be weak… just the opposite… league wants teams to be competitive as soon as possible, not uselessly weak for years.
      the real problem in the league is a team like Edmonton – so bad for so long that the league had to change the draft rules, and signing guys like Drai for way too much, forcing another inevitable lockout no doubt. Edmonton has really been a problem for years now, not VGN!!!!

    • crofton

      Agree or disagree with this post, the premise is true….no expansion team ever has had the benefit of the expansion rule Vegas had…and still has, if I’m not mistaken they are guaranteed the 3rd overall pick for two more years, no matter how high in the standings they finish

      • Bawcos

        Also, No. They are given a top 3 pick for this year or future years. At last years draft the were given the same lottery odds as the 3rd worst team because they did not play that year. Done, no more gimmie’s, they finish where they finish.

        • truthseeker

          I think you’re missing the point. This was a business deal. The owners of the Knights negotiated with the league. If the league want’s their 500 million dollars then the league will have to give in to some demands. Don’t forget, all the owners voted unanimously for vegas. They wanted their cut of the money. Nobody is going to pony up 500 million without trying to negotiate the best deal possible for their team.

          Vegas getting the third pick over all isn’t going to affect your team. stop whining about it.

  • Goon

    Canucks lost to the Rangers in a shootout so their record was 2-1-1 this past week, not 2-2-0.

    Otherwise good stuff. Before the season started people were betting on the Knights to have a better record than the Canucks – those people were right, but I doubt any of them would have bet on the Canucks having a decent record and the Knights leading the division. What a topsy-turvy world we live in.

    • IRONman

      Oilers are 27th goals against but only 10th in shots against. Goalies are to blame. Ouch. Look at Price in Montreal, brings it. Team is toast with out him. Some stats do COUNT!!!

    • truthseeker

      People seem to still think there is a big division of talent in the NHL between the “top” teams and the “lower” teams. There isn’t. The margins are razor thin.

      There are many factors for this. Parity being one of the big ones. The NHL has been very successful in evening out the levels of the teams. A couple moves in the off season either good or bad, can swing your franchise the other direction. When that happens in a division with one team going up like say, my canucks (slightly), and one team going down, like the Oilers, it makes it look even more crazy. But it’s not that surprising.

      Another thing is player talent. Kids are just all really good these days. They know how to train and they all learn the same things and they all practice year round with virtually no off time. So again using my team as an example, the difference between a Bo Horvat and a Connor McDavid is no where near the gap than say the difference between a Gretzky and a Stan Smyl. And every team in the league has a kid or two who is super talented.

      But the other big thing is coaching. Coaching is huge in the NHL. A coach with a good system and who can get the buy in from the players to commit to doing it. That’s way more important than talent in my opinion. Vegas has that going on right now. So do my canucks to a lesser extent.

      In some ways I think parity has kind of ruined the NHL.

        • truthseeker

          nonsense. The single point has been around forever. Sure before it was get through overtime but whatever. The single for playing a good game in regulation is a GOOD thing. It’s not rewarding losing at all. And winning a f’in skills competition doesn’t mean your team “won”.

          • Cageyvet

            It’s not the loser point as much as the oft-discussed extra point that is handed out (3 points versus the old system where a tie also distributed 2 points). You have the option of still awarding the loser point, but making regulation wins worth 3 points.

            I know it’s been discussed a lot in the past, but there’s truth in the claim that the current system artificially keeps more teams hanging around the playoff bar.

            I’m not too worried about that, all teams need some hope and it makes for more important games down the stretch. It also provides some novelty and entertainment, it would have been pretty great to have had 3 on 3 in the dead puck era following a ghastly 1-1 tie…..

  • Cageyvet

    I don’t want to sell the effort of the VGK players and coaches, but the media kept saying the Canucks were surprising teams. I’m sure there was some of that at the start of the season, but how dumb would you look to use that excuse after a dozen games?

    Good coaching, decent talent, surprisingly good performances from depth goaltending, and the not-unexpected Vegas flu……there home record is 9-1, they’re a respectable 6-5-1 on the road. It’s going to tighten up when teams come in more worried about the 2 points than where they’re getting bottle service the night before the game…..

  • Me

    So… a team built around caveman grunting, eye tests, and vague “hockey sense” is kicking butt while teams choosing players based more heavily on statistical modelling are struggling.

    Any acknowledgement from CA writers that reality might not match their statistical modelling?

    >crickets<