Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Pacific Division Roundup: Seattle’s winning streak reaches nine games, Flames remain in playoff picture, and more
1 month ago
The Pacific Division is getting wild.
The Vancouver Canucks remain on top and have shown few signs of slowing down, the Vegas Golden Knights and L.A. Kings are slumping, and the Edmonton Oilers and Seattle Kraken are surging.
Let’s get into what happened around the division this week, plus a look at the Wild Card situation in the Western Conference.
29-11-3, 165 goals for, 110 goals against
The big question since their hot start to the season is can the Vancouver Canucks keep it up? Well, halfway through the season, and it looks like there’s no stopping in sight.
We’re over the midway mark of the season and their 165 goals lead the league. J.T. Miller leads the team with 58 points, with Elias Petterson trailing by just a single point with 57. Defenceman Quinn Hughes leads the position in points with 51, while his 11 goals are the second most in the league. Brock Boeser’s 27 goals are tied for fourth in the league as well.
On top of being the highest-scoring team in the league, Vancouver had allowed the fourth fewest goals. As you can imagine, Thatcher Demko is a big part of that, as he has played 31 games with a 22-8-1 record and a .919 save percentage with a 2.47 goals-against average. When called upon, backup netminder Casey DeSmith has been reliable, owning a 7-3-2 record in 13 games played with a .916 save percentage and a 2.45 goals-against average.
The team has limited playoff experience, so I wouldn’t be too worried about a matchup in the playoffs, but I don’t think anyone expected this from the Canucks this year.
Vegas Golden Knights:
24-14-5, 136 goals for, 119 goals against
Like last season, the Vegas Golden Knights are picking up injuries left and right.
Leading goal scorer Jack Eichel (19 goals, 44 points) was placed on injured reserve on Sunday with an undisclosed injury. William Karlsson, who has 15 goals and 32 points, is week-to-week and last played on December 28. They’ve also been without top-4 defenceman Shea Theodore, who has four goals and 18 points in the 20 games he played.
It’s not just the skaters that have faced the injury bug. Adin Hill was looking like a candidate to win the Vezina Trophy with a .933 save percentage and a 1.93 goals-against average in 15 games played. He last played on December 17 but it looks like he could return soon. Logan Thompson has filled in for Hill, and has a much worse .905 save percentage and a 2.77 goals-against average in 26 games.
Still, the Knights faced a similar situation last season and went on to win the Stanley Cup, with all players becoming magically healthy by playoff time.
Los Angeles Kings:
20-11-8, 129 goals for, 102 goals against
There are two Pacific Division teams surging with massive win streaks. The Los Angeles Kings are doing the total opposite, as they are on an eight-game losing streak.
Since their last win on December 27, the Kings have yet to score more than three goals in a game. Anže Kopitar leads the team in points with 39 in 39 games, while Adrian Kempe (15 goals, 37 points) and Kevin Fiala (10 goals, 37 points) are tied for second. Trevor Moore leads the team with 18 goals, while youngster Quinton Byfield has 12 goals and 30 points.
Former Oiler and Vezina candidate Cam Talbot has had a rough go in his last four games, going 0-2-2 with an .885 save percentage. Still, he’s had a career renaissance behind the Kings’ defence, posting a .918 save percentage and a 2.34 goals-against average in 29 games played.
The reason the Kings are still third in the Pacific is due to the fact that they had a sizeable cushion, but also because they’re 0-4-4 during the skid, and not 0-8-0. Still, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before one of the next two teams passes the Kings in the standings.
23-15-1, 138 goals for, 117 goals against
On Saturday, the Edmonton Oilers set a new franchise record as their win streak increased to 10 games.
As you can imagine, Connor McDavid has been a driving force behind the amazing Oiler turnaround, scoring 16 goals and 57 points. Moreover, he has points in 22 of his last 23 games and has 44 points in that timeframe. Zach Hyman leads the team in goals with 26 and is on pace for more than 50 goals, while Evan Bouchard has broken out as an elite offensive defenceman, scoring 10 goals and 40 points. This isn’t even to mention Leon Draisaitl (20 goals, 45 points) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (11 goals, 38 points).
Another reason for the Oilers’ turnaround is because of Stuart Skinner. After his first eight games, the 25-year-old netminder had an .854 save percentage. That has risen nearly .50 points, as he now has a .903 save percentage and a 2.63 goals-against average. Since November 11, Skinner has a .920 save percentage and a 17-4-0 record and has a .951 save percentage during the ongoing win streak.
It’s not out of the question that the Oilers push for the second spot in the Pacific Division, as they sit six points back of the Golden Knights with four games in hand. Catching Vancouver looks to be out of the picture, though.
19-14-9, 122 goals for, 122 goals against
I think most would feel a lot more comfortable with the Oilers’ win streak if the Seattle Kraken weren’t on a nine-game win streak of their own. Like the Oilers, the Kraken have 47 points but have three more games played than Edmonton.
Defenceman Vince Dunn leads the team in scoring with eight goals and 35 points, while Oliver Bjorkstrand is hot on his trail with 12 goals and 34 points. Jared McCann once again leads the team in goals with 16 and 26 points, while Eeli Tolvanen has already set a career-high with 11 goals and 28 points in just 42 games.
Joey Daccord is a big reason for their turnaround, as he has a .923 save percentage and 2.29 goals-against average, breaking out into a true number-one netminder. Since December 12, he has a record of 10-0-2 with a .950 save percentage.
The Kraken are a wagon, and the Oilers have to keep winning to keep the NHL’s newest team at bay.
20-18-5, 136 goals for, 137 goals against
Let’s be real here, the Flames are more than likely going to sell as they have three soon-to-be unrestricted free agents who could all net the team first-round picks.
Elias Lindholm isn’t having the best of seasons as he did the two seasons prior, but he has only eight goals and 28 points. Chris Tanev only has a goal and eight points, but he’s one of the best defensive defencemen in the league and could be a huge get for whatever team lands him. It looks like Noah Hanifin may be re-signed, but his 7 goals and 23 points, along with only being 26 years old, make him a desirable piece for any contender looking to upgrade.
Not just that, but Jacob Markström has been playing great lately, boosting his save percentage to .912 with a 2.59 goals-against average in 26 games played. Since returning from injury, the 33-year-old has a .936 save percentage and a 7-3-0 record in 10 games.
The Flames may not make the playoffs this season, but they could very well have four first-round picks on the first day of the 2024 draft.
A look at the Wild Card situation:
In this section, we’ll look at the ongoing battle for the two wild spots.
The Predators currently occupy the first wild card position with 49 points, but have four games in hand on the Oilers. Goaltender Juuse Saros is having his worst season yet, posting a .901 save percentage and 3.02 goals-against average.
St. Louis Blues:
The 2019 Stanley Cup champions were in a wild card recently but have been playing .500 hockey since the start of December, as they have a 9-9-1 record. They currently have 44 points and sit three points out of a playoff spot.
The Coyotes were another team in a playoff position that has been marred in near .500 hockey since the start of December. Since the start of that month, they have a 10-9-0 record, but hey, they have a 100% sellout rate in their nearly 5,000-seat stadium.
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