Year in and year out, the Pacific Division is in the conversation as the NHL’s most competitive one. Nothing has changed this season. After the first third of the lockout-shortened season, here are the Pacific Division report cards.
Anaheim Ducks (12-2-1)
This is a legitimate four-line team that has gotten off to its best-ever start. Teemu Selanne looks like he’s having a 15-year flashback, the young stars (Perry, Palmieri, Ryan) continue to develop and it has all been backed by the elite tending of Swedish sensation Viktor Fasth. That’s a heck of a combination. Add in one of the best coaches in the business, Bruce Boudreau, at the helm of this thing and then we’re really talking. Not sure if they can keep this up all season in a grinder of a division, but so far they are definite contenders.
Dallas Stars (8-7-1)
It’s been up and down so far. Great wins at Detroit and Vancouver make an 0-2-0 record against Calgary an absolute head-scratcher. They are living on the edge for sure: they have six one-goal wins, and also five one-goal losses. Once they get all of their top six forwards and star tender Kari Lehtonen healthy, they’ll make a big run towards the playoffs. The Stars possess the best minor league affiliate team, and have a bank full of talented prospects they can call upon. When at full-strength and playing well, they are a playoff-caliber team. Not quite Stanley Cup caliber yet.
Los Angeles Kings (6-6-2)
The Stanley Cup hangover is slowly passing, but I’m convinced they won’t repeat. In the ultra-tough pacific division, they’ll be lucky to make the playoffs. They have depth and grit across the board, but their greatest asset is still goalie Jonathan Quick. He won the cup last year for the Kings almost by himself. Right now, though, he’s nowhere near that level, and neither is his team. They are the weak link of the pacific so far, but expect them to make a late-season run as usual. But this year it won’t quite be enough.
Grade: C+ (on their way to a B- if they can stay hangover-free for the next few games)
Phoenix Coyotes (8-6-2)
If Mike Smith started out this season like he played in last year’s playoffs, Phoenix could be right up there with Anaheim. The offense is middle of the pack, but they have scoring depth after their top line (Hanzal, Vermette, Doan, Korpikoski). The defense has been respectable, ranking 13th in the league. But with this team it all comes down to Mike Smith’s play between the pipes. He was their unquestioned leader in last year’s postseason run. I see this team finishing ahead of LA, but in a fight with Dallas to be the division’s third playoff team.
Grade: B (An eyelash better than Dallas right now, courtesy of the Stars’ no-shows against Calgary)
San Jose Sharks (8-4-3)
After a blazing 7-0-0 start, the Sharks have been the ultimate feast-or-famine team so far. Their offense took a nose dive to 22nd in the league – that’s ridiculous for a team with as much offensive talent as it has. Antti Niemi has been possibly the division’s best goaltender, which has kept them in second place for a couple of weeks in spite of their fall. But this team is a sleeping giant that is one or two quality wins away from regaining its form. They’ll be in the playoffs. The real question is when will they finally get over the hump?
Grade: B (Slightly ahead of Phoenix and Dallas)