Photo credit:© Joe Nicholson - USA Today
What’s going on in the Pacific Division: Oilers and Kraken surging, Golden Knights dealing with injury, and more!
1 month ago
The Pacific Division is getting interesting early into 2024.
In this new series, we’ll take a look at how each of the eight teams are doing in the division, from the lowly California teams to Calgary’s two Canadian rivals in the division. Standings are accurate as of January 9, 2024.
After such a strong first month that saw the Anaheim Ducks go 9-6-0, they are now the third worst team in the league.
Their best player so far this season has been Frank Vatrano, as the 29-year-old has 18 goals and 28 points in just 39 games this season. For context, his career high is 24 goals and 41 points, with both being set in 81 games. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to see him blow by both of those career-highs. Mason McTavish has 11 goals and 26 points as the third overall selection in the 2021 season looks prime to break out.
Goaltending for the Ducks has been hit or miss during the 2023-24. Their netminder of the future, Lukáš Dostál, started off strong, before dropping off considerably and losing his starting job to veteran John Gibson. However, he has a 1-5-1 record and a .926 save percentage in eight games this past month, including a 55 save performance in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on January 3.
In news surrounding the Ducks, they moved on from right-shot defenceman Jamie Drysdale for fifth overall pick in the 2022 draft, Cutter Gauthier, after the former informed the Flyers that he didn’t want to play in Philadelphia.
The Ducks will be heading to the east coast over their next five games, taking on the Nashville Predators, Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, and the Washington Capitals.
In the Calgary Flames’ last 10 games, they have two three-game win streaks and have lost twice in a row two times.
Blake Coleman has been the most surprising and arguably the best player of the Flames this season. The 32-year-old leads the team with 15 goals, and his 30 points is tied for the team lead with Nazem Kadri. There are eight other players on the Flames with 20 or more points, including defenceman MacKenzie Weegar, who has nine goals and 24 points in 40 games.
A big reason for their recent success is goaltending, more specifically, Jacob Markström. Since returning from injury on December 18, he has a .935 save percentage and a misleading 4-3-0 record. In his most recent game, a loss, he saved 39 of 42 shots and kept the Flames in the game the entire time.
The Flames will have some additional cap space soon, as Jakob Pelletier has been activated off the injured reserve and has been assigned to the American Hockey League Calgary Wranglers. Per our very own Ryan Pike, Pelletier carried a $406,000 cap hit due to being on season-opening injury reserve.
Calgary’s next stretch of games could prove to be difficult, as they’ll take on the Ottawa Senators at home, before heading to the desert for two games to face the Arizona Coyotes and Vegas Golden Knights. They’ll return home to face the Coyotes again, before taking on the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Edmonton Oilers are one streaky team. Since head coach Kris Knoblauch took over, they’ve won two straight games (and one beforehand), lost three straight games, won eight straight games, lost three straight games, and are now on a seven-game win streak.
Connor McDavid once again leads the team in points, as he’s done so many times in his career. He has 14 goals and 54 points, tied for fifth in the league. Leon Draisaitl has 18 goals and 42 points, while the surprising season of Zach Hyman continues, as he has 25 goals and 40 points. Those 25 goals for Hyman are tied for fifth most in the league, who saw that coming? Defenceman Evan Bouchard has broken out this season as he has nine goals and 39 points.
The crease was a huge sore spot for the Oilers in the season, with young netminder Stuart Skinner posting an .854 save percentage over his first eight games. Since then, he has a 15-4-0 record in 19 games with a .916 save percentage. The same cannot be said for Jack Campbell, who struggled in five National Hockey League games before continuing to struggle in the American Hockey League.
Speaking of Campbell, the Oilers really need to get rid of that contract. The 32-year-old is making $5 million for each of the next three seasons and TheAtheltic’s Pierre LeBrun doesn’t see them as being able to move it without giving up two first-round picks. Goaltending has been fine, but to bring in an impact player, money will have to move for Edmonton.
Over their next five games, the Oilers will take on the Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, and Montreal Canadiens, all away, before heading home to face the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Seattle Kraken.
Los Angeles Kings
For the past two seasons, the Los Angeles Kings have finished third in the Pacific Division, and are once again the clear number three in the Pacific Division… for now.
The team has two players tied for the lead in points, Adrian Kempe and Anže Kopitar, both of whom have 36 on the year. Trevor Moore has already tied his career-high in goals with 17 on the season in 45 fewer games, but needs 22 points to match his career-high. The Kings also have more players with double-digit goals, Kevin Fiala and Quinton Byfield.
However, their strong season is due to their defence and the strong play of former Flame, Cam Talbot. The 36-year-old netminder was named as the Kings’ representative for the 2024 All-Star game, and he has a .923 save percentage and a 2.17 goals-against average in 26 games played. Talbot is second in the league in goals-against average and third in the league for save percentage.
North Pole, Alaska-native Pheonix Copley, yes that’s his name, yes that’s where he’s from, is out for the season after ACL surgery. To replace their backup goaltender, another former Flame in David Rittich has taken over backup duties for Talbot.
Over their next five, the Kings will start an Eastern Conference road trip. They’ll face the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Detroit Red Wings, Carolina Hurricanes, before playing the Dallas Stars of all teams.
San Jose Sharks
Oh man, the San Jose Sharks are once again bad. After their horrendous start, the Sharks played above .500 hockey going 9-8-1. However, that is a long forgotten memory, as they’re in the midst of an 11-game losing streak, their second such this season.
Essentially, the Sharks are a one-man team with Tomáš Hertl being their only All-Star calibre player, scoring 13 goals and 28 points in 39 games. Mikael Granlund is significantly raising his trade stock, scoring five goals and 26 points in 33 games, with no other Sharks hitting the 20-point plateau.
On paper, a .900 save percentage and an .891 save percentage is awful. However, when it’s paired with a 3.54 goals-against average and a 3.85 goals-against average, you can tell that the two Sharks netminders aren’t getting any help. You have to feel for Kaapo Kähkönen and Mackenzie Blackwood, as they just deserve a lot better.
At this point, it’s just sad for the Sharks. The good news is that there are several notable players who could net them some solid picks. Kevin Labanc, Mike Hoffman, and Anthony Duclair all have a track record and are unrestricted free agents. Granlund is making $5 million for this season and the next, but could be moved if the Sharks withhold money.
Like the Kings, the Sharks will be on an Eastern Conference road trip over their next five games. They’ll take on the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, and Chicago Blackhawks. That last game will be exciting… right?
The Oilers aren’t the only team surging in the standings, as the Seattle Kraken have won their last six games.
Defenceman Vince Dunn broke out during the 2022-23 season scoring a career-high 14 goals and 64 points, and looks on pace to break that this season. So far in 39 games, he has seven goals and 33 points. The Kraken are similar to the Flames as they are a “scoring by committee” team, but only have three additional 20-point scorers in Oliver Bjorkstrand, Eeli Tolvanen, and Jared McCann. In total, the Kraken have 14 players with 10 or more points.
It also looks like the Kraken have found their netminder for the future, as Joey Daccord has a .922 save percentage and a 2.29 goals-against average in 24 games played this season. Since their other netminder Philipp Grubauer went down with an injury on December 14, Daccord has a 6-0-2 record with a .954 save percentage.
The Kraken hosted the 15th annual Winter Classic game on New Year’s Day, defeating the other most recent expansion team, the Vegas Golden Knights, 3-0. The game was watched by 1.1 million people on television, by far the lowest number for an oversaturated event at this point.
Like other teams on the Pacific coast, the Kraken will start a road trip in the Eastern Conference, taking on the Buffalo Sabres, Washington Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets, Pittsburgh Penguins, and the New York Rangers over their next five games.
Coming into the 2023-24 season, who saw the Vancouver Canucks as being among the league’s best teams in early January (with Winnipeg having the highest point total).
Not only are the Canucks at the top of the league in the standings, but they’ve also scored the most goals with 155. Brock Boeser leads the team in that regard with 25 of them, tied for fifth in the entire league. Their leading point-getting is J.T. Miller, who has 19 goals and 54, with Elias Pettersson hot on his trail with 19 goals and 52 points. Quinn Hughes has broken out as one of the best defencemen in the league, with his 50 points topping all other blue liners.
Vancouver has also benefited from a strong goaltending situation this season, with Thatcher Demko owning a 20-8-1 record and posting a .916 save percentage and a 2.54 goals-against average. Backup Casey DeSmith has a 6-3-2 record and has a .917 save percentage and a 2.49 goals-against average.
Pettersson is on the final season of his contract, and will be a restricted free agent after this season ends. With Toronto’s William Nylander signing an eight-year, $92 million deal, it stands to reason that Pettersson will get something similar, if not more. The 25-year-old Swede hit the 100-point plateau last season, and looks ready to do it once again in 2023-24.
If you’re a team on the Pacific coast, you’re heading to the Eastern Conference this season. Well, the Canucks have already started their road trip and will face the New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins, Buffalo Sabres, and Columbus Blue Jackets before returning home and facing the Arizona Coyotes.
Vegas Golden Knights
There’s been no Stanley Cup hangover for the Vegas Golden Knights this season.
Former second overall pick who’d have gone first overall in any other draft, Jack Eichel, leads the team in both goals (18) and points (42). Mark Stone is just below him with 12 goals and 39 points, with William Karlsson (15 goals, 32 points) and Jonathan Marchesassult (17 goals, 28 points) being a major part of Vegas’ offence.
Goaltending for the Knights has been shaky since Adin Hill went to the injured reserve. Prior to the injury, he had a .933 save percentage and a 1.93 goals-against average in 15 games played, both being the best in the league for qualified goalies. Logan Thompson has taken over duties, and has a .903 save percentage and a 2.83 goals-against average in 24 games played, significantly worse than Hill.
Along with Hill’s injury, Karlsson has a lower body injury which has kept him out of Vegas’ last two games. They’ve been missing defenceman Shea Theodore since late in November due to surgery for an upper body injury. If you could recall, Vegas struggled with injury/circumvented the cap last season during the regular season, before nearly everyone returned to full health for the playoffs.
The Golden Knights will take a quick trip to Colorado to face the Avalanche, before returning home to face the Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames, Nashville Predators, and the New York Rangers.
Thanks for reading! You can follow me on Twitter @Brennan_L_D.
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