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Sizing Up the Pacific Division

The first two weeks of the season are in the books. Let’s see how things are shaping up out west.

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at San Jose Sharks Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016-2017 NHL Season is still getting started, but the on-ice action is already in high gear. In just two weeks we’ve already seen six hat tricks, black magic from Auston Matthews, and Wayne Gretzky back in an Oilers jersey. Hockey is finally back in full swing, so now seems as good a time as ever to see how the Pacific Division is shaping up in the early going.

Edmonton Oilers (6-1-0)

Everyone take some screenshots while you can, because the Edmonton Oilers are currently sitting in first place with 12 points. Todd McLellan appears to have the Oilers back on the right track, at least for now. Connor McDavid is, in fact, a good hockey player, and has charged out of the gate with a league-high 11 points.

However, the early numbers would suggest that Edmonton is a little more than just the young phenom. Before Anaheim’s 6-1 drubbing of Nashville on Wednesday, Edmonton was the only team in the Pacific boasting a positive goal differential (+10). Despite their early success, I wouldn’t go betting the house on a playoff run just yet— through Edmonton’s first 7 games, they’ve played Calgary twice, Buffalo, Carolina, and Winnipeg. However, their résumé also includes wins over St. Louis and Washington. The Oilers remain a threat in the Pacific for now, but more time and sample diversity are needed to determine their legitimacy.

San Jose Sharks (5-3-0)

Coming off their most successful season in franchise history, the Sharks are looking to replicate the success they enjoyed in the playoffs. With a few fresh faces, and some additions by subtraction, the Sharks look poised to make another deep run to the Stanley Cup Final.

Looking at the Sharks’ start to the season, there’s some good news and some bad news. The good news is actually great news, and it’s that the Sharks are a possession juggernaut— according to corsica.hockey, the Sharks have an NHL-best 56.7 FF% through seven games. The bad news is that Martin Jones has struggled out of the gate.

The Sharks dropped two games on their long road trip that would have been won with even average goaltending. With an inexperienced backup in Aaron Dell now in the mix, Martin Jones will look to pick up the pace moving forward. Some people are saying the Sharks have power play issues.

This is not the case. Others are saying the Sharks have penalty problems. This is also not the case. Overall, the Sharks are in great position to regain the Pacific Division crown this season.

Vancouver Canucks (4-2-1)

Raise your hand if you thought the Vancouver Canucks would be sitting third in the Pacific after two weeks. Well, here we are. The Canucks roared out to a 4-0 record to start the season, but it didn’t take them long to start trending down. Over their last three games, the Canucks have been outscored 11-5 and outshot 96-66.

As many expected, most of Vancouver’s woes have stemmed from their inability to put the puck in the back of the net. Over the course of seven games, the Canucks have only managed 15 goals— only four teams in the entire NHL have scored fewer.

It’s no secret the Canucks are in a transition period, and it’s unlikely that they have much staying power at the top of the Pacific. If the Canucks are to make a push for the playoffs, they’ll need some stellar goaltending from the Miller/Markström tandem moving forward.

Los Angeles Kings (4-3-0)

I’m sure when Kings fans were filling out their wish lists for the season “losing Jonathan Quick on opening night” wasn’t on there, and neither was “start 0-3-0 and give up 12 goals in the process.” Those two are almost definitely linked, but that doesn’t change the fact that Quick will now miss three months after undergoing a procedure to strengthen a tendon. Peter Budaj has filled in nicely for the Kings since Quick’s departure to Injury Reserve, winning his last four starts en route to getting the Kings back to over .500. With backup goaltender Jeff Zatkoff struggling, the Kings are in quite a precarious situation. Should Budaj struggle too, General Manager Dean Lombardi might have to think about pulling the trigger on a trade for relief. The Kings remain solid offensively, putting up the strong possession numbers that have become a hallmark of their organization. As always, the Kings will be in the mix to challenge for the Pacific crown.

Anaheim Ducks (3-3-2)

The Ducks got an early start to Halloween by kicking off their season with a nightmarish 0-3-1 record. They have since turned it around, going 3-0-1 in their next four. The Ducks had a fair number of question marks penciled onto their roster going into opening night, as Hampus Lindholm and Rickard Rakell had yet to be signed before the season.

Those questions have since been answered with both returning to the Ducks, and Anaheim will look to improve their play moving forward. An early eye test would suggest that these aren’t the same high-flying Ducks we’ve seen in past seasons. After all, you can only lose so many Game 7s at home before your franchise cracks in half and starts wearing atrocious orange jerseys.

Calgary Flames (3-4-1)

It would seem that the Flames were so busy trying to sign Johnny Gaudreau that they forgot how to play hockey. Starting the season 1-4-1 and giving up 27 goals over that stretch doesn’t seem like a good thing, but then again what do I know? It has been quite an underwhelming start for both Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, who have combined for only 8 points in as many games this season.

If the Flames want a fighting chance at securing a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, this duo will have to figure it out eventually. The Flames’ woes continue on special teams, where their 12.1% power play conversion rate ranks 5th-worst in the league. It’s still early, but I don’t expect the Flames to hang around in the race for the Pacific for very long.

Arizona Coyotes (2-5-0)

Bringing up the rear of the Pacific are Brodie Brazil’s Desert Dogs. There’s not much to say for Arizona other than I feel bad for them. Opening the season 1-5-0 and giving up 30 goals during that stretch was certainly not ideal.

The Coyotes are one of the younger teams in the NHL, and their inexperience is starting to show. However, they have been stockpiling promising prospects for a while now, and could be dangerous in the distant future.

Arizona’s General Manager, John Chayka, is the youngest GM in NHL history at only 27 years old. He’ll have a long road ahead of him as he attempts to get the Coyotes back on track. For now, don’t expect the Coyotes to move out of the Pacific’s basement anytime soon.

Final Thoughts

You would have a tough time arguing that the Pacific wasn’t the NHL’s worst division last year. Even though the season is still young, it doesn’t look like that fate will change much this year either. That’s great news for Sharks fans though! If the Sharks continue their strong possession play and Martin Jones regains his old form, it’s only a matter of time before the Sharks become the class of the Pacific.