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Pacific Division Weekly: Is Eichel’s debut a peripeteia of Golden Knights’ season?

Plus Flames rise higher, and familiar faces behind the Oilers’ bench.

Jack Eichel #9 of the Vegas Golden Knights warms up before playing in his first game with Vegas against the Colorado Avalanche at T-Mobile Arena on February 16, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Calgary Flames’ nine-game and Edmonton Oilers’ five-game win streaks are among the best in the NHL right now. The Flames, actually, find themselves on a bit of an island, as they are at least four points ahead of any divisional competition, with games in hand.

But the big kahuna this week is Vegas Golden Knights forward Jack Eichel, who made his debut with the club on Wednesday night, after being traded earlier this season and undergoing neck surgery.

That and more in the Pacific Division this week:

Anaheim Ducks (24-19-9)

The Ducks were four games into a winless streak before beating the Vancouver Canucks 7-4 on Saturday night. They scored the first five goals on 14 shots, chasing Canucks starter Thatcher Demko in the second period. It was a cathartic win for the road-team Ducks, who had mostly fought through narrow one-goal games over the past month.

Adam Henrique and Nicolas Deslauriers both scored two goals a piece, while Trevor Zegras added three assists. The Ducks did not fare as well earlier in the week, falling 7-3 to Edmonton and 6-2 to Calgary. Sonny Milano found himself on the scoresheet for those two games, as well as on Saturday.

The Ducks now sit at the periphery of the playoff race, two points behind the Los Angeles Kings, who occupy the second Wild Card spot. Despite a recent lapse, the Ducks aren’t simply idling. They recently let go of assistant general manager Dave Nonis, the first of a few probable front-office moves to be made by newly-appointed general manager Pat Verbeek, who is two weeks into the job.

Ryan Getzlaf is day-to-day as of Feb. 17 with a lower-body injury.

Calgary Flames (29-13-6)

The Flames are rolling with it. After acquiring Tyler Toffoli in a package-deal that sent Tyler Pitlick, Emil Heineman and draft picks to the Montreal Canadiens, cap space going into next season is in question. Contracts for Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau, Andrew Mangiapane and others loom going into the 2022-23 season. But that’s tomorrow’s problem, and for now, the Flames are marching into the final 30 games on a nine-game winning streak.

The team went 3-0 this week, with identical 6-2 wins coming against the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Ducks. Then they took care of the Seattle Kraken 2-1 on Saturday night, spoiling former captain Mark Giordano’s return to the Scotiabank Saddledome.

Toffoli scored for the Flames against the Blue Jackets, while Elias Lindholm had a three-point game. Lindholm continued his tear with two goals against the Ducks, and one against the Kraken. His current goal-streak sits at seven games. The Flames sit in first place in the division, and with the addition of Toffoli, they have a top-9 forward group ready to compete with the best of them going into the postseason.

Edmonton Oilers ( 28-18-3)

The Oilers underwent some big changes when they fired head coach Dave Tippett and replaced him with interim head coach Jay Woodcroft. Woodcroft was previously serving as the head coach for the Oilers’ AHL affiliate, the Bakersfield Condors, but Sharks fans will remember him as the assistant coach under Todd McLellan from 2008 to 2015.

Another familiar face who recently made his debut for the Oil is Evander Kane, who signed a one-year, $1.375 million contract with Edmonton on Jan. 27. Though his days in a Sharks sweater are over, his contractual ties to San Jose remain in question, which has been extensively covered. Kane has eight points in 10 games with the Oilers, four of which came this week, two goals and two assists against the Ducks and Kings.

Change has been good for the Oilers, who are currently on a five-game streak, with recent wins over the the Sharks, Kings, Ducks and Winnipeg Jets. Edmonton have outscored the opposition 19-7 the week. Connor McDavid, who posted a three-point night on Saturday, has 11 points in his last six games, while Zach Hyman is on a three-game goal streak.

Forward Jesse Puljujarvi is out for four weeks with a lower-body injury, an injury sustained on Feb. 17 against the Ducks.

Los Angeles Kings (26-17-7)

Los Angeles is finding a way to stay in it, winning two out of three this week: an 4-3 overtime win against the Golden Knights and a 3-1 win against the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday. They occupy the last Wild Card position heading into the final 32 games before the Stanley Cup playoffs commence.

The Kings are healthy again, as Andreas Athanasiou and Phillip Danault have returned from injury. Both key players have points this week, while Adrian Kempe has made a name for himself on the first line, scoring four goals through the Vegas and Arizona games.

Two-time Stanley Cup champion Drew Doughty reached a milestone on Feb. 15, playing in his 1000th game for the Kings organization against the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers won the contest, but Doughty’s party wasn’t spoiled for long, as he netted two goals in the Arizona win. The ceremony held for Doughty on a thousand games played was a testament Sharks fans could appreciate, especially for one of their most storied nemesis.

Seattle Kraken (16-31-4)

The Kraken are looking to ship out and shore up for better fortunes in 2022-23 after losing three straight games this week. Despite performing a shade over .500 wins in the past month, giving the new franchise hope for ‘only growth’ in the second half of the season, they seem to have hit a roadblock.

They lost decisively to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Jets, 6-2 and 5-2, respectively, and then could not convert for a win in a 2-1 loss to the Flames. With the Mar. 21 trade deadline on the horizon, they are looking to sell what could be valuable contributors to a cup-contending team in captain Mark Giordano and winger Calle Jarnkrok, to name a few. Moving those contracts could fetch some substantial picks and pieces for a brighter future.

But there haven’t been any takers, yet. Jarnkrok though, has been finding some recent success, with points in four of his last five games. Giordano, too, is still playing with top-pairing production. He has three assists in his last four games.

The Kraken made history Thursday night when their TV broadcast featured the league’s first all-Black casting duo. Seattle TV analyst and former player J.T. Brown was joined by radio host Everett Fitzhugh to call the game against the Jets. The franchise was acknowledged for ‘pushing the needle’ in a league effort to create space for diversity in a sport that has pushed for that kind of change, but only recently have reflected the adopted motto, “hockey is for everyone.”

Vancouver Canucks (23-22-6)

Much like the recently-maligned Sharks, the Canucks now find themselves at a crossroads. They bitterly shut down the Sharks in overtime to take the game 5-4 on Thursday, but struggled on Saturday against Anaheim, outscored 7-4.

They are a team that the Sharks will undoubtedly have to outpace down the stretch, sitting at sixth in the Pacific, seven points out of a Wild Card spot. That’s only a field-goal better than the Sharks, who contentiously sit at 10 points out of that spot, with two games in-hand.

The mirror-illusion doesn’t end there. Like the Sharks’ Tomas Hertl, should the Canucks falter as the trade deadline approaches, they might consider selling off arguably their best forward in J.T. Miller, who has five points in his last three games. With Bruce Boudreau at the helm and the Canuck’s fate in their hands, only time will tell.

The big guns are giving the team every chance, as Elias Pettersson has five points in his last two games, while Quinn Hughes has four in the same timeframe. Defender Kyle Burroughs suffered an undisclosed injury on Feb. 19 is out for an unknown duration.

Vegas Golden Knights (28-18-4)

Vegas has clearly pushed all their chips in, but Eichel’s debut in gold hasn’t been what they hoped it would be. The team dropped both games he’s skated in since his first appearance of the 2021-22 season in Wednesday night’s contest against the Colorado Avalanche. The Golden Knight were blanked 2-0, though Eichel looked sporadically good, quelling some speculation that the surgery he had on a herniated disk in his neck would be a factor if he made an appearance this season.

The Golden Knights also dropped their next game, 4-3 in overtime, against the Kings. Eichel, centering the first line, occupying what would be Mark Stone’s spot, had an assist on one of Max Pacioretty’s two goals. Despite the less-than-stellar debut, Eichel acknowledged that “it’s a process,” to come back and find production after about a year-long layoff.

There’s a lot of anticipation for Vegas — who have always been successful during the regular season, but never able to put together a strong playoff push since their only Stanley Cup appearance in the club’s inaugural season. With Mark Stone out indefinitely with back issues, the decision for Eichel’s arguably early appearance for the team has yet to spell the fate of a playoff-hopeful Vegas.