Pacific Division Weekly: Kraken’s slow start leaves division wide open

Some say it’s the weakest division in hockey and ... well, yeah, that’s probably right.

It’s shaping up to be a weird season, but after the last two years, how could it not be? Teams are meeting for the first time since 2019 in some cases. Injuries and disciplinary action seem to be on the rise, as the NHL settles back into the new normal.

There’s one thing that’s for sure: the 2021-22 NHL season is going to be full of surprises — including the San Jose Sharks and Edmonton Oilers topping the Pacific Division. Sure, the Sharks only have two games under their belt so far, but a slow start for the Seattle Kraken and Calgary Flames have made the Pacific anyone’s game.

Here’s a glance at how the team’s divisional foes have fared early in the season:

Anaheim Ducks (2-2-0)

The Ducks are playing the kids and it’s so far, so good. They opened the season with a 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets (hey Anaheim, get your own narrative), but dropped a tight 2-1 game against the Minnesota Wild before hitting the road for Alberta. In back-to-back games, they pulled out a hard-fought 3-2 overtime win over the Flames, but couldn’t quite pull off a comeback against the Oilers, losing 6-5.

Jakob Silvferberg leads the team through four games with 6 points (1 goal, 5 assists). Defender Kevin Shattenkirk has continued to be a huge boon, leading in goals with 3. Isac Lundestrom and Troy Terry, both under 25 years old, are also among the team’s scoring leaders.

Speaking of youth, rookie Mason McTavish was injured on Oct. 19 in the win over the Flames. The lower-body injury occurred in the second period and McTavish did not return to the game. He had two points (1 goal, 1 assist) prior to the injury. In a related move, the team recalled Sam Carrick and Sonny Milano from the AHL.

Calgary Flames (0-1-1)

Much like the Sharks, the Flames will be playing just their third game of the season tonight, facing off against the Detroit Red Wings as they seek out their first win. The season opened with a 5-2 stomping by the Oilers last Saturday and the aforementioned overtime loss to the Ducks. To the team’s credit, that game was tight and they were tasked with restraining a young and fast Ducks offense.

With just four goals over those two games, center Elias Lindholm is leading scoring, having notched two of them. Milan Lucic has racked up 9 penalty minutes already, while the team has totaled 19 PIMS. Defender Rasmus Andersson was fined $5000 for head-butting Oilers forward Kailer Yamamoto in the season opener. They’ll need to clean that up, and quickly.

Ahead of the regular season, the team placed forward Brad Richardson on injured reserve. Forward Connor Zary will also miss six weeks with a broken ankle.

Edmonton Oilers (3-0-0)

Sitting atop the Pacific Division are a Canadian team we love to hate. Joining the Sharks as the only defeated team so far (everyone knock on wood right now), they’ve plowed through three Pacific Division opponents in their season-opening homestand. First, the Canucks took them to a shootout, where Kyle Turris secured a 3-2 victory. On Saturday, they put up five goals on Calgary, following it up with six goals against Anaheim on Tuesday.

Surprising no one, Connor McDavid (4 goals, 4 assists) and Leon Draisaitl (2 goals, 6 assists) lead the team with 8 points each. After years of issues between him and the club, 23-year-old Jesse Puljujarvi is poised for a break-out season, with 6 points (2 goals, 4 assists) in three games. 32-year-old journeyman Colton Sceviour has drawn into one game, against the Canucks, where he earned 17 penalty minutes (fighting, game misconduct and instigator), which still leads the team.

Goaltender Mike Smith, who has started all three of the team’s games so far, was injured in Tuesday’s game against the Ducks, “tweaking something” in his lower body. He left that game and will be questionable to play in the back-to-back series that begins tonight in Arizona.

Los Angeles Kings (1-2-0)

Three games into the season and the LA Kings are struggling to find their identity. In some ways, it feels like the Ducks are having the season the Kings are supposed to be having, with young players taking the reins. But Anaheim has something the Kings lack and that’s goaltending depth.

Opening at home, the Kings put six goals on the Golden Knights to win 6-2, but when Minnesota came to visit two days later,  they were held to just two goals, losing 3-2. They’re currently on a four-game road trip that began with a 2-1 loss to the Nashville Predators on Tuesday, even after a stellar performance in net by Cal Peterson.

It should be the kids scoring in LA, but instead, we’re seeing a resurgence of the Cup-era veterans. Anze Kopitar (5 goals, 3 assists), Drew Doughty (1 goal, 6 assists) and Dustin Brown (1 goal, 2 assists) are leading the pack. Brown is also leading the team with 10 hits.

That’s partly because of the injuries to the youth on this roster. Lias Anderson, Andreas Athanasiou and Quinton Byfield all began the season on Injured Reserve. Forward Brendan Lemieux was also placed on the COVID-19 Protocol last Saturday.

Seattle Kraken (1-3-1)

Everyone’s favorite recent expansion team hasn’t quite found their sea legs, but as Sharks fans know, it can be hard to establish an identity opening the season on the road. They needed the extra time to get Climate Pledge Arena ready for the 2022 season, but it may have also been a detriment for the newest Pacific Division foes to not have a home from the jump.

In five games so far, the one Seattle victory came in their second-ever game, a 4-3 win over the Predators. The team dropped the season opener to everyone’s least-favorite recent expansion team, losing 4-3 to Vegas. The Kraken lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets in overtime on Saturday, followed by back-to-back losses against the Philadelphia Flyers (6-1) and New Jersey Devils (4-1) earlier this week.

Jared McCann, a 2014 first-round pick by Vancouver, leads the team with 5 points (3 goals, 2 assists). Brandon Tanev has added 3 goals, as well, while our sweet boy Joonas Donskoi has added 3 assists. Another former Shark, Ryan Donato, has a goal and an assist.

We aren’t seeing the Kraken at their best yet. Colin Blackwell, Calle Jarnkrok and Marcus Johansson landed on the Injured Reserve early in the season, while backup goaltender Chris Driedger was added after his first appearance on Tuesday.

Vancouver Canucks (1-2-1)

Vancouver had a rough preseason and it’s not getting any easier for a team who always seems to be running out of time to improve. They too began the season on the road, taking their first two games to a shootout, losing to Edmonton (3-2) and claiming victory over the Flyers (5-4). That has been their only win so far, as they dropped their next two games against Detroit (3-1) and Buffalo (5-2).

What little bit of scoring the Canucks have been doing is getting done by committee, with 13 players on the scoresheet so far. No player has notched more than one goal, and J.T. Miller leads the team with 5 points (1 goal, 4 assists).

Most worrisome is that defender Quinn Hughes was missing from the team’s loss against Buffalo with an undisclosed injury. Head coach Travis Green doesn’t expect it to be long-term, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Vegas Golden Knights (1-2-0)

It sure is nice to see Vegas struggle.

After beating up the league’s collective little brother in their season opener, Vegas has struggled to find another win. First, they allowed Los Angeles to get their only win of the season so far, allowing six goals while only notching two of their own. Then the Blues came to town and took them down to the tune of 3-1.

Of course, losing both Max Pacioretty and Alex Tuch for a significant amount of time, plus Mattias Janmark and Mark Stone being unavailable against Buffalo has annihilated their depth. By the time they return, it may be too late for Vegas to recover.

Pacioretty and Chandler Stephenson lead the team in points with identical stat lines (2 goals, 1 assist). Sophomore Keegan Kolesar is leading the team with 15 hits. They’re a heavy hitting team, as defender Zach Whitecloud adds another 10 hits, as well as 9 from Brayden McNabb — but that’s what you do when you don’t have the puck.