James Neal, Todd Marchant

Pacific Division Watch (February 13)

With the All-Star break over, it’s time for the NHL playoff races to intensify. Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division’s outlook. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder.

Pacific Division outlook (February 13 -19)

1. Dallas Stars (31-19-6 for 68 pts; 56 Games Played)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: Three away games: vs. Edmonton (Tuesday), Calgary (Wednesday) and Vancouver (Saturday).

Thoughts: For a while, it seemed like the Stars had a semi-comfortable lead in the Pacific. Obviously, those days are gone. Interestingly enough, their week gets increasingly difficult as they go from better-win (Oilers) to toss-up (Flames) to maybe-they-can-steal-one (Canucks).

2. Anaheim Ducks (32-21-4 for 68 pts; 57 GP)

Current streak: Won four in a row.

Week ahead: Home vs. Washington (Wed), @ Minnesota (Fri), @ St. Louis (Sat).

Thoughts: With Ryan Getzlaf healthy and the renewed confidence the Ducks built up for some of their second-level scorers during his absence. The team could take a slight division lead, too, as their schedule is friendlier than the Stars’. For at least one week, that is.

3. Phoenix Coyotes (29-19-9 for 67 pts; 57 GP)

Current streak: Four wins in a row.

Week ahead: Home vs. Washington (Mon), home vs. Atlanta (Thurs), @ Nashville (Sat)

Thoughts: Monday’s game is an interesting test for the ‘Yotes, as they play the struggling Capitals on national TV. Generally speaking, this is a pretty manageable week, so Phoenix needs to keep it going.

4. San Jose Sharks (30-21-6 for 66 pts; 57 GP)

Current streak: Two straight losses.

Week ahead: @ Nashville (Tues), home vs. Washington (Thurs), home vs. Colorado (Sat)

Thoughts: After going 9-0-1 during an outstanding 10-game stretch, the Sharks have lost two one-goal games to teams outside the playoff picture in the East. As a result, they’ve tumbled to seventh place in the West. They need to get together this week.

5. Los Angeles Kings (31-22-3 for 65 pts; 56 GP)

Current streak: Two wins.

Week ahead: Three more road games: @ Columbus (Wed), @ Rangers (Thurs) and @ Islanders (Sat).

Thoughts: On paper, the Kings should win all three of these games. The Blue Jackets are hit-or-miss, the Rangers haven’t been playing well and – scrappy or not – the Islanders are one of the worst teams in the league. Yet with three games in four days, Los Angeles might be liable to cough one or two up. They’ve done well so far in their big road trip (4-1-1), but they cannot afford to drop winnable games … even if it would be “understandable” to do so.

The Royal Half


@ Dustin Brown is the Vlade Divac of the Kings… discuss.

Blue Jackets’ Wennberg done for night with upper-body injury

Alexander Wennberg, Jay Bouwmeester
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It wouldn’t be a regular season game without a Columbus Blue Jackets injury, right?

OK, the Blue Jackets hope that 2015-16 looks different from the medically challenged mess of last season, but at least one player is banged up tonight.

Alexander Wennberg suffered an upper-body injury and won’t return on Friday, as the team noted.

There’s no word yet regarding how serious the issue might be. It looks like he might have suffered an injury thanks to a Chris Kreider check:

Naturally, the Blue Jackets must hope that this doesn’t begin another trend.

Kings grab goalie insurance by signing Budaj

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 22: Jhonas Enroth #1 and Peter Budaj #31 of the Los Angeles Kings stretch before a game against the Arizona Coyotes at STAPLES Center on September 22, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI via Getty Images)
via Los Angeles Kings
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In slightly less interesting Los Angeles Kings news than the latest in the Mike Richards fiasco, the team handed Peter Budaj a one-year, two-way deal on Friday.

The veteran goalie’s contract pays $575K on the NHL level and $100K in the AHL (though it’s $150K guaranteed), according to Hockey’s Cap.

At the moment, it sounds like Budaj will be third on the Kings’ goalie depth chart. That says as much about how things have been going lately for Los Angeles than Budaj’s work on a PTO.

As noted above, one of the more significant moves in Budaj’s favor came when the New York Islanders claimed Jean-Francois Berube off of waivers this week.

The Kings actually waived Budaj before signing him, so this has to be a relief to a goalie with a fairly robust resume as a backup.

All apologies to Budaj, but it’s probably true that the Kings would prefer not to see him at the NHL level very often in 2015-16.