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.

The West’s next round is now set (and wide-open)

Getty
Leave a comment

Saturday was a great day for fans of brevity and revenge.

Three of a possible three series ended on this day, with the Rangers dispatching the Canadiens, the Blues eliminating the “better” Wild, and the Oilers knocking off the Sharks in six.

The Rangers await either the Bruins or Senators and the Penguins face the winner of the Leafs – Capitals series out East, but we now know how the West shakes out.

St. Louis Blues vs. Nashville Predators

Both teams provided some of the upsets of this young postseason. Each features a red-hot goalie in Jake Allen and Pekka Rinne. Interesting.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers

There will be a lot of orange. We may also see a ton of goals with Ryan Getzlaf on fire, Oscar Klefbom headlining the list of unhealthy players and Connor McDavid possibly able to really take off against a Ducks defense that is beat up in its own right.

It’s already been a strange season out West, with the Kings missing the playoffs and first-round exits for the Sharks and Blackhawks. Get ready – and giddy – for things to get even weirder as the postseason goes along.

Oilers win first series since 2006 after Sharks fall crossbar short of overtime

8 Comments

After making the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Edmonton Oilers weren’t just “happy to be there.” They confirmed as much by eliminating the San Jose Sharks with a 3-1 victory in Game 6, winning the series 4-2.

Yes, those young Oilers just eliminated the team that represented the West in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. Wow.

Ultimately, winning the breakaway battle in the second period indeed made the difference. Leon Draisaitl and Anton Slepyshev scored on their chances in the middle frame while Patrick Marleau could not; Slepyshev’s 2-0 goal ultimately became the series-clincher.

Now, that’s not to say that Marleau was a drag on San Jose. If this is it for one of the faces of the franchise, he had a great 2016-17, including generating the Sharks’ final goal of the postseason.

The Shark Tank was alive after Marleau reduced the Oilers’ lead to 2-1, and more than a few blood pressures rose – both in Edmonton and San Jose – after the Sharks got this close to tying things up.

Wow.

With this result, the West is set. The St. Louis Blues will take on the Nashville Predators while the Oilers face the Anaheim Ducks.

As much as people try to put the training wheels on Connor McDavid & Co., the West is wide-open enough that it’s not so outrageous to imagine a big run for Edmonton.

Beating the Sharks is a pretty nice way of adding an exclamation point to that statement win. And hey … they beat the Sharks last time around, too.

Canadiens sound a lot like Wild after playoff exit (without ‘better team’ talk)

Getty
Leave a comment

Much like the Minnesota Wild earlier on Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens are stunned to approach the golf courses so rapidly.

Many of the responses after the New York Rangers eliminated them in Game 6 sound a lot like what the Wild uttered, though there’s no potential bulletin board material like Bruce Boudreau’s line about the better team failing to win four games.

Max Pacioretty viewed this early exit as a “missed opportunity” and never really believed that an elimination was coming.

Claude Julien provided parallel comments to Bruce Boudreau, believing that Montreal generated chances but lacked “finish.”

Brendan Gallagher? He worries that this might have been the Canadiens’ best chance, something the Wild must also worry about with a difficult offseason ahead.

Now, it’s likely that most teams speak about being shocked and expecting better after being booted from the postseason.

Still, these reactions do shine a light on the staggering nature of some of these exits. Will the likes of the Blackhawks, Canadiens and Wild struggle to be in such prime positions in the future? With the Sharks needing a comeback against the Oilers, could the trend continue on Saturday?

The bottom line is that, instead of preparing for a Game 7 after winning the Atlantic Division, the Canadiens are packing up their stuff and worrying about re-signing Carey Price. That’s a pretty stunning turnaround, regardless of the soundbytes available.

Video: Draisaitl, Slepyshev score on breakaways, Talbot spurns Marleau

Leave a comment

Some playoff games or even series come down to something as stupidly simple as one team taking advantage of their opportunities while the other fails to capitalize on chances.

If Game 6 of the Oilers – Sharks series follows the story of the second period, then San Jose may join Saturday’s stream of eliminated teams.

It’s not fair to boil it down to three breakaways, but some might feel that way.

Leon Draisaitl looked like a gritty, strong veteran during his first career playoff goal, bulling his way to the net for 1-0 breakaway tally. About a minute later, Anton Slepyshev was even more alone against Martin Jones, and he scored his first postseason goal to make it 2-0.

That stings for the Sharks, and it doesn’t help that they had a similar chance not long after. This time around, Patrick Marleau couldn’t beat Cam Talbot, so it remained 2-0 for Edmonton.

That’s the same score as the game enters the third period, even with some dangerous late chances for the Sharks.

If the Sharks don’t score at least two goals in the third, their push to return to the Stanley Cup Final could end in the first round.