John McCarthy, Ilya Bryzgalov

Pacific Division Watch (February 19)

Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division. 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 19 -25)

1. Phoenix Coyotes (31-19-9 for 71 pts; 59 Games Played)

Current streak: Six wins in a row.

Week ahead: Four road games – vs. Nashville (Saturday), Philadelphia (Tuesday), Tampa Bay (Wednesday) and Columbus (Friday).

Thoughts: With five away games in a row and 12 games against teams in the two conferences’ playoff picture, the Desert Dogs might be the next Pacific Division team to see a painful drop. If they make it through that run at No. 1, maybe they’ll do some legitimate damage in the playoffs too.

2. San Jose Sharks (32-20-6 for 70 pts; 59 GP)

Current streak: Two wins in a row.

Week ahead: One home game (vs. Colorado on Sat) then three away games – vs. Detroit (Tues), Pittsburgh (Wed) and Calgary (Fri).

Thoughts: The Pacific is such a confusing mass of quality (but not quite dominant) teams that I’ll just stick with my off-season prediction that the Sharks would win the division again.

3. Los Angeles Kings (32-22-4 for 68 pts; 58 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: @ NY Islanders (Sat), @ Anaheim (Wed), home vs. Minnesota (Thurs).

Thoughts: The impressive thing about the Kings’ nice run back into the thick of things is that they’ve been successful during a brutal 10-game road swing so far. They are 5-0-3, meaning that they’ve squeezed at least a point from every game. If they can beat the Isles and at least make it a three point game between the hated Ducks, this tour would be an outstanding success. As it stands, it’s a testament to a strong willed team that unfortunately (for them) resides in a conference and division full of like-minded squads.

4. Dallas Stars (31-21-6 for 68 pts; 58 GP)

Current streak: Three straight losses.

Week ahead: @ Vancouver (Sat), home vs. New Jersey (Tues), @ Detroit (Thurs).

Thoughts: It’s not a snowflake-level original thought but jeez, they’re all the way down to fourth place just like that? This week’s games obviously aren’t going to make the climb back any easier, with games against the two highest ranked teams in the West and possibly the hottest team in the NHL.

5. Anaheim Ducks (32-23-4 for 68 pts; 59 GP)

Current streak: Two losses.

Week ahead: @ St. Louis (Sat), home vs. Los Angeles (Wed), home vs. Minnesota (Fri).

Week ahead: With the possible exception of the long-shot Blues, the Ducks face two teams that are just a touch ahead of them. It’s been impressive to watch Anaheim stay in the picture despite losing Ryan Getzlaf and Jonas Hiller for patches of games.

Sheary’s in for Penguins in Game 2; Kunitz is a game-time decision

Pittsburgh Penguins' Conor Sheary (43) is greeted by teammates Brian Dumoulin (8) and Chris Kunitz (14) after scoring his first NHL goal, in the first period of the Penguins' hockey game against the Boston Bruins, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Pittsburgh. Bruins' Brad Marchand is at lower right. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals might look a little different in Game 2 on Saturday after that blistering Game 1.

As the team down 1-0, it’s not too surprising that the Penguins boast the more significant lineup questions, although they lean toward health concerns rather than performance tweaks.

Conor Sheary was able to return during Game 1 after Tom Wilson‘s controversial knee-to-knee hit, and he appears to be in for tonight’s contest as well. Chris Kunitz isn’t quite a guarantee, as he’s currently labeled a game-time decision.

For what it’s worth, Kunitz himself believes he’ll be in. Whether he plays on Saturday or not, it sounds like Kunitz is taking extra safety measures going forward.

The Penguins stayed vague with Marc-Andre Fleury, merely claiming that he’s making “progress.”

Generally speaking, Matt Murray has been playing well for the Penguins. Of course, the scrutiny will rise if Pittsburgh loses Game 2 on Saturday.

The Capitals are also considering a tweak. CSN Mid-Atlantic reports that Barry Trotz is pondering replacing Dmitry Orlov with Taylor Chorney.

“They told me to be prepared as if I’m going to be playing,” Chorney said. “We’ll just see how it goes.”

As you may notice, Chorney isn’t the only one in wait-and-see mode heading into Game 2, which you can watch on NBC.

Hitchcock, Blues know they need to slow down the Stars … but can they?

The puck shot by Dallas Stars left wing Antoine Roussel crosses the goal line as St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott (1) and defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (19) attempt the stop during the second period of Game 1 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference semifinals, Friday, April 29, 2016, in Dallas. The Stars won 2-1. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP)
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The Dallas Stars only beat the St. Louis Blues by one goal (2-1) in Game 1, but the feeling is that the score was deceptively close.

Blame it on fatigue from that epic series against the Chicago Blackhawks or not; the Blues looked out of rhythm and out of breath against the hard-charging Stars.

At least they’re not in denial about that, though.

“We’re not going to beat anybody giving up 40 shots on goal,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch after their Game 1 loss on Friday. “We’re not going to beat anybody giving up the scoring chances we did today.”

Hitchcock added “we’ve got to find the energy to play our game, and we’ve got to find it quickly in the next 48 hours.”

Allowing 40 shots on goal might not be that common for the Blues, yet they leaned heavily on Brian Elliott against the Blackhawks in that series.

Just look at the SOG comparison in that series and in Game 1 vs. Dallas:

Game 1: Blues – 18 SOG, Blackhawks – 35
Game 2: Blues – 31, Blackhawks – 29
Game 3: Blues – 36, Blackhawks – 46
Game 4: Blues – 20, Blackhawks – 42
Game 5: Blues – 46, Blackhawks – 35
Game 6: Blues – 28, Blachawks – 36
Game 7: Blues – 26, Blackhawks – 33

Game 1: Blues – 32, Stars – 42

Such shot comparisons make you wonder if Game 1 provided evidence of a rest advantage or if this might just be the state of affairs for the Blues (at least against two electric offenses).

One area to watch is the transition game. The Stars seemed to tear through the neutral zone while the Blues sometimes struggled to get things going.

“They’re a team that wants to play real fast up the ice and through the neutral zone,” Jay Bouwmeester said, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Yeah, we didn’t do a very good job of slowing them down. A lot of their chances were off the rush. That’s what you want to take away from them.”

File that under “easier said than done.”

Gather your lucky charms, 2016 NHL Draft Lottery is tonight

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Honestly, it’s tough to blame people for making Edmonton Oilers jokes in regards to the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery.

Really it’s only human nature to drop one-liners about the perennial cellar-dweller that (seemingly) always lands the No. 1 pick.

Will it happen again this time around? We’ll find out soon enough, more precisely sometime around 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

As you can see, the Oilers do not have the best odds to land the top pick … but they’re close:

A reminder: this time around the lottery will determine the top three picks. The NHL discusses that tweak and other changes here:

For the first time, the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery will assign the top three slots in the first round of the NHL Draft – a change from prior years, when the Draft Lottery was used to determine the winner of the first overall selection exclusively.

Want the full lowdown on the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery? PHT has you covered here.

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

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The Stanley Cup playoffs continue with two games on Saturday. You can catch tonight’s games via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

NY Islanders at Tampa Bay (3:00 p.m. ET)

The TV broadcast of Game 2 will be on NBC. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

Pittsburgh at Washington (8:00 p.m. ET)

The TV broadcast of Game 2 will also be on NBC. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

Some reading to get you pumped up:

– The Penguins are keeping chatty Marc-Andre Fleury from speaking to the media (reportedly).

Tom Wilson received a fine, not a suspension, for that knee-to-knee hit.

T.J. Oshie was the difference-maker for Washington in Game 1.

– Don’t expect Steven Stamkos to face red-hot John Tavares anytime soon (or at all, maybe).

Read about the Isles’ Game 1 win.