Pacific Division Watch (February 26)

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 26 -March 4)

1. San Jose Sharks (36-21-6 for 78 pts; 63 Games Played)

Current streak: Six wins in a row.

Week ahead: Two home games – vs. Colorado (Tuesday) and Detroit (Thursday).

Thoughts: After going five for seven in a road trip to start February (with only two one-goal losses), the Sharks won six games in a row. That means San Jose is 11-2-0 in their last 13 games and that roll could continue now that the Sharks will play six straight games in San Jose and nine of their next 11 at home. Overall, they play 13 home games to only six on the road to finish the season, making it tough to bet against their chances for another division title.

2. Phoenix Coyotes (33-21-9 for 75 pts; 63 GP)

Current streak: Two losses in a row.

Week ahead: @ Chicago (Sun), home vs. Dallas (Tues) and @ Los Angeles (Thurs).

Thoughts: Once again, the ‘Yotes are in position to make the playoffs while their franchise is in limbo. Is it some twisted form of “good luck” or just a coincidence? (It’s probably just a coincidence.)

3. Los Angeles Kings (34-23-4 for 72 pts; 61 GP)

Current streak: Two straight wins.

Week ahead: Three home games – vs. Colorado (Sat), Detroit (Mon) and Phoenix (Thurs).

Thoughts: The Kings have an odd schedule right now. They just came off a highly successful 10-game road trip and will begin a five-game homestand. After that, they’ll play four games in a row on the road and then five consecutive contests in Los Angeles. They’ve already shown considerable resilience, but Drew Doughty & Co. will need to continue to do so to keep up in the Pacific.

4. Dallas Stars (32-23-6 for 70 pts; 61 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Home vs. Nashville (Sat), @ Phoenix (Tues) and @ Anaheim (Fri).

Thoughts: The Stars face an awfully daunting set of games after the trade deadline, which might justify a lot of “The Stars are falling apart after the Brad Richards trade/the team should have moved Richards because they’re falling apart anyway” columns depending on how that goes. After Saturday’s game against the Predators, the Stars will face in one crucial game after the other as they take a tour of the Pacific: four straight road games against Phoenix and the California clubs. An optimist will say they can control their fate while a pessimist will remark that it can all fall apart in about a week.

5. Anaheim Ducks (32-25-6 for 69 pts; 62 GP)

Current streak: Five losses in a row.

Week ahead: Three home games – vs. Colorado (Sun), vs. Detroit (Wed) and Dallas (Fri).

Thoughts: The Ducks are among the streakiest teams in the NHL. If that holds true, then expect them to trend up soon: they’re about to begin a five-game homestand and will play seven for their next eight games at the Pond.

Vegas wants ‘progressive’ head coach, says McPhee

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Golden Knights GM George McPhee continued to list the characteristics he wants from a head coach this week, explaining that he’s searching for a forward-thinking bench boss.

“We want someone who is very current on the game, who is progressive on how the game should be played,” McPhee said in a recent phone call with season ticket holders, per the club website. “We’re looking for that progressive guy that can really help us through the early years and help develop our team and our players.”

So, time to connect the dots.

Back in November, Vegas owner Bill Foley laid the initial groundwork for McPhee’s coaching profile, saying he wanted to hire an experienced head coach.

“He’s not looking for a first-termer,” said Foley. “Some may or may not be available. … I would say the coach that we name is going to be a recognizable individual.”

Among the names that have already been floated, many fit the above billing: Jack Capuano, Gerard Gallant, Ken Hitchcock and Michel Therrien, among others.

Vegas has already spoken with Gallant and reportedly made contact with Capuano as well, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Gallant was nominated for last year’s Jack Adams as the NHL’s top coach, and McPhee is familiar with Capuano, having worked as an adviser to Isles GM Garth Snow prior to taking the Golden Knights gig.

It’s also believed former Flyers head coach Craig Berube is being considered, along with current Montreal associate Kirk Muller.

 

Pre-game reading: Tonight’s Kings-Flames game could get testy

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— Up top, the Calgary Flames don’t want Matthew Tkachuk to play any differently — even though Drew Doughty called the rookie winger a “pretty dirty player” after taking the 19-year-old’s elbow to the face earlier this month.

— Tkachuk was suspended two games for that elbow. Still, there could be fireworks tonight when the Flames and the Kings meet again in Calgary. Especially after Tkachuk replied to Doughty’s remarks with the following: “I expected more from him, honestly, than to go right to the media and start complaining after a loss.” (Calgary Sun)

— TSN’s Gary Lawless thinks Sergei Bobrovsky should win the Hart Trophy over Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby. Lawless writes: “No other player has been as important to his team and its results as Bobrovsky has to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Take Bobrovsky off the C-bus and it’s not necessarily in the ditch but it isn’t nipping at the Capitals for the league lead.” (TSN)

— Coyotes captain Shane Doan is understandably frustrated about the lower-body injury that’s kept him out of the lineup the past six games. At 40, this could be Doan’s last year in the NHL, so hopefully he’s able to return and play at least once more in front of all his fans. (Arizona Republic)

— Golden Knights owner Bill Foley doesn’t want each team’s protected list to be made public ahead of the expansion draft. That being said, Foley is also realistic: “I’d rather we know what each team has left unprotected and we make our picks and it’s a big surprise. I think there’s going to be a lot of leaks, though. I found one thing about the NHL that … everyone talks.” (Yahoo)

— An appreciation of the Detroit Red Wings playoff streak, which will finally come to an end this season. The last time the Wings missed was 1990. As noted by Nick Cotsonika: “No player in the NHL today was in the NHL then, not even Jaromir Jagr. Nine of the franchises in the NHL today weren’t in the NHL, 10 if you include the Vegas Golden Knights, who begin play next season.” (NHL.com)

Enjoy the games!

The Leafs’ remaining schedule is no cakewalk

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The Toronto Maple Leafs took care of business last night, sending the floundering Florida Panthers to a 3-2 defeat at Air Canada Centre.

Now comes the hard part for the young Leafs. They have seven games left to book their first playoff appearance since 2013, and their schedule is no cakewalk.

The Leafs’ next three games are all on the road, in Nashville Thursday, Detroit Saturday, and Buffalo Monday. After that, it’s a four-game home stand to close out the schedule, all against formidable opponents: Washington, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and Columbus.

With a four-point playoff cushion, the Leafs can afford to lose a few games down the stretch. But head coach Mike Babcock doesn’t want his players looking too far ahead.

“I really believe with our group if we just focus on the day we’re playing and play right, we have a real good chance to win,” Babcock said. “That’s what we talk about and that’s kind of our mantra every day is just play right, play fast and we have an opportunity to be successful. We don’t get all caught up in the race. We know the standings, it’s in the paper every day, so we know that.”

The Leafs today sent goalie Garret Sparks back to the AHL. That can only mean good news for starter Frederik Andersen, who could play Thursday after missing last night’s victory with an upper-body injury.

Backup Curtis McElhinney got the nod against the Panthers, calling it the biggest game of his career. The 33-year-old then went out and made 25 saves to earn the win.

“It was great,” said McElhinney. “Getting a couple of goals in the first period there helped out a little bit and let me settle into it. It was a nice win.”

Parise ‘pretty black and blue’ after Wilson high stick, but injury not serious

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Zach Parise looked in bad shape after taking a Tom Wilson high stick to the face in Minnesota’s loss to Washington on Tuesday.

Thankfully for the Wild, Parise’s early diagnosis is a good one.

“He can see and is fine as far as that goes,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said on Wednesday, per the club’s Twitter account. “He’s sore in the upper body. I don’t think he’ll be out long.”

Boudreau went on to add that Parise was “pretty black and blue” and unlikely to play tomorrow, when Minnesota hosts Ottawa. That said, the club expects the 32-year-old to return next week.

It goes without saying that losing Parise is huge. The alternate captain has 17 goals and 37 points through 64 games this year, and is averaging 17:33 TOI per night. And for a Wild team that’s mired in a horrific slump — just three wins in its last 15 games — being down the services of such a vital contributor is costly.

Related: Stewart fought Wilson in response to the high stick