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.

Where do LA Kings go after Jeff Carter injury?

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The Los Angeles Kings continued their hot start to the season Wednesday night but lost a big piece of their offense in the process.

During their 5-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens, forward Jeff Carter suffered a lower-body injury in the first period and did not return. A team source told Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider that it’s “going to be a little while,” and TSN’s Bob McKenzie Tweeted Thursday morning that Carter was cut by Jeff Petry’s skate and he’s hearing it will be “multiple weeks” before a return is possible.

Carter has three assists in six games this season and has been key cog in the productive “That ’70’s Line” with Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson. The Kings are off their best start in franchise history at 5-0-1 and are the only remaining NHL team yet to lose in regulation.

With Carter now gone for the foreseeable future, where does this leave LA’s center depth? After Anze Kopitar, it’s quite a drop off. And you wonder if the short-term solution here is signing Brooks Laich, who wasn’t signed after attending training camp on a tryout deal but has continued to practice with the club. He’ll come cheap and as long as they don’t need to fill that void for far too long, Laich is a veteran who’s familiar with the organization. He’s a decent first try to take over that spot before general manager Rob Blake needs to look down on the farm or to someone on the outside.

Blake, who’s expected to address Carter’s situation sometime on Thursday, has time to figure out his next move(s) with the Kings off until Saturday when they begin a six-game road trip.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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US women’s hockey team gets Wilma Rudolph Courage Award

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NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. women’s hockey team received the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award on Wednesday night at the Salute to Women in Sports hosted by the Women’s Sports Foundation.

In April, the hockey team won its fourth consecutive world title and seventh in eight tries. The U.S. beat Canada 3-2 in overtime in the title game in Plymouth, Michigan. The team had threatened to boycott the world championships on home ice last spring before USA Hockey agreed to improved salary and benefits.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice received the Billie Jean King Leadership Award at the 38th annual gala. Rice, a professor at Stanford and former tennis player and figure skater, was recently selected to lead an NCAA commission to study college basketball after a federal investigation uncovered bribery and fraud.

Stanford women’s basketball coach Tara VanDerveer also was honored. The longtime Cardinal coach reached 1,000 NCAA career victories in 2017.

Minnesota Lynx star Maya Moore and Olympic swimming sensation Katie Ledecky were selected sportswomen of the year.

‘Hawks were ‘as close to brutal as you can get’ against Blues

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The Chicago Blackhawks have been relatively good this season, but head coach Joel Quenneville was far from impressed by his team’s performance in Wednesday night’s loss to the St. Louis Blues.

The Blackhawks found themselves down 1-0 after one period and 3-0 after two periods. To make matters even worse, they managed just eight shots on Blues goalie Jake Allen through 40 minutes.

They finally managed to score two quick power play goals late in the third period, but it was too little too late.

“That was a bad start and a bad middle,” Quenneville said after the game, per the Chicago Sun-Times. “That was as close to brutal as you can get. They played well and we were brutal.”

Yea, Quenneville wasn’t happy.

The possession chart from the game (via hockeystats.ca) gives us a pretty clear look at how everything unfolded during Wednesday’s game.

The Blues (dark blue) built up a pretty comfortable lead in possession until the ‘Hawks (light blue) turned it on late in the game. Where was that urgency in the first two periods?

After going 3-0-1 in their first four games of the season, Chicago has now dropped two of their last three contests.

They’ll have a chance to get back on the horse right away, but don’t expect it to be easy for them. They’ll host the Edmonton Oilers, who have struggled out of the gate, tonight. Still, stopping Connor McDavid won’t be easy.

They’ll conclude their three games in four nights stretch in Arizona on Saturday night. The ‘Hawks will then head to Vegas on Tuesday before playing back-to-back games against Nashville and Colorado on Friday and Saturday.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

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PHT Morning Skate: Islanders make young cancer patient’s dream come true

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–ESPN’s latest power rankings look at each team’s biggest worries this season. The Maple Leafs are number one in the rankings, but they should be concerned that a youngster like Mitch Marner might regress during his sophomore season. (ESPN)

–Earlier this season, Lightning forward J.T. Brown raised a fist during the playing of the American anthem. Now, Brown says he won’t raise his first anymore, but he will get more involved in his community. (Tampa Bay Times)

–Happy belated birthday to Penguins winger Phil Kessel who turned 30 on October 2nd. Unfortunately for Phil, Pens TV caught him struggling to blow out his birthday candles. (BarDown)

–Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman came out with his weekly “31 Thoughts” column on Wednesday. He discussed the pressures of the NHL, the latest in the Matt Duchene saga, the Bruins wanting to re-sign Chara and much, much more. (Sportsnet.ca)

Will Butcher, Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier have grabbed a lot of the headlines in New Jersey this season, but allaboutthejersey.com believes that veteran Adam Henrique has been the most important player on the roster. Henrique wins faceoffs, he’s on the first power play unit, the first penalty-killing unit and he’s been productive. (allaboutthejersey.com)

–The Winnipeg Jets signed Steve Mason during the summer so that he could be their starting goaltender for the next two years. That hasn’t exactly worked out. Connor Hellebuyck has been the better of the two goalies and it’s time to make him the starter. (The Score)

–The Mexican Hockey League unveiled their logos and uniforms. They’re pretty unique to say the least. That Olmec Stone Heads logo is…something! (sportslogos.net)

–Now that we’re two weeks into Golden Knights’ inaugural season in the NHL, we know exactly what hockey in Vegas looks like. “With no laws against open containers, it was a tailgate atmosphere in a downtown setting. Instead of fans holding cans of light beers and sitting in patio chairs next to cars in a parking lot, they were on city benches holding half-priced margaritas and towers of frozen alcohol. If you followed the path of a beanbag being tossed during a game of cornhole, your eye would catch an advertisement for a Lady Gaga show.” Sounds like fun! (Vice Sports)

–Ken Holland was a big reason for Detroit’s run of 25 consecutive playoff appearances, but it sounds like a lot of Red Wings fans think he’s become the problem. (metrotimes.com)

–Brandon Bloom, who is an eight-year-old boy suffering from non-Hodgkin lymphoma, got to hit the ice with the New York Islanders. What an experience for the youngster. “When they brought it to our attention, I think everybody was excited about it,” said Islanders forward Josh Bailey. “I had a chance to meet the Bloom family a while ago. They’re really quality people and they’re going through a tough time.” Great work by the Isles and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. (NHL.com)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

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