Kings Oilers Hockey

West update: Now the Kings lead the Pacific Division


I’m a big fan of parity in the NHL, but for those who glorify the days of stability and a handful of teams running roughshod over competition, this has been a dark month or two. The Pacific Division might be the greatest enemy of consistency, as the top spot is being treated like a hot potato going from the San Jose Sharks to the Dallas Stars and finally to the Los Angeles Kings after tonight’s results.

To keep with the tradition of wide-ranging West impact updates, I’ll go ahead in order of where the teams rank as of this writing.

(3) Los Angeles 4, Edmonton 1

The Kings beat down a beaten down Edmonton Oilers team tonight to (more than a little bit ridiculously) take the division lead. Jonathan Quick needed a laughable 13-for-14 save night to beat the Oil while four different Kings found the net.

(4) Nashville hops over (5) Detroit (read here); (6) Chicago was idle

Vancouver Canucks kick around Stars down to seventh place

Hopefully the Dallas Stars didn’t get too comfy in third place because the second place Vancouver Canucks destroyed them 5-2. There really wasn’t much of a doubt about this one, as the Canucks just looked downright better than the Stars. (Probably because, at least at this moment, they very much are.)

(8) Phoenix was idle

(9) San Jose was idle, too, but …

The road to the playoffs looks like it will go through the Sharks – in one way or another. First, San Jose begins a home-and-home with the Stars on Saturday. There isn’t much of an excuse for them to be worn out against Dallas tomorrow considering the fact the Stars got kicked around tonight. (Oh, and Ray Ratto points out that the Stars are an ugly 1-10-2 on the tail end of back-to-backs this season.)

If that wasn’t big enough, the Sharks’ final two games of the season are a home-and-home set against the current Pacific leader Los Angeles. It’s anyone’s guess what exactly will be on the line then, but it’s hard to imagine those games being anything but huge.

Finally, moving on from the Pacific-specific teams but certainly a Pacific-relevant development:

(10) Colorado deals a big blow to (11) Calgary

The Avalanche face some tough odds to make the playoffs, as they’ll likely need to root for a lot of two-point games and extreme results (up-and-down won’t cut it). If nothing else, they probably won’t need to worry much about the Flames after handling them by a score of 4-1.

Colorado also has some positives to build on for next season, particularly with the stretch run work of Semyon Varlamov, who stopped 38 out of 31 shots to keep the Avs alive – for the moment.

Niemi blanks Pens, notches two assists in Stars debut

Antti Niemi, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist

DALLAS (AP) — Antti Niemi recorded his 33rd career shutout and assisted on two goals in his Dallas debut, as the Stars beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Thursday night in the season opener for both.

Ales Hemsky had a power-play goal and an assist.

Rookie Matthias Janmark scored on his first shot on his first shift in an NHL game to make it 1-0. The Stars acquired Niemi and Janmark in trades earlier this year.

Dallas scored on two of five power plays. Jamie Benn, the NHL’s leading scorer last season, had a power-play goal in the third period.

Niemi made 37 saves to improve his career record against the Penguins to 5-1-1. He withstood a flurry in the final minute after Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra skater.

Fleury had 21 saves.

The Stars are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Pittsburgh, and have won three in a row overall.

Janmark skated down the slot, took a pass from Hemsky and shot between Fleury’s legs at 1:39 of the first.

The Penguins dominated the latter half of the period, but couldn’t score. Niemi’s best stop was a reaching glove save of Rod Scuderi’s drive from the blue line with less than 3 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh outshot the Stars 10-4 in the first.

Hemsky scored at 5:42 of the second on Dallas’ first power play. His shot from the top of the right faceoff circle went in over Fleury’s right shoulder.

The Penguins again had an advantage in shots, 13-11. Pittsburgh had chances in close, but Niemi turned those away. Midway through the second, John Klingberg cleared away a loose puck from in front of the net.

Seven seconds into the Stars’ fourth power play of the third period, Jamie Benn tipped in Jason Spezza‘s shot from the right point.

NOTES: Dallas acquired Janmark as part of a March trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit. The rookie had been playing in the Swedish Hockey League. . San Jose traded Niemi’s rights to the Stars in June for a seventh-round draft pick. Also making their Dallas debuts were LW Patrick Sharp and D Johnny Oduya, teammates with Chicago’s Stanley Cup champions last season. . In his first game for the Penguins, Phil Kessel played in his 447th straight game. . Pittsburgh was 0 for 3 on the power play.

Fabbri’s first spoils McDavid’s debut as Blues down Oilers

Robby Fabbri, Justin Schultz
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rookie Robby Fabbri scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period to help the St. Louis Blues beat Edmonton 3-1 Thursday night, spoiling Oilers rookie Connor McDavid‘s NHL debut.

Vladimir Tarasenko had the tying goal for the Blues near the midpoint of the second period, and Troy Brouwer added an empty-netter with 18 seconds remaining in the third. Brian Elliott finished with 23 saves.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the first period for Edmonton and Cam Talbot had 28 saves.

McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, took 22 shifts, played 18:07 and was on the ice for Brouwer’s goal. He had two shots on goal, and struggled on faceoffs – winning only three of 13.

Fabbri, a 19-year-old forward — and McDavid’s childhood friend — was also playing in his first NHL game. The Blues’ first-round pick in 2014 was one of three rookies in the St. Louis lineup, joining defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson.

Nugent-Hopkins gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead late in the first period with a fluke power-play goal. He lost a face-off but when Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo tried to clear the puck it bounced off Alexander Steen and past Brian Elliott. Nugent-Hopkins was credited with the unassisted power-play goal with 2:38 remaining in the period.

Tarasenko tied it a 9:10 of the second after getting loose on a breakaway with a stretch pass from Alex Pietrangelo and beating Talbot through his legs.

Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year, $60 million extension in the offseason, was the last Blues player to score in his debut.

NOTES: McDavid and F Anton Slepyshev made their NHL debuts for the Oilers. … St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina dropped the ceremonial first puck. … The attendance was announced as standing room-only 19,327.