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PHT’s 2018-19 Pacific Division Preview

(The 2018-19 NHL season is almost here. This week Pro Hockey Talk will be previewing all four divisions looking at strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

• Atlantic Division Preview
• Metropolitan Division Preview
• Central Division Preview

At the start of the 2017-18 season there was an expectation that the Western Conference representative in the Stanley Cup Final would come from the Pacific Division. The oddsmakers, misguided as it may have turned out to be in hindsight, believed it would be the Edmonton Oilers, and that the expansion Vegas Golden Knights would be one of the league’s worst teams.

Not exactly how it all played out.

Once the games started getting played the Oilers turned out to be a season-long mess and disappointment, while the Golden Knights came out of nowhere, rolled to a division title, and then won the Western Conference before losing to the Washington Capitals in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Following an unexpected season on the ice, there was a ton of significant roster movement within the division with San Jose, Vegas, Los Angeles, Calgary and Arizona all making significant changes to their roster.

Who ended up getting better and who ended up getting worse? Let us take a look around the Pacific Division as we continue our PHT Divisional previews.

ANAHEIM DUCKS

Better or Worse: Nobody stays the same in professional sports; you’re either doing something to get better or you’re doing something to get worse. And by not really doing anything to get better over the summer it makes me want to say the Ducks might be a little worse, especially given everything that happened around them in the division this summer where San Jose, Vegas, and Los Angeles all made big moves to strengthen their team. Still a good team, but not really much better than they were.

Strengths: The Ducks’ strength is definitely on the back end where they have Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, and Josh Manson leading the defense, and then have the duo of John Gibson and Ryan Miller in net. When healthy Gibson is one of the best goalies in the league and Miller was outstanding last year as a backup when needed.

Weaknesses: Corey Perry‘s injury is going to be a major blow to a team that was already lacking in offense. They are going to need Ondrej Kase to take a big step in his development and get a little more out of Jakob Silfverberg to make up for it. 

2017-18 Highlight: Crushed by injuries down the middle the Ducks addressed it by trading Sami Vatanen to the New Jersey Devils for Adam Henrique. A few weeks after the trade Henrique scored one of the best goals of the NHL season against his former team when he did this.

MVP Candidate: Ryan Getzlaf may be entering his age 33 season but he is still an impact player and top-line center. He has scored at a point-per-game level the past two years and still makes everyone around him better.

Playoffs or Lottery: Even with the injury to Perry this is still probably a playoff team — especially in this division — but one that may be behind San Jose and Vegas within the the division.

ARIZONA COYOTES 

Better or Worse: They will be much better. They showed huge improvement in the second half of the 2017-18 season  just by having a healthy Antti Raanta in the lineup, and then they went and added Alex Galchenyuk and Michael Grabner over the summer. I also still have high hopes for Dylan Strome to be an impact player and they will also be getting a full season Jakob Chychrun on defense.

Strengths: Thanks to the additions of Derek Stepan and Alex Galchenyuk over the past year the Coyotes have a pretty decent 1-2 punch at center. Combine them with the potential of Dylan Strome, the presence of Oliver Ekman-Larsson on defense, and Raanta in net and they have a nice foundation down the middle to build from.

Weaknesses: Depth is probably the big one, and it is not just related to any one position. It is almost everywhere except for maybe center. Depth on the wings, depth on the blue line, depth in goal. The talent at the top of the lineup is intriguing and very good, but there just is not enough to complement them just yet.

2017-18 Highlight: Once they got him in the lineup Raanta was everything the Coyotes could have hoped for him to be, and his highlight of the year was this post-to-post glove save against the Montreal Canadiens.

MVP Candidate: It is probably going to have to be the Raanta show for the Coyotes this season. How much of an impact did he make on the Coyotes a year ago? In the games where he earned a decision they played at a 90-point pace (21-17-6). In the games where he didn’t? They played at a 47-point pace. A lot of their problems in the overall standings came from that brutal 1-12-1 start, a stretch where Raanta only played two full games.

Playoffs or Lottery: They will be much better and there are a lot of reasons to be hopeful about where this team can go and what it can be in the future but they still have a little more work to do before they get there. It will be another lottery season, but they will be at the back end of the lottery as opposed to the top of it.

CALGARY FLAMES 

Better or Worse: James Neal is a nice addition, but is he enough to make the team better than it was last year, when it wasn’t good enough to make the playoffs? Something to keep in mind here: Neal scored 25 goals and finished with 44 total points in 71 games for Vegas a season ago. He is their big offseason addition. Micheal Ferland, who was included by the Flames in the trade that sent their best defenseman, Dougie Hamilton, to the Carolina Hurricanes, scored 21 goals and finished with 41 points in 77 games. Add in the fact you lost your best defender and it’s hard to see how the roster is better.

Strengths: For all of the things that went wrong for this team a year ago they do have three outstanding young players to build around in Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Matthew Tkachuk. All three of them are age 25 or younger and were all among the team’s top-three scorers a year ago.

Weaknesses: It is an extremely top-heavy team offensively, and while Neal might help he is probably not enough of a difference maker to take them from 26th in goals scored to the level they need to be at offensively to contend. The defense without Hamilton is also going to be a question mark because T.J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic both struggled last season, while Mark Giordano is another year older.

2017-18 Highlight: This is a weird one, but their 2-0 win in Anaheim at the start of the season snapped what had been a 25-game losing streak at the Honda Center that dated all the way back to the 2004 season. That is a remarkable losing streak in one building.

MVP Candidate: How can it be anybody other than Gaudreau? He is one of the best offensive players in the league and is coming off of a monster season that saw him record 60 assists and 84 total points. He is also entering his age 25 season, typically the year players hit their peak offensive production in their careers.

Playoffs or Lottery: They were 11 points out of a wild card spot (and 16 points back of a top-three spot in the Pacific Division) and I don’t see enough improvement here to make up that much ground. They are a lottery team.

EDMONTON OILERS 

Better or Worse: They could really go either way here. If the fix the special teams units that ruined their 2017-18 season they should be better, especially if Oscar Klefbom is healthy and returns to form. But they didn’t really make any meaningful additions to a team that missed the playoffs by 17 points.

Strengths: They have Connor McDavid. Period.

Weaknesses: Perhaps the best way to put this would be to reference you to a story from the Edmonton Journal over the weekend that looked at the players on the roster bubble in training camp and point out the fact that every single player listed at right wing is listed as being on the bubble. My goodness, that is bleak. Also bleak: The defense. And the goaltending. And basically everything that is not Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

2017-18 Highlight: This assist by McDavid to set up Patrick Maroon is truly something to behold.

MVP Candidate: McDavid is the odds on favorite to win the MVP award at the start of the season, mostly because he is the best player in the world at the moment and is coming off of back-to-back scoring title and 100-point seasons. He is going for a third consecutive scoring title, an accomplishment that is incredibly rare in NHL history. To get another MVP award though he is going to need the team around him to be better.

Playoffs or Lottery: As incredible as it may seem for a team that has the best player in the league, they are probably a lottery team again. For the third time in four years. There just is not enough talent around McDavid to make them a contender.

LOS ANGELES KINGS

Better or Worse: He may be 35 years old but Ilya Kovalchuk will be a big addition for an offense-starved team. Will he be a 50-goal, 90-point player? Not a chance. But he should be at least capable of 30 goals and 60 points, something that would make him one of the most productive players on the team.

Strengths: They are one of the best defensive teams in the league with one of the best defensive players in Drew Doughty. They haven’t finished lower than 10th in goals against since the 2009-10 season and are consistently in the top-five. No team in the league gave up fewer goals a season ago.

Weaknesses: Simply put, it’s offense. Even with Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter and the addition of Kovalchuk this is simply a mediocre at best offensive team and has been for a few years. They

2017-18 Highlight: Kopitar was the Kings’ best player all year and was perhaps at his most dominant in a 7-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche when he scored four goals.

MVP Candidate: The one that was the runner-up a season ago, Kopitar. He is one of the best two-way players in the league that offers a game-changing combination of top-tier offense and shutdown defense.

Playoffs or Lottery: The Kings have missed the playoffs in two of the past four seasons and have not made it out of the first round since winning the Stanley Cup in 2014. They have been, pretty much, a bubble playoff team for the past four years and there really is not much to suggest that is going to change this season.

SAN JOSE SHARKS 

Better or Worse: Better. Much better. They should have a full season of Joe Thornton (injured) and Evander Kane (acquired at the trade deadline and signed to a contract extension) and they acquired a two-time Norris Trophy winner in Erik Karlsson. It would be a shock if they were not better.

Strengths: With Karlsson and Brent Burns they have three of the past seven Norris Trophies on their blue line and a player in Marc-Edouard Vlasic that gets votes every year. There is not a better top-three anywhere in the NHL on defense.

Weaknesses: They are not many. If we were to reach here we could say they were a middle of the pack team a year ago offensively, finishing 14th in goals scored and 16th on the power play, but you have to figure both of those numbers can easily go up this season given the additions.

2017-18 Highlight: Logan Couture scored 12 more goals than any player on the Sharks this past season. None of them looked better than this goal against the Winnipeg Jets.

MVP Candidate: Going to go with Karlsson here, simply because he is going to play a ton of minutes on what should be a Stanley Cup contender and assuming he is 100 percent healthy should have a monster year. Especially playing on a team that has Stanley Cup level talent around him.

Playoffs or Lottery: They were second round playoff team a year ago made some pretty significant additions to the roster, including one of the biggest pick-ups over the summer in Karlsson. They are not only a playoff team, they are a Stanley Cup contender.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS 

Better or Worse: Even though Henrik and Daniel Sedin were at the end of their career and as good as they were in their prime, they were still two of the Canucks’ best players and among their top-three scorers. They are now gone. The players coming in from outside the organization to replace them: Jay Beagle and Antoine Rousell on long-term contracts to be fourth-liners. They are a worse team today.

Strengths: The biggest strength on this team will be getting Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat back for full seasons after both missed 20 games a year ago. Boeser is one of the league’s bright young stars and should be the Canucks’ best player for the foreseeable future.

Weaknesses: Goaltending is going to be a problem. Jacob Markstrom is the starter but has never really been anything better than average at any point in his career. The duo of him and Anders Nilsson is going to have to exceed any reasonable expectation anyone might have for them to help make this team competitive, especially playing behind the defense.

2017-18 Highlight: You could not have scripted a better farewell game in the NHL for the Sedins than this.

MVP Candidate: Brock Boeser finished the 2017-18 season as the Canucks’ leading goal-scorer and point-producer. He did that as a 20-year-old rookie in his first full season of NHL action, and despite missing 20 games due to injury. He is their best player by a mile.

Playoffs or Lottery: One of the worst teams in the league from a year ago that did not really get any better in the offseason. They are not only a lottery team, they are a potential Jack Hughes team.

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS 

Better or Worse: I don’t know if they will be “better” in terms of results on the ice, because that would mean actually winning the Stanley Cup, but the roster on paper certainly looks better with the additions of Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty. Sure, they lost James Neal and David Perron, two really good contributors on the 2017-18 team, but the two players coming in to replace them are better.

Strengths: Their top line was one of the best in the NHL a season ago, and while there is every reason to believe that William Karlsson and Reilly Smith will regress a bit, they should still be very good. Jonathan Marchessault is also every bit as good as he showed. They also have an outstanding goalie.

Weaknesses: For as good as their top-six is — especially that top line — their bottom six is definitely lacking a little bit. The fourth line received a lot of praise in the playoffs, but I’m not sure how well it holds up over an 82-game season.

2017-18 Highlight: The whole season was a highlight, but their Western Conference clinching game against the Winnipeg Jets was the culmination of a truly remarkable, totally unexpected season.

MVP Candidate: Marchessault showed that his 30-goal season from the 2016-17 season in Florida was anything but a fluke by following it up with a dominant performance in Vegas, earning himself a long-term contract extension.

Playoffs or Lottery: Nobody should expect another run to the Stanley Cup Final, but this should still be a playoff team and probably even a strong contender in the Western Conference.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Skinner ends Sabres’ skid, Ovi’s hat trick, Oilers win again

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Three Stars

1. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals.  What else can you say about him at this point? He scored three goals in the Washington Capitals’ 6-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night and now leads the league with 25 goals this season. Read about all of it here, including how he has never scored this many goals 30 games into any season.

2. Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres. The Buffalo Sabres snapped their five-game losing streak on Tuesday night with a come-from-behind win against the Los Angeles Kings. It was yet another one-goal game that needed overtime, and it was yet another game where Jeff Skinner came through for them when they needed it. Fourteen of the Sabres’ past 16 games have been decided by just one goal, with 10 of them going to overtime. With that many close games the bounces are not always going to go your way, and the Sabres have experienced both the highs and lows of that randomness during this recent stretch with a 10-game winning streak and a five-game losing streak mixed in. On Tuesday, though, things went the Sabres’ way. Skinner’s goal was his already his 21st goal of the season and his fourth game-winning goal. Three of those game-winning goals have come in overtime, with all of three of those coming since Nov. 23 when this recent stretch of close games began.

3. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers. The Edmonton Oilers won again on Tuesday night and officially moved back into a playoff spot thanks to their 6-4 victory over the Colorado Avalanche. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was one of the stars of the night for them with three points, including a pair of goals. The Oilers are now 8-2-1 under new coach Ken Hitchcock.

Other notable performances from Tuesday

William Nylander is officially on the stat sheet for the Toronto Maple Leafs this season thanks to a pair of assists in their 4-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

— The Colorado Avalanche did not get the win on Tuesday night, but Mikko Rantanen became the first player in the NHL this season to hit the 50-point mark with a four-point effort. He and Nathan MacKinnon, first and second in the points race, are still chasing some rare feats this season.

— Elsewhere in that game Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl both had three points to continue their outstanding play in the Edmonton Oilers win.

Brad Marchand, playing alongside David Pastrnak and David Krejci on the Boston Bruins’ top line, scored two goals in their 4-3 win over the Arizona Coyotes. All three players on the top line had three points in the win.

Kyle Connor played a big role for the Winnipeg Jets in their win over the Chicago Blackhawks, scoring two more goals to continue his strong season.

Highlights of the Night

It was another bad performance with yet another slow start by the Chicago Blackhawks but at least Cam Ward made one of the best saves of the season.

Charlie Coyle helped lead the Minnesota Wild to a much-needed 7-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens by making Shea Weber look really bad on this play.

The Boston Bruins needed Tuukka Rask to make a big save at the buzzer to secure their win over the Arizona Coyotes.

The Vancouver Canucks rallied late for the win in Columbus with Jake Virtanen‘s goal being the game-winner. Just make sure you get it at the net and good things might happen for you.

For some highlights of the weird check out the glass randomly shattering after a fight in Colorado, and the St. Louis Blues having a goal disallowed on the weirdest play of the season so far.

Factoids

Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have been a huge part of the Chicago Blackhawks’ success over the years, and they made some history on Tuesday night. That was probably the highlight of the night for the team in their 6-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets.

Alex Ovechkin is a force that will not slow down.

Big start to the season for Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba.

Scores

Boston Bruins 4, Arizona Coyotes 3

Buffalo Sabres 4, Los Angeles Kings 3 (OT)

Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Carolina Hurricanes 1

Vancouver Canucks 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 2

Washington Capitals 6, Detroit Red Wings 2

St. Louis Blues 4, Florida Panthers 3

Nashville Predators 3, Ottawa Senators 1

Minnesota Wild 7, Montreal Canadiens 1

Winnipeg Jets 6, Chicago Blackhawks 4

Edmonton Oilers 6, Colorado Avalanche 4

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Glass smacking fan in Colorado accidentally shatters penalty box glass

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The NHL certainly had its share of weird moments on Tuesday night.

In St. Louis, we had the Blues have a goal disallowed because the puck bounced in the net off of referee Tim Peel.

In Colorado, the glass next to the Edmonton Oilers’ penalty box suddenly shattered following a third period fight involving Matt Calvert and Matt Benning.

It’s hard to see what exactly happened, but a fan next to the penalty box appeared to smack the glass only to have it complete shatter into thousands of pieces. It didn’t seem to be a very hard smack so it is entirely likely it was a defective piece of glass that was probably already broken.

But it was still a bizarre scene that briefly delayed the game.

Here is the fight that started the entire sequence.

The Oilers ended up winning the game thanks to three-point nights from Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Leon Draisaitl, and another strong performance in goal from goalie Mikko Koskinen.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

‘Embarrassing’ first period pushes Blackhawks’ losing streak to eight

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Slow starts have been the calling card for the Chicago Blackhawks this season.

They entered play on Tuesday night in Winnipeg having given up at least the first two goals in eight of their previous 10 games, and it of course happened again in an ugly 6-3 loss to the Jets.

And this slow start seemed to be even worse than all of the previous slow starts.

The Blackhawks not only surrendered three goals in the first period (and a fourth goal just one minute into the second period), they were at one point getting outshot by a 14-0 margin before recording their first shot on goal of the game.

“We didn’t have a shot for like the first what, 15, 16 minutes, maybe even more,” said Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane after the game. “So pretty embarrassing start.”

[Related: Blackhawks hit bottom in this week’s PHT Power Rankings]

“If I had a fix I would have fixed it already,” coach Jeremy Colliton said regarding the starts.

“Compete harder early on. I thought we were late to almost every situation in the first period and they have a really good team. They pressure hard and they make a lot of plays. They play like men out there and we just couldn’t match it in the beginning and we paid a price for it.”

With all of those bad starts the Blackhawks have now lost eight games in a row, 10 out of their past 11, and 19 out of their past 22.

This is already their second eight-game losing streak of the season, and as pointed out by The Athletic’s Mark Lazerus, this is their third eight-game losing streak in their past 63 games.

They are also just 3-12-2 since Colliton replaced Joel Quenneville behind the bench. They were 6-6-3 under Quenneville.

Just about the only positive for the Blackhawks right now is the fact that Dylan Strome continued his strong play since arriving in Chicago via trade with the Arizona Coyotes. He scored his seventh goal of the season in Tuesday’s loss and now has four goals and five total points in his first eight games with the Blackhawks. He only had six points in 20 games with the Coyotes before the trade.

Other than that, though, there is nothing going right for this Blackhawks team.

(PHT’s Scott Billeck contributed to this post)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Alex Ovechkin isn’t slowing down

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At 33 years old Alex Ovechkin is not supposed to be scoring goals at this sort of pace.

He is not supposed to be scoring goals the way he was when he was in his mid-20s.

The typical aging curve for NHL players, even the elites, says they are supposed to be slowing down at this point in their career and seeing their numbers slide south in a downward trend.

But as Ovechkin has shown throughout his brilliant career, he is not typical.

He is also not slowing down.

With three more goals on Tuesday night in the Capitals’ 6-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings, the game’s greatest goal-scorer added to his league leading total and now sits atop the NHL with 25 goals through his team’s first 30 games.

He also extending his current point streak to 12 consecutive games.

[Related: Capitals among NHL elites in this week’s PHT Power Rankings]

These numbers are impressive, even for Ovechkin. Especially when you consider he has never at any point in his career scored more goals through his team’s first 30 games (22 was his previous high at this point) and is currently on a 68-goal pace for the season.

These numbers are downright comical because they are completely unheard for a player this age. They are bordering on absurd.

Since 1987 no player in the NHL at age 33 or older has ever scored this many goals through 30 games (no one had more than 22).

In the history of the league only 13 different players have recorded a 50-goal season over the age of 30, while only three (Jaromir Jagr, Bobby Hull, and John Buyck) have recorded one at age 33 or older.

Ovechkin is now literally halfway there with still 52 games to play this season.

It would not be unfair to say he has had some puck luck on his side so far, and that was especially true on Tuesday night where two of his goals came off of fluky bounces. He also has a 21.5 percent shooting percentage that is seven points higher than his previous career best (14.6 in 2007-08, when he scored 65 goals) and nine points higher than his career average. That sort of pace is unsustainable in the modern NHL, even for somebody as great as Ovechkin.

But even if he shot at his normal career average (12.6 percent) over the rest of the season that would still be another 25 goals based on his current shot output. That would put him at exactly 50 goals for the season, and what very well might be an eighth goal-scoring crown.

It is expecting a lot given that no one has ever really done anything like this at this age, but would you want to bet against him?

The defending champs have now won 11 of their past 14 games and extended their lead in the Metropolitan Division with Tuesday’s win.

(H/T to Hockey-Reference database for historical goal data in this post)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.