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Pacific Division Roundup: Packed up front, Kings boost Lafreniere hopes

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Plus: the Columbus Blue Jackets look almost unstoppable right now.

New Jersey Devils v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images

The NHL has entered the All-Star break, which for all teams means a bye week, as well. The hockey schedule resumes next Monday, while the Kings come back to the action on Wednesday, January 29, facing the heavyweight Tampa Bay Lightning. The Kings will surely attempt to get the Bolts this time around, as they came close in Florida a few weeks ago.

Los Angeles currently occupies the last spot in the Western Conference. Currently 16 points out of playoff contention, it’s highly unlikely that the Kings make the playoffs. It doesn’t matter, though, as the Kings knew this would be the likely outcome even before the season started.

Now, Los Angeles slowly starts to turn its focus to the NHL Entry Draft later in June. Will they claim Alexis Lafreniere or some other high-rated draft possibility? Well, the Kings are the 30th-ranked team in the NHL as of now. Only the Detroit Red Wings are worse, having 28 points overall, 13 less than the Kings.

The overall goal-differential the Red Wings posses is -90. The second worst is New Jersey with -47, while the Kings have -33. The best team in that department is Tampa Bay with +38 (that 9-2 win over Vancouver helped, right?). The Kings are tied on 41 points with New Jersey, but the Devils have two games in hand, meaning they are technically ahead of the Kings.

Nevertheless, it seems like the Red Wings want to repeat what Colorado did three years back. The highly-anticipated playoff series between the Avs and the Red Wings seems like it was so long ago. Now, they battle in a different style, one can say.

The top spots in the Pacific Division are packed. Vancouver leads the division with 58 points, followed by four teams tied with 57 points. All the teams presently fit in the playoff frame in the Western Conference, as the ninth-placed Jets have 54 points, tied with Chicago.

In other words, any team can go from facing St. Louis on the road in the first round to enjoying a home-ice advantage until the Western Conference Final by losing one single overtime. That’s the margin nowadays in a crazy Pacific Division.

Circle Around the NHL

This League needs to pay more attention to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Columbus has won six straight games to erupt all the way to the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. Elvis Merzlikins had no NHL wins before Joonas Korpisalo got injured earlier. Since then, the Latvian rookie is 9-2-0 with three clean sheets. With all the injuries up front, John Tortorella deserves to re-enter the Jack Adams Trophy conversation.

Talking about goaltending from Latvian rookies in Columbus, let’s head east to New York, who have two Russian rookies in net. The Rangers, seemingly far away from the playoffs, are rotating Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev regularly. Henrik Lundqvist, meanwhile, gets to see next to no playing time at all. Is there a netminder’s trade incoming for the Rangers?

Ilya Kovalchuk is having a nice re-start with the Montreal Canadiens. Collecting eight points in eight contests, the Canadiens already contemplate his future. Will they trade him? Can they keep him beyond this season on a contract extension? Kovalchuk is seemingly happy in Canada.

Pacific Division Power Rankings

  1. Arizona Coyotes (=)
  2. Edmonton Oilers (+1)
  3. Calgary Flames (-1)
  4. Vegas Golden Knights (=)
  5. Vancouver Canucks (=)
  6. San Jose Sharks (=)
  7. Los Angeles Kings (=)
  8. Anaheim Ducks (=)

It’s challenging to get any traction to figure out how the Pacific Division will look in April. In our Power Rankings, the first-placed Canucks are currently on the fifth berth. If they lose one game after the break, they are likely to fall from that position, as well. If the Coyotes can get their goaltending back, they can win the Division. There are challengers, though, as the Oilers have been smokingly splendid over the past 10 games. There is an Oilers-Flames game next Wednesday — the first game back for Zack Kassian after a two-game suspension for his actions against Matt Tkachuk. Enjoy!