Pacific Break: Seven team roundtable
How are the fans and devoted followers of all seven Pacific Division teams feeling about their play up to the Olympic break and their chances going forward? Well, let's ask them!
The Pacific Division had a rather odd pre-Olympic break NHL season. If you've been following my This Week in Kings columns (which obviously you have so I don't even know why I'm saying this), you'll notice a couple of divergent patterns. Early in the season, the four non-Canadian teams were all gangbusters. Anaheim, San Jose, LA, and Phoenix all had great starts, and at the end of November things were packed tight, with just seven points separating first-place San Jose from fourth place Phoenix. By the end of December, Vancouver would come on while Phoenix would fade a bit, but the Pacific still occupied five of the eight playoff spots in the West.
From that point forward, things didn't go so hot. The Kings and Canucks both fell off a cliff. LA went 6-12-2 from the end of December into the Olympic break, and Vancouver went an even worse 4-13-3. Phoenix didn't turn things around, having been on a consistent downward spiral since their hot start to the season. And even Anaheim and San Jose, relatively consistent performers up until recently, had their struggles. The end result of all this losing? The Pacific went from having 5 of the 8 Western playoff spots to just 3, as Vancouver and Phoenix both dropped out of their Wild Card spots, replaced by the Central's Minnesota and Dallas. Los Angeles maintained their third spot in the Pacific thanks more to how bad Vancouver & Phoenix have been than anything they did themselves, but now sit a staggering 12 points back of 2nd place San Jose, virtually removing themselves from the running to move up without some kind of epic collapse above them.
So with so many teams running hot-and-cold, looking like world beaters in one month and then garbage in the next, how do their fans feel about them? That is indeed the subject of today's roundtable, as I collected an eclectic group of bloggers and fans from across the division to give their best spin of their favorite teams' pre-Olympic performance, as well as their expectations for them moving forward. And I even let the two Alberta teams participate too, despite their total irrelevance, because that's just the kind of nice guy I am. So let's get to it, starting at the bottom and working our way up. I'll list the leading scorers and goaltending stats for each team, as well as Corsi heroes/zeroes, using 5v5 CF Rel (corsi for % relative), in another words the relative Corsi % of each player compared to the team without them on the ice. I'm using a minimum time on ice of 300 minutes, which is a completely arbitrary number I just pulled out of my own backside, deal with it.
write-up via Jeanshorts of The Canafornians (twitter: @JSBMRevolution)
It’s been a wild first-half-of-the-season for the Edmonton Oilers. This summers Belle Of The Ball has quickly turned into a pumpkin, Craig MacTavish is apparently trying to make up the ground lost by Steve Tambellini during his tenure by making all of the trades, the net has been a revolving door garbage fire, and despite the fact that the Oilers have finally found the hero that they need (but do not deserve), and have been spitting hot fire since the last week of January (11 points in last 7 games) they still find themselves firmly entrenched in last place in the West. The natives are getting restless, we’ve basically been counting down to the draft since December and this three week reprieve from having to watch the Oilers is easily the most welcome thing to happen all season. Or, as we say in Edmonton, business as usual.
write-up via Book of Loob of The Canafornians (twitter: @bookofloob)
The Book of Loob here, and, ugh, do I really have to do this?
So the Flames have been much better of late than the overall picture of their grim season that has ultimately proven to break the fanbase has shown, but it's like wandering through the arid expanse of Arizona desert (where all the Coyotes fan lives) and coming across a delicious oasis or a first line center.
But we here at the Canafornians are all about finding the positives in unsavory conditions (because we have to), and if we pretend this season isn't a thing, then there's a lot to be happy about.
We've got "Should be in Sochi" Mikael Backlund developing into the forward beyond what we thought was capable despite his first round selection in 2008 (we've always known he was good, but lately he's Hulking out), and no, no you can't have him.
We've got TJ Brodie, Mark Giordano, and Kris Russell (yes, Kris Russell) keeping the team safe on the backend, which is good, because they also have Chris Butler there to ruin things for them. The Flames actually have a good D core going forward and it's a secret weapon that powers the team (so secret even the team doesn't know it)
And we've got the knowledge that we're on the verge of Bob Hartley and Reto Berra no longer being on this team
(both have been significantly better at their respective jobs in recent weeks. But to hell with them, they can go be neutral and grey in Switzerland together)
Ultimately, my prediction for the rest of this season is the Flames will play spoiler for at least one very good team with playoff aspirations (hi stace), and pick up a decent high 1st round draft pick that the team can ruin by rushing into the league too quickly. They've beaten LA twice this season, Chicago twice, St. Louis and San Jose apiece, and they're good enough to steal wins on any given night. It's just the shitty teams they have to worry about (those damn Oilers have beaten them twice, and Ben Scrivens wasn't even on the team when it happened).
As for us, the fans, we just put our heads down and power through, and still make fun of the struggles of other teams. Like yours. Have you seen your team, Los Angeles? The Flames are going to finish ahead of them in the standings. And we'll be there, waiting for you when it happens.
And we'll be laugh crying.
And so will you.
(editor's note: I doubt very much that will happen. good trolling though, well done!)
write-up via W. Ron Sweeney of, uh, academia? (twitter: @wronsweeney)
I had two waking nightmares in the week leading up to the Olympic break. The first one was that the Toronto Maple Leafs would be the only Canadian team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The second was that the Canucks would go into the break having lost to those same Toronto Maple Leafs for the first time in hundreds of years. By the time that fear became reality, with the Canucks on a seven game losing streak, I was resigned to their fate. The Toronto game proved what I have been saying all year. These Canucks are not good at hockey and the sooner they can admit it, the sooner they can start blowing the whole thing up. Only problem? Every single Canuck has a no-trade clause. But once they make it past what promises to be a historically embarrassing "heritage" game, surely they will be able to convince at least some of these players to go play for a team with an actual shot at the Stanley Cup.
The Canucks are not a good hockey team and, barring some discovery of a fountain of youth or a fountain of steroids in Sochi, they are going to miss the playoffs. Some are still pointing to good underlying numbers, and maybe they have been unlucky with injuries, but most of us knew that their December run was a mirage and that once they had to play good teams in January the window would be closed, locked, and then boarded over.
write-up via Brendan Porter of Five 4 Howling. (twitter: @brendanporter)
At the break the Phoenix Coyotes are 27-21-10, good enough for 4th in the Pacific Division but just outside of a playoff spot thanks to the Dallas Stars having more wins in regulation and overtime. A year that started out so strongly for the Desert Dogs has since been plagued by defensive and offensive inconsistency.
It seems like a distant memory, but at one point the Coyotes 11-3-2 and challenging for the best record in the National Hockey League. Since that day (November 6th) the Coyotes have a 14-18-8 record, including a disastrous stretch in January in which the team went 3-8-0 and went from a near certain lock for a playoff spot to a bubble team fighting with the likes of Minnesota, Dallas, and even Winnipeg *shudders*.
There was a lot of optimism at the beginning of the season, thanks in large part to the final (hopefully) resolution of the lingering ownership issues that had dogged the franchise for the past four years. The new owners are young, passionate, and strongly in tune with the fanbase's needs and desires. The chairman, George Gosbee, regularly tailgates with fans and gives away suite tickets practically every night. Could you imagine Ed Snider or Jeremy Jacobs doing the same? Off the ice, all signs are looking up, with average attendance, suite sales, sponsorships, and TV revenue making significant improvements over the past few years.
The on-ice product has been hit or miss. Mike Smith is not the same goaltender that carved a path through the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators in the 2012 playoffs. Though his numbers are closer to league average (20-17-9 with a 2.77 GAA and .913 SV%), he still leads the league in shots seen with 1369, suggesting that Mike Smith is getting a ton of work in.
Major free-agent acquisition Mike Ribeiro is the team's points leader (14G, 26A), and is a big reason why the team's power play has improved dramatically (the poaching of former Vancouver assistant coach Newell Brown is another big reason). The team's leading goal scorer is surprisingly enough Antoine Vermette with 21. Vermette is the team's all purpose player; he takes key faceoffs, spends time on the power play, and is the team's leading penalty killer. His career year is a major benefit to a team that still has to score by committee to consistently win.
The month of March will be key for the Coyotes. General Manager Don Maloney is likely looking for a 2nd line wing to play with Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata. Names like David Perron, Tomas Fleischmann, and even Matt Moulson have been floated around as possible trade targets. Regardless, the Coyotes are a team that needs to start winning in bunches to make a serious push for both the playoffs and the Stanley Cup.
write-up via me of this very website. (twitter: @toshanshuinla)
There's not much I can say about the Kings here that we haven't already covered over and over and over again, but I'll give it the old college try. The Kings are an amazingly good #fancystat team that, for whatever reason, can't score any goals. Their 133 goals (+6 bonus shootout winners yay Bettman!) is 28th in the league, tied with Calgary for the lowest in the Pacific, and better than only Florida (by one whole goal!) and Buffalo (by, uh, 29 goals, jesus Sabres what the hell). Of course, most of that can be blamed on their almost-league-low 7.2 shooting percentage (Buffalo is shooting 6.8% because of course they are), and that number should start regressing upwards at some point, but I think the LA fanbase as a whole is pretty exhausted with "don't worry! it will get better soon!" as an explanation (and Robert already wrote the definitive "everything is going to be okay" article a few weeks ago anyway). So yes, the Kings are not as bad as they've been lately, and we've all been through this whole we're-really-good-but-can't-score-because-REASONS song and dance before. If I recall, the last time we all went through this things kind of worked out in the end. So now the real question becomes, do the Kings really have another great stretch run in them?
Tentatively, I think they do, yes. First of all, even if the Kings continue shooting blanks, they will probably win more games then they have recently, just on the strength of a schedule that's softer than melted ice in Sochi. The Kings have the easiest remaining schedule in the Western Conference, with only San Jose (who's probably not catchable at this point) and Vancouver (who are 5 points back having played one more game, so there's a bit of a gap there thankfully) even really close. The Coyotes, who are the team really nipping at LA's heels sitting 4 points back with a game-in-hand, have the second-toughest remaining schedule in the West and toughest in the Pacific, so that's a break for us.
Secondly, yes, that shooting percentage probably will climb at some point. And although LA's overall PDO isn't that low (99.4), that's mostly based off of sky-high save percentages from a goalie who doesn't play here anymore and another who's still here but unlikely to get many starts going forward. Jonathan Quick's own sv% is sitting at a dismal .911, and as much as I like to hate on the guy lately, that will probably improve too. Maybe not to .920, but .915ish certainly seems like a realistic end point for it, which will help the Kings win some more games as well. Basically the Kings are set-up to receive plenty of good regression in the form of shooting percentages and Quick's save percentage and avoid bad regression from two goalies who were super-hot, likely would fall back down to Earth if they continued playing, but won't really play much at all going forward. Combine good regression with a soft schedule and you will likely end up with some very good results for the Kings in their last 23 games, so I think they will have little trouble holding onto that 3rd seed in the Pacific.
Of course, the playoffs are a different story. I don't like LA's chances in a first-round match-up with the Sharks. The Sharks are very close to the Kings in all the #fancystat categories, and as a bonus they can actually score goals. It would probably be another coin-flip series at best, except this time without the benefits of home ice (at least we finally won a game in their barn this year though). So for that reason, I think most Kings fans should root for San Jose to catch Anaheim. That looked improbable just a few weeks ago, but the Sharks are quickly catching up to the Ducks thanks to regression finally coming home to Anaheim and making itself comfortable. And as noted earlier, the Sharks have an easier remaining schedule than the Ducks to boot. An LA-ANA matchup might scare some of you given their two most recent meetings, but I think the Kings would handle the Ducks in a first-round series relatively easily. The path to the Conference Finals would still likely go through San Jose, but with any luck the Sharks get upset in the first round by Dallas or somebody (hey, don't laugh, it's not like the Sharks haven't lost a playoff series against the Stars they were heavily favored in before).
Overall, I'm optimistic about the Kings, but cautiously so. I would like to see Dean add another bonafide scorer before the deadline, which I have faith he's going to pull off. If he can move out some of the deadwood in the process (hi Robyn! hello Kyle! how's it going Jarrett?), all the better. I don't think the Kings will have much trouble holding onto their playoff spot, and then as Kings fans already know very well, once you get in anything can happen.
write-up via Stace of The Canafornians (twitter: @stace_ofbase)
Yo guys, Stace here and I put the fornian in Canafornian. Anyway, the last ten games leading up to the Olympic break were brutal to say the least. I think I speak for myself, the San Jose Sharks, and the rest of the fan base to say that this break came at this best time possible. Currently, the Sharks have five forwards who are injured, and two of these forwards were among our top scorers, so... balls. Goals have been few and far between lately, only 14 in regulation in the past 10 games, and the Sharks were shutout twice. I know you Kings fans are thinking "holy shit, 14 goals?" but for normal teams, this isn't that much. The previous 10 games, the Sharks scored 28 goals in regulation, and that includes being shutout once. 50 percent decrease in offense, YIKES. Thank goodness for the Olympic break because February has not been kind to the Sharks the past couple of years:
Total Possible Points
Sup. I know what you're thinking, not that big of a sample size. As a dedicated statistician on my blog, this pains me as well, but bear with me and I will explain. It's not just these numbers; it's the aftermath of these numbers. Because the Sharks have enjoyed taking the month of February off (Olympics or no Olympics), it caused them to push themselves even harder to clinch a playoff spot. This causes injuries, tired players, frustrated goaltenders and a few other things that are a recipe for a disappointing Sharks postseason. Once upon a time, the Pacific Division was elite and the playoff race was tight, so every point mattered. Home ice obviously would have helped during last year's playoffs. I know it's all shoulda, woulda, coulda bullshit but I'm a Sharks fan and that's what we do. The past ten games have been frustrating, but if you look at the bigger picture...the Sharks aren't as terrible as five of the other six Pacific Division teams. Also, they won 3 out of 4 games in February before the break (after an embarrassing back-to-back in Alberta)! Take that, my stats!
I think the rest period will be good for this team. We should get some people back, like ex-convict Raffi Torres (for a few games until he charges an opposing team's mascot and gets suspended forever) and hopefully Logan Couture. The Sharks will get back on track, and the Ducks will continue to lose their battle with regression, thus gift wrapping another Pacific Division banner for San Jose. Hertl should be back by the end of the season, so get ready for him to disrespect the shit out of some goaltenders in the postseason.
write-up via Chris Kober of Anaheim Calling (twitter: @District5hockey)
This season for the Ducks has kind of paralleled last season. For roughly the first two thirds of the season they were able to "find a way to win" regardless of how poorly they played. Generally speaking the way that they found was to let their goalie hold them in the game until Ryan Getzlaf or Corey Perry (or occasionally others) could score enough goals to overcome whatever was ailing them on that particular night.
The turning point of the season last year was a 4-2 comeback win over Chicago. After that statement game the Ducks fell off dramatically. To that point they had a winning percentage of .759 and from then to the end of the season they only could muster a .421 winning percentage. I attribute the drop to complacency. Basically they weren't going to catch Chicago, San Jose wasn't going to catch them for the division title and they played lackluster hockey, just waiting for the playoffs, then couldn't turn it back on in the first round against Detroit.
Similarly, this year the Ducks carried a .735 winning percentage from the beginning of the season until mid-January. Since then they've only won 45.5% of their games. This time it was a loss to Chicago that started the snowball rolling downhill.
On my more optimistic days, I like to think that the Olympic Break has come at exactly the right point of the season for the Ducks to snap out of this slump they've found themselves in and go into the playoffs on a much better note. But that remains to be seen.
After the break, the most important thing for the Ducks is to win the division. Leading San Jose by seven points with two games head to head, it's certainly not a foregone conclusion. The next most important thing for the Ducks, whether most fans will admit it or not, is that they need the Kings to start winning some f***ing games. The biggest benefit to winning the division is avoiding a matchup with the Kings or Sharks in the first round, but if Los Angeles doesn't get their act together until the playoffs (as they have the last couple of years) we could see our first playoff Freeway Faceoff and it's highly unlikely to go our way.
The best case scenario for the Ducks is to come out of the break and get back to playing like they did in October, November and December, play with more urgency, get to dirty areas to score goals, win the Pacific and match up against Vancouver or Phoenix in the first round while San Jose and LA beat each other up. If they end up playing the Sharks, Kings or Dallas in the first round (whether they win the division or not), I don't like their chances of improving on last year's result.
And we're done!
Huge thanks to everyone involved, and hey, follow The Canafornians' main Twitter while you're at it, to thank them for writing almost half this article and all. We'll see how many of these predictions come true (I think the one about the Oilers continuing to suck has a pretty good shot) and how many of them fall flat (uh, that one about Calgary passing LA, for instance). In the meantime, enjoy the rest of your Olympic breaks everyone!