Its the quarter point of the NHL regular season, and the Pacific Division is as tight as ever...except for Anaheim.
At the start of the year it would have been logical to think that the division would be a two-team race between the Sharks and Kings. San Jose and Los Angeles improved their rosters on paper in the offseason with some key acquisitions, while Phoenix and Dallas lost big name free agents and Anaheim was stagnant.
So far, that hasnt been the case. While the Ducks have faltered badly, the Stars and Coyotes are right in the thick of the race with the Sharks and Kings. On Wednesday morning, all of two points separated the first from the fourth spot, and it changes on a nightly basis.
RELATED: NHL standings
Heres a brief look at where each of the four other Pacific Division teams stands.
Anahiem Ducks (6-13-4, 16 points)
The Anaheim Ducks started the year with three wins in their first four games including sweeping a home-and-home with the Sharks. Since then? Anaheim is 3-11-4 and mired in last place in the Pacific. They have lost five in a row, and are tied with the Islanders for worst goal differential in the NHL (-26).
Just about everything has gone wrong for the Ducks since mid-October. Jonas Hiller, returning from missing the second half of last season with vertigo, has been terrible, with a 3.32 goals-against average and .897 save percentage. Last years MVP Corey Perry has 10 goals, but Ryan Getzlaf has just four. Bobby Ryans name is being mentioned in several trade rumors, and there is also talk that head coach Randy Carlyle could be on his way out.
The stats tell the story. The Ducks have just 2.13 goals per game (29th), while surrendering 3.17 per game (26th). This isnt the way Teemu Selanne envisioned his final season.
Dallas Stars (14-9-1, 29 points)
The Stars were one of the bigger surprises in the NHL when they stormed out to an 11-3-0 start, despite losing Brad Richards to the Rangers in the offseason. That came to a screeching halt when all of a sudden they couldnt find the scoreboard and lost five in a row, ending with the 4-1 loss to San Jose on home ice on Nov. 19. Theyve rebounded since then, going 3-1-1 in their last five.
Dallas has dealt with a few injuries on its roller coaster ride. Starting goaltender Kari Lehtonen is out for up to a month with a groin injury never good for a goaltender and journeyman Andrew Raycroft is now in the spotlight. Captain Brenden Morrow has also been out recently with an upper body injury, but could return on Thursday night.
Jamie Benn leads Dallas with 23 points, while Loui Eriksson is their top scorer with 10 goals.
Phoenix Coyotes (13-7-3, 29 points)
Like the Stars, the Coyotes lost perhaps their best player in the offseason when Ilya Bryzgalov went to Philadelphia. No matter. Mike Smith has 12 wins, a 2.35 goals-against average and is fifth in the NHL with a .935 save percentage. The Coyotes are once again in the middle of the race when it would have been easy to write them off especially after watching them lose 6-3 on opening night in San Jose.
Phoenix has something in common with the Sharks, as they have been one of the NHLs best road teams. The Coyotes went into Chicago on Thursday and skated out with an impressive 4-1 win over the Blackhawks, improving to 7-3-1 away from Jobing.com Arena.
The Coyotes defense is anchored by one of the most underrated players in the league in Keith Yandle, while Radim Vrbata and Ray Whitney (21 points apiece) lead the offense. Phoenix could get a small boost from the return of Kyle Turris, who finally signed with the club after a contract dispute. Turris could debut as early as Thursday night.
One big reason for Phoenixs success? Staying out of the penalty box. The Coyotes have just 8.2 penalty minutes per game, the fewest in the NHL, and own the fourth best penalty kill in the league (89.0 percent). That being said, they would like to improve on their 28th ranked power play (12.0 pecent).
Los Angeles Kings (12-8-4, 28 points)
The Kings have improved since getting off to a so-so start, after being a popular pick in the offseason to unseat the Sharks at the top of the Pacific Division. That could certainly still happen, of course, as the Kings star players are all starting to find their games.
On offense, the dynamic Anze Kopitar is still the primary threat with 24 points. Right behind him, though, is Mike Richards, who already has nine goals since the start of the month, tying him with Jonathan Toews for the most in November. Richards is looking every bit like the player Dean Lombardi thought he was acquiring from Philadelphia in that blockbuster trade this summer.
Drew Doughty has just seven points in 19 games, less than what hes used to, but that may be a case of an abbreviated training camp for the star defenseman whose contract dispute cost him to miss most of training camp.
Jonathan Quicks four shutouts, including Monday against the Sharks, lead the NHL.