Analysis: NHL's Pacific Division


Analysis: NHL's Pacific Division

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 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.

NHL Gameday: Karlsson, Labanc return as fading Sharks host Rangers

NHL Gameday: Karlsson, Labanc return as fading Sharks host Rangers

Programming note – Sharks-Rangers coverage starts today at 7:00 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on CSN California


Sharks: 42-26-7, 91 points, 2nd Pacific Division
Rangers: 46-26-4, 96 points, 4th Metropolitan Division


***There are several different scenarios that would clinch a playoff spot for San Jose tonight, but the simpliset would be the Sharks beating the Rangers in regulation or overtime, or the Kings losing in regulation to the Oilers.

***The New York Rangers make their only visit of the season to SAP Center, where they will see a Sharks team that has reached its season nadir. San Jose has lost its last six games, all in regulation, and has been outscored 13-3 in a pair of blowout defeats to Dallas and Nashville.

Coach Pete DeBoer did his best to put lipstick on the pig that is the last two performances, both five-goal losses.

“A loss is a loss. Sometimes you’re better getting beat by five than one,” he said. “We lost, we’ve got to figure out a way to win. I don’t look at the numbers on the board, or the difference – a loss is a loss. A lot of times it’s better to get soundly beaten. [You don’t] fool yourself and lose a one-goal game that maybe you didn’t deserve to win.”

***DeBoer offered the following update on Logan Couture on Tuesday morning, after the center underwent a medical procedure on Monday.

“Status quo. It was dental work, and I don’t have a timeframe for when he’ll be back, but I’m confident he’s going to be back,” DeBoer said.

The Sharks are 1-0-1 in the two games without Couture this season.

***New York won the only other meeting between the Sharks and Rangers on Oct. 17 at Madison Square Garden, 7-4. They are 2-3-2 in their last seven games, including a 6-3 loss in Anaheim on Sunday.

The Rangers have the NHL’s fourth-ranked offense, at 3.13 goals-per game.

“If we play the top end teams like that that have speed, we’re able to shut them down if we manage the puck and we’re not turning it over, and keep that good gap through the neutral zone,” Paul Martin said. 

Marc-Edouard Vlasic said: “We’ve just got to get back to good breakouts and good forechecking.”

The Sharks will try to end a streak of seven straight games allowing the first goal.

***Kevin Labanc was recalled from the Barracuda. DeBoer wouldn’t confirm any lineup decisions, but it appears that Marcus Sorensen will come out. Melker Karlsson (out the last eight games with a lower body injury), Vlasic and Chris Tierney and will all play, too.

Labanc was reassigned to the AHL on Feb. 20, having not scored a goal in his previous 25 NHL games. He has 19 points (6g, 13a) in 49 games with the Sharks this season, and another 19 points (6g, 13a) in 19 games with the Barracuda.


Sharks: Patrick Marleau. The forward has been one of the only Sharks players lately that’s actually doing something positive, with three goals in the last five games. Marleau will be playing center for the fifth time this season, and probably the foreseeable future, too, with Logan Couture out indefinitely. Whether he can handle the added responsibility could determine where the Sharks finish in the Pacific Division.

Rangers: Mats Zuccarello. The shifty Rangers forward has a three-game point streak, at least one point in seven of his last eight games, with nine points (3g, 6a) over that span. The 29-year-old Norway native also led the way in New York’s win over the Sharks way back on Oct. 17, with one goal and two assists.


Jannik Hansen – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Melker Karlsson – Patrick Marleau – Mikkel Boedker
Kevin Labanc – Tomas Hertl – Joel Ward
Timo Meier – Chris Tierney – Joonas Donskoi

Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – David Schlemko

Martin Jones (starter)
Aaron Dell

Chris Kreider – Derek Stepan – Mats Zuccarello
Jimmy Vesey – Mika Zibanejad – Rick Nash
Michael Grabner – Kevin Hayes – Jesper Fast
Matt Puempel – Oscar Lindberg – J.T. Miller

Ryan McDonagh – Dan Girardi
Marc Staal – Brady Skjei
Brendan Smith – Nick Holden

Henrik Lundqvist
Antti Raanta


Sharks: Logan Couture (face) and Micheal Haley (suspension) are out.

Rangers: None.


“You’re not always going to start with the lead, and if you don’t, you’ve still got to stick with it. There’s two teams out there. It’s 50 percent chance you score the first goal, and if you don’t, you’ve got to stick with your game plan. If you get away from it, that’s when things go bad.” – Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Marleau back to the middle as Sharks deal with no Couture, Haley

Marleau back to the middle as Sharks deal with no Couture, Haley

SAN JOSE – All four of the Sharks’ lines have been in a blender for much of the season. 

Now, with Logan Couture out for at least one game and probably longer, and Micheal Haley getting tagged with a one-game suspension, the coaching staff has no choice but to mix and match the remaining forwards in time for Tuesday’s home game with the Rangers.

They’ll hope it’s the right recipe to snap out of what has been a miserable six-game losing streak in regulation, including the last two in which the Sharks have been outscored 13-3 by Dallas and Nashville.

The most notable player to be shifted is Patrick Marleau, who will apparently be centering the second line against New York. It will be just the fifth game he starts at center this season, and first since Feb. 11 in Philadelphia, when he was filling in for an ill Couture.

Marleau, of course, has played plenty of center over the years, including the second half of last season and first handful of playoff games when he was in the middle of the third line.

“I don’t think there’s been a year where I haven’t played center, so it’s just one of those things, move in and out,” Marleau said. “We’re interchangeable throughout the whole lineup, anyway.”

Marleau has been one of the few effective Sharks players lately, with three of the team’s last five goals. He has 26 goals on the season, third on the team, and is fifth on the Sharks in points with 44.

“Patty is playing great. I don’t think we could ask for more from him,” said coach Pete DeBoer. “Arguably a lot of nights this year he’s been our best forward. He’s playing hard, he’s playing strong. He’s been a real valuable piece for us. We wouldn’t be in the spot we’re in this year without him and the way he’s played this year.”

Marleau is set to skate with Melker Karlsson and Mikkel Boedker, as Karlsson is good to go after missing the last eight games with a lower body injury. The 26-year-old Swede is having a nice season with 19 points (9g, 10a) in 60 games.

The third line featured Tomas Hertl between Joel Ward and Marcus Sorensen, while Chris Tierney will center the fourth line with Timo Meier and Joonas Donskoi.

Karlsson, who confirmed he was ready to return, said: “Cooch is out, and we’ll see how long he’s going to be out, but I’ll do my best. I’m going to work hard, and hopefully can get going here.”

Marleau described Karlsson as “tenacious on the forecheck, causes a lot of turnovers. He’s hungry on that puck. He’s going to get his opportunities, and I’m sure he’ll put a few in the back of the net.”

* * *

Of course, the Sharks don’t care who scores the goals, just as long as it’s someone. It’s been a season-long issue for them to get their depth scorers to do more, and if they want any chance at reclaiming first place in the Pacific Division while Couture is out, that will be a necessity.

Among the players that will bring their scoring woes into Tuesday’s game will be Donskoi (no points 13 games), Hertl (no points in 12 games), Boedker (no points in 10 games), Ward (no points in six games), Sorensen (one assist in 10 games) and Tierney (one goal in 12 games).

Could Couture’s absence be a wake up call for those guys?

“I would hope it doesn’t take an injury to get that. That’s something we’re looking for, it’s something we’ve challenged the group to get more out of them,” DeBoer said. 

“They’re the first guys to recognize they’ve got to give us a little bit more. That’s been an ongoing process. The good news is they’ve all done it before. I feel that they all have the ability to raise their level another notch here before the playoffs. I think they have enough character that we’ll see that.”

Time is growing short, as the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin in a little more than two weeks.

Marleau said: “When you go into playoffs, [secondary scoring] is usually what makes a difference. We need everybody contributing and guys stepping up at different times. We know that in this room, and guys are looking forward to doing that.”