The Los Angeles Kings weren’t the best story in the Pacific Division in the season’s first half (Hello, Vegas) but they were a pretty damn good one anyway. After missing the playoffs last season, the Kings dominated early in the season and appeared on a fast track back into the annual spring tournament.
Even with Jeff Carter injured and on the shelf for a lengthy period of time, the Kings kept churning out standings points. Even when their advanced stats didn’t look as pretty the last few weeks, the wins kept coming. That’s until recently, that is. After losing 4-1 to San Jose on Monday afternoon, the Kings see themselves right back in the playoff race.
No, LA isn’t a lock for the postseason anymore. Now, with their bye week in the rear-view mirror, they sit just one point back of the ninth place San Jose Sharks in the west. In Fact, they are ten points ahead of the Edmonton Oilers in the Pacific, comfortable, but no longer out of reach.
LA’s only played 44 games, but that’s still two more than the Sharks and the first place Golden Knights. This is a good test for first year GM Rob Blake and head coach John Stevens. After their great start, missing the playoffs really isn’t an option for the Kings. How will Blake and company ensure postseason hockey in So Cal? They may have to make a move, because their spot is slipping away.
Not much has gone right for the Edmonton Oilers this season, but on Saturday night they knocked off the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in overtime to win their second straight game. The most impressive thing? The Oilers are the only Pacific Division team to beat the Golden Knights this season, doing so in each of the first two meetings between the sides.
Edmonton’s win Saturday also snapped a seven game winning streak for the Knights that dated back to December the 12th. Pretty impressive for the Oil.
Outside of that win, Edmonton also doubled up Arizona on Friday night 4-2. That gives the Oilers two straight victories heading into their bye week, but it still isn’t pretty for the NHL’s most disappointing team. As of this writing, they sit ten points back of Los Angeles (Pacific third seed) and Dallas (Wild Card two) for playoff positioning.
The good news? After Edmonton’s bye week this week they get a favorable three game stretch before the All-Star break. They’ll play fellow bottom-dwellers Vancouver and Buffalo, both at home, before hosting the Calgary Flames, a team they have owned as of late. IF Edmonton wins those three games, perhaps they’ll be in striking distance by the break.
Speaking Of Vegas:
The Golden Knights are almost assured a playoff spot, but they have an interesting second half schedule. The Golden Knights have a number of lengthy road trips, including three out east, before season’s end. The home coking has been great for this team, but how will they handle the rigors of lengthy road trips all over the country in the second half? They really haven’t had to handle that this season.
Luckily for Vegas, it really doesn’t matter. With a nine-point cushion on the playoffs right now, .50 hockey the rest of the way should be enough to push this team to the second season. Still, it’ll be interesting to see how this team handles the ruthless road life of a Western Conference team.
The Rest of The Group:
– Sad to see Andrew Cogliano’s super impressive ironman streak come to an end on Monday as he served the first of a two game suspension for a hit to LA’s Adrian Kempe on the weekend. That game, a Ducks loss in Denver, marked Cogliano’s first missed game of his career. Pretty remarkable considering he made his NHL debut back on October 4th, 2007. After 830 games, it’s a shame Cogliano’s streak had to end with a suspension. Sadly, I believe it was the right call by the NHL.
– Speaking of suspensions, good call by the NHL for not taking further discipline of Calgary’s Mark Giordano for his hit on Carolina’s Sebastian Aho on Sunday afternoon. It was a tough play and a bad hit, but I don’t believe there was intent by Giordano and I don’t think it was a dirty play by any means. The in-game penalty, for me at least, was plenty. When you factor in Giordano’s reputation as a clean player, I think he deserves the benefit of the doubt. Here’s to hoping Aho is fine after a bad break.
– The San Jose Sharks knocked off the LA Kings 4-1 on Monday afternoon, and now San Jose is just one point back of LA for a playoff spot. Things haven’t really broke the Sharks way this season, but I do feel like the window is closing on this team. They have struggled in a big way to replace Patrick Marleau’s scoring, and now it appears Paul Martin’s time with the team is coming to a close. The Sharks waived Martin on Monday, with a trade possible if he clears.
I’d assume Martin, who has another season with a cap hit of $4,850,000, ends up clearing at noon time on Tuesday. Would it surprise anyone if a team like Pittsburgh or New Jersey, who is looking for defensive help, took a chance on Martin if the Sharks ate some money?
– The Arizona Coyotes has blown leads in both game post bye week and lost to both the Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks. Unfortunately, the Coyotes are so far back those losses really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. What does matter for them is their trade of Anthony Duclair to Chicago last week. I think Duclair has a lot left to give and I thought he was playing well after a tough 2016-17 in the desert. Richard Panik comes to Arizona to replace him, and while I think Arizona got the worse player in this deal, I do think Panik can be a nice fit moving forward.
That said, the Coyotes need to add skill to the lineup, not trade it for journeyman wingers.
– The Vancouver Canucks have found some nice pieces for their rebuild this season, but the reality is the team needs to keep building and should be selling off assets in the next few weeks. They’ll draft high once again this June, and should add a few quality prospects to their nice group developing in juniors and in Utica.
Arguably the biggest question will be if Jim Benning will still be the man in charge of the rebuild come draft time. Benning is in the final year of his contract as GM and the Canucks have been totally non-committal about bringing him back next season. On Monday, the Vancouver Province wondered if current Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland, also in the final year of his contract, could come home to replace Benning.
My thought? Benning gets a lot of flak for some poor trades, but he did really well last year at the trade deadline and has actually done quite well at the draft table the last few seasons. I do think Benning has a plan and I’d allow him another two years to carry it out. You simply can’t rebuild on the fly and I don’t think Holland is the guy to start a team from scratch.
Photo Credit: Flickr/mark6mauno C.C. 2.0