NHL Pacific Division Notebook: Do Or Die In Calgary

NHL Pacific Division
Evander Kane is headed out west to the NHL Pacific Division

At the start of the season, I thought for sure the Calgary Flames would be a playoff team come the spring. I also thought, early in the season, that the Flames may actually be the best team in the Pacific Division. I’m shocked to say that I’m likely going to be wrong about both of those things. As it stands right now, the Flames are positioned to miss the playoffs and will be in tough to make up ground.

Fact of the matter is, the team doesn’t have a lot of games remaining against teams in the playoff race. On top of that, they are three points back and have played more games than the Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks.

Failure to make the playoffs can be pinned on a few things. First, I believe head coach Glen Gulutzan has vastly underutilized his roster. There are flaws with this team, but the stubbornness of this coaching staff has hurt the on-ice product, especially the powerplay.

Mike Smith’s injury has really hurt this group. Smith did an excellent job covering up for the team’s flaws, while neither Jon Gillies nor David Rittich have been able to come close to filling his shoes over the last few weeks.

Lastly, Calgary’s depth players have been very poor this season, and are usually a negative factor for the club. They are relying far too heavily on their top-six forwards and top-four defenders, and it is costing them games.

This Flames team, looking at their core, should be a sure playoff team. The fact they are likely to miss the dance has to be a bitter pill to swallow, and should result in some major changes this off-season should things hold. It’s do or die time now in Calgary.

Kane Is Able:

How about Evander Kane’s start to his Shark career? Kane immediately made an impact in the club’s victory over Edmonton last Tuesday, scoring two assists and being a factor physically. Since the trade, Kane has played in three games for the Sharks and registered five points (1-4-5). He’s fitting in with this group in a big way and appears to be a very good fit for the team’s top-six forwards.

I’ve long thought that Kane’s style would be the perfect fit for the NHL playoffs, and we should get to test that theory in a few short weeks. This trade is looking damn good for Doug Wilson, who didn’t have to pay a major price to get Kane on board from Buffalo eight days ago.

The Infirmary:

Tough times in Vancouver, where the Canucks are dealing with some injuries in the homestretch. Both Markus Granlund and Sven Baertschi are expected to miss the rest of the regular season, knocking the club down two top-nine forwards. It’s a very tough break for Baertschi, who has played well this season but has battled big time injury problems.

The good news? The club is going to get a very long look at trade deadline pickup Brendan Leipsic, who scored twice last night. Leipsic has bounced around, but has shown signs of potentially being an NHL’er and could make good on that potential with the Canucks.

There could be some more bad news coming down the pipe, however, as Brock Boeser took an awkward fall into the open bench door late in last night’s win against the Islanders. He was in considerable pain before leaving the ice, and was taken to the hospital as a precaution

The Rest Of The Group:

– Interesting to see the Edmonton Oilers dip their toes into the Division three level of NCAA hockey on Monday. The Oilers signed UMass-Boston forward Colin Larkin to a one-year entry level contract that takes effect July 1st. In the meantime, the club signed Larkin to an ATO at the AHL level, and also signed D Logan Day (D3 Endicott College) to an AHL ATO.

I’m not sure if either of these players emerge as NHL prospects, they are likely both long shots, but it’s an interesting strategy nonetheless. Will be interesting to see if the Oilers get anything back on this investment.

– In their last eleven games, the Arizona Coyotes are 8-2-1 and nearly completed the comeback in Edmonton last night before falling in overtime. After a disastrous start, this club has been playing pretty good hockey and is over .500 since January 1st. Could it be a case of no pressure in garbage time? Sure, but the Yotes are finally getting good goaltending and it is showing.

I thought they could be a sleeper team this season, and I don’t think they are as bad as their record shows. Remember, bad goaltending can make any team look horrible. Now that Antti Raanta is playing to his potential, this Yotes team is getting better. Keep an eye on them through the end of the season.

– After a red-hot start to the year, the LA Kings are just one point up in the Wild Card race and have played one more game than Colorado on the season. What happens if this group fails to make the postseason for the second straight year and third time in four? It was a coaching change and GM change a year ago? This time around, you’d have to think it would be a major change to the roster.

These next few weeks are vitally important to this organization, and could set up a very interesting summer. With Drew Doughty set to become a UFA in 15 months, things could shift in a big way in SoCal.

– Speaking of a shift in SoCal, how about the Ducks? Anaheim is 6-2-2 in their last ten and handled Chicago with ease on Sunday by a final of 6-3. Now third in the Pacific, this Ducks team is back in the driver’s seat when it comes to their postseason fate. I highly doubted that would be the case just a few short weeks ago.

– Who had Vegas being the third team in the NHL to reach 90 points this season? I sure as hell didn’t, but they will do just that with a point later tonight in Columbus. What an amazing season for them that simply defies all logic. You have to wonder just how far it will go into April…..or May……or June.

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