Pacific Division Notebook: The Greatest Show On Sand

Arizona Coyotes NHL Summer Preview

The best NHL team you aren’t paying attention to? Easy, the Arizona Coyotes. No, seriously. The Coyotes struggled out of the gate and simply could not score goals, starting the season 2-5-0 and looking to many like a team that was wandering the desert searching for themselves.

The advanced stats and possession metrics told a different story, however. Those numbers indicated that Arizona was a good team running into a lot of bad luck in the season’s first handful of games. The last four games, for lack of a better term, have been a market correction for this club.

The Coyotes have won four in a row, with last night’s 5-1 drubbing of Ottawa being the exclamation point on the recent stretch. The offense has exploded, and the club is starting to gain confidence. They currently sit 6-5-0, and while they aren’t yet in a playoff spot they are knocking on the door.

I’m not sure Arizona gets in this season, in fact the smart money has them still missing the playoffs at this point. They don’t have an offensive difference maker and I’m not sure they have the guns just yet to take that final step in their push back to the postseason. I will say, however, that they are going to come very close and that this team is without doubt going in the right direction.

Arizona isn’t that boring team you dread to watch anymore. No, they are a young and fast team that can score and that will entertain you. Pay attention, because in a weak Pacific Division these guys have the ability to make some waves.

Albertan Rebound:

Give credit to the Edmonton Oilers. They looked dead after an 0-2-0 start to the season but have rebound nicely, going 6-2-1 in the span since. The Oilers faced a terribly tough October schedule, including a stretch of six games against teams that finished with at least 100 points a season ago. Their record in that stretch? 4-1-1.

The Oilers still have some serious roster holes and I’m not sure they will make the playoffs still. That said, they had a great month and are firmly positioned to compete now this season. The schedule opens up a bit for this team, as the toughest days are in the rearview mirror. A rebound season looks to be nearly certain for this group after last year’s nightmare, especially with the secondary scoring coming around now.

Meanwhile, the Flames got another third period goal late last night and defeated Buffalo 2-1 in overtime. Calgary had a nice back-to-back stretch here, defeating Toronto on Monday before the win in Buffalo last night. The Flames finished the month 7-5-1 and in 2nd in the Pacific. If Mike Smith doesn’t implode, which is not a given, this will be a playoff team.

California (Not So Much) Love:

SoCal stand up (if you’re hockey team has been bad)! The LA Kings are currently the worst team in hockey with a 3-7-1 mark and boy have they earned it. The Kings look slow and all out of sorts, while their special teams units have been a flat-out disaster thus far. Jonathan Quick’s injury issues aren’t help, and the Kings are getting absolutely nothing out of their secondary scorers.

LA made a bet this off-season that Anze Kopitar’s career year and Dustin Brown’s miracle rebound season were the new norms for those two players. Early in the season, those bets look poor and a team that did nothing to add to its depth is suffering. They remind me a lot of last year’s Oilers.

The Ducks, meanwhile, are being saved by John Gibson. They sit at 5-6-2 and fell 3-2 to the Flyers last night on home ice. The Ducks got off to a nice start because of Gibson, but they haven’t played well all season long. I don’t think this is a playoff team as currently constructed, and I wouldn’t be shocked if Randy Carlyle didn’t make it to Christmas. The organization believes in Dallas Eakins, and I was told he left a few NHL opportunities on the table to remain with AHL San Diego. I firmly believe he is next in line.

From the speculation pile: Don’t be shocked if Ryan Getzlaf finds his way into trade rumors should this season go sideways. Same with Corey Perry if he can return and prove his health prior to the trade deadline.

The Rest Of The Gang:

  • Nine game point streaks now for Brent Burns and Tomas Hertl with the San Jose Sharks. Burns has turned it on recently, but I still don’t feel like he and Erik Karlsson are clicking just yet. I wouldn’t worry too much, as it takes time for a superstar to blend in with his new team sometimes. I’d still wager that the Sharks finish in the top five when it comes to the powerplay and that both Karlsson and Burns hit the 60 point mark this season. Quietly, San Jose is 6-3-3 and the class of the Pacific through one month.
  • Last year I thought Vegas was both overrated and lucky. This year, I believe the Golden Knights are being underrated and have been unlucky so far. So is life in professional hockey, but don’t be surprised when this team gets going. The Golden Knights are hitting a ton of posts and driving possession early in the season. I still believe they will hang around all year long, and wouldn’t be shocked if they made the playoffs. They may want to consider adding another defender, however.
  • 7-6-0 through 13 games is a fine mark, an incredible one if you are Vancouver. It is the second straight year that the Canucks have come out firing in a season, but they’ll be looking to avoid a repeat of history in November. Things fell apart for the Canucks in November a season ago, mainly due to injury. Elias Pettersson is legit, and I think Adam Gaudette has earned a full-time role with the club since coming up from Utica. The future is bright in Vancouver, and this team is on the come up. Not enough people are talking about how well Travis Green has done since taking over.

Photo Credit: By 5of7 [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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