Pacific Division: Season Overview

NHLHS San Jose Sharks Correspondent Stephanie Lee and Jeremy Smith take a look at the Pacific Division, and how they are the closest Division when it comes down to points.

As the 2010-2011 regular season draws closer to it’s end, the Pacific Division is quite possibly the toughest. Each team has has their ups and downs, but has managed to stay in the thick of things. Ten points separate division leader San Jose and Dallas, who holds the last spot. No other division in the NHL is that close in points.

Anaheim Ducks

Season Overview: The guys from Orange County started the season off on a bit of a slide by going 4-7-1 in the first month of the season, totaling nine out of twenty four points, just one point better then last ten points out of a possible twenty four. This is something that isn’t new to the once mighty team; in fact, in their previous four seasons the Ducks have accumulated 41 out of a possible 98 points during their first month. That’s a mere 41 percent of the points possible.

Starting goaltender, Jonas Hiller  went 3-6 with a 3.35 GAA and .915 SV%, and even earned an All Star spot. Shortly following the game, Hiller went down with vertigo symptoms, prompting Anaheim to sign Ray Emery to back up Curtis McElhinney. On February 24, even with Hiller on the injured reserve, Anaheim sent McElhinney to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Dan Ellis. Since adding Emery and Ellis, the Ducks have gone 9-3-1. And leading goal scorer, Corey Perry has 13 goals in his last ten games, putting him at the top of the NHL with 44 goals this season.

Playoff History: 2007/08 – Lost to Dallas in first round 4-2. 2008/08 -  Beat San Jose 4-2 first round, Lost to 4-3 to Detroit in second round. Didn’t make the playoffs in 2009/10, and if playoffs started today, the Ducks who are sitting in 7th due to Nashville beating Dallas on Saturday, would be facing Detroit.

Dallas Stars

Season Overview: What’s a team to do without their two star players in Mike Modano and Marty Turco? The only thing they can do, move on.  Dallas needed to show that they can be contenders without two of their top players. Dallas started the season off by going 3-0 for the first time since 2008-09 adding Andrew Raycroft in goal to work with Kari Lehtonen who played second fiddle to Turco last season.

Still having Brenden Morrow among their core group of players, the Stars sent a third round pick in the 2011 entry draft to New Jersey in exchange for Jamie Langenbrunner midway through the season. This is Langenbrunner’s second stint with Dallas, playing with them from 1994-2002 before being traded to New Jersey. Since being traded back to Dallas, Langenbrunner has 5 goals and 11 assists. At 38-26-10 and eight games left in their season, more then any other Pacific Division team. Four of those eight come against division teams.

Playoff History: 2007/08 – Beat Anaheim 4-2 first round, Beat San Jose 4-2 (2nd round),  Lost to Detroit 4-2 (3rd round). No playoffs since 2007/08. As of right now, they are out of the playoffs by three points, looking at Chicago in the 8th seed.

Los Angeles Kings

Season Overview: Starting goaltender Jonathan Quick had a stellar first month to this NHL season. In games played from October 9th to November 11th, Quick posted a 9-1-0 record, with a goals against average of 1.64 and a save percentage of .943.  He allowed more than 3 goals only twice and gave up a goal or less five times within that stretch. Although Quick’s play dipped a hair during mid-season – relative to his stellar start – he has been back in top form for the majority of the stretch run and has given the Kings what they have long sought – an iron clad goaltender who can make the big save when the team needs it. As for backup Jonathan Bernier, it has been a tale of two seasons. Bernier, a highly regarded former #1 pick, struggled early on in his first full season in the NHL, perhaps in part due to the lack of a consistent workload.  Hard work in practice has paid off, as Bernier has been much improved since mid-season, and Coach Terry Murray has not hesitated to start Bernier in important stretch run games.

Unfortunately for the Kings, on March 26th, they lost a leading goal scorer in Anže Kopitar to a broken ankle ending his consecutive games played at 330. Kopitar has 25 goals this season for LA, falling 9 short of his career high of 37. The possibilities of what he could’ve done are just wonder now. Captain Dustin Brown, tied with Kopitar for most goals on the Kings, has two goals in his last two games will be one of many players left to step up and help the Kings make the final push for the playoffs.

Playoff History: Prior to the 2009/10 season, the Kings had not made the playoffs since 2001/02 when they lost in the first round to the Colorado Avalanche.

Phoenix Coyotes

Season Overview: Over the past few years, the Phoenix Coyotes have gone through many changes with coaches, owners and the lingering question if they are staying in Arizona or not. It hasn’t been easy for a team that racked up 107 points last season. And with all that’s been going on this season for the Phoenix Coyotes, they’ve managed to keep  Ilya Bryzgalov and Jason LaBarbera between the pipes.  Bryzgalov had a career year last season going 42-20-6 in 69 games started. In his 62 games started this season, Bryzgalov is 34-19-8. LaBarbera has bounced around the Western Conference, playing with Vancouver and Los Angeles before landing in Phoenix. He’ll be eligible for free agency at the end of this season.

The Coyotes don’t have a player who has achieved the 20 goal mark yet this season, with Shane Doan, Radim Vrbata and Lauri  Korpikoski all tallying 18 goals with just four games left in the regular season. Korpikoski, who is having a career year in all categories,  is listed as day-to-day with a lower body injury, hindering his chance to achieve that mark.

Playoff History: Much like the Los Angeles Kings, prior to the 2009/10 season the Coyotes failed to make the playoffs since 2001/02. As it stands right now, Phoenix is 4th in the Conference and 2nd in the Division, two points behind San Jose.

San Jose Sharks

Season Overview: The letters A.N. have more then two meanings to Sharks fans. Not only are they the names of their two goalies Antero Niittymaki and Antti Niemi, but it is also relevant to After Nabokov. Nabokov being the name that still hurts for fans this season. But Niittymaki and Niemi have stepped up and proved why they belong with the Sharks. In 21 games started this season, Niittymaki is 12-6-3 but hasn’t started a game since January 13th. Antti Niemi, who started off slow this season and won the Stanley Cup with Chicago last season, took over for Niittymaki full time and has started 31 straight games going 22-5-4 in those games. His overall season record is 31-17-6.

As nice as it is to have top players such as Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau on your team, sometimes it’s the little known players that make the biggest impact. Rookie Logan Couture is having a stellar year with 30 goals and 23 assists, leaving him one goal behind Michael Grabner of the New York Islanders for the rookie scoring title. And since when did Ryane start being spelled with an E at the end? Since Ryane Clowe, that’s when. His stats this season put him in fourth on the list, tied with Dany Heatley for most goals (24) by a Shark this season.

Playoff History: The San Jose Sharks have made the playoffs every season since the 2003/04 season but have failed to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals, making it only twice to the Conference Finals. Having three straight semi-finals losses, the Sharks have only added to their downfall. And once again, the Sharks are atop the Pacific Division with 97 points. As it stands right now, the Sharks would be playing against the Nashville Predators.

*Kings goalie analysis done by Jeremy Smith*