We’re over halfway into the season, and it’s come time to look at the Pacific Division at the break. The format will be changed up and instead of looking at just the past week of games, we’ll be looking at the teams overall throughout these first 47-50 games.
First Half: The Sharks are in that time of their history where they will be seen as perennial contenders. They win, they win big, they win a lot, and they never seem to stop. The longest losing streak this team has had is three games, something that happened on two occasions, but they still picked up points in three of those six games. They’re only up two points for the division lead, but due to having three games in hand, it is a true stranglehold. The Sharks aren’t likely to lose that top spot, and if they do, don’t expect it to be for long.
MVP: Big Joe Thornton. He leads the team in points, he leads all offensive players in +/-, and he looks as solid as always with a team that has just three players in the double digits for goals. He’s picked up the slack for his teammates and proves day in and day out how competitive he is, and how bad he wants to win a Stanley Cup.
What’s Next: The Sharks return to the ice on January 31st against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
First Half: The Kings stumbled out of the gate and only struggled from there. They couldn’t score, they weren’t playing as a unit, and as the season went on, the only thing keeping them afloat was their knack for taking games into overtime, picking up points in 10 of their 26 losses, not to mention the stellar play of Jonathan Quick. Eventually, things came to a head and LA management saw the need for a change. Exit Terry Murray. Enter Darryl Sutter. The team began the season with Stanley Cup aspirations, but they were reduced to having to fire their head coach. The bad start, the inability to produce, and the eventual firing of Murray was, in a word, shocking. In a season full of hiring and firing, no one expected the Los Angeles Kings to be among the victims. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your allegiance, the Kings have made a decisive turnaround, storming back into both the playoff race and the Pacific Division race.
MVP: Is there any debate? Jonathan Quick held this team together, earned the team much needed wins, and became an All-Star in the process. He has an NHL leading six shutouts, and is in the top five in both GAA and Save %. The only real matter of concern is his durability. He has started 42 games out of 50, and absurd and risky pace. Can Quick keep up? History says he will burn out eventually, especially if the team is fighting for a playoff spot and start him every night down the stretch.
What’s Next: The Kings return to the ice February 1st against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Jonathan Quick durability issue will be flying under the radar, but expect it be top news if the Kings hit another losing streak.
3. Dallas Stars: (25-21-2, 52 points)
First Half: The Stars started the season with an 11-3 record, surprising everyone, but not selling anyone. It’s a long season, and a hot start is a nice cushion, but it means nothing when it comes to the long run. Most media outlets predicted the Stars to occupy the cellar of the NHL, and with a rookie head coach and the loss of so-called superstar Brad Richards, who can blame them? The Stars were hungry, and proved everyone wrong with that start, but the team has struggled in recent months. Kari Lehtonen was the early season MVP, but he hasn’t been able to string together wins after a groin injury took him down for over a month, in fact, he hasn’t had two straight wins since November 21st/23rd. Depth and excellent free agent pick ups have been the best story of the year for the Stars. Sheldon Souray has salvaged from his banishment to the AHL, Eric Nystrom has become one of the Stars leading goal-scorers out of nowhere, and Michael Ryder, though still inconsistent, has proved that his value as a top-6 winger is very real.
MVP: Jamie Benn. 22 years old, 42 points in 43 games and quickly maturing into the Stars best play maker. He’s dealt with the hype, the critics, and is currently in the midst of his first of many visits to the All-Star game. He is without a doubt the future of the Stars franchise, and it is truly exciting to realize he hasn’t even hit his prime yet.
What’s Next: The Stars face a rematch against the Anaheim Ducks on February 1st. After a five game losing streak, the Stars picked up a win against Anaheim in the last game before the break. The Stars need to play their game and pull out the same stops. Every game has playoff implications, and the grind has begun. Points are precious, the Stars can’t afford another losing streak.
First Half: The Coyotes are quietly chugging along a midst doubts over the fate of the franchise, waning attendance, and general indifference. They’re in the middle of the playoff race, but something definitely feels different about this team. There’s no superstars (there never really were), they lost their star goaltender, and they’ve begun struggling to win games.
MVP: I want to say Dave Tippet, but since it’s Most Valuable Player i’ll have to say that honor goes Radim Vrbata, who is quietly putting together the best season of his career. His 23 goals leads the team and is top 10 in the NHL. Mike Smith was the early season MVP, but his play has become streaky and inconsistent due to injuries. Vrbata has been an offensive powerhouse for the Coyotes who are in desperate need of a star.
What’s Next: The Ducks and Coyotes face off on January 31st. The Coyotes seem to be a limping team facing one of the hottest teams in the NHL. The Coyotes have a lot at stake, and as news of their sale (or the lack thereof) continues, the off ice distraction will only grow bigger.
First Half: There wasn’t much going right in Anaheim. They sunk to the cellar of the NHL, and no one really knew why. The team was almost a carbon copy of last year’s Ducks, a playoff team and home to the NHL MVP and leading scorer, Corey Perry. Rumors began making the rounds, vultures began circling the team, and something needed to be done. When the Washington Capitals, facing an assortment of problems of their own, fired Bruce Boudreau, the Ducks pounced on the opportunity to bring in such a high caliber coach. Exit Randy Carlyle. Enter Bruce Boudreau. But even that didn’t seem to be paying dividends. Management put the entire team on sale (or at least publicly threatened to do so). It seems like that did the trick. The Ducks have been on a tear, putting together a 8-1-1 record over their last 10, suddenly becoming a factor in the playoff race.
MVP: Teemu Selanne. Because why not? 15 goals, 45 points in 48 games. He’s the team’s leading scorer, and he’s 41 years old. Perry, Ryan, Getzlaf? They all struggled and couldn’t find their touch for most of the first half. Jonas Hiller? He’s hardly looked like himself, although his play has significantly improved in the recent winning streak. Selanne has been the rock, the one consistent player. The clear cut MVP.
As mentioned earlier, the Ducks and Coyotes come out of the break against each other. Can they continue this winning streak? That’s the question on everyone’s mind. If they continue to win at that pace, the Ducks will be gaining on the Stars and Coyotes in no time.
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Topics: Anaheim Ducks, Anze Kopitar, Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry, Jamie Benn, Joe Thornton, Jonas Hiller, Jonathan Quick, Kari Lehtonen, Logan Couture, Los Angeles Kings, Loui Eriksson, Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes, Radim Vrbata, San Jose Sharks, Teemu Selanne