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Around The Pacific: Golden Knights off to a surprisingly good start

This is a weekly feature in which I’ll look at the performances and narratives of the teams in the Pacific Division. 

After a couple weeks of hockey, the Vegas Golden Knights and Los Angeles Kings are at the top of the Pacific Division while the Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks can’t score goals. What’s going on?

1st: Los Angeles Kings

4-0-1 (9 points) / +7 goal differential / 53.9 CF% (9th) / 103.4 PDO (6th)

I’m not sure if I would call them a surprise, but the Kings are playing much better hockey than we expected they would. After five games, Los Angeles has yet to lose in regulation and stands at the top of the Pacific Division with a 4-0-1 record.

The team still has the excellent underlying numbers we’ve seen in years past, but this season, they’re actually executing. The past few years, L.A. has been the anti-Corsi enigma that couldn’t score and massively underperformed their peripherals. This season, they have 17 goals through six games, which isn’t world-beating, but is an improvement over what they’ve done in the past. Another key to the Kings’ success has been the excellent play of Jonathan Quick.

Are the Kings back? It’s obviously too early to tell, but it’s possible under new head coach John Stevens the team is turning things around.

2nd: Vegas Golden Knights

4-1-0 (8 points) / +4 goal differential / 48.2 CF% (16th) / 100.5 PDO (16th)

This has easily been the biggest surprise of the season. The Vegas Golden Knights have a 4-1-0 record after two weeks of play. Personally, I figured they would have four wins by the time New Year’s rolled around.

But here we are. I doubt it keeps up because, I mean, look at their roster, but good on the Golden Knights for doing what they’ve done so far. They’ve certainly created a buzz and have played much better hockey than anybody could have expected. Also, they way they’ve come out and played the wake of the Vegas mass shooting earlier this month has been admirable. It’s only sports and it doesn’t change what happened, of course, but this team giving the people of Vegas something to cheer about in the wake of disaster has been something to witness.

The ceremony before the first game at T-Mobile Arena was beautiful, and the team’s all-out showing that night was incredible. Good on you, Golden Knights.

3rd: Calgary Flames

4-2-0 (8 points) / Even goal differential / 49.8 CF% (14th) / 100.2 PDO (19th)

After laying an egg on opening night and losing 3-0 to the Oilers, the Flames have had a very successful start to the season. They’re 4-2 so far, and a big part of that has been the play of Mike Smith. His acquisition from the Coyotes was met with skepticism because, well, he’s old and his numbers weren’t good, but Smith has posted a .929 save percentage through six appearances so far for the Flames.

4th: Anaheim Ducks

2-3-1 (5 points) / -5 goal differential / 44.8 CF% (28th) / 101.3 PDO (11th) 

Anaheim’s 2-3-1 record through six games seems thoroughly mediocre, but it’s actually sort of impressive considering the injuries they’re dealing with. Ryan Getzlaf has only appeared in two games, while Ryan Kelser, Ryan Miller, Hampus Lindholm, and Sami Vatanen have yet to suit up this season. To make matters worse, John Gibson left Friday’s game after suffering a freak injury during warmups.

The key for the Ducks is staying above water until all of their players are back. Obviously it’s a long season, but it’s pretty difficult to make up ground in a league in which teams can earn a point for losing in overtime. The Ducks have terrible underlying numbers so far through six games and are being outplayed, but have managed to scrape out two wins. That said, becoming the first team to lose to the Buffalo Sabres in 2017-18 isn’t a crown they likely wanted to be wearing.

5th: Vancouver Canucks

1-2-1 (3 points) / -5 goal differential / 47.5 CF% (21st) / 100.4 PDO (17th) 

The Canucks looked solid in their season-opening win against the Oilers, but since then, they’ve dropped three straight games. They were outplayed pretty heavily in the shootout loss to Ottawa last week, but in the other two losses to Calgary and Winnipeg, the Canucks played fairly well.

It’s inevitable the team is going to struggle this season and won’t compete seriously for a playoff spot, and the goal for the season is internal development of young talent. That’s why it’s puzzling that Brock Boeser, a key part of the team’s future, has only played in two of the team’s four games so far. And when he was put in the lineup, Alex Burmistrov, another guy who could actually have a future with the team, was scratched.

Tied for 6th: Edmonton Oilers

1-3-0 (2 points) / -6 goal differential / 59.6 CF% (1st) / 94.5 PDO (28th)

After pounding the Flames 3-0 in their season opener, things have quickly gone south for the Oilers. Last week, they had a long break after dropping a Monday night game against Winnipeg, but came out completely flat and got hammered 6-1 by the Senators at home. The Oilers are now 1-3 and look nothing like the team that came within one win of reaching the Western Conference Final last spring.

A big issue for the Oilers has been offence, as they’ve only managed five goals since that first game. Another problem has been Cam Talbot, who was excellent last season, as he owns an .880 save percentage through four games.

It’s worrying in a competitive division that the team is dropping winnable games early on, and the schedule gets more difficult from here as the Oilers are set to play Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Washington in the next couple of weeks. But still, the Oilers have the best shot attempt differential in the NHL right now, which bodes well for them turning things around.

Tied for 6th: San Jose Sharks

1-3-0 (2 points) / -6 goal differential / 56.2 CF% (7th) / 92.4 PDO (30th)

The San Jose Sharks have scored eight goals this season and Kevin Labanc has three of them. I mean, on one hand, it’s great that Labanc is off to a nice start, but it’s very worrying that Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Tomas Hertl, Brent Burns, and Joe Thornton have combined for two goals.

The Sharks saw a dip in offensive production from 2015-16 to 2016-17, which is what makes their early season scoring troubles a little bit more interesting than something that can be simply summed up from a small sample size. According to BoDog, head coach Peter DeBoer has the highest odds of any NHL coach to be the first bench boss to get the axe this season. I’m not sure if there’s actually any real merit to what the oddsmakers have to say, but if these struggles keep up for the Sharks, DeBoer could be in trouble.

8th: Arizona Coyotes

0-4-1 (1 point) / -11 goal differential / 48.9 CF% (18th) / 94.4 PDO (29th)

After an off-season that created some excitement around the team, the Arizona Coyotes appear to still be, well, the Arizona Coyotes. The Yotes are the only team left in league without a win and all of that “the Coyotes can compete for a playoff spot!” enthusiasm has pretty much dried up.

In their first two games, the Coyotes got outshot heavily, but in their last three losses last week against the Golden Knights, Red Wings, and Bruins, Arizona actually outshot their opponents. There are some things to like here. Derek Stepan, one of the big acquisitions this summer, has been excellent so far, and rookie sensation Clayton Keller has three goals in five games. But the bad so far outweighs the good, as Dylan Strome struggled and has been demoted to the AHL, Niklas Hjalmarsson has been slow adjusting to his new team, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who’s supposed to be a constant on the team, hasn’t looked like the Norris candidate he was a couple years ago.

This week, Arizona will play the Dallas Stars twice and will host the Chicago Blackhawks before going on a five-game Eastern road trip. I know, it’s early, but this schedule is a recipe for disaster for the Coyotes, and a very bad start can completely sink them in a competitive division.

  • Break The Canuck's Curse

    Could it be that Bettman wants to promote a new franchise so everyone is told to go easy on Vegas?

    I wouldn’t put that past Bettman or the league

  • Ragnarok Ouroboros

    Vegas is certainly a surprise, but I’m just as surprised by how badly Oilers are doing. The Oilers gave me false hope that my Canucks team may be somewhat good this year when they beat the Oilers.

  • Bluemoonjones

    Two quick thoughts:
    John Stevens is destined to be a very good coach in this league for a very long time. Canucks should have hired him immediately after firing Napolean Tortorella.
    Two: Vegas Golden Knights were handed breaks that no expansion team in the history of North American professional sports have ever been given. $500 million does that. Then they hired McPhee. They are a playoff team in year one. Book it.

  • Flamethrower

    I used to enjoy this site and the comments. Recently thou I have become sick and tired of the trolling by oiler fans. I’m not sure if it is as bad the other way because I wouldn’t waste my time reading about their cesspool of crap.

    So I feel unless FN can find away to filter or block these trolls, my reading habits for Flames news may have to go else where. I’m sure also I’m not the only one who feels this way.
    It really is to bad that a few bad apples can spoil the whole bunch.