Jason Lewis LA Kings writer at http://HockeyBuzz.com , prospect writer at Hockey’s Future, Pacific Division writer at HockeyProspectus. Follow him on Twitter @SirJDL
It is time for another Around the Pacific. We are a near month away from the trade deadline and getting into the heart of the stretch run. Over the next month a lot will be decided. By the end of February we might know which teams are buyers and which teams are sellers. The gut feeling around the Pacific though is that this will be a fight to the bitter end. With that fight ongoing let’s take a look at a few of the talking points, which includes a couple of hot and cold goaltenders and a few major injury concerns.
The High Highs and Low Lows of Jonathan Quick
If you happen to peruse over the game log of Jonathan Quick, it can be hard to fathom what exactly happens in Kings games. What you will see is a handful of games in the range of .930 and beyond, but then there is a plethora of games in the low .800 and .700 save percentages.
While it is debatable how much fault you could put on Jonathan Quick for some of these numbers considering how out of sorts the Kings defense has been, there is no debating that it has not been consistent from the 29-year old.
Take a quick look at the plot graph provided by the good folks at War-on-Ice.com of Quick’s shots faced versus save percentages this year.
Although further analysis is needed to see if this is a career trend with Quick or not, it is crazy how up and down he is. It is particularly interesting when he is able to get in a “zone”. By that I mean facing a high number of shots. In 45 games this season, Quick has face 28 or more shots 21 times. In those 21 games he has only fallen below a .900 save percentage four times. In the 24 games where he has faced 27 shots and below he has come up shy of .900 a staggering 16 times. Compare that to Rinne who has only dropped below .900 in five of 13 games with 27 or below, and Lundqvist who has only done so in only three of 15. Some of Quick’s best performances have come when he faces 30+ shots, which lends to the idea that the Kings netminder very much has to be facing a ton of rubber to get engaged in the game.
Injuries are a natural occurrence of the game. It is unfortunate for the teams, the players, and the fans. Again though, they just happen and there is nothing you can do about it.
Then there is Taylor Hall. The same Taylor Hall that has been injured at least once a year some to some degree in each of the five seasons he has played in the NHL. He has, however, avoided real detrimental injuries the last two seasons. He also had two of his best statistical seasons to date. The Oilers were expected to be a much better team this season behind the play of a healthy and maturing Taylor Hall. This year has not gone as planned though clearly. The Oilers continue to struggle at the basement of the Western Conference and Hall has struggled as well. After putting together a stretch of somewhat decent play in January they are now facing the loss of the 23-year old star for six weeks with a knee injury. Edmonton is already one of the lowest scoring teams in the league, and this will not help one bit.
A bone injury and @hallsy04 out up to 6 weeks.
— Gene Principe (@GenePrincipe) February 10, 2015
Hall has left a lot to be desired this season, as his goals per 60 minutes and shots per 60 minutes pace is currently at the worst of his young career. He is also seeing lows in Fenwick and Corsi.
The Draisaitl debacle and the consistent injuries, which have caused Hall to miss a total of 48 games over his first four seasons (294 games possible), are a reminder of the question of whether the Oilers rush their young players. Sam Gagner had similar struggles with health in his early years of Edmonton, as did Ales Hemsky. While there are plenty of examples of young players thriving at a young age in the NHL, the Oilers have had nothing but difficulties when it comes to putting their young phenoms under the gun at a young age.
Banged up Blue Line
The Sharks are coming up on a crucial part of the season, and like clock work injuries are piling up. Justin Braun is slated to miss four to six weeks with a hand injury, and now he will be joined on injured reserve by Marc-Eduoard Vlasic. Vlasic may only be out a little while, but as it currently stands the Sharks blue line looks a little something like this:
(Pairings provided by www.leftwinglock.com)
The Sharks have a very difficult February, including games against the Kings, Predators, Lightning, Caps, Stars and Red Wings. They may be forced to do it without two of their top-4 defenseman. Tough ask for veterans like Scott Hannan and a youngster like Mirco Mueller to pick up the slack. However, switching Brent Burns back to defense has been an incredible decision by Todd McClellan, as Burns has been the Sharks best defenseman all year. He is averaging 24:13 in ice time this season, which are his highest totals since his Minnesota blue line days.
The Sharks Top 4 have been positive contributors just about all season and they will now have to endure a stretch without two of the four. However, what has been pretty positive is the upward trend of Tennyson, Mueller, and Irwin as they get more important minutes.
Can they maintain it though?
(Graph provided by war-on-ice.com)
Calgary, Owners of the Pacific Division
We have talked about it ad nauseam by now, but the run the Flames are on is impressive. It is unexpected and potentially unsustainable, but impressive nonetheless.
Add another thing to the mystique of the Flames. They are currently holders of the best record amongst any Pacific Division team when it comes to playing within the division. The Flames are 17-4-1 against Pacific Division teams. The latest victims? The San Jose Sharks, whom the Flames have dominated this season.
Here is the kicker, in 15 of those 22 games the Flames have lost the possession battle.
They have jumped up into second in the division as of February 10 and I don’t think anyone saw this coming.
What is Going on with Ryan Miller?
Vancouver is teetering right now.
While they currently sit in the final playoff spot out West, they are 5-5-0 in their last 10, and have not received any help from goaltender Ryan Miller.
The former Sabres standout runs very hot and cold, much like Jonathan Quick of the Kings. Currently he is on the extreme cold side. In his last seven games dating back to January 20, Miller has accumulated an .896 save percentage on an average of 26 shots a night. The Canucks are keeping the shot count fairly low, but Miller just isn’t coming up with saves.
Furthermore, you cannot really fault the play of the Vancouver defense, as they have steered a good majority of shots at even strength to what you would consider “Low-Danger” areas. By that we mean from the right and left points (Excluding center point), down along the half walls and behind the net. Essentially that is everything not in the slot or between the circles. Canucks have steered 71 of the 125 total shots Miller has faced to the outside over the last seven games. His current percentage from that area is .901. For reference, the 34-year old holds a .950 save percentage in that area on the season. Although that number seems fairly high, it is actually the third worst in the league for goaltenders playing an excess of 1500 minutes in net, ahead of only Jaro Halak and Ben Scrivens.
To put it simply, Miller is not making the routine saves right now. For a team looking to stabilize its play and earn a playoff spot that cannot be comforting.