Lewis: Around the Pacific – Legends, Kings’ struggles and Flames burn hot

Jason Lewis writes about the Kings at HockeyBuzz and writes for Hockey’s Future. Follow him on Twitter @SirJDL

Around the Pacific

From jersey retirements to rebuilds rumors, the Pacific Division had a little bit of everything in the last couple of weeks. With the NHL shutting down for just under a week for the all-star game, it is going to be crunch time for many teams coming out of the break. The trade deadline is looming, and there is still plenty of points to be had in this tight division.

Men of the Hour

Both the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks rose sweaters to the rafters recently. Teemu Selanne and Rob Blake had their numbers retired by their respective clubs. Two of the most influential and decorated Southern California athletes, and two very prominent figures in the growth of the game in LA and the OC.

Between the two players there are 2,721 games played (1270 Blake, 1451 Selanne), 16 all-star appearances, (10 TS, 6 RB), two Stanley Cups, a Norris Trophy, a Calder (TS), A gold medal (RB), a Rocket Richard trophy, and a Bill Masterton trophy (TS). Each player holds a number of records for their respective clubs as well. For Rob Blake this includes most career points, goals, and assist by an LA Kings defenseman. For Selanne it includes most career and single season everything records for the Ducks. Well, pretty much everything: Franchise record in assists, goals, and points, in both single season and career, most consecutive games with a goal, most power play goals, assists, and points, most hat tricks, and the NHL record for most goals (74) and points (132) by a rookie.

Their contributions on the ice are even more astounding when you consider what they meant to hockey off the ice in the developing 90’s hockey market in Southern California. Both players gave young kids around the area a player to look up to and strive to be like. Tip your cap to these exceptional players if you haven’t already. Both rightfully have a spot in the rafters of the Honda Center and Staples Center now.

What Is Wrong with the Kings?

In case you haven’t noticed, it is late January and the Kings are not in a playoff spot. While some teams have started to separate themselves, fall away, or correct early season struggles, it still isn’t obvious who the LA Kings are.

What do we know about them? Well, they are still a strong analytics team. They are still third best in the league in Corsi For per 60 minutes (59.8), and second overall in Fenwick For per 60 (45.0). Only Chicago bests the Kings in both categories. They are also heavily skewed in zone starts, falling in at 3rd lowest in defensive zone start percentage, and 3rd highest in offensive zone start percentage.

So what gives? How can a team that has relatively the same formula as the last three successful seasons look on the brink of not being a playoff contender? Coach Darryl Sutter seems to believe part of it is the penalty kill, which sits at a woeful 77.9%. That is good enough for 25th in the league at the start of play on January 19. Thanks to war-on-ice.com, we can get a good look of just how much the Kings PK has slipped over the last five seasons.

While the scoring chances against remain close for the regular season games stretching back to 2010, the goals against are through the roof this season compared to last. In the month of January alone, a January in which the Kings are 2-2-4, the penalty kill had gone a stretch where they had given up eight goals on 23 attempts. An 0-for-5 night from the Flames helped the Kings percentage a bit but you do not need to do the math to know that is still pretty awful. Injuries and slumping personnel have been major storylines in Los Angeles this year, and it is having a big effect on their penalty kill. With an injured Robyn Regehr coming back to the lineup it will be interesting to see if the PK numbers pick up.

Rebuilding Time in the Desert

Last week ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun went on TSN’s Insider Trading and said that the Arizona owner and management duo of Andrew Barroway and Don Maloney were primed and ready to “blow it up”.

Here is a link to the segment with LeBrun and Dreger: http://www.tsn.ca/video/insider-trading-brodeur-s-future-in-st-louis-1.183629

However, since then LeBrun he has backtracked a tad on those words.

Nevertheless, the Coyotes are having a season of struggles and plenty of names have been tossed up on the block. David Moss, Zbynek Michalek and Keith Yandle are just a few of the pieces out there, but in Arizona’s current state anyone may be able to be had for the right price. No doubt there are some tantalizing older players that would be helpful to a number of playoff squads. While some of the more obvious UFA guys like Yandle and Vermette already have one foot out the door practically, other names like Hanzal, Doan, Erat, or Korpikoski are aging players on what is a non-competitive team.

Take Hanzal for example, who is everything you could want for a 2 or 3C. Good on the draw, good corsi player, can play special teams, good size, and puts up modest numbers. At the age of 28, Arizona has to ask themselves If Hanzal will be useful during this mini rebuild phase. More importantly they have to wonder if he will be as good several years down the road when they get on the positive upswing of the rebuild. With the average NHL rebuild and retooling taking anywhere from three to six years, it may be worth it for Arizona to explore their options and cash in on a guy like Hanzal to help speed along the process of retooling. It is a common dilemma for teams playing with the idea of rebuilding. How much do you forfeit now to attempt a run in the future? A lot of questions await Don Maloney this deadline and offseason.

The Unluckiest Player in the Pacific Division (Maybe)

When you talk about the Edmonton Oilers, you are often talking about the perpetual rebuild, the struggles of their high draft picks, and the battle between the fans and the management. This year, with Edmonton looking like a top-five selector again, people are throwing former No.1 overall selection Nail Yakupov into the crosshairs.

The 21-year old Russian has struggled both offensively and defensively, registering just five goals in 47 games. Along with that he has a crisp minus-21 rating, and a corsi for of 45.6% on the season. It is not going too well for him, and while some of it is his own fault you cannot help but feel that Yakupov has been subject to some terrible luck. Sure enough when you look at some of the stats relative to “luck” like PDO or shooting percentages compared to other forwards it checks out.

Among forwards who have played at least 400 total minutes this year, here is how Yakupov stacks up:

Corsi PDO: 97.4% 9th lowest
Fenwick PDO: 96.8% 11th lowest
Shooting percentage: 5.36% 21st lowest
Standard PDO: 95.8% 10th lowest

To go along with that, he has some of the highest offensive zone start percentages and lowest defensive zone start percentages of anyone close to him in these numbers. While some of his struggles can be chocked up to a feeble Edmonton team as a whole or Yakupov’s flat out poor play, some of it is just incredibly tough luck. When it rains it pours. With just one goal in his last 20 games, Yakupov must feel like he is trying to shoot a beach ball into a mouse hole right now.

Still Hot

It feels like people have been waiting for the Calgary backslide all season, but the Flames keep beating the numbers. With a Fenwick For Percentage that is 28th, and a corsi for percentage that is 26th, the Flames have gone 7-3-0 in their last 10 after a stretch that saw them drop eight in a row in mid December. The latest victories included going a perfect 7-0-0 in games against their Pacific Division rivals. (2 LA, 2 EDM, 1 ARI/SJ/VAN).

In fact, in seven of those last ten games the Flames lost the possession battle, and in six of them they were outshot. They averaged 24.7 shots a game over that stretch and allowed 27.5. In the three contests in which the shot differential reached double digits against them they were 3-0-0.

While they have been inconsistent almost all year, they have consistently been a superb third period team. As of the start of play on Wednesday, January 21, no team had a higher third period goal differential than the Calgary Flames with a plus-25. Bob Hartley and crew seem to be working some kind of voodoo on this team, because despite all the numbers being against them they continue to win hockey games.

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