Jason Lewis writes about the Pacific Division for Hockey Prospectus and writes for HockeyBuzz. Follow him on Twitter @SirJDL
We are back for the second installment of Around the Pacific. Not surprisingly, in a wide open Pacific Division, things have changed drastically since our last report. The Kings have gone from top to bottom. The Anaheim Ducks have started to play better hockey. The Edmonton Oilers, now without their young star Connor McDavid, have fallen back off. Finally, Arizona continues to surprise teams with their speedy and youthful roster. Let’s get into some more specifics.
There was probably no bigger story in the last two weeks surrounding the Pacific. The Oilers lost the first overall pick of the 2015 draft, Connor McDavid, to a freak injury that happened during the Flyers-Oilers game on November 3rd. Despite the best efforts of Don Cherry to place blame and purpose on the behalf of the Flyers D-men on the play, it really was just a flukey looking loose-puck collision that ended in a terrible way for the burgeoning young star.
The good news is that, despite the loss of a young and talented player, the Oilers have persevered. The record has fallen back down to earth of course, and they now sit last in the division, BUT they have actually trended in an okay direction in both scoring chances for and fenwick for percentages since McDavid’s injury.
Fenwick For Percentage:
Scoring Chance For Percentage:
It is too early still to make any sort of conclusion about these trends, but it is still positive to not see a massive drop in their performances, ala Anaheim when Ryan Getzlaf left the lineup briefly with injury.
Unfortunately, par the course for an Edmonton team, goaltending has been inconsistent and difficult to overcome when bad.
Cam Talbot currently stands as the worst regular goaltender in the NHL with an 88.03 adjusted save percentage. He is posting this while facing a reasonable amount of shots per 60 also, (27.87). Most of the talk around the Oilers is how will the progress from the McDavid injury, but really they need to be focused on working out of some atrocious goaltending. Where is Corey Perry? Corey Perry finally has a goal. Rejoice Duck fans. As of the conclusion of play on November 14th, the historically productive Anaheim winger actually has five. However, only one of these goals has come at even strength. Even strength scoring has been one of Perry’s biggest contributions as a Duck goalscorer over the year. Last season, 22 of his 33 goals came at even strength, and in 2013-14 31 of his 44 goals came during 5v5 also. However, there are some startlingly low numbers for his even strength production so far this year. Aside from his one goal, here is how some of these numbers are matching up from previous years.
These are all alarmingly low numbers. For the most part, this seems unsustainably low for a gifted scorer like Perry. He is currently sitting on a pace of about 25 goals, only 10 of which would be at even strength. This is probably not going to pan out in such a low fashion. However, at age 30, you have to be wondering if we are getting a brief glimpse at what the Ducks team will be like in a post-prime era of Perry and Getzlaf.
The Hottest Line in the Pacific
The Kings were bad to start the year, but that was simply three games. They are now 11-6-0, and 7-3-0 in their last 10 games. It is thanks large in part to Tyler Toffoli, Jeff Carter, and Milan Lucic. While it was theorized that Lucic would be an excellent add to the top line of Kopitar/Gabroik, he has fit in to the second line with Toffoli/Carter for the same reasons. The big hulking forward is keeping his game simple, driving the net, and basically being an all-around nuisance. The Kings have scored 43 goals this season, 38 of which have come of the sticks of forwards. Of those 38 goals, Lucic, Carter, and Toffoli have combined for a startling 22 of them.
While this kind of scoring balance (or lack thereof) is not something you want to maintain the whole season, you cannot help but be impressed by the ridiculous start the tandem have had. The 23-year old Toffoli is on pace for a near 50-goal campaign, Carter is gunning for what could be his most productive season since the 83-point ’08-09 campaign, and Lucic could wrap up with around 50 points. The latter could make the Kings feel pretty good about their trade with Boston prior to the NHL Entry draft. Of course, if projections panned out like we all thought, everyone would be rich. There are some high personal shooting percentages form Lucic and Toffoli (19.05 and 14.29) that are bound to come back down. For now though, ride the wave.
The Surprising Canucks
There was a certain feeling about the Canucks heading into this year, and it was not a good one. They scraped into the playoffs last season with an admirable stretch run, but many felt it was a fluke, and that the aging and rather thin roster would show itself this year.
Hold on. The Canucks are not doing THAT poorly in the standings.
The Sedins continue to be a productive force in both the traditional sense and the analytical sense. The questionable acquisition of Brandon Sutter this offseason is actually working out. They are also getting a surprising amount of solid play from the many youngsters like Jared McCann, Sven Baertschi, and Jake Virtanen. The other major aspect is that Ryan Miller is posting his best regular season number adjusted save percentage (93.03) since 2009-2010 (93.25).
Can they continue this run? They are a middle of the road team in Corsi For percentage, Shots For percentage, and coming up on the low end of scoring chances for percentage. It is more of a wait and see approach right now with Vancouver. They are remaining relevant in the early goings, but will that be the case in another 20 games?
Player to Watch
Last time out we checked in on Martin Jones, the goaltender for San Jose. The outrageous start that saw him towards the top of several NHL categories has come back to earth just a little bit.
This time, let’s focus on the youngster from Vancouver, Jake Virtanen.
He is leading the Canucks in several analytics categories at even strength including corsi against per 60, shots against per 60, and scoring chances against per 60. The young winger has primarily been playing alongside Alex Burrows and Brandon Sutter, but has yet to really push his average ice time into a relevant area. Keep an eye on him over the next 10-15 games or so to see if Willie Desjardins starts giving him more regular ice time and more important ice time. He has just one goal in his 14 games, but has proven to be defensively responsible for the most part, which is half the battle for a new NHL forward.