The Sharks’ 6-6-0 start has been less than encouraging.
A few of their stars and many of their depth players haven’t played consistent hockey, some of the older players on the team are suddenly looking just that, and an overall lack of urgency paired with blatant mental slip-ups have been themes during their three-game losing streak.
Fortunately for them, there’s plenty of time to get it together, especially while competing in what looks to be the weakest of the four divisions in the NHL – by a wide margin.
The Pacific Division can be summed up quite simply. One team, the Edmonton Oilers, is the biggest pleasant surprise in the league with a 9-3-1 mark.
The other six? They've got some issues.
The Anaheim Ducks have been inconsistent. They got off to a rough start in losing their first four games, but pushed their record to 6-5-2 after a pair of wins last week over Calgary and Arizona. Still, they suffered decisive losses recently to Pittsburgh on Nov. 2, 5-1, and Columbus on Oct. 28, 4-0.
The Kings are dealing with the loss of goalie Jonathan Quick for three months with a groin injury, and they already looked weaker on paper than at the end of last season. Los Angeles has an identical record to the Sharks at 6-6-0, but four of those wins have come in three-on-three overtime, while a fifth was in a shootout. That’s right – 12 games into the season, the Kings have just one regulation victory.
Calgary (5-8-1) identified goaltending as an issue after last season, and subsequently added Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson. They’re currently 28th in the NHL in goals-against average (3.57) and team save percentage (.878). Rising star Johnny Gaudreau has two goals in 14 games, and is an NHL-worst minus-11.
Vancouver (4-7-1) and Arizona (4-7-0) could very well be the two worst teams in the NHL. The Coyotes are in a rebuild under a new general manager, some key sophomores like Anthony Duclair and Max Domi are struggling, and starting goalie Mike Smith is hurt (again).
The Canucks have lost seven straight in regulation and eight overall (0-7-1). They have just 20 goals in 12 games for an NHL-worst 1.58 goals-per-game, nearly half a goal less than 29th-ranked Colorado. They are downright dreadful.
As for the Oilers, you have to tip your cap to them for what they’ve done so far under former Sharks coach Todd McLellan, now in his second season there. Connor McDavid is well on his way to superstardom, while Cam Talbot has provided solid goaltending. Whether they can keep up that pace over an 82-game season remains to be seen as their defense core still looks weak, but they are certainly no longer an afterthought.
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Coach Pete DeBoer gave his take on the division late last week.
“L.A. and Anaheim are going to be there at the end of the day. They’re going to be right there, so we know that. There [were] a lot of similar things happening last year and when the smoke [clears] and the dust [settles], you know those teams are going to be right there.
“Where the improvement has been is in the bottom part, the Edmontons, the Phoenixs, the Calgarys. I think all those teams obviously are either taking a big step or have the potential to take a big step. It’s going to be tight.”
While there’s no panic with DeBoer yet – he also mentioned it’s “a little early to chase anyone” when asked about first place Edmonton – the Sharks have already squandered an opportunity to gain some separation from the rest of the division.
Should they find their game, it shouldn’t be very long until they’re firmly among the top three. So far, though, they’re just one of several clubs in the Pacific that just can’t get seem to get it going.