For many years the Pacific Division was known as the NHL’s high-rent district.
If you resided there, chances are you were a playoff-caliber hockey club and teams outside the division dreaded making stops in places like Anaheim and San Jose. For all the nice weather and beautiful scenery these cities have, there were no easy nights on the West Coast.
But in the past couple of seasons following divisional realignment things have changed. The Pacific absorbed rebuilding teams in Edmonton and Calgary, while franchises like San Jose and Arizona saw a decline in the standings. Last season alone, just three teams from the division made the playoffs and the previous seasons Stanley Cup Champion — the Los Angeles Kings — didn’t even quality for the postseason.
This year, L.A. has able to compile a strong record while getting back to the hockey that made them champions in the first place.
But what’s fueling the Kings run to the top of the Pacific Division? The answer resides in a few different areas.
Hotter than the division rivals
The Kings started off cool, but while other Pacific Division opponents have dealt with cold streaks or treaded water in the standings, L.A. has been able to avoid those same maladies.
The Kings have logged have a seven-game winning streak (Oct. 16-31) and a six game-winning streak (Nov. 28 – Dec. 11). When you combine those two streaks with the cold streak to start the season you have a team that has gone a solid 13-3-0 in just over half of their first 30 games this year.
Meanwhile, the division rival Coyotes started the season hot, winning their first three games of the season, but have played close to .500 hockey since then.
During L.A.’s most recent title runs, their calling card was twofold: play a “heavy” game and keep the puck out of the net. Right now the rest of the Pacific is starting to notice that Jonathan Quick’s play is reaching the level it did during those Cup seasons.
During the Kings’ most recent six-game winning streak Quick won all six of those contests and surrendered two or less goals in all but one game (a 5-3 victory over Pittsburgh at home on Dec. 5).
Beating the tough opponents
What’s a good way to stand out in a division that’s been competitively challenged through the first couple months of the season? You have good showings against teams from tougher divisions.
L.A. has a 10-5-0 record against opponents in the Western Conference, including a 6-1-0 record against foes from the tough Central Division. Key wins include a 3-0 shutout of St. Louis on Nov. 3 and a 3-2 overtime win over Chicago on home ice on Nov. 28.
Can all this continue? It’s tough to so. There’s still a lot of season left to play and if the law of averages (and the NHL’s parity) takes effect, one would assume that one, if not two teams from the Pacific will step it up and try to make L.A.’s road to the division title a difficult one.
One of the Kings’ downfalls coincidentally enough is their inability to stack victories against division rivals. While it’s still a small sample size, LA has a 4-4-0 mark against their own division and those losses have come against Arizona twice, San Jose and Vancouver; albeit three of those losses were part of their 0-3-0 start.
Another batch of games against division rivals could go a long way in telling if the Pacific Division crown already belongs to the Kings.