Now that we’re past the (incredibly boring) NHL trade deadline, most NHL teams have around 20 games left on their 82 game schedule before the regular season ends, and the playoffs begin. At this point in the season, our true Stanley Cup contenders have emerged, and teams such as the Chicago Blackhawks have added players with the hopes of boosting their chances of hoisting the Cup come June.
The team that will be heavily favored to take home Lord Stanley comes from the Eastern Conference, as the Washington Capitals have put up the league’s best record this year, and haven’t shown signs of slowing down. The rest of the Eastern Conference isn’t as strong as Washington, and though several teams (such as the Tampa Bay Lightning) could challenge Washington in the postseason, most of the other Stanley Cup favorites come from the Western Conference.
This is mainly because the Central Division is an absolute nightmare, with the top three teams in the Division rounding out spots two through four in the NHL rankings. The rest of the division is strong as well, and it’s likely that five of the West’s eight playoff teams will come from the Central Division.
This doesn’t mean that the Pacific Division can be overlooked, however. Though the bottom portion of the Pacific Division is incredibly weak, the Californian teams (the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, and San Jose Sharks) are some of the strongest in the league, and will be tough teams to play against in the postseason.
One of the reasons why modern hockey statistics (score adjusted Corsi For percentage, in particular) have become so prevalent over the past couple of seasons is because of how important they are come playoff team. The regular season teams that dominate possession the most tend to win playoff series, and often find themselves playing for the Stanley Cup at the end of the year.
This year, the top possession teams come mainly from the Western Conference. Four of the top five play in the West, and two of the top three teams come from the Pacific Division.
The third ranked team in the Pacific, the San Jose Sharks, are 14th in the league with a score adjusted Corsi For percentage of 51.3 percent; not exactly impressive, but still in the top half of the league.
Something about the Sharks that has to be remembered, however, is that one of their top two centers missed a considerable amount of time due to injury. Logan Couture broke his leg early in the season, and the Sharks a much different team with him out of the lineup.
In the 32 games that Couture has played with the Sharks this season, they have a 53.5 percent score adjusted Corsi For percentage, which would place them at fourth in the league, just behind the Anaheim and Dallas, who are tied for second.
Of course, the games played without Couture in the lineup can’t be ignored, and it’s rather clear that the Sharks are in deep trouble if one of their key roster players gets injured, maybe even more so than some other teams in the league.
Still, there’s reason to believe that the Sharks – along with the Kings and Ducks – are up there with the best 5-on-5 teams in the entire league. When it comes to the postseason, a huge chunk of the game is played at 5-on-5, and the rosters that excel at even strength are often the ones that make deep playoff runs.
Much talk has been made of the ridiculously strong Central Division this year, and for good reason; there are a lot of very good teams tearing up the rest of the league.
The Pacific Division, however, might have the scarier playoff gauntlet; a wild card team looking to make it out of the Pacific’s playoff bracket will have to go through at least two of the five best puck possession teams in the entire league.
This may change from now until the end of the year, and we’ll have to revisit the numbers once we see how trade deadline acquisitions affect teams like the Chicago Blackhawks. For the time being, however, the top of the Pacific Division looks just as good (if not better) than the top of the Central.