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Pacific Division Lacking Intensity
Easy pickings for the right team
10/23/15 - By Zach Bodenstein -

Two weeks in to this young season, and the division formerly known as the strongest in the league, has faltered thus far. 7 teams, most of which were poised for success in 2015-16, have not been able to jump the gun yet.

The Anaheim Ducks, projected by most to be the eventual Stanley Cup Champions this season, are off to the worst start of them all. They finally addressed their issue of forward depth in the offseason, acquiring Carl Hagelin from the Rangers and signing both Shawn Horcoff and Mike Santorelli cheap; it felt like this was the year that the Ducks are finally going to break out. It hasn't been that way so far, registering just one win, three points, and six goals through six games.

A team with arguably the top offensive duo in hockey and a former 40-goal scorer and great two-way centerman, cannot get over the hump, with the league's last ranked powerplay at just 5.5%. The numbers do not lie, as the Ducks uncharacteristically do not look good either end of the puck. On top of that, John Gibson is knocking on the door from the AHL for the San Diego Gulls, and Bruce Boudreau cannot find consistency in net for the big club. While Frederik Andersen has put up good numbers, Boudreau continues to shuffle his tenders, with Anton Khudobin taking away starts from Andersen early, potentially setting up a disastrous dilemma for the Ducks.

The Arizona Coyotes may be the shock of not only the division, but also the entire league. Their Canadian rookies have been stealing the spotlight of the year early. Acquired from the Rangers in the Yandle deal at the deadline, Anthony Duclair has made his mark after impressing briefly at the beginning of last season with New York. Duclair has put up five goals and seven points in seven games, while former first-round pick Max Domi has put up eight points in seven games. With Mike Smith playing similar to his performance in his breakout campaign in 2012 and their thin blueline holding up for the time being, they make for an interesting team to watch for now.

The Calgary Flames were last year's Cinderella story. This year, they look like Cinderella's ugly stepsister. They are pointless in four games at home and have just one win in six games overall. Their number one center, Sean Monahan, has a minus-7 rating in six games this season. Last season's blocked shots leader, Kris Russell, known for his stay-at-home mentality, has an identical rating. Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton possess minus-6 ratings. Who knew how valuable the injured TJ Brodie was to this club? Their special teams are middle of the pack, but clearly their five on five defensive game is an issue, as well as only averaging 2.00 goals/game. Add inconsistent and unproductive goaltending into the mix, including their opening night starter going unclaimed on waivers, and you're looking at a 'Flaming' mess brewing in Calgary.

The Edmonton Oilers once again had the first overall pick, and Connor McDavid has been meshing well with the Oilers so far. This team still possesses a tremendous amount of issues in the defensive zone, despite the acquisitions of Andrej Sekera, Mark Letestu, Lauri Korpikoski, Eric Gryba, Griffin Reinhart, Anders Nilsson, Cam Talbot, and basically the entire San Jose Sharks coaching staff from the last seven years. Nail Yakupov has been playing better for the first time in his brief pro career but Edmonton's problem has always been their defensive play. This has all been done without Jordan Eberle, which has to be encouraging, but they are still holding a sub-.500 record.

The Los Angeles Kings had an unforgettable offseason, in a bad way. Their departures included Martin Jones, Andrej Sekera, Justin Williams, Jarret Stoll, Robyn Regehr, Mike Richards, and Slava Voynov, gaining Milan Lucic who has as much actual hockey skill as I do, Christian Ehrhoff, a great signing for them, and Jhonas Enroth, to show for it. Jonathan Quick's inconsistent play remains to be a huge issue for this club, and now that they have a thin blueline, it certainly does not help. They have won their last three games, but still have the ongoing goal-scoring problem that they have had for years. There is no denying that this Kings team has regressed, but they are obviously out to prove critics like me wrong.

The San Jose Sharks have been bit with the injury bug all at once. One of the top two-way forwards in the game, Logan Couture, broke his leg in practice. Paul Martin, a top free agent signing and a great partner with Brent Burns, has been battling an injury. Overseas signing, Joonas Donskoi, who has seen time on the top line with the Joe's when healthy, is hurt. Ben Smith provides great depth when healthy, but he's hurt. Melker Karlsson, who showed encouraging signs of goal scoring last year, is also hurt. When healthy, this team is a force to be reckoned with in all three zones.

When missing key players, it is hard to maintain that mindset. Martin Jones has been excellent despite his last two starts, which the team was horrible and unmotivated, giving him no support on either sides of the puck. Joel Ward has been excellent in his new role as well. The team made great moves in the offseason, and it all clicks when healthy, but not many teams in this league can replace the losses that the Sharks have experienced over the last two weeks. They started off by winning their first four games, but have dropped their last three. They need to get healthy as soon as possible.

The Vancouver Canucks has regressed mightily as well, but have maintained a decent pace to start this season. There is not really much to be impressed about with them on paper, containing a top-four pairing that includes Yannick Weber and a second line centered by Brandon Sutter. However, they have managed to battle and stay in games despite not actually being a good hockey team anymore. They have yet to win at home but they are perfect on the road. Their first line has been terrific in terms of offensive production, but their lack of offensive and defensive depth remains a massive question mark for Vancouver this season.

Zachary is a second-year University student majoring in Journalism at the University of Toronto.

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