Who Will Emerge Victorious from the Clustered Pacific Division? Tom November 12, 2018 Sports At the start of the season, if someone were to say that the Arizona Coyotes would have the best goal difference in the Pacific Division a little over a month into the new campaign, they would have been met by chuckles, if not outright laughter. But, with the Yotes 13 games into the season, they boast a +8 goal difference and the best goals against tally in the league having conceded only 29 goals. With some of the stalwart teams aging out and the young guns ready to push into the vacant playoff places, the Pacific Division has become a hotly contested battleground in the NHL. At the 15 or 16-game mark for most teams, the San Jose Sharks, Calgary Flames, and Vancouver Canucks all sat on 19 points to tie the division’s lead on points, with the Edmonton Oilers and Anaheim Ducks a mere two points behind at that stage. In such a crowded division, can we see a team that will begin to edge ahead of the pack, or will a cluster of teams continue to push for the division’s title all season? Sharks will emerge as the dominant force Image [Top] Source: Sharks Report, via Twitter The San Jose Sharks have been a playoff regular since their inception, only missing out once in their last 14 seasons. They regularly qualify alongside fellow Pacific Division titans in the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings. Those two combatants are now showing signs of age, withering away down the standings. The Sharks decided to run with this new, open opportunity by trading for one of the best defensemen in the league, Erik Karlsson. While they played well to start the year, their early record of 6-4-3 in the NHL kept a lid on early hype and aspirations. But, it won’t be long before it starts to click; they turn unlucky losses into big wins and look like one of the leading forces in the Western Conference to win the Stanley Cup, let alone the Pacific Division. Despite their turbulent start, the Sharks are still recognized as the favorites to win the division at +230 in the NHL betting, which is a good indicator of how menacing this team can become. Calgary’s on fire with more to come Source: Flames Report, via Twitter At the 16-mark, the Calgary Flames ranked as the highest-scoring team in the Western Conference and only trailed the Tampa Bay Lightning by one goal for the league-lead in scoring. The likes of Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm, and Michael Frolik have lightning the lamp for fun, leading to an average of 3.4 goals per game. But, all is not well in Flames country, as their goal difference stood at a meek +1 despite their extravagant goal-scoring exploits. Some of this has been put down to starting goaltender Mike Smith letting in too many low percentage shots, leading to a .871 save percentage through ten NHL starts. But, given the goalie’s class and continued ability to make game-saving stops, the consistency is expected to return to give a firmer base to the red-hot forward lines. Also in the running Source: NHL Public Relations, via Twitter At this early stage in the season, it’s hard to count out any of the other Pacific Division teams. Of the rest, the Anaheim Ducks look to be one of the primary contenders to the division’s lead. Anaheim suffered a slew of major injuries through the opening games but managed to reach a 7-7-3 record one month into the campaign. With a healthy roster, they could mount an assault on the top spots if the leaders haven’t run away by that point. The Vancouver Canucks and Arizona Coyotes are expected to drop off of their current pace, with the Vegas Golden Knights and Los Angeles Kings also looking very unlikely to have what it takes to climb into the divisional playoff places. That leaves Connor McDavid and his Edmonton Oilers. The team seems more assured this season and more worthy of playing alongside such a phenomenal player. He’ll continue to put up points throughout the season but will need his team to step up a bit more if they’re to make it to the playoffs. It’s a heated division right now but, over the next or month or so, the Sharks and Flames should be able to separate themselves from the rest atop the Pacific.