We noted on Twitter last night that the Pacific ranks 3rd, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th in the Western Conference in points earned per game. The division is so tightly bunched right now - they rank 7th, 12th, 13th, 14th 15th in the league in points earned per game. A look over the league schedule shows that the Ducks, Sharks, Coyotes and Kings will end the season with a flurry of games against each other, while the Stars will end their season against the rest of the Western Conference. Battle Of Alberta's Friday Baseball Standings shows how close the race is. Given the incredibly close standings in the Pacific, is it possible to call one team the best and mark them as the favorite, and is it possible to handicap the race over the last two months of the season? After the jump we look at some of the numbers in the Pacific and how the remaining schedule will influence the final standings.
First up is the points earned per game standings mentioned above. Dallas has been in front of the pack for most of the season, largely thanks to the thrashing they've given to the Eastern Conference, but as the Stars regress, they are slowly sliding back to the pack. As Matt from BOA said "I wouldn't bet a nickel of my own money on Dallas making the playoffs." and I agree.
|Conf Rk.||NHL Rk.||Team||P/G|
|7||13||San Jose Sharks||1.179|
|9||15||Los Angeles Kings||1.145|
The bizarre thing about the Kings place in the points earned standings is that they lead the division in clear victories. A look at Scott's Clear Victory Standings (in the right sidebar on our main page) shows just how upside down the Pacific Division really is.
|Conf Rk.||NHL Rk.||Team||W%|
|3||6||Los Angeles Kings||0.615|
|10||17||San Jose Sharks||0.478|
By this, it seems that the Kings are running into some bad luck in one goal games and may be the best team in the division. JLikens' shots data shows that the division is upside down:
|Team||SHOT % Tied||SHOT % Close|
|Los Angeles Kings||0.512||0.507|
|San Jose Sharks||0.499||0.52|
The goal differential per game has the Kings on top of the division as well:
|Conf Rk.||NHL Rk.||Team||GD/G|
|2||5||Los Angeles Kings||0.418|
|6||11||San Jose Sharks||0.143|
As I mentioned above the Stars close the season with five of their final ten games against the Pacific, but their last four will be played out of the division. The Coyotes also close with five games against the Pacific, but those five games will take place during the final six games of the season. The Kings close with six of their final ten, and their last five against the Pacific, and the Ducks have the exact same closing sequence. The Sharks close with their final eight games coming against Pacific Division opponents. So while the rest of the Pacific is slugging it out in the last ten days of the season, the Stars are playing other Western Conference opponents.
Below is the average opponents' points earned per game of the non-divisional opponents of the five Pacific Division teams.
|San Jose Sharks||1.162|
|Los Angeles Kings||1.141|
While the Sharks have the most difficult schedule over the last two months, there is little difference in the total caliber of opponents. 1.111 points per game equates to a 91 point season while 1.162 equates to a 95 point season - the range is very tight.
Matt from Battle of Alberta is right - I wouldn't put money on the Stars making the playoffs at this point, and the Ducks are going to be pressed by the Blackhawks and Flames. While the Kings stand in last place right now, either they or Phoenix have been the strongest team in the division. Even if the Kings don't make a trade, they've got a talented team putting up very good results. The Sharks aren't slouches either - they've coupled together a 9-1-1 run over their last eleven games and have managed to stay even in the shots data through the season. The two teams in the most danger are the Stars and Ducks. Though the Ducks have the man who should win the Norris, their defense has been atrocious. The trade for Francois Beauchemin was an attempt to address the defense, but they've still got rookie Cam Fowler playing enormous minutes on the second pairing. The Stars, well, like the Avalanche last season, they've been blessed with an incredible run of luck and unless they can avoid sevening out, they might be the team on the outside looking in.