The Ducks have been on quite the run since the new year began. The team hasn't logged back to back losses since the day after Christmas, but that performance has bought them little more than a ticket to the square dance that is the Pacific Division playoff race.
Anaheim will end its season with five straight division games, which, at this pace, may all prove to be important. Daniel, who do you think has the edge in the Pacific Division race right now? Sharks, Stars, Ducks, Coyotes or Kings?
This is a difficult question to answer. The Ducks, Kings, and Sharks are all pretty hot right now. Phoenix isn't tearing it up, but they are definitely still playing well and on a winning streak. Dallas is the only team really struggling, and unless Lehtonen rights the ship for them, I don't know if they'll fully recover. The Kings play pretty phenomenal defense, and I think that can carry them a long way. Bryzgalov is more than capable of strapping that Coyotes team to his back, and the Sharks are, well, the Sharks.
And I think therein lies my answer. The Sharks have been beyond hot, and there hasn't been a better goalie than Niemi since the new year started. They are the only team in the division that plays better against the division than the Ducks. They've managed to squeeze a few more overtime losses out of the Pacific, rather than going down in regulation.
The Ducks have started to gel extraordinarily well, but until I see what's going to happen with the 9 defensemen and Madman Murray at the trade deadline, I can't be sure they'll be able to take a strangle hold of the division. Right now, I think the Sharks have a little more chemistry than we do. That, and I have a distinct fear of bad magumbo if I pick the Ducks.
Magumbo aside, I do think there is an argument for the Ducks having the edge. They're confident, they have Getzlaf and Hiller back, and they're not even letting the fact that they're carrying seven defensemen get them off of their game. Throw in a schedule with only three back to backs left (two more which involve games at the Staples Center/Ponda Center) and a period of time after February 23rd, where the team doesn't go east of Colorado for a month, and you have to say that their prospects are good.
But I feel like the Ducks have too many games against contenders down the stretch. Tonight may have been their last against a team that is playing without urgency. At this pace, the race for Division Champion will come down to a few points.
So, I'm going to give the edge to the Kings right now. They're squeezing points out of a tough road trip, and they've still got the Islanders and the Oilers on their schedule with a couple of generous homestands. More than anything, though, this is a team sporting a goal differential of +24 (the same as Detroit and +17 better than the second best goal differential in the Pacific: San Jose with +7) on the strength of having the fewest goals allowed in the NHL.
And the Kings have been stubborn about losing in regulation lately. If that trend continues, you're talking about a team finding a way to keep games close enough to literally create points.