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Pacific: Best of the West is up for grabs

by Doug Ward / NHL.com

The Pacific Division is home to two Stanley Cup contenders in Anaheim and San Jose. Another division foe, the Dallas Stars, are a perennial playoff qualifier. Los Angeles is expecting to see significant improvement after signing four free agents over the summer, while the Coyotes are coached by hockey’s greatest player ever, Wayne Gretzky.

So far this season, however, Pacific Division teams have delivered less than expected. If this was an Olympic tournament, and the first two weeks of the season were pool play, the NHL’s Western-most division would send two teams – San Jose and Anaheim -- to the medal round.

For now, Dallas, Phoenix, and Los Angeles are all on the outside of the playoff picture. No Pacific Division team has more than three wins.

Defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim’s biggest problem has been finding the back of the net. Prior to scoring six against Detroit Monday night, the Ducks had just 13 goals in seven games.

The Ducks already appear to miss Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer. Now, they are also without the two understudies GM Brian Burke signed in the event his two stars chose not to participate in this season’s performance.

 

Defenseman Mathieu Schneider is still sidelined by the left ankle injury he suffered during the pre-season. Winger Todd Bertuzzi, off to a slow start with just two points in seven games, suffered a concussion in Sunday’s loss to Minnesota and will be sidelined indefinitely.

Like Anaheim, the Sharks have been hurt by a lack of firepower. San Jose has scored just 14 goals in six games.

In Los Angeles, the problem is quite the opposite: the Kings rank second-to-last in the NHL in goals allowed, giving up 4.50 per contest.

Los Angeles brought in Ladislav Nagy, Michal Handzus, Tom Preissing, and Brad Stuart, but did little to address their longstanding goaltending problems. Instead, they hoped 19-year-old Jonathan Bernier would break out as a Tom Barrasso-like wunderkind in goal, or that either 27-year-old Jason LaBarbera or 30-year-old Jean-Sebastien Aubin would emerge as a late bloomer.

After winning his first career NHL start against Anaheim, Bernier lost his next three outings. The Bernier experiment was called off Monday, when the netminder returned to his junior team at Lewiston, Maine.

The Kings activated Aubin from the injured reserve list to take Bernier’s roster spot. Aubin will now battle LaBarbera, who is 0-2 in the early going, for playing time.

In Phoenix, the Coyotes have struggled to kill penalties, ranking 28th, while allowing opponents a goal once in every four power play opportunities.

Individually, things have not been much better. With eight points, Michael Cammalleri of the Kings is the only player from the division to be among the League’s top-10 scorers. Marty Turco of Dallas carries the division’s best goals-against average, but his 2.23 mark is only good enough to be ranked 13th overall.

By the time the regular season ends, the Pacific Division will undoubtedly have its share of players among the league leaders, just as it will have more than a couple playoff teams.

Manifest destiny -- The Sharks’ game against the Boston Bruins Saturday at HP Pavilion marked just the second meeting between the two teams since the landscape changing deal that sent Joe Thornton west two years ago.

Since arriving in San Jose on Nov. 30, 2005, Thornton has won a Hart Trophy and an Art Ross Trophy, while helping the Sharks develop into Stanley Cup contenders.

 

The swap serves as a graphic confirmation of the old adage that says the team receiving the best player always gets the best of a blockbuster deal.

In exchange for one of the League’s true superstars, Boston received Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart, and Wayne Primeau.

Sturm, the only player still with Boston, had 27 goals a year ago after a 29-goal campaign (six of those goals came with the Sharks before the deal) in 2005-06. But Sturm has had just 39 assists in a Boston uniform; during the same time, Thornton has had 166 helpers for the Sharks.

Stuart (who signed with the Kings last summer) and Primeau were traded to Calgary last season for Andrew Ference and Chuck Kobasew.

Who’s hot -- Anaheim’s Francois Beauchemin has five points (1 goal, 4 assists) in his last four games.

Not hot -- The Kings, who were 1-1 in London, are 0-5 in North America. In goal, L.A.’s Jonathan Bernier lost his last two starts while posting a bloated 5.54 goals-against average and an anemic .817 save percentage. The tailspin convinced L.A. brass that either Bernier was not ready for the NHL, or the Kings were not yet ready for Bernier. Regardless of the rationale, Bernier will spend the rest of the season with his junior team at Lewiston (Maine).

The Kings’ other goalie, Jason LaBarbera, has lost his only two starts this season while posting a 4.50 GAA and .827 save percentage. Anaheim’s Rob Niedermayer and Todd Marchant are both scoreless in the season’s first five games. ... In San Jose, Mike Grier has yet to break the ice with a goal or an assists in five games this season. Jonathan Cheechoo, scorless in five games, broke through with a goal and an assist Monday in a 4-2 win over Vancouver.

Around the division -- Phoenix’s Fredrik Sjostrom picked up his first career hat trick in the Coyotes’ 6-3 win at Nashville last Thursday. Sjostrom did not know he had been credited with the third goal, which had originally been given to Steven Reinprecht, until a day later. ... Dallas goaltender Tobias Stephan made 38 saves in his NHL debut against Chicago Saturday, a 2-1 overtime loss. ... Jean-Sebastien Giguere returned to the Anaheim net Sunday, his first appearance after undergoing off-season surgery for a sports hernia. Giguere stopped 23 of 25 shots, but was outplayed by Minnesota rookie Josh Harding, who pitched a shutout.

The week ahead -- Anaheim, still looking to regain its Stanley Cup form, wraps up a four-game homestand by hosting Detroit on Monday and Nashville on Wednesday.

Dallas, the division’s early leader, will be at Columbus Wednesday, before hosting Anaheim Saturday.

Los Angeles will look to snap its five-game losing streak on Tuesday at home against Minnesota. The Kings then take a two-game swing through Canada with stops in Calgary (Thurs.) and Vancouver (Fri.)

Phoenix hosts Edmonton (Thurs.) and Detroit (Sat.)

San Jose hosts Detroit (Thurs.) and Nashville (Sat.) after starting the week at Vancouver.

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