One season after the Anaheim Ducks surprised everyone by winning the Pacific Division, they're on the verge of doing it again.
Not only have the Ducks dominated the division, they've spent the past couple of months on top of the NHL standings. Anaheim went 22 games without a regulation loss at home, survived a brutal early road schedule and resume play with the inside track on the Presidents' Trophy.
The Ducks have had to be good to fend off the San Jose Sharks, who've been able to stay within hailing distance and are all but assured of a Stanley Cup Playoff berth. The Sharks hold a 12-point lead on the third-place Los Angeles Kings, whose offensive struggles have left them much closer to fourth place than to first. They're trying to hold off the Phoenix Coyotes and Vancouver Canucks for the final guaranteed playoff spot in the division.
The two Alberta teams, the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, will have to be content to play spoiler down the stretch while trying to develop their young talent.
Here's a look at the seven Pacific teams as they prepare for the stretch run:
Anaheim Ducks (41-14-5)
Position: 1st in division, 1st in conference
Games remaining: 22 (12 home, 10 away)
What went right: Almost everything. Forward Ryan Getzlaf is second in the NHL in scoring (67 points) and has a career-high 29 goals. He and linemate Corey Perry have been almost unstoppable. The Ducks have tremendous depth up the middle, speed and size on the blue line and are swimming in goaltending talent with Switzerland Olympian Jonas Hiller, rookie Frederik Andersen, injury returnee Viktor Fasth and top prospect John Gibson.
DIVISIONAL OUTLOOKS DOWN THE STRETCH
Where they've struggled: The Ducks went 2-5-0 in their seven home games before the break after a 20-0-2 start. Forward Teemu Selanne (seven goals, 20 points) hasn't been much of an offensive force at age 43.
What they're looking for: General manager Bob Murray could try to bring in a stay-at-home defenseman. If he's willing to trade some of his young talent he could try to bring in a big-time sniper to play with Getzlaf and Perry. Aside from that the Ducks aren't missing much.
Scheduling: Anaheim plays its first five games after the break at Honda Center. The Ducks have two visits each to Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, as well as two road games against the Kings. They do not play a game east of Denver.
Outlook: There's no reason the Ducks shouldn't win the division, and they have the inside track on finishing first in the West and winning the Presidents' Trophy.
San Jose Sharks (37-16-6)
Position: 2nd in division, 4th in conference
Games remaining: 23 (12 home, 11 away)
What went right: San Jose survived injuries thanks to captain Joe Thornton and forwards Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau. Antti Niemi remains among the NHL's most reliable goaltenders and the emergence of Alex Stalock as his backup should help coach Todd McLellan avoid burning out his starter. The Sharks lead the NHL with an average of 34.9 shots on goal per game, 7.2 more than they allow.
Where they've struggled: Injuries to forward Logan Couture and rookie Tomas Hertl put a crimp in the offense, which averages 2.81 goals per game despite its League-leading shot totals. The power play is ordinary at 17.2 percent and ranks 18th. Nine of the Sharks' wins have come in a shootout, meaning they'll likely lose most seeding tiebreakers.
What they're looking for: The Sharks will get Couture and forward Raffi Torres back from injury, which should give them a deeper, more balanced offense. If that happens, GM Doug Wilson might not have to do a lot of tinkering.
Scheduling: San Jose has two three-game trips to the Eastern time zone, including one that begins Thursday. They also have a trio of three-game homestands.
Outlook: San Jose may not catch Anaheim for first place, but at worst the Sharks should end up second and earn home ice in the first round. That's a big deal for a team that is 22-4-3 at SAP Center.
Los Angeles Kings (31-22-6)
Position: 3rd in division, 7th in conference
Games remaining: 23 (11 home, 12 away)
What went right: The Kings' physical, defensive style got them off to a fast start. They are the only team with three goaltenders who have three or more shutouts apiece and are allowing a League-low 2.10 goals per game. L.A. is also one of three teams allowing fewer than 27 shots on goal per game. The Kings are one of the NHL's best at holding a lead; they are 16-0-0 when ahead after two periods, the only team that hasn't lost a point when taking a lead into the third period.
Where they've struggled: As good as the Kings have been defensively, that's how much they've struggled to score; their 2.25 goals per game is 29th in the NHL. Forward Anze Kopitar (47) is their only player with more than 40 points. Center Mike Richards has seven goals in 59 games. The Kings have outshot the opposition 36 times in 59 games but are 17-16-3 in those games.
What they're looking for: GM Dean Lombardi has to find a scorer for his team to have a serious chance at another Stanley Cup run.
Scheduling: The Kings have a five-game homestand in mid-March followed by a three-game Eastern trip. They have a four-game trip in April that includes their second post-Olympic swing through Alberta.
Outlook: The Kings began the season with visions of first place. They resume play 19 points out of first and four ahead of the Coyotes for fourth in the division. If the Kings get to the playoffs, they figure to be dangerous because of their ability to shut down opposing attackers.
Phoenix Coyotes (27-21-10)
Position: 4th in division, 9th in conference
Games remaining: 24 (11 home, 13 road)
What went right: Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Defense - PHX
GOALS: 8 | ASST: 21 | PTS: 29
SOG: 127 | +/-: 3
leads a mobile defensive group that has scored 32 goals. Forward Antoine Vermette
had points in the 10 games leading up to the break, and his 21 goals are the most he's scored in a full season since 2009-10. The power play is in the top quarter of the League. Backup goaltender Thomas Greiss
has a 2.09 goals-against average and a save percentage of .932.
Where they've struggled: Starting goaltender Mike Smith has been up and down (20-17-9, 2.77 GAA, .913 save percentage). The penalty kill is 24th in the NHL and has allowed 41 goals. The defense generates offense but allows 32.1 shots on goal per game. The Coyotes have been one of the NHL's most inconsistent teams, entering the Olympic break with a shutout of the powerhouse Chicago Blackhawks sandwiched between losses to the Dallas Stars.
What they're looking for: GM Don Maloney says the Coyotes won't be sellers, but they may not be in position to do much more than some tinkering unless he wants to dip into his resources on defense. A big consideration is what kind of splash the new ownership might want to make.
Scheduling: The Coyotes have trips of three and four games to the Eastern time zone. They finish the season with back-to-back home games against the Sharks and Stars.
Outlook: Phoenix resumes play even in points with the Stars, who own the final wild-card berth because of their head-to-head record. The Coyotes will have to play more of the defensive style preached by coach Dave Tippett to make the postseason.
Vancouver Canucks (27-24-9)
Position: 5th division, 10th conference
Games remaining: 22 (13 home, 9 road)
What went right: Goalie Roberto Luongo has been solid after being returned to the starting job, and backup Eddie Lack has been more than adequate. Forward Chris Higgins is on pace for his first 20-goal season since 2007-08. The penalty-kill is fifth in the League and has allowed 11 goals at home.
Where they've struggled: Neither Henrik Sedin nor twin brother Daniel Sedin has scored a goal in 2014. Henrik has been troubled by a rib injury that kept him out of the Olympics. Despite averaging 31.1 shots per game, the Canucks are scoring 2.38 goals per game, which ranks 24th in the League. In the last 82-game NHL season in 2011-12, they were fifth with 2.94.
What they're looking for: A healthy Henrik Sedin would likely be bigger than any acquisition the Canucks could make. They could use a scorer to play with him and Daniel.
Scheduling: The Canucks have a four-game trip in mid-March and play six of their final seven games at home.
Outlook: Injuries and a lack of offense have left the Canucks on the verge of missing the playoffs. The Sedins in particular have to find their scoring touch for Vancouver to make the top eight in the West.
Calgary Flames (22-29-7)
Position: 6th division, 13th conference
Games remaining: 24 (12 home, 12 away)
What went right: Top draft pick Sean Monahan has a team-high 16 goals, plus three shootout winners; 2007 first-round pick Mikael Backlund has exceeded his career highs with 14 goals and 29 points. The penalty-killers have scored eight shorthanded goals, second in the League. Coach Bob Hartley has succeeded in getting his team to play hard, even though the Flames have been out of the playoff race for weeks.
Where they've struggled: Neither Reto Berra nor Karri Ramo has been able to grab the starting job in goal. Sven Baertschi was expected to blossom this season after being a first-round pick in 2011, but was sent to the minors. Injuries to veteran defenseman Mark Giordano and forwards Mike Cammalleri and Curtis Glencross have hampered the offense and the development of some of the younger players.
What they're looking for: Cammalleri, a pending unrestricted free agent, is among the veterans who could be traded as the Flames try to add young talent and draft picks to continue their rebuild.
Scheduling: Calgary plays five of six at home in late March, followed by a five-game trip to eastern Canada, Florida and New Jersey.
Outlook: There won't be any playoffs in Calgary again, so as president Brian Burke continues his search for a new general manager he'll also be looking toward next season.
Edmonton Oilers (20-33-7)
Position: 7th division, 14th conference
Games remaining: 22 (15 home, 7 road)
What went right:
Left Wing - EDM
GOALS: 20 | ASST: 36 | PTS: 56
SOG: 177 | +/-: -11
Forward Taylor Hall
, the first player taken in the 2010 NHL Draft, continues his rise to stardom with 56 points in 53 games. Forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
(15 goals, 43 points) has stayed healthy and is showing why the Oilers made him the first player picked in the 2011. Offseason acquisition David Perron
has 22 goals. Forward Nail Yakupov
has 11 goals and looks like he's getting closer to being the player the Oilers hoped he'd be when they made him the first player drafted 2012.
Where they've struggled: Keeping the puck out of their net has been difficult for the Oilers, who are surrendering a League-high 3.28 goals per game. They are being outshot by more than five per game, making life tough for goaltenders Ilya Bryzgalov and Ben Scrivens. The power play is 20th (16.9 percent) and has allowed a League-high 10 shorthanded goals.
What they're looking for: A number of pending UFAs, including forward Ales Hemsky, could be traded as GM Craig MacTavish tries to build up his base of young talent. Ideally, MacTavish would like to find a top-pair defenseman, though that might mean he'd have to deal his first-round pick, which figures to be in the top five.
Scheduling: The Oilers have more home games remaining than any team, beginning with a five-game homestand after the break and a six-gamer to close out March. Edmonton plays its first three games in April on the road before finishing with four straight at Rexall Place.
Outlook: The Oilers' streak of not making the playoffs since 2006 will continue.