The Vancouver Canucks sit atop the Pacific Division, but can they hold the lead throughout the next three months?
After a 4-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night, the Vancouver Canucks climbed to the top of the Pacific Division standings.
Vancouver received plenty of help earlier in the day, which set them in prime position to move into first. The Edmonton Oilers defeated the Arizona Coyotes, while the Calgary Flames and Vegas Golden Knights fell to the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens, respectively.
Everything went Vancouver’s way on Saturday, as they thoroughly dominated a San Jose team that’s surprisingly near the very bottom of the Western Conference standings.
The Canucks now enter the All-Star break with a 27-18-4 record. However, the Oilers, Flames, Coyotes and Golden Knights are each a point behind with 57 apiece. It should be noted that Vancouver has games in hand on the latter three clubs.
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Vegas has one more game left before the All-Star break, on Tuesday against the Boston Bruins. If the Golden Knights lose, Vancouver will retain its Pacific Division lead throughout the All-Star break.
Now, the question is this: Can the Canucks retain their success and actually come out on top in a five-way horse race?
Obviously, the odds are against Vancouver. A simple look at the standings would indicate that they essentially have a 1-in-5 chance of winning the Pacific Division.
The Flames and Golden Knights have championship-caliber rosters, but they simply haven’t been able to put it all together. Given the recent success of both teams, however, it’s easy to argue that they’re more likely to win the division than Vancouver.
Arizona and Edmonton, on the other hand, are strong candidates for regression. Nick Schmaltz leads the Coyotes in scoring, and he only has 35 points. Career backup Darcy Kuemper is going to have a tough time in retaining his Vezina-like performance through the first half.
The Oilers have virtually no offensive depth whatsoever, with Connor McDavid, James Neal and Leon Draisaitl have combined for 73 of the team’s 155 goals. Their success is virtually unsustainable down the stretch.
The metrics (via NaturalStatTrick.com) also suggest that both the Coyotes and Oilers have been on the right side of puck luck, and regression truly seems inevitable for both sides. When all is said and done, Vancouver should finish higher than both in the standings.
Vancouver is firing on all cylinders right now, whereas the Golden Knights have been held back by suspect goaltending. The Flames’ top stars haven’t scored at their usual levels, but if guys like Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm can find their top forms, then Calgary should be considered the favorite to win the division.
Add everything up, and the Pacific should come down to Vancouver, Calgary and Vegas. Scoring shouldn’t be a problem for the Canucks down the stretch, with a plethora of forwards enjoying career years.
But for Vancouver to come out on top, they’ll simply need Jacob Markstrom to retain his MVP-like first half — which is easier said than done. On top of that, they simply have to hope that the divisional foes — namely the Flames and Golden Knights — fail to regain their top forms. Because if they do to turn it around, Vancouver’s best might not be enough to win the Pacific.