With the Central Division Preview already up and running, this time around, we’ll turn our suddenly-aimless hockey attention to the other half of the Western Conference playoff picture: the Pacific Division. We’ve got two really easy-to-root-for matchups out farther west here.
The Match-Up: The Pacific winner and overall Western 2-seed takes on the top Wild Card Calgary Flames, who finished a mere 11 points behind them in the standings and 18 goals behind them in overall differential (ANA +23 to CGY +5). Head-to-head this season, the Ducks took four out of five games against Calgary, outscoring the Flames only 17-14 overall thanks to the Flames’ one victory being an 8-3 whooping. The Ducks’ other big advantage is that they have home ice in a series against a team that hasn’t won a game in Anaheim since 2004, going 25 straight games without a win at the Honda pond.
The teams aren’t very happy with each other recently, as last week’s game between the two saw Ducks’ defenseman Cam Fowler knocked out of commission for 2-6 weeks on a Mark Giordano hip check attempt turned awkward knee-on-knee collision. With Fowler out and 32-goal scorer Patrick Eaves also being beaten up, it’ll be interesting to see how the health considerations play out for the better team here.
On the fancies, the Ducks and Flames were offensively very similar in terms of creating goals, with the Ducks being better at 5-on-5 and the Flames having a better power play. The big difference in the equation is that the Ducks were much better at keeping the puck out of their net, both on 5v5 and with the league’s 4th-best PK.
Why Wings Fans Should Care: The Western series tend to be more fun to watch and the Flames’ have Matthew Tkachuk, who is a big dirt-baby attempting to out-jerk the team that redefined what it meant to be jerks in the salary cap era. Not only are Perry and Getzlaf still being turds, but ex-Leafs coach/toaster luddite Randy Carlyle is behind the Anaheim bench. It’s fun to watch Anaheim lose.
You Might Cheer for Anaheim If: You remember that Patrick Eaves is on that team and hope that at least one team in the last few years will get a good result from trading for a scorer on the Stars’ roster while gearing up for a playoff run.
You Might Cheer for Calgary If: You’ve never forgiven the NHL for giving Pronger only one game after he tried to squish Holmstrom’s head like a grape in the playoffs... or if you appreciate Johnny Gaudreau.
Prediction: My heart wants the Ducks to lose this series, but I think they match up well enough to simply overpower the Flames. I think the Flames take enough out of the Ducks to ensure Anaheim can’t make it out of the West, but that might be small comfort to Flames fans. Ducks in Five
The Match-Up: Just four points separated the finally-ready-again-for-primetime Edmonton Oilers from last year’s Cup runners-up. Edmonton was 15 goals better in differential, but San Jose can collectively grow actual facial hair. Edmonton won three out of the five games against the Sharks this season, including the most-recent three.
The Sharks are struggling with recent injuries to Joe Thornton and Logan Couture, which would seriously limit the Sharks’ ability to limit the Oiler’s firepower and/or attack Edmonton’s defense. The Oilers have been decently lucky this season with the injury bug.
On team strengths, the Oilers were much better at scoring while the Sharks were better at defending. San Jose has better possession numbers and is better at staying out of the box, but the Oilers’ power play scored 15 more times than the Shark’s power play did in one less opportunity.
Why Wings Fans Should Care: Todd McLellan is one of the remaining links to the last Wings’ team to win a cup and honestly, these are fun teams to watch in terms of uptempo style of play and creative passing. Both teams are almost equal parts annoying and fun, so letting your heart decide who should win here can be rewarding.
You Might Cheer for Edmonton If: You can get over Milan Lucic and Patrick Maroon being on a team because Connor McDavid is a purer and more-fun version of Sidney Crosby who hasn’t been entirely poisoned by the constant NHL bombardment about how much you should love him (or maybe he has but at least he’s not Sidney Crosby, I guess)
You Might Cheer for San Jose If: You’ve got an old soft spot for a team that was built specifically to beat the 2010 Detroit Red Wings and got to the final series last year and/or you’re really really into dumb beards.
Prediction: Personal rooting interest is for Edmonton, but not strongly enough to be upset about having the opinion that San Jose’s experience and coaching will find a way to neutralize good fun hockey and frustrate a young squad into making enough mistakes for the Sharks to pull the upset. Connor and the kids will be able to chalk this up as a “learning experience”, but Sharks in Seven.
So what do you think? How wrong am I?