The Week in the West: Reverting to the Expected

by | Oct 27, 2022

Sure, there’s lots of crazy stuff going on in hockey right now. How about that Vancouver situation, losing all those games after leading most of them? What about teams that started out up-and-coming who weren’t supposed to be—Philadelphia, Ottawa, Buffalo, we’ve got you in mind here. How about the slow turnaround happening for the San Jose Sharks, who lost their first five games and then won two out of three of late, including taking down the Rangers in OT and Philly at home in Pennsylvania? (They then lost at home versus Vegas, but oh well.)

And that brings this closer to home, if by that we mean the other parts of the California NHL universe, Anaheim and LA. (Yes, that’s what we mean.)

As I detailed in a story last week, the Kings got off to a creaky opening week, with goaltending a battle and Jonathan Quick starting four of the first five games and winning only one. The team was 3-4 in its first seven games, with a goal differential of minus-7 (24-31 goals for and against). Was this the goalies’ faults? The games not played by Quick were taken by Cal Petersen, and he had 12 goals against for a near-five GAA (4.97). Quick’s was 3.94. Scoring’s up around the league, but the Kings had the most goals allowed in the Pacific. Yes, more than Seattle, San Jose, and Anaheim. And more than double those Las Vegas had allowed.

This could partly be attributed to the Kings’ playing on the road. The team, in its eighth game back at home against the Lightning, was playing only its third game at home. Things got a little more bright for the LA team with a home win against Tampa Bay. The scoring was done by those who do that in LA these days, including Phillip Danault (we’ll have an exclusive story on him soon), Gabe Vilardi, Adrian Kempe, and Blake Lizotte, finally getting his first of the year.

The Ducks, too, were living out of suitcases early in the season. They played just one initial game in Honda Center, then went East for five as well. Perhaps to their advantage, they had a couple of extra days to recover once that was over, their second home game only arriving for Wednesday night against the Lightning, coming off a 4-2 loss to the Kings on Tuesday. It didn’t help—the Ducks lost 4-2, Tampa participating in its second such game in a row.

The Ducks have relied on stalwart John Gibson for most of their early starts and added in backup Anthony Stolarz for just one start. He did make two other appearances, mercy pulls when Gibson was being besieged. The latter word, “besieged,” reflects their 14 goals for and 28 goals against in the games leading up to their home return. After that, it was worse: 16 for and 32 against. That’s now about what was envisioned for the Ducks, because most pundits have them losing more than they win this season. Their seventh-place standing in the Pacific is about what was expected as well, outside of Anaheim, of course. Nobody thought, though, that the team they’d be ahead of in the Pacific standings would be Vancouver, but so it is.

For the Kings, the good news is that three players are above Kevin Fiala in scoring, led by Vilardi, clicking along at a point a game plus. Why good news? Because that means that their scoring addition, Fiala, doesn’t have to be doing it alone. He did add an assist to his tally versus Tampa Bay.

Vilardi is followed by Kempe and Kopitar. Where’s Danault? He’s a bit down the list in points, but the good news is that he keeps scoring. All of his four points this year so far have been on goals. He’s not fancy—his tally against the Lightning was a scrubby push-in from right in front of the goalie—but that’s not all he does, either. He plays defense and wins faceoffs. His totals in the latter department so far indicate he’s just past 50%. Way above that, and above average, is Kopitar, at over 60%.

To revert to the Ducks one more time, their 14 goals thus far have come from Troy Terry and Trevor Zegras with four apiece, including the only two versus the Lightning. Frank Vatrano has three, Jakob Silfverberg has two, and Ryan Strome has a single one. Again, good news: Terry is showing that his prior season was not out of character with what he can do. Zegras is proving to have some consistency. And Vatrano, who was signed as a free agent in the summer, has some scoring touch. All of this is just not enough. The leaders in scoring in the Pacific, Vegas, have 26 goals for. LA has 28 and Seattle 26. The trick is keeping it out of your net, which none of the California teams are particularly good at.

What’s to come? The Kings have two games versus Canadian teams, Winnipeg and Toronto, before leaving town again. The Ducks have Toronto, then they’re on the road once more. Someday, we’ll get the measure of these teams in their natural environments.

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