The 2015-16 regular season is coming to and end and the playoffs are just around the corner. Playoff battles are heating which leaves teams on the bubble playing for their lives and trying to stay alive as the season winds down. The Pacific Division however, is all about jockeying for position as the playoffs inch closer.
According to Sports Club Stats, the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks all have a 100 percent chance of making of the playoffs. While the Vancouver Canucks have the next highest chance at a measly 1.2 percent. Thanks to a 16-point gap between the third-place Sharks and the fourth-place Canucks things seem pretty locked up
So from here on out, the final 15 or so games for the Kings, Sharks and Ducks will be to establish who will have home ice advantage and play a wild card team, and who will duke it out in an all-California battle in the first round.
Let’s pull out the crystal ball and predict who finishes where in the Pacific Division’s sprint to the finish.
At the time of this writing, the Kings sat in first place with 84 points and 16 games remaining. The Ducks were right on the Kings’ tails with 83 points and 16 games remaining as well. While the Sharks had fallen off pace in third with 80 points and one less game remaining at 15.
Here is the entire Western Conference laid out in a neat graphic. But for the purposes of this article, we’ll be using it as a reference for the California trio.
— Damian Echevarrieta (@Ech28) March 11, 2016
The Kings may be at a disadvantage from the jump. In their remaining 16 games, the Kings face teams that are in a playoff spot or fighting for one nine times. Also among those 16 games are three back-to-back situations, the most out of the three teams.
When it comes to the final sixteen games, I can see the Kings going 10-6 down the stretch (I kept it neat and didn’t get into overtime and shootout losses for all three teams). I broke up the remainder of the Kings’ season into three parts: home games, road games and back-to-back games.
To start things off, I gave the Kings wins against the Devils, Rangers, Bruins, Oilers, Flames, and Jets at home. In back-to-back situations, I have the Kings splitting their series against the Blackhawks and Stars, Predators and Wild and winning both games against the Canucks and Flames for another four wins. All together putting them at 11 wins.
I do have the Kings losing to the Ducks at Staples Center in the last meeting of the season for the two division rivals.
The Kings could take a hit when they host the Stars and when they are on the road against the Jets and Sharks. Coupled with the splits in their back-to-back games that’s five losses for the Kings.
Nine of Anaheim’s final 16 games will be away from the Honda Center and will force the Ducks to win on the road if they want to win the Pacific Division. Luckily for the Ducks, the bulk of their road games will be a tour through Canada against teams who, at this point of the season, are playing for pride.
When looking at the Ducks’ final stretch I broke things down into the opening home stand, the Canada road trip, and the rest. Overall I have the Ducks finishing out the season with a 13-3 record in their last 16 games.
The Ducks’ opening home stand will likely be their biggest effort. Games against the Blues, Devils, Rangers and Bruins is a tall task for even the hottest team in the NHL. I think a 2-2 record coming out of that stretch is a safe bet for the Ducks.
Now the Canadian road trip. I hate putting all of my eggs in one basket, but a sweep is in order here. The Ducks have found their stride and should blow by every team on this trip. The only possible speed bump could be the opening game against the Jets, mainly because playing in the Peg is never an easy task. Look for a 5-0 record coming back to the States.
Once the Ducks get back to Anaheim I give them wins against Calgary, Vancouver, Dallas and Winnipeg. The Ducks getting the Stars on the second night of a back-to-back after likely a tough game against the Kings should give them an edge the Kings won’t have.
The Final three games of the Ducks’ season takes them to Staples, a win in a pivotal late-season meeting, and a back-to-back situation which they should split against the Avalanche and Capitals to end the season.
With fewer games remaining and a three-point gap, the Sharks may end up waiting to see who ends up in second place in the Pacific Division. However, 11 of the Sharks remaining 15 games will be played in the Shark tank, which could help get the Sharks back into the thick of things as the season comes to an end.
For the Sharks, I have wins at home against the Capitals, a team on the backend of a long trip, Coyotes, Oilers, Kings, Canucks, Jets and Coyotes again. While possible homes losses come against the Bruins, Rangers, Blues and Stars.
On the road, the Sharks should be able to take care of the Coyotes, Canucks and Wild, with their only possible road loss against the Predators.
All in all, the Sharks could finish out their next 15 games with a 10-5 record. But a few big wins against the some tough playoff bound teams at home could flip the script for San Jose.
The Photo Finish
After an 10-6 finish by the Kings, a 13-3 finish in Anaheim and a 10-5 in Northern California, the final standings in the Pacific Division’s top three would be: the Ducks in first place with 111 points, the Kings in second with 104 points and the Sharks rounding out the top three with 100 points.
After the dust has settled, the Ducks would get home ice advantage and a first round date against one of the two wild-card teams while the Kings and Sharks would meet in the first round of the playoffs for the third time in the last six years.
Of course, this is all a shot in the dark. Hockey is unpredictable, and that is a huge reason why we all love it. Slumps happen. Players get hot. Players get hurt. All of it is unforeseeable and will play a role in how the season finishes. What are your predictions for how things will end?
Eric covers the Los Angeles Kings for The Hockey Writers. You can follow Eric on Twitter @_Roberts11.
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Eric received his BA in Journalism from California State University, Northridge. Eric has contributed to RinkRoyalty.com, Buffalowdown.com and California Rubber Magazine.