Twenty years ago, you would have never thought of California as the place to fear in the National Hockey League. The Kings were good back then – Gretzky leading the way. However, the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim (Mighty) Ducks were just baby franchises in the mid 90’s. It was Chicago Stadium, the Boston Garden, the Spectrum in Philadelphia, and the Montreal Forum that garnered the most fear among visiting teams back when hockey in California was still an experiment. While those classic franchises still intimidate, no one is beating the snot out of visitors the way the Big 3 from Cali do on a regular basis. Hockey is big time on America’s west coast.
In 2012-13, California’s hockey giants finished with the 1st, 3rd and 7th best home records in the NHL. To put things into perspective, the home clubs won 52 of a possible 72 games played in the Golden State. They earned points in 59 of those games.
Since 2007, Cali has two Stanley Cups to its name (Ducks 07′ & Kings 12′). Only Illinois can claim the same success rate, while hockey hot beds, Ontario, Quebec, and New York State combine for zero championships in the new millennium.
The Kings, Sharks and Ducks are repeating last season’s home ice dominance in 2013-14. Cali’s 3 have a combined winning record of 7-1-0 at home to begin the season. Welcome to California, thanks for the two points.
The Kings are the kings of winning at home
The Los Angeles Kings were almost flawless at the Staples Center a season ago. Their record of 19-4-1 led all NHL clubs on familiar ice. In the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs, the defending champs didn’t lose a contest in Cali until the Conference Finals, finally giving way to destiny’s choice, the Chicago Blackhawks.
It’s early still. Stats are a little inflated across the board, explaining why one of the NHL’s premiere defensive juggernauts, the Kings, have allowed 14 goals through six games played. Not terrible, but not great. The Kings have, however, been more stingy recently, allowing only one goal in their last two games, rounding into form as arguably the best goals against teams in hockey through 82 games. The last time the NHL schedule was 82 long, the Kings finished the season 2nd in goals given up.
The Shark Tank is as deadly as its name suggests
Last season’s 3rd best home team is off to a torrid start at the SAP Center in beautiful northern California, smoking opponents by a combined score of 20 to 6. Through 48 games in 2012-13 the Sharks home record was an impressive 17-2-5. Looks like they’re well on their way to duplicating as one of the league’s top clubs against white jerseys.
The Sharks appear to be an offensive dynamo at the moment. Their 24 goals scored leads the NHL, and although they potted nine in one game against the New York Rangers, it’s worth noting that they’ve scored 4 or more in four of five games played. Credit to the Ottawa Senators for taming the Sharks to 3 against in San Jose on October 12th. Unfortunately for the Sens, they only managed to score twice.
The Ducks dominate and destroy at home
Only two evenings ago, the Anaheim Ducks posted a franchise record 56 shots on goal performance at home against the Ottawa Senators. They won the game decisively, by a score of 4-1. Maybe the Sens were exhausted from playing the Sharks the night before.
In their first 2013-14 game at the Honda Center, Cali’s youngest franchise spanked the Rangers 6-0. With a goal differential of +9 through two games, Anaheim seems a nasty place to play hockey unless you’re the Ducks.
The Ducks lost their season opener in Colorado to the Avalanche. Since that night they’ve been flawless, compiling four straight wins regardless of the arena they played. Their next game against the surprising Calgary Flames provides an opportunity to extend the streak to five, keeping the Ducks near the top of the Pacific Division. The Ducks won their division last season – they have the skill and depth to do it again in 2013-14.
The Pacific is living up to the hype
Coming into this season, general managers and coaches in the NHL’s newly formed Pacific Division must not have been too happy with the competition. California’s Big 3 will fight with the Vancouver Canucks, Phoenix Coyotes, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames for three playoff spots or the possibility to attain a wild card position in the playoffs.
So far, the division is proving as competitive as many thought it would be. The Sharks lead the way with 10 points, followed by the Ducks, Flames, Coyotes, and Kings all with 8 points, and the very capable Vancouver Canucks not too far behind with 6. At least one very good team is probably going to miss the playoffs in the Pacific Division this season – it’s too stacked.