The San Jose Sharks continue to dominate the Pacific Division with the highest point total to date with 32. Los Angeles has surprised many with their all-around above average play, while the Ducks have surprised others with their overall disappointing play. Though itís still early, this division has the potential to produce as many as four playoff teams come April.
Pacific Division - VUKOTA vs. Actual
Team Rank (VUKOTA) Pts (VUKOTA) Pts (Actual)*
Anaheim Ducks 7 97 70
San Jose Sharks 8 96 114
Dallas Stars 17 90 94
Los Angeles Kings 25 84 100
Phoenix Coyotes 28 80 93
* Actual points per game, projected over 82 games
San Jose Sharks
The Sharks' offense was projected by VUKOTA to finish 10th with 248 goals. It currently is second only to the Washington Capitals' offense and on pace to score 272 goals. That goal-scoring explosion has paced the team to the best point total in the league. F Patrick Marleau is on pace for a 24.2 GVT, better than double his projection of 11.3, and D Dan Boyle (3.5 OGVT, 5.8 GVT), recent acquisition F Dany Heatley (4.1 OGVT, 4.9 GVT) and C Joe Thornton (3.3 OGVT, 3.9 GVT) also have lived up to their star billing early. G Evgeni Nabokov has performed well in the net to start the season, already surpassing his projected GVT. It's possible the 34-year-old could continue his hot start, but more likely, he'll regress as the season progresses. The Sharks should cool down in kind, but that high-octane offense could compensate.
The good news for the underachieving Ducks is that the goaltending is fine. The bad news is that nearly everything else has gone wrong for this team. Ryan Getzlaf was projected by VUKOTA to post a 4.4 GVT through the quarter-season mark, en route to 17.6 on the season. He currently is at 1.6. Scott Niedermayer has been about half as productive as we projected. VUKOTA thought Saku Koivu still had enough in the tank to be productive with a 7.4 GVT projection, but instead, Koivu has posted a pedestrian 0.4 GVT. With so many established players underperforming, the Ducks should improve ... but will they do it in time to make the playoffs?
Defense, defense, defense. Phoenix has allowed the fourth fewest goals (65) and is on pace to better its projection in that category by 60, thanks to a 5.3 DGVT and a 5.2 goaltending GVT. Ilya Bryzgalov has been the seventh best overall player in the league and No. 1 performer on the Coyotes in terms of GVT (7.1), which already is higher than his VUKOTA projection of a 5.4 GVT. Veteran defensemen Ed Jovanovski and Adrian Aucoin both are on pace to better projections. However, given their age and track record, it's unlikely the defense will keep working wonders for the Coyotes. Bryzgalov also is likely to regress, but with such high variances for goaltenders from season to season, it's certainly possible he can maintain this kind of performance in the net for the rest of this season.
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings, much like the Sharks, find themselves suddenly scoring goals at a good clip with an offense that finds itself 3rd in goals scored (65) and 4th in Offensive GVT (9.7). The main reason why the Kings have excelled on offense this year is because of Anze Kopitar. Kopitar is first among all skaters in GVT (8.1), first among all skaters in Offensive GVT (6.8) and third among forwards in defensive GVT (1.5). The only place where he has struggled so far is in the shootout (-0.2 SGVT), but thatís such a small sample size that it shouldnít be considered significant yet. Kopitar will likely beat his 13.5 GVT VUKOTA projection, given that he is on pace to post a 35.0 GVT. In comparison, Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas had a phenomenal season last year (.933 save percentage) and posted a 36.3 GVT. Thatís how great Kopitar has been thus far. Everyone else on offense is either slightly overachieving or on par with their VUKOTA projections, though Drew Doughty (2.2 Offensive GVT, 7.4 GVT) is already near besting his 2.7 Offensive GVT VUKOTA Projection and weíre barely through a quarter of the season. The only negatives for the Kings have been Rob Scuderi (4.2 VUKOTA projected GVT, -0.3 actual GVT) and the goaltending. Jonathan Quick has a team worst -2.4 GVT, while Erik Ersberg is third in total GVT with a -1.1. Both are off the pace of their projections of an 8.4 GVT and 1.6 GVT, respectively.
The Dallas Stars are not great on either side of the puck, but their 10th ranked offense in goals scored (59), which is on pace for 255 goals, has been much better than their VUKOTA projection of a 16th ranked offense, which was projected to finish with 238 goals. James Neal (4.3 Offensive GVT, 4.5 GVT) was only pegged by VUKOTA for a 4.0 Offensive GVT and a 5.8 GVT on the season, while Brad Richards (3.4 Offensive GVT, 3.6 GVT) was projected for a more modest 5.7 Offensive GVT to go along with an 8.3 GVT. Forwards arenít the only ones with great years on offense. Defenseman Stephane Robidas, who VUKOTA thought would post a 1.9 Offensive GVT along with a 7.0 GVT has already accumulated a 1.5 Offensive GVT as well as a 3.0 GVT. Itís nice to see Marty Turco back on the ice and doing a great job of defending the net this year. VUKOTA thought heíd bounce back from his horrific -10.6 GVT 2008-09 campaign to post a near replacement level number, 1.2 GVT, but so far Turco has tripled that with a 3.6 GVT through only a quarter of the season.
The Sharks are likely to remain on top of the Pacific Division, with the Los Angeles Kings hanging in there until the end. The Kings and Stars should be able to make the playoffs, while the Coyotes will likely fade and the Ducks are going to need more defensive depth and a few additions on offense to bounce back to where they were several years ago.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
Andrew Rothstein is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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