In an odd turn of events, California is not dominating the Pacific Division this season. Four of the five teams have started out poorly, hanging down at both the bottom of the division and the bottom of the league.
We took a look at what is happening out west.
The Season So Far: After spending much of the season at the bottom of the Division and League, the Condors have climbed up to sixth in the Pacific, but are only 0.002 percentage points above the San Jose Barracuda. They are coming off of a six-game losing streak (two games in overtime, but still losses) and have not managed to assemble more than two wins in a row.
Challenges: The Condors have had issues on defense and getting consistent goaltending, which is not really a surprise. Bakersfield has had problems on defense since joining the league, reflections of their parent club. Some of the issues can be attributed to the problems the Condors have had getting a complete and healthy blue line together, but not all of them. Unfortunately, that leads to problems like the top scorer, Ty Rattie, being a -9 and the top rookie being a -14.
Is There Hope? Right now that light at the end of the tunnel is probably a train. The player they rely on for most of their scoring is apparently terrible at defending as well. While many dismiss the plus-minus stat, when the numbers get big enough, you have to pay attention at least a little. Why is this important? Ty Rattie leads the team with eight goals. The next closest player is Joey LaLeggia with four goals (and a -4 rating).
The Season So Far: The Reign started out the season with a six-game losing streak in which they were outplayed by most teams. For five games, they could only score a total of three goals, being shut-out twice. During this period, they were at the bottom of the league in standings, power play, penalty kill, and goals scored. Since then, they have gone 7-1-1 to take over the fifth spot in the Division.
Challenges: Surprisingly few for a team that started so poorly. While the Kings took advantage of having the team so close, they cycled through players, never calling up more than a couple at a time. The Reign’s biggest issue was learning how to play as a team for an entire 60 minutes. They were also getting less than stellar goaltending at the time, with neither Jack Campbell nor Cal Peterson stepping up to steal a game.
Is There Hope? Since breaking the losing streak, the Reign have not looked back. They have found ways to win games, either through goaltending, luck or completely dominating a period. The Reign have yet to control an entire game, but the promise is there, and they only seem to be getting better.
San Diego Gulls:
The Season So Far: The San Diego Gulls have sunk to the bottom of the Pacific Division after Friday night’s loss to the Bakersfield Condors. They have not been able to string more than two wins together the entire season and have allowed five or more goals five times so far.
Challenges: With the Anaheim Ducks losing roster players nearly every game to injury, they have nearly gutted the Gulls of all of their top players. Combined with losing a healthy amount of their impact players from last season, this hasn’t been the team San Diego is used to. Faced with the opportunity to prove themselves, the players have not responded. It has been bad enough that Head Coach Dallas Eakins has called them out publicly and insinuated that they are now playing for their jobs.
The Gulls have been outshot by a large margin in most games, relying heavily on goaltending to keep them even somewhat competitive. On the other side of the ice, San Diego has struggled to get the puck on net and currently hold the title for least shots in a game with only 12 on November 11th.
Is There Hope? There is a light in the distance, but it is dim. The removal of their top players showed a glaring weakness in the lower ranks. Players that should have been jumping at the chance to show what they can do with increased ice time have instead played lethargic and sloppy. The Gulls will get some scorers back from Anaheim at some point, but it might not be enough to fix the team.
San Jose Barracuda:
The Season So Far: The Barracuda’s season has been the definition of inconsistent. They have not won more than two in a row, but have only one small losing streak of three games and one of those was a shoot-out loss. They have won 6-4 only to lose the next game 7-3. They have been a 0.500 team on four separate occasions, only to lose the next game. Their latest loss to the Reign dropped them down to seventh in the Pacific.
Challenges: Consistency is the key for the Barracuda. They are getting even scoring across their line-up and decent goaltending at times. Their goal differential is only -5. The problem is getting good goaltending when they are not scoring or getting goals when the goaltending is shaky.
Is There Hope? The roster says so. How the team has looked when they win indicates so. However, the Barracuda have shown no signs that they have figured it out. It is possible that it all clicks and they tear up the conference in February like they did last year, but it doesn’t look to be happening before then.
The Season So Far: The Heat are the only team in California that have started the year off well. They have had one three-game stretch where they only scored one goal per game but managed to turn one of those games into a shut-out win. They have yet to be shut-out this season. Their accomplishments are over-shadowed by the Roadrunners’ early-season success, keeping them in second place in the division and third in the conference.
Challenges: There really isn’t anything negatively affecting the Heat. They have had the depth to cover any call-ups or injuries and scoring has been evenly spread throughout the line-up. Top players are producing as expected and goal-tending has been solid.
Is There Hope? The Heat currently looks like they could challenge the Roadrunners for the top of the division. Barring a late-season collapse, they’ll be playing in May.