Avs, Knights, Blues make realigned West tall at the top

The group that emerges from the limited-time-only West Department must get in the Stanley Cup semifinals in prime, title-winning position.

Like those range of mountains in the middle of this 3 time zone corporation, coronavirus-driven adjustment yielded a department that sure appearances high at the top.

”It will be much better than the bubble. We may really get to see some lawn, so that will be great,” Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon stated. ”We’re prepared to play.”

Colorado had the third-best record in the NHL last season prior to the pandemic reduced the schedule, boasting a still-young star in MacKinnon and an even more youthful focal point with Calder Prize winner Cale Makar.

Vegas chipped in in the web to revive Robin Lehner and protect an elite tandem with Marc-Andre Fleury that might show to be crucial over the 56-game sprint of a schedule that will offer less rest than normal. Alex Pietrangelo was contributed to the blue line on a $61.6 million, seven-year agreement with a group that made the conference finals in 2 of its very first 3 seasons.

St. Louis won the champion simply 19 months earlier and signed Torey Krug to make up for the departure of the 12-year stalwart Pietrangelo.

The remainder of the group – Minnesota, Arizona, Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose, in order of 2019-20 surface – may well be rushing for one area in the postseason. All video games through the very first 2 rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs will be within the department.

”7 groups is great with us,” Avalanche defenseman Devin Toews stated. ”We’ll knock ’em down.”

THE NEWBIES

Pietrangelo is the greatest profile acquisition amongst groups in the West, coming off a career-high 16 objectives in spite of only getting 70 video games in prior to the infection break out.

Toews and Brandon Saad provided the Avalanche an increase after injuries accumulated in 2015, when they were ousted in the 2nd round by ultimate conference champ Dallas.

Veteran defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk has actually brought his champion ring from Tampa Bay to an Anaheim group that has actually begun over.

CALIFORNIA RESTORATION

The 3 California groups were components in the playoffs over the previous 20 years, with the Stanley Cup raised by the Kings in 2012 and 2014, the Ducks winning all of it in 2007 after completing as the runner-up in 2003 and the Sharks reaching the last in 2016.

Last season, this restoring trio ended up as the 3 worst groups in the conference. This will be an important winter season and spring for the young gamers who have not remained in a video game given that March.

”It benefits them to have great competitors, to see what the genuine great groups appear like, so they’ll understand what they need to get to,” Ducks basic supervisor Bob Murray stated. ”However there’s groups in our department that, every night, we must be ideal in the video game with them.”

BETWEEN THE PIPES

With Fleury and Lehner in Vegas, Jordan Binnington in St. Louis, John Gibson in Anaheim, Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles and Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta in Arizona, the West Division has no shortage of accomplished and experienced goalies. Devan Dubnyk was traded to San Jose by Minnesota, which turned to Cam Talbot.

”If you can get on a hot streak, you’ll be able to capitalize on that a little more just because of how many games,” Kuemper said. ”If you have a great two weeks, you could have eight to 10 games in that span.”

SCHEDULE BREAKDOWN

The West will require more travel than the two other U.S. divisions.

”The start is going to be more important than maybe it normally would be in an 82-video game schedule,” Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson said. ”Every game will be a four-point game whoever you play.”

The Sharks, due to COVID-19 restrictions currently banning contact sports in Santa Clara County, have temporarily given Arizona a second team. They’ve been training there, hoping to be allowed to eventually skate on home ice. The NHL thus backloaded their home schedule, with 24 of the last 38 contests slated for the SAP Center at San Jose, but they start with eight straight road video games. Vegas will visit on Feb. 1 and 3, but that might have to move to a neutral site.

The Coyotes can get comfortable on Feb. 13. They start a 10-game homestand that goes through March 6. Same for the Ducks and the Kings, which might as well mark ”Freeway Series” on their calendars for the final stretch. They play five times in Southern California from April 16 to May 1.

Just like in college hockey, most road trips will include two-game stops to minimize the potential virus exposure of regular travel. While Anaheim and Los Angeles irritate each other in late April, Minnesota and St. Louis will play four times in six days with a pair of games in each place in mini-reprise of their first-round playoff matchups in 2015 and 2017.

”While you’re in that city,” Wild veteran Zach Parise stated, ”might as well play them twice.”

DON’T MISS IT

St. Louis starts at Colorado on Jan. 13, part of an opening-night tripleheader on NBC Sports Network.

The Blues finish the regular season with a pair of road games against their old pal Pietrangelo and the Golden Knights, a back-to-back set on May 7-8 that could well influence seeds for the playoffs.

The first reunion is scheduled for Jan. 26 in Nevada, with a rematch in the desert 2 days later. Pietrangelo, whose wife and 4 young children are St. Louis natives, makes his very first go back to Missouri on March 12.

More AP NHL protection: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.