JR’s Blog: Stars soar, while Sharks, Coyotes hit skids
NHL analyst and former All-Star Jeremy Roenick pens a weekly blog for NHL.com. "World According to JR" appears every Wednesday and includes Roenick's sharp, can't-miss opinions on What's Clicking and What's Missing in the National Hockey League.
It's all about the Western Conference playoff race this week, the good and the bad.
It is probably an extremely high-blood pressure, high-intensity time if you're a player, coach, executive or fan in L.A., San Jose, Colorado, Calgary, and you can even throw Dallas in there despite the fact the Stars are first in the Pacific Division and third in the conference. They still have 77 points, which is only two more than Phoenix and three more than Los Angeles and Colorado.
But the fact that Dallas is first in the Pacific Division, third in the Western Conference and winners of three straight, seven of their last eight, just speaks to the unbelievable job Glen Gulutzan is doing down there.
It's just amazing that he's been able to do this with his captain, Brenden Morrow, being out with injury. It's very impressive what they're doing on the road. They've won five in a row away from American Airlines Center, including Tuesday's 5-2 win in Vancouver.
If anybody else is not absolutely 100 percent impressed with Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson, then you just haven't been watching enough hockey. They're carrying that team on their back and Mike Ribeiro has been a strong supporting actor.
Phoenix was in a comfortable spot after a great February, but the Coyotes have fallen off and now Los Angeles, Colorado and Calgary are winning.
Looking at the Kings, if Tuesday's 5-4 win over Nashville is an indication of how they're going to play down the stretch, then it's going to be troubling for a lot of these teams fighting for a playoff berth with them. We already know how good Jonathan Quick has been this season, but if the Kings start scoring consistently, watch out.
I give a lot of credit to Colorado for sticking in it. The Avalanche have had a nice stretch here to put themselves in position to fight for the eighth spot, but if Matt Duchene is going to be out then so is Colorado. Duchene's ankle injury could seriously damage the Avs' chances.
And then there is San Jose. If you're a Sharks player, coach, executive or fan, are you absolutely freaking out right now?
You should be, but more on that in the next section of this blog.
The fact is this race is going to come down to the wire, and I'm looking for the superstars to step up. We'll see which ones are going to earn their keep.
I'm a fan of San Jose. I love the market and the organization. But I'm scared to death for the Sharks.
I honestly don't know what is wrong there. I don't understand how they're struggling at home, how they're struggling to win hockey games. Why those guys, at such a crucial point in the season, are struggling to put the puck in the net.
I'm really nervous for this team. I'm nervous for Doug Wilson.
Again at the beginning of the season they were supposed to be a Stanley Cup contender, but they're struggling to hold on to the eighth spot. They have it by the games-played tiebreaker right now.
If those top two lines don't score goals, they're not going to win games. Other teams realize that they just have to shut one line down and if they do they can win. More than that, Antti Niemi has been average of late.
I talked about looking for the superstars to step up, so in San Jose I'm looking at Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. You're not going to get any consistency out of Patrick Marleau because he can't find it in him to get angry, mad, ticked off enough to help lead this team out of the doldrums.
Right now I'd be scared. I'd be mad. I'd be huffing like a raging bull right now. I'm not sure that Patrick Marleau can do that. I don't know if he has it in him to bring this team into the playoffs. I'd like to see him get angry, show some passion.
But it's not just San Jose that has me concerned. The Phoenix Coyotes were flying high, but now they're in a very precarious position with four straight losses, including two against Columbus. That's unacceptable, and I have to think that Dave Tippett is livid with this recent skid.
Even if they just won one of those games they would have themselves in a much more comfortable spot, but they're not. Neither are the Sharks.
There is going to be some high drama, high tension coming down the stretch in those markets.