Hot and not
Philipp Grubauer, Washington Capitals
Grubauer got a rare start in place of Braden Holtby on Tuesday and made the most of his opportunity, stopping 39 shots in the Capitals' 3-1 win against the Los Angeles Kings.
Cam Talbot, Edmonton Oilers
A tough month continued for Talbot on Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks. He stopped 26 of 29 shots in a 5-3 loss, but has now lost four of his past five starts and allowed 16 goals in that span.
Are the Kings now vulnerable atop the Pacific Division?
@Real_ESPNLeBrun: Is the Pacific Division lead suddenly up for grabs? We all crowned the Los Angeles Kings as division champs weeks ago, but their loss to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night combined with Anaheim's win in Edmonton means the gap between the SoCal rivals is now just three points. And the San Jose Sharks are now just one point behind the Ducks after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night. But the story here is definitely the Ducks, now 17-4-2 since the Christmas break, the best record in the NHL in that span. They've won 10 of their past 12 games (10-1-1), captain Ryan Getzlaf is playing his best hockey of the season after starting slowly, and what I love the most about them is how they've got talent spread out over their three top lines. Corey Perry is on the top line, Getzlaf centers the second line and Ryan Kesler centers the third. That's the kind of balance the Ducks have never had, and finally splitting up Getzlaf and Perry during training camp was important. Watch out, Kings, because here come the Ducks.
@ESPN_Burnside: You took the words right out of my mouth, Pierre. I watched quite a bit of the Kings-Capitals tilt and saw terrific pace and playoff intensity, which is not always the case in inter-conference games in the middle of February. And how about the winning goal set up by former Kings standout Justin Williams, who found the superlative Evgeny Kuznetsov at the side of the net late in the third to break a 1-1 tie? Some folks imagine Wednesday's skirmish as a Stanley Cup finals preview, but we can't assume the Kings would have an easy time with either San Jose or Anaheim, and that's just to get out of the Pacific Division part of the bracket. We know the Ducks are for real and back with a vengeance, but the Sharks have quietly become a solid, tough-to-play-against team. Can Martin Jones get the job done in goal in April or May? Fair question. The tightening of this race has provided extra incentive to win the division and avoid what would be a dynamic, all-California matchup between the second- and third-place teams in the Pacific. What we know for sure, Pierre, is that you've already pre-booked hotels all over California for mid-April.
@CraigCustance: The emergence of the Ducks has definitely made me re-think my position that the best spot to be is the No. 2 seed in the Pacific. I watched a good portion of that Ducks-Oilers game, because I'm making up for lost time viewing Connor McDavid's rookie season, and the Ducks did as strong a job as anyone I've seen in slowing McDavid down. He got a point, but Kesler and company made life pretty tough on McDavid. If he beat one Ducks player there always seemed to be another one waiting. He finished a minus-2 and didn't have a shot on goal. It's just a reminder that this Ducks team knows how to defend and knows how to win. They're going to be dangerous down the stretch, and it makes the Pacific much more interesting.
@ESPNJoeyMac: When the Ducks visited the Bruins on Jan. 26, it was evident Anaheim had turned things around and was playing motivated hockey. The Ducks won that game 6-2 with contributions throughout the lineup. In our preseason poll, I picked the Ducks to win the West, but with the way they played earlier this season I thought they were roasted. But Anaheim is proving once again to be a strong Stanley Cup contender. The Pacific is a tight race for the top three spots and even though the Kings sit atop the division with 69 points, the Ducks (66) and the Sharks (65) are closing in fast. It's going to be an exciting race down the stretch in the Pacific, but I believe the Ducks will end up in first in the final days of the season.
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