Western Division Playoff Race

by Steven Force

It’s hard to believe, but the regular season will be wrapping up in a few more weeks.  Before that happens, there’s still plenty of meaningful hockey to be played, especially in the Western Division.  The top three teams of the division are packed together, with just seven points separating #1 and #3, as of February 26.  

Going back through previous seasons, this is one of the tightest races at the top of the division that we’ve seen in years.  Last year, there was a ten-point gap between #1 and #2, and then a 15 point drop to #3.  That’s been a recurring theme over the years in the Western Division, dating back to the 2014-15 season, the last time we saw a close race.  In that season, Fresno finished first with 77 points, Valencia second with 72 and Long Beach third with 66.  We’re in for a similar type of finish this season, just with different teams.

Ontario Avalanche

The Avalanche have rolled off six straight wins, which have propelled them to first in the Western Division.  Their 64 points has them at the top of the Western Division, but they face a few more tests before the season ends.  This weekend, they come up against Fresno, who has been hot as of late, in a series that could decide the Western Division.  Ontario has gone 3-2-0 against Fresno this season, including a sweep of the Monsters in December.  To close the season, Ontario faces San Diego, who they have beaten in all seven previous matchups, but some of the games have been close.  The Avs might need points against San Diego for playoff positioning, and will have to be sure to not overlook the last-place Sabers.

Remaining Schedule:

3/2-4 – vs. Fresno

3/9 – vs. San Diego

3/10 – @ San Diego

Long Beach Bombers

Long Beach is, once again, one of the best teams in the Western Division.  However, they haven’t proved their dominance this season as they did the past two years.  Their past 11 games is the perfect example.  Ever since sweeping San Diego in mid-January, the Bombers have gone 5-5-1, with four of the losses coming against Ontario and Fresno.  The Bombers were active at the trade deadline, and now have all of the pieces they acquired in their lineup.  Not having to face either Ontario or Fresno for the remainder of the season, their schedule is the easiest on paper among the 

three teams at the top of the division.  

Remaining Schedule:

3/1-3 – vs. Phoenix

3/8 – @ Valencia

3/9-10 – vs. Valencia

Fresno Monsters

Fresno is on the outside looking in, despite going 8-1-0 in the month of February.  To make that span even more impressive, three of those wins came in a sweep of the Bombers at Selland Arena.  However, the Monsters played all of their games in February on home ice.  That trend won’t continue in their final six games.  They face Ontario this upcoming weekend, in what is sure to be one of the best series of the weekend with the playoff implications on the line.  Then, to finish the regular season, Fresno will head north to face Seattle, who after starting the season with seven straight wins have gone 4-29-6.

Remaining Schedule:

3/2-4 – @ Ontario

3/9-11 – @ Seattle

Steven Force is the Western Division Correspondent.  You can find him on Twitter @Steven_Force_.