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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Wild West (Editorial)

Written by Netty, Saturday, March 20th, 2010
 
                         All statistics used in this article are current as of 3/20/10 at 5:00 PM
While the Washington Capitals have a pretty good hold on the Eastern Conference, things are a bit different out West……
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(Image from Yahoo)

The NHL’s two halves, the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference, are polar opposites. The Eastern Conference is composed of a few good teams (Capitals, Penguins, Devils, maybe the Sabres)…. while the Western Conference is a battleground, where most of the teams could be playoff contenders. Granted, there are a few exceptional teams in the West as well (Blackhawks, Sharks, Canucks, Coyotes….), but the difference between a good Western team and an average one is very, very small. Let’s take a quick look at the Eastern and Western conference standings, side-by-side. It’s   quite interesting (8 is the last playoff seed)……

                                                                                                     


EASTERN CONFERNCE              WESTERN CONFERENCE

# Team Pts. # Team Pts.
1 Washington 104 1 Chicago 96
2 Pittsburgh 89 2 San Jose 96
3 Buffalo 84 3 Vancouver 91
4 New Jersey 88 4 Phoenix 93
5 Philadelphia 79 5 Colorado 86
6 Ottawa 79 6 Los Angeles 85
7 Montreal 78 7 Nashville 85
8 Boston                  74 8 Detroit                  80
9 Atlanta 71 9 Calgary 79
10 NY Rangers 71 10 St. Louis 75
11 Tampa Bay 68 11 Minnesota 74
12 Florida 67 12 Dallas 73
13 NY Islanders 67 13 Anaheim 72
14 Carolina 66 14 Columbus 69
15 Toronto 62 15 Edmonton 49

NHL STANDINGS (East in RED, West in BLUE, Teams in BOLD are inside the playoff bubble in their conference)

#
  Team
Pts.
1
  Washington Capitals
104
2
  Chicago Blackhawks
96
3
  San Jose Sharks
96
4
  Phoenix Coyotes
93
5
  Vancouver Canucks
91
6
  Pittsburgh Penguins
89
7
  New Jersey Devils
88
8
  Colorado Avalanche
86
9
  Los Angeles Kings
85
10
  Nashville Predators
85
11
  Buffalo Sabres
84
12
  Detroit Red Wings
81
13
  Calgary Flames
81
14
  Philadelphia Flyers
79
15
  Ottawa Senators
79
16
  Montreal Canadiens
78
17
  St. Louis Blues
75
18
  Anaheim Ducks
74
19
  Boston Bruins
74
20
  Minnesota Wild
74
21
  Dallas Stars
73
22
  Atlanta Thrashers
71
23
  New York Rangers
71
24
  Columbus Blue Jackets
69
25
  Tampa Bay Lightning
68
26
  New York Islanders
68
27
  Florida Panthers
67
28
  Carolina Hurricanes
66
29
  Toronto Maple Leafs
62
30
  Edmonton Oilers
51
 

Looking at the standings, as well as what teams are in the playoff bubble, it is quite clear that the Western Conference is significantly more competitive and challenging than the Eastern Conference. I really can’t figure out why this is; however, it is what the data here tells us. The Washington Capitals might be #1 in the NHL, but the next four teams are all Western teams.
Surprisingly, most of the leading scorers in the NHL are Eastern Conference players….. making the Western Conference and Eastern Conference sort of a ying/yang relationtship…. one half has teams with lots of points, and the other half has players with lots of points. Interesting.
The purpose of this editorial, actually, is not to remark on the apparent futility of the Eastern Conference; I just thought I’d mention it. The purpose is to take a long, hard look at the Western conference, because, should the Capitals make it to the Stanley Cup Finals, that’s where their opponent will be from. So, let’s take a look at some of the Western Conference teams that, I think, could be facing the Capitals in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final ……

                                                                                                     

96c02623cbe3973a65007891d02737ce-getty-90954564vd012_chicago_black (Photo from Yahoo)

Name: Chicago Blackhawks
Points (# in West): 96 (#1 in West)
Record: 45-19-6
Goals For: 230
Goals Against: 174
Goal Differential: +56

In my opinion, the Chicago Blackhawks are the team that the Capitals will most likely play the Capitals in the Stanley Cup final. They have been, along with San Jose, the most dominating team in the Western Conference. They have the deadly combination of being able to score as well as stop others from scoring on them. However, if Chicago has an Achilles' heel, it’s definitely goaltending. Chicago’s goaltending has been slightly less than fantastic this season. Looking at Chicago’s goaltending statistics:

*The average is weighted based on games played.
Player                        GP  Record    GAA    SV% 
Cristobal Huet 47 26-13-8 2.40 .899
Antti Nieme 27 19-5-7 2.22 .911
Corey Crawford 1 0-1-0 3.05 .914
AVERAGE     2.343 .903

Yes, the goals against average is very good, but the problematic bit if the save percentage…..a .903 save percentage is mediocre at best. While Chicago can win with any of their goalies when they minimize shots, that doesn’t always happen. Witness Chicago’s OT loss to the Capitals on 3/14/10, when the Capitals managed to shoot the puck…. and Chicago let in 3 goals in the 3rd period in a little over two minutes. The playoffs will be interesting for Chicago. However, I hope for a Chicago-Washington Stanley Cup Final; it would be spectacular.

Players to Know: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Christobal Huet, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Antti Niemi.

                                                                                                     

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(Photo from Yahoo)

Name: San Jose Sharks
Points (# in West): 96 (#2 in the West)
Record: 43-18-10
Goals For: 231
Goals Against: 187
Goal Differential: +44

Some NHL teams are built to be playoff teams; meaning that they are designed to be successful in the playoffs, with enough regular-season success to qualify for the playoffs.

The San Jose Shark are definitely not a playoff team.

The San Jose Sharks are, rather infamously, the best-known chokers in the NHL. They have never, in the history of the franchise, had much luck in the playoffs. Looking at the last couple of years of playoffs for San Jose….

Season                                      Result                                       
2008-2009 Lost to Anaheim, first round
2007-2008 Lost to Dallas, second round
2006-2007 Lost to Detroit, second round
2005-2006 Lost to Edmonton, second round
No 2004-2005 Season NHL Lockout
2003-2004 Lost to Calgary, third round
2002-2003 Did not Qualify
2001-2002 Lost to Colorado, second round
2000-2001 Lost to St. Louis, first round
1999-2000 Lost to Dallas, second round
1998-1999 Lost to Colorado, first round
1997-1998 Lost to Dallas, first round
1996-1997 Did not Qualify
1995-1996 Did not Qualify
1994-1995 Lost to Detroit, second round
1993-1994 Lost to Toronto, second round
1992-1993 Did not Qualify
1991-1992 Did not Qualify

That’s it. The entire San Jose Sharks franchise playoff history. Basically, San Jose is a playoff failure. They are surprisingly good, and consistently good, in the regular season. They have qualified for the playoffs in all but five season of the franchise, which is very, very impressive. However, San Jose has only been to the conference finals (third round) once in franchise history. They have a total of 1 third round (conference finals) loss, 7 second round (conference semifinals) losses, and 4 first round (conference quarterfinals) losses.

This year’s team seems to be pretty similar to past years. They are excellent in the regular season, but I have a hard time believing they will have playoff success. Starting goalie Evgeni Nabokov is fantastic, but, as he proved while playing for Russia in the 2010 Winter Olympics, he is not clutch. At. All.

Good luck in the playoffs, San Jose. I don’t expect them to be in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Players to Know: Evgeni Nabokov, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle.

                                                                                                     

Islanders Canucks

(Photo from Yahoo)

Name: Vancouver Canucks
Points (# in West): 91 (#3 in the West)
Record: 44-24-3
Goals For: 233
Goals Against: 283
Goal Differential: +50

Vancouver, eh, what to say? Good team all around. They can score, they’re decent at stopping goals, and their goalie, Roberto Luongo, won Olympic gold with Canada this year. I feel like Vancouver might be taken out by some team like Colorado, or possibly Detroit….. not my front-runner to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals, but they are certainly capable of doing it.

Players to Know: Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Alex Burrows, Roberto Luongo.

                                                                                                     

d15ee23e6e17a753ba7fafa32fbbbd32-getty-90954597ja014_phoenix_panthers

(Photo from Yahoo)

Name: Phoenix Coyotes
Points (# in West): 93 (#4 in the West)
Record: 44-22-5
Goals For: 193
Goals Against: 173
Goal Differential: +20

Phoenix has been the surprise of the 2009-2010 NHL season. Predicted by many to be the last place finished out west, Phoenix has had financial problems for a little while, and when head coach Wayne Gretzky (yes, the Wayne Gretzky) resigned after training camp, the team looked like it would have a season everyone would want to forget, and the team would move to some Canadian city.

While they are still unsure of whether or not the team will stay in Phoenix, this has certainly been a season the Coyotes will want to remember for a long, long time.

Phoenix recently set a franchise-record for wins, and is currently 4th in the NHL in terms of overall points. This team has issues scoring, but does well because of a air-tight defense and a superb goalie, Ilya Bryzagalov, backup for the 2010 Russian Olympic Team. He will definitely be a front runner for the Veniza trophy, given to the league’s top goaltender. Meanwhile, Head Coach Dave Tippet, brought in in a hurry after Gretzky resigned following training camp, will most likely be the winner of the Jack Adams trophy, given to the league’s best coach for the season.

Considering San Jose’s recent struggles, Phoenix is in the amazing position of being able to claim the Pacific division. Two games against Chicago in the next week will determine what they really can do.

Phoenix playing the Caps for the Stanley Cup would be a surprising matchup, but pretty much everything else in this team’s season has been surprising.

Players to Know: Ilya Byrzagalov

                                                                                                     

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(Photo from Yahoo)

Name: Colorado Avalanche
Points (# in West): 86 (#5 in the West)
Record: 40-24-6
Goals For: 211
Goals Against: 185
Goal Differential: +26

Along with the Phoenix Coyotes, the Colorado Avalanche have been a huge surprise this year. They were, before the season, predicted to finish in the NHL basement. They haven’t had any big changes or financial issues; the biggest reason the team is in the position they are right now is the man in the picture above, goalie Craig Anderson.

Last year, Anderson played in Florida as backup to Tomas Vokoun. Colorado signed him for a decent, but not very big, 1.8 million dollar contract. They, he exploded.

Anderson has been lights-out for Colorado this year. He has a good 35-20-5 record, and and incredible .923 save percentage as well as a 2.47 goals against average. A .923 save percentage through 61 games is fantastic.

I doubt that Colorado will make the Stanley Cup finals, but, with Anderson and their crew of rookies, they will certainly get their chance sooner than later.

Players to Know: Craig Anderson

                                                                                                     

I hope that my article has given you a bit more insight into some of the teams that the Capitals might be playing in the Stanley Cup finals. All we can hope for now is that the Caps break the franchise points record, do well in the playoffs, and finally, WIN A STANLEY CUP!… regardless which team they face.


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