With the Eastern Conference out-of-the-way, it’s time to set our sights on the West. It has been an interesting year to this point and all but two (maybe three) teams in the conference remain in contention.
Even more intriguing is that only eight points separate the top seed from the 8th seed to this point. Therefore, each division is still within reach and there could easily be shuffling in the coming weeks. But, for now, let’s see what the current standings tell us.
#1 Vancouver Canucks (25-13-3, 53 points)
Vancouver, similar to Boston, started poorly (to its standards); but, has since completely reversed its fortunes. The Canucks are 16-4-2 in their last 22 contests and now possess a top 10 offense and defense. Plus, it never hurts to have the Sedin brother’s (more than 90 points combined) on your side.
#2 Chicago Blackhawks (24-11-4, 52 points)
The Blackhawks have been great so far this season — that’s simply undeniable. However, I believe they are too dependent upon offense at times. In fact, when Chicago scores two goal or fewer, they are 1-10-1. They will need to prove they can win low scoring games in the second half.
#3 San Jose Sharks (21-11-4, 46 points)
A win over the struggling Ducks on Wednesday catapulted the Sharks from out of the playoff picture to the top of the Pacific Division, and therefore into third in the West. This just highlights how close their division looks to be this season. But, San Jose does hold a slight advantage moving forward because they have played the NHL’s fewest (36) games.
#4 Detroit Red Wings (25-13-1, 51 points)
This isn’t a surprise. The Red Wings find themselves in the thick of a playoff run every year. And, despite being in 4th currently, they are in prime position to take over the Central Division by January 14th if they take care of business against the Blackhawks (teams face twice during that time period).
#5 St. Louis Blues (22-12-5, 49 points)
St. Louis can thank a coaching change for their rise to contention in the Western Conference. Since Ken Hitchcock took over, the Blues are 16-5-5 and have posted one of the NHL’s best home records at 12-2-2 (15-3-2 overall). They have evolved into perhaps the most accurate example of defense winning contests — ranked 21st in goals scored, but 3rd in goals allowed.
#6 Minnesota Wild (21-14-6, 48 points)
Injuries have decimated the Wild over the past few weeks. Because of this, they have dropped 10 of 11 and have only recorded 16 goals TOTAL during the stretch. You may be wondering how significant this streak has been. Well, consider this; Minnesota was the top team in the NHL on December 6th. Now, they are on the verge of dropping out of the playoff picture, and are 5 points behind the Canucks. Ouch.
#7 Nashville Predators (21-14-4, 46 points)
Nashville is interesting to me. They have a great goaltender in Pekka Rinne; but, he truly hasn’t been spectacular yet this year (2.59 GAA). Also, they possess a relatively strong offense; but, their leading scorer is defenseman Shea Weber, which could be concerning. So, I see this meaning one of two things. Either the best is yet to come for the Predators. Or, they are going to remain a middle-of-the-road club.
#8 Los Angeles Kings (19-14-7, 45 points)
It’s all about Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles. The 25-year-old is 17-10-6 and allowing 2.01 goals per game, while sending away more than 93 percent of opponent snipes. His efforts are absolutely essential to the Kings remaining in the hunt because their offense is the worst in the NHL (2.1 goals per game).
#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #8 Los Angeles Kings
Season Series: Tied 1-1
Nov 10th — Vancouver 3 Los Angeles 2
Dec 31st — Los Angeles 4 Vancouver 1
Jan 17th — Los Angeles AT Vancouver
Mar 26th — Los Angeles AT Vancouver
#2 Chicago Blackhawks vs. #7 Nashville Predators
Season Series: CHI Leads 1-0
Oct 31st — Chicago 5 Nashville 4
Jan 21st — Chicago AT Nashville
Jan 24th — Nashville AT Chicago
Feb 14th — Chicago AT Nashville
Mar 25th — Nashville AT Chicago
Mar 31st — Chicago AT Nashville
#3 San Jose Sharks vs. #6 Minnesota Wild
Season Series: Tied 1-1
Nov 10th — San Jose 3 Minnesota 1
Dec 6th — Minnesota 2, San Jose 1
Jan 10th — San Jose AT Minnesota
Feb 26th — San Jose AT Minnesota
#4 Detroit Red Wings vs. #5 St. Louis Blues
Season Series: Tied 2-2
Nov 15th — St. Louis 2 Detroit 1
Dec 6th — St. Louis 3 Detroit 2
Dec 27th — Detroit 3 St. Louis 2
Dec 31st — Detroit 3 St. Louis 0
Jan 23rd — St. Louis AT Detroit
Apr 4th — Detroit AT St. Louis