Wild Wild West: Mid-Season Report Cards

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By Amanda DiPaolo

As of Sunday afternoon, every team currently in the top 8 for the Western Conference standings has played at least 41 games. With half the season finished, it is a good time to take a good look at the team’s chances of staying in playoff position.

Usually, if you are in playoff position by American Thanksgiving, you have a great shot at the post-season with one or maybe two teams positioned 9-15 sneaking in, kicking someone out. But in the Western Conference, only one point separates 12th place from 8th and only seven points separates 14th spot from a playoff position. Things are tight.

Here is a brief assessment of the top 5 teams in the West. Look for teams 6-15 next Monday.

1. Vancouver Canucks 27-8-6

The Canucks have played 41 games and have 60 points on the season. Being in a division with Calgary and Edmonton helps propel Vancouver to win its division year in and year out, but the team might be for real this time around. Only the post-season will tell… and the Canucks will surely be there with home ice advantage.

Edge: Defense. The Canucks have only allowed 99 goals against. Only Nashville has a better goals against number in the West with 97.

2. Detroit Red Wings 27-10-5

The Red Wings have recently lost Brad Stuart which might hurt them, but can anything really stop Detroit? Extremely consistent, the Red Wings have only lost five regulation games at home and five regulation games on the road.

Having played 42 games so far, the Red Wings show no signs that they are considered an older team. They will probably win the Central Division.

Edge: Winning despite some serious injuries to key players. It isn’t just Stuart out of the lineup.

Mike Modano is on injured reserve and is out indefinitely with right wrist surgery. Pavel Datsyukhas been out since just before Christmas with a broken right wrist. He should be back in a couple of weeks, and Dan Cleary is expected to miss at least one month with a broken left ankle.

3. Dallas Stars 24-13-5

The Pacific Division is the closest division in terms of having a breakout leader. Dallas is only 5 points ahead of the second place Ducks and 6 points ahead of every other team in the division.

Dallas has no significant team injuries, and there is no reason why the team couldn’t make a solid push to maintain home ice advantage for the post season. However, rumors of points leader (47) Brad Richards being traded before the deadline have been flying. If the Stars sell instead of buy come February 28th, you have to think Los Angeles or San Jose will take the division.

Edge: None if the team trades away its best players because they are UFAs at the end of the season. Will make the playoffs, but might not maintain the Pacific Division title.

4. Nashville Predators 22-13-6

That the Nashville Predators are riding a five game winning streak despite having over $15 million in salary sitting out due to injury and illness is astonishing.

If Steve Sullivan, Marty Erat and Matthew Lombardi would return to the lineup in the near future, the team could press for their first ever division title– of course, that would be contingent upon the rest of the team staying healthy. As one player return, three more go down. The latest victims, the return of David Ledwand to the lineup after missing 18 games was welcomed with Cal O’Reilly breaking his leg, Nick Spaling suffering an upper body injury and newest Predator Marek Svatos suffering a lower body ailment.

Edge: Defense and goaltending. Only the Bruins have allowed less goals in the entire league than the Nashville Predators. The penalty kill is rock solid, so the speedy return of Nick Spaling is essential to the Predators success since he is a key component when Nashville is a man down.

5. Colorado Avalanche 21-15-6

As teams tighten things up for their stretch runs, games are going to get a lot closer. One goal games will benefit the Avs. Colorado is undefeated in the shootout, going 3-0.

With some key players lost to injury, like the Predators, Colorado has had to win without Peter Mueller or Chris Stewart in the lineup. But it helps that the team is in the relatively weak Northwest Division. For Colorado to maintain its playoff position the Avs will need one of its goaltenders to get hot. Budaj is 10-6-3 and Anderson is 11-9-3. The end result are good, but both goalies allow over 3 goals a game on average and the highest save percentage, Anderson’s, is only .902.

Edge: The Avs have no edge and might struggle to make the playoffs when the other teams tighten up defensively if they are not able to follow suit on the back end.

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Every Monday I will tackle issues important to the Western Conference. You can follow me on twitter @Predlines

For those interested in the Central Division, check out my main blog at www.predlines.com

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