Good stuff here (especially with the Sharks coming to town Saturday), so I'm moving this to the front page. - Dirk
People love to look ahead into the future, so with a crystal ball (more like a snow globe, but who's counting?), let's glance at the West standings as we sit with about six weeks to go before the gloves really come off.
1. Detroit (84 points, 21 games left) Twelve games left at home, nine on the road. Can't see them falling farther than second in the West.
2. Vancouver (82, 22) Thirteen at home, nine away from Vancouver. They're the road warriors of the West, with more wins away from home than any other Western foe. Flip a coin to see who gets the top seed in the West.
3. San Jose (69, 24) This one's in bold because their finish could have a big impact on how the first round shakes out. A deadline deal is crucial to the Sharks. Barring a collapse from one of the top two, they're not going any higher. In fact, this team could fall out of the top eight if it doesn't right the ship soon (3-6-1 last 10). But if they do get in and find themselves in one of the bottom three seeds, look out.
4. St. Louis (79, 23) Few experts point out that the Blues have as many home wins as the Red Wings do ("the streak" has something to do with that), but St. Louis is as tough at home as any team. That's the good news. The bad news is they're not so strong on the road (10-13-3 this year) and they only have eight more games at home the rest of the way. If they don't get the road record improved fast, home ice in the 1st round isn't assured.
5. Nashville (76, 22) Remaining schedule is balanced, with 11 home and away contests. Obviously getting home ice in the first round will be a huge boost. But this team plays well away from Bridgestone Arena as well, with more road wins in the West than anyone not named Vancouver. They can't afford to slip, though, because here comes...
6. Chicago (73, 21) Winners of the last 4, the Blackhawks have seemed to right the ship in time and could surge toward the #4 spot. If they stay at #6 and draw the Pacific winner, either Detroit or Vancouver will have a fight on their hands in round two.
7. Phoenix (69, 22) It seems like the Coyotes can't lose lately, winners of eight in the last 10. They would like to avoid another first-round matchup with Detroit, and can do themselves a big favor by winning the Pacific. It's definitely possible, although the Sharks have two games in hand.
8. Los Angeles (66, 22) Sinking ship. They give up the 2nd fewest goals in the West, giving them a ray of hope, but they can't score, either, making a deadline deal all the more crucial to their playoff hopes. Thirteen of the last 22 away from the Staples Center won't make the cause any easier.
Outside the top 8: The teams to watch are Dallas and Anaheim. The Northwest division teams will beat up on each other down the stretch, giving the Ducks an opportunity to leapfrog them. Dallas can also make a run, and winning the Pacific isn't a total stretch, either (they're only five points out).
Watch the Pacific Division closely the rest of the way. If the Sharks stay at #3, Chicago could take them out in round 1. If they fall and Phoenix wins the Pacific, all bets are off. The Sharks are my team to watch, especially if they get help at the deadline. Do I think they can win the West? No. But can they cause havoc among the top two? Ask Detroit.
The bottom line is this: The Preds could get some help from the Sharks, Coyotes and Blackhawks (assuming they can keep Chicago behind them) in getting second-round home-ice, which might just be the tipping point toward a deep run.