"And oh the times, they are a-changin..."
Almost three weeks ago, I dissected the Western Conference standings and gave my thoughts as to where the teams might fall. Boy, did somebody hit the shuffle button on us! The landscape has shifted because of injuries and slumps, and the top eight teams are somewhat altered compared to the playoff-bound clubs 18 days ago. So I'll list them as I had them on Feb. 22 and tag where they are now.
1. Detroit. This was before "The Streak" was halted, and before the recent rash of Red Wings made their way to the infirmary. They're now fourth and in danger of losing home-ice in the first round. Preds fans are in love with this, and for good reason. Although the streak of playoff appearances will continue (they have participated in the postseason every season since 1989-90), they may have to deal with that disadvantage for only the third time during their current streak (90-91 and 09-10 seasons were the others). Red Wings Trending: Hands go down, and they'll stay there.
2. Vancouver. Nothing's changed here. Their magic number for clinching the Northwest is eight points, so they could have the division and likely top-two seed locked up sometime next week. Canucks Trending: Level. 4-4-2 in the last 10, they're not losing any ground, but they're not pickin 'em up and puttin 'em down, either.
3. San Jose. "In fact, this team could fall out of the top eight if it doesn't right the ship soon." That's exactly what happened to the Sharks, who are one point outside of the top eight and now six points behind division-leading Dallas (who, I might add, none of you picked to claim the Pacific in the poll with the previous post). San Jose's now fighting for their playoff berth, a far cry from recent seasons. But that's not to say they wouldn't be a dangerous eight seed. Sharks Trending: Toward the dentist's office. These Sharks are losing teeth, fast.
4. St. Louis. Thought they would slip because of the road-heavy remaining schedule. Instead, it's motivated the Blues, who have since taken over the Central, Western and Presidents' Trophy lead. Now, the Red Wings occupy the fourth spot. Blues Trending: Toward the Presidents' Trophy. Great season, but will the Presidents' Trophy jinx claim another victim?
5. Nashville. They've been here for a while and remain in the five slot, but are closing in on the coveted fourth seed with a 7-2-1 push in the last 10. And they have a game in hand on the Red Wings and Blues. St. Louis has to slip to give the Preds a peek at their first division crown, but passing Detroit is definitely possible. Predators Trending: Like the American Gladiators on The Wall. They're coming, fast.
6. Chicago. No change. Can't make up any ground, but not really under attack from below, either. Looks like they'll draw the Pacific winner and could shake things up in the first round if that happens. Blackhawks Trending: Spinning their wheels a bit. But not enough to get caught. They'll survive and probably stay right where they are.
7. Phoenix. Staying put. They've cooled off slightly to begin March, but hanging in the top eight. I can see a Yotes-Blues showdown in the first round. Coyotes Trending: Up, but perilous. They can't afford any sort of losing streak.
8. Los Angeles. "Sinking ship." Points-wise, they're very much still in it, but they've slipped to 11th and jumping teams gets harder late in the year. Colorado has ridden strong recent play to sneak into the top eight and the Avs currently occupy the final spot. Kings Trending: More like jesters. They've been overthrown and unless a revelation happens soon, they'll be out of the castle in April.
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). Dallas has seized control of the Pacific, but we can say goodbye to the Ducks after their previous two losses have left them eight points out with five teams to jump.
The only team I haven't mentioned is Calgary, who is treading water in 10th, just two points out. Hard to get a read on this team, as they are the West's poster child for the three-point game (tied with LA for most charity points with 12).
Stars Trending: Into the stratosphere, but shooting stars can burn out. If that happens, the lights can go out on them just as fast as they got to the Pacific lead.
Avalanche Trending: On shaky ground. They must continue strong play, or they'll come tumbling down the mountain, too.
Flames Trending: Fire's still burning, but for how long?
Wild Trending: Into the wilderness. They're lost, and so is their season, which will end in disappointment after such a strong start.
Ducks Trending: (shots fired) Cue the Duck Hunt dog.
Oilers/Blue Jackets Trending: Toward the draft. June can't come soon enough for these two.
With only 12-14 games remaining, things are getting tight. But these standings could shuffle once again in the final month. Hang on, folks. It's going to be a wild ride to the finish line.