After two week of NHL play, the cream has risen, but the rest of the Western Conference standings have tightened up. It looks like it will be an exciting race for the 4-8 spots as many bubble teams had good showings this week. With 6 teams within one point of that grouping, February will be a fun month.
Let's take a look at the current standings:
Chicago 7-0-2... 16pts
San Jose 7-0-1... 15pts
St. Louis 6-2-0...12pts
Dallas 3-5-1... 7pts
Columbus 3-5-1... 7pts
Los Angeles 2-3-2... 6pts
Calgary 1-3-2... 4pts
While the haves continue to dominate the have-nots, many of the games in the West are coming down to the wire as teams have combined for twenty overtime games this season, compared to the East's five. That should give you some indication of how tight this playoff race is going to be down the stretch. Chicago and San Jose remain on top of the Western Conference standings, as both clubs have yet to lose in regulation.
Division Leaders: Chicago, San Jose, Vancouver
Chicago continues to impress as the Blackhawks had a thrilling SO win over the Flames on Saturday to clinch this week's top spot in the standings. The ‘Hawks are both deep and talented, making them versatile and dangerous this year. Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa remain hot, but some of their secondary scorers have come alive as well making them all the better. Is there a hotter goaltending tandem in the league right now? Corey Crawford is 5-0-2 this season, boasting a 1.66 GA and a .934 save percentage. Ray Emery has also been impressive for the ‘Hawks, winning both of his decisions and having a .921 save percentage. ‘Hawks look like true cup contenders this year.
Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau were leaped frogged by Buffalo's Thomas Vanek and Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos for the league's leading scorers, but continue to put up big numbers for the Sharks. Thorton currently leads the NHL with 11 assists and Marleau leads the league with nine goals. The Sharks were finally taken down a peg at the hands of the Nashville Predator's Saturday night, but don't expect the Sharks to slow down anytime soon.
Vancouver continues to battle the injury bug, but has looked substantially better in their last two showings, shutting out divisional rival Colorado before beating the red-hot Blackhawks in a shootout. Perhaps the best news for the Canucks, however, is that forward Jannik Hansen was not suspended for cross-checking an official during the opening faceoff against the San Jose Sharks last Sunday. There is no way Hansen shouldn't have been suspended for his actions, but he somehow managed to escape the NHL Wheel of Punishment. Alex Burrows has been back to his old pest tricks as well, forcing Ryan Clowe to go bonkers in the penalty box. There is no timetable for Ryan Kesler's return, but the Canucks could use him.
St. Louis had a relatively quiet week as they manhandled the woeful Blue Jackets on Thursday night but then dropped a game against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday. The rookie sensation Vladimir Tarasenko continues to make his mark in the league, recording 10 points in eight games this season. Overall, the Blues had a pretty easy week with only two games in five days. Next week should be more challenging as they have Nashville, Detroit, and Anaheim visiting their house.
Speaking of Anaheim, who would've guessed the Ducks would be ranked this high at any point of the season? The Ducks continue to roll with impressive wins against Minnesota and Los Angeles. Anaheim's offense is rolling, trailing only San Jose, Chicago, and St. Louis in goals scored. They are getting timely contributions up front and good net minding in back. A stick tap to Nick Bonino, who notched the first hat trick of his young career Saturday night against King's goalie, Jonathan Quick.
Detroit finds itself in a familiar place this week: above the playoff line. Newly appointed captain Henrik Zetterberg has dazzled so far this season, tallying 12 points in eight games for the Winged Tires - including a hat trick this week. Outside of Zetterberg and Datsyuk, however, the Wings' offense continues to sputter along as the rest of the roster only has 13 goals. The Red Wings also are suffering on the power play, as they have only found the back of the net five times on the man advantage. They have a difficult two weeks ahead of them. Their roster will be tested in the upcoming days.
Edmonton is currently playing like a young team: dynamic shifts up and down on a nightly basis. The Oilers are producing up front, but have yet to find consistency on their back end as they have given up 21 goals and only scored 20 through eight games this season. The young Oilers are clearly dynamic, but will need to settle in and really harness their creativity and focus it properly if they are going to make the playoffs. The club also sent Magnus Paajarvi down to the AHL on Thursday. Paajarvi has been ice cold for the Oilers and is currently the darling of many trade rumors.
The Minnesota Wild finally find themselves above the playoff line for the first time this season, but all is not well in the State of Hockey. Like Edmonton, Minnesota is currently suffering from being frustratingly inconsistent. They started the week strong by taking the superior Blues to a shootout last Sunday, before winning against the Blue Jackets and trumping Chicago in a shootout. It looked like Minnesota had finally turned the corner but they ended the week blowing a lead against Anaheim on Friday. Minnesota has a lot of star power, but it remains to be seen if they have the depth on the blueline to make the postseason. Ryan Suter and Zach Parise can cure a lot of ills, but they can't fix everything by themselves.
Below The Line
Speaking of consistency, the Predators have been nothing but consistent this season in their ability to draw games out to a shootout. Five of Nashville's eight games have gone to shootouts; giving Predator's fans a little bit of extra hockey for their money. The Predators started the week on a sour note as they were shutout by the Phoenix Coyotes. The Predators followed up with an ugly win against LA and a very solid defensive win against the Sharks, both victories of course coming in the shootout. Bench boss Barry Trotz has to be saying nightly prayers to the hockey gods for good health, as Nashville's leading scorer's Martin Erat and Patric Hornqvist remain injured. Goalie Pekka Renne had a great two games in net to secure the wins. The good news for the Predators is Sergei Kostitsyn found the back of the net on Saturday night in San Jose and Brandon Yip continues to contribute timely goals for the Preds. Craig Smith and Gabriel Bourque dazzled fans this weekend with some truly outstanding moves in shootouts. While out of playoff position this week, the Predators are continuing to improve and shouldn't be out for long.
Also on the outside looking in is the enigma known as the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs stand at .500 entering the third week of the season after dropping two against Edmonton and Vancouver before blowing the Flames out and getting the Oilers back later in the week. P.A. Parenteau seems to like his new surroundings as the sniper has scored eight points in as many games for the Avs with six of those points being goals. The four year NHL vet is simply on fire right now. Colorado has a challenging schedule coming up with Dallas and Anaheim visiting the Mile High City. We will learn a lot more about this team in the upcoming games.
The Phoenix Coyotes have had an up and down week, defeating Nashville on Monday, losing in a shootout against the Oilers and splitting a home and home with Dallas. Former Predator Steve Sullivan was on a hot streak before going down with a lower body injury with five points in six games. The Coyotes face a murderer's row this week with games against Minnesota and Chicago before going out to the West Coast for a date with the Sharks. It is a tribute to the players that this team even has the will to play night in and night out - given the sale of the team appears to have fallen through. Dave Tippett is one heck of a coach for keeping his guys focused.
Have you seen any shooting Stars lately? The Dallas Stars sure are shooting... just not in the direction they want to be in the standings. After a surprising start to the season the Stars have fallen back to earth losing three games in a four game span. The Stars' offense is struggling to produce right now as they have only notched five goals in four games. Center Derek Roy continues to be on the IR, which is bad news for the Stars as he was pegged to be their first line center this season. Dallas will have to come out strong over the next couple of games as they face Colorado, Edmonton, and Anaheim this week.
Columbus, while improved from last year, is still a serious work in progress. The newly acquired players from the Rangers seem to be fitting in nicely, but the transition isn't seamless as the roster is still trying to feel each other out. Sergei Bobrovsky and Steve Mason have almost identical stats so far this season and will continue battling for the starting job in Buckeye Country. The Jackets have a very light week next week with only L.A. and Calgary on the docket.
The L.A. Kings are continuing their Stanley Cup hang over, as they dropped two out of three this week including a blowout to California rival Anaheim. When Jonathan Quick is chased from a game, let alone the first seven minutes of the game, you know something is wrong. For a lineup that is as star-studded as it is, the Kings are really a black hole for offense right now as they have only tallied sixteen goals in seven games. Los Angeles is still a playoff worthy team, but they really have to pull it together here and quickly if they are going to make the playoffs. That refocusing starts this week when they travel to Columbus and Nashville.
The last five seconds of Calgary's game against Chicago yesterday really sums up the Flames this year: so close, yet so far. The Flames have been battling hard every night but just seem incapable of closing the deal. Like the Kings, the Flames really need a couple of their guys to step up offensively as they are really struggling to bury the puck in the net. Calgary has some very nice pieces but they just can't seem to figure out the puzzle. Calgary has a long road trip ahead of them as they travel to Detroit, Columbus, and back to Vancouver this week.