Yesterday we took a look at the contenders and pretenders in the Eastern Conference
. Today let’s focus in on the Western Conference. Top to bottom the West has always been the tougher conference in recent years, but this season it is hard to argue the West is better than the East. Unlike the East, the Western Conference doesn’t have that distinct upper- and low-tier. Almost every team in West has made a run thus far only to eventually be pulled back to the pack. Coming into the season everyone expected Detroit, Chicago, Vancouver, and San Jose to be atop the standing. Some argued that Los Angeles deserved to be in that discussion as well. But teams like Minnesota, St. Louis, and even Dallas all have made strong cases for inclusion.
The top 12 teams in the West are currently separated by just 12 points. This makes the fight for home ice advantage that much more important down the stretch. Detroit and St. Louis for example are on the cusp for home ice in the playoffs as of today – an important goal considering they are a combined 30-5-3 on their home ice and 17-20-3 on the road.
As of right now, the Western Conference playoffs would look like this:
1. Vancouver Canucks (53 pts)
2. Chicago Blackhawks (52 pts)
3. San Jose Sharks (46 pts)
4. Detroit Red Wings (51 pts)
5. St. Louis Blues (49 pts)
6. Minnesota Wild (48 pts)
7. Nashville Predators (46 pts)
8. Los Angeles Kings (45 pts)
9-12. Colorado (45 pts), Dallas (43 pts), Phoenix (42 pts), and Calgary (41 pts)
Looking at the standings it is tough to see some of these teams sticking around until the end. There have been some wild winning and losing streaks – the most recent of which courtesy of Minnesota. The Wild have lost 10 of their last 11 games and have had enormous trouble scoring with just 1.45 gpg during that span. Their injuries up front definitely hurt and it just goes to show you the importance of staying healthy throughout the year, especially for a team that doesn’t have as much depth as others in the conference. Needless to say, I don’t envision Minnesota making the playoffs. This is good news for the Vancouver Canucks who have been on a roll the past month and a half going 16-6 and climbing atop the Northwest Division. The Northwwest is by far the least competitive division amongst the three and I look for them to have some easier games down the stretch compared to their counterparts who are battling it out night after night in the Pacific and Central. This could prove very helpful come playoff time.
So who gets in and who doesn’t? Who are the teams to watch going forward in this second half of the season? Believe it or not I think we have seven of the eight teams in the postseason. I still expect Minnesota’s fall from grace to continue but who will take their spot in such a competitive conference? I think you have to look at a team like Colorado who are young, fresh, and talented. The Avalanche are playing very well of late going 8-1 in their last 9 games. They also play against Calgary, Edmonton, and Minnesota in their division; three teams that aren't true contenders. Look for Colorado to continue its surge and reach the postseason.