By Darren Eliot –
With a third of the condensed regular season already behind us, here is where I have the Western Conference teams. Our Red Wings are in for a fight, unable to get a consistent roster together due to injuries – this after already knowing that this was going to be a season of transition. Beyond the internal challenges, the Red Wings face an unbalanced schedule that makes four teams from one division making the post-season – as was the case last year in the Central Division – highly unlikely. So, even though I have them hovering in the Top 8, that might not be a clear indication of their playoff prospects.
More pertinent is the schedule that has the team headed west this week for the first time this season. The Wings travel to California for games against the Kings and Sharks, beginning a cycle that sees the team head all the way to the coast on four separate occasions. The telling portion of the season may well be the two-week stretch from March 13-28 in which the team plays seven of eight on the road and makes two successive trips out west. The Wings are hanging on right now, but they need wins this week. Getting healthy would be a huge help.
Anyway, a third of the way in, here are my power rankings. Since the conferences don’t play any crossover games this year, we’ll leave them out of the equation for now.
- Chicago Blackhawks: Record start only marred by the Jannik Hansen hit to the back of the head of Marian Hossa.
- Vancouver Canucks: Ryan Kesler and David Booth are back and Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider are coexisting in goal quite nicely.
- Anaheim Ducks: A 30-year-old Swede in goal has backstopped the Ducks to their Fasth start.
- San Jose Sharks: Cooled considerably after their 7-0 start, looking like the (inconsistent) Sharks of old.
- St. Louis Blues: Jaroslav Halak is hurt and Brian Elliott has lost his game. Questions suddenly in goal raises questions about the early season dialogue on the Blues as a legit contender.
- Nashville Predators: Pekka Rinne is in top form and Shea Weber has found his offense.
- Detroit Red Wings: Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have been phenomenal.
- Los Angeles Kings: Sluggish start has lingered, but Kings have played 10 of first 14 on the road.
- Minnesota Wild: Change the names and the cap number, but Wild still cannot score, having the lowest goals-for total in the conference.
- Phoenix Coyotes: Mike Smith has returned to form in goal and the team is on the rise as a result.
- Edmonton Oilers: Talented young group finding the going tough as goals haven’t been as plentiful as projected.
- Dallas Stars: Derek Roy is on a point-per-game pace since returning from injury, hitting the score sheet in six of seven contests.
- Colorado Avalanche: After a down season, Matt Duchesne is playing the best hockey of his young career.
- Calgary Flames: No Kipper, no chance.
- Columbus Blue Jackets: Conference-worst goal differential continues to plague the Blue Jackets.
Western Conference Award Projections (since we don’t see the East until the Stanley Cup):
- Patrick Kane
- Pavel Datsyuk
- Matt Duchene
- Corey Crawford
- Pekka Rinne
- Viktor Fasth
- Sheldon Souray
- Kevin Shattenkirk
- Keith Yandle
- Brendan Dillon
- Vladimir Tarasenko
- Justin Schultz