The student news site of Greater Latrobe High School

The High Post

The student news site of Greater Latrobe High School

The High Post

The student news site of Greater Latrobe High School

The High Post

NHL West


Western Conference

The 2010-2011 Western Conference has to be one of the most balanced conferences, from top to bottom, in recent history.  Out of the 15 teams that make up the Western Conference, 14 teams are still in the running for a playoff spot.  The 14th ranked St. Louis Blues have a winning record and 51 points, only five shy of the eighth and final playoff spot.  With almost a half season remaining, five points can be made up relatively easily with one hot streak from goalie Jaraslov Halak, who has a nack for getting hot when the pressure is on (just ask any Penguins or Capitals fan).  The Blues are only nine points behind the fourth-place Nashville Predators in the standings.  There are just nine points separating 11 teams in the West, so the finish to the regular season is bound to be exciting.  Unfortunately, six of the 14 teams that are still in the running are going to miss out on the playoffs, but hopefully the competitiveness will carry over into the postseason to make for some exciting hockey in the chase for the Stanley Cup.

If you look at the 14 teams in contention and want to pick a team that could win a championship, you have to start by looking at the Vancouver Canucks.  After a moderate start to the season, the Canucks went on a tear recently.  In December, the Canucks got points in 13 of their 14 games with a record of 11-1-2.  They began a 17-game point streak at the end of the month that bled into January. Although they are only 4-2-4 in their last ten games, Vancouver is carrying a two-game win streak and a five-game point streak into the all-star weekend.  The Canucks best players, Swedish bothers Henrik and Daniel Sedin are leading the charge for Vancouver.  Daniel has 64 points for the third-best total in the league, while his brother and defending scoring champion, Henrik Sedin has 61 points for the fouth-best total.  Ryan Kesler is having a good year as well, collecting 47 points so far, a total that is good enough for 13th in the standings.  The Canucks also have Roberto Luongo, one of the most solid goalies in the NHL.  His .924 save percentage and 2.27 goals against average is a reason why the Canucks are 23-8-7 while he is in the net.  The biggest concern for the Canucks might be that Alexander Edler, their top-scoring defenseman with 32 points, is to undergo back surgery and is to be out of the lineup indefinitely.

Elsewhere in the West, the Detroit Red Wings are being their old selves again.  The Wings are in first in a strong Central Division and second in the West at 66 points.  They have accumulated those points even with star center Pavel Datsyuk injured.  Detroit is getting the usual point contributions from their two leading scorers, Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom.  The Red Wings have a solid lineup, which includes eight players who have more than 25 points already this season.  When Datsyuk and his over-one-point-per-game scoring abilities  return to the lineup after the break, the Red Wings will challenge for the top spot in the Western Conference.  If sophomore goalie Jimmy Howard sharpens up his game a bit, Detroit looks like a Stanley Cup favorite.

The biggest first-half surprises in the West are currently ranked third and fourth in the Conference.  The third-place Dallas Stars are in front in a tough Pacific division.  The Stars have another solid lineup.  Brad Richards is currently leading Dallas with 57 points.  The young and promising Loui Eriksson has an impressive 49 points at the break.  Shut-down Right Wing, Jamie Langenbrunner, and a tough defensive corps will help the Stars continue to win.  Meanwhile the fourth-place Nashville Predators are having a nice run of their own.  Goalie Pekka Rinne has been playing well and has Nashville in a position to compete for home-ice in the first round of the playoffs if not a division title.  Defenseman Shea Weber has had a good year too, recording 30 points to lead his team.  Nashville does not have the big stars that some teams do, but they have grinded out wins all year.  It is a lot to ask for a goalie to stay hot, but if Rinne does so, the Predators can make their first ever deep playoff run.

The Anaheim Ducks and Phoenix Coyotes have had good seasons behind the good goaltending from Jonas Hiller of Anaheim and Ilya Bryzgalov of Phoenix.  These teams have proven that they are playoff-ready, but the offensive capabilities of the Ducks with Bobby Ryan, Cory Perry, and Ryan Getzlaf could be very dangerous in the postseason.       

Also surprising is that last season’s first-place team, the San Jose Sharks, have fallen to eighth place and the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks have fallen to seventh place.  The Sharks lost star goalie Evgeni Nabokov and have sputtered without him.  With talent like Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley, they should be fine.  The Blackhawks however, are in trouble.  After losing nearly half of last-year’s title squad to free agency and after an injury to star Marian Hossa the Hawks could miss the playoffs, but with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Towes, and Patrick Sharp in the lineup, they could just as easily win another championship.

 Any team in the middle of this playoff race could make or miss the postseason.  If I had to pick one team that is currently on the outside looking in that would end up making the postseason, it would be the Los Angeles Kings.  If goalie Jonathan Quick and offensive star Anze Kopitar continue their hot play after the break, the Kings could wind up in the postseason.  

It is still wide open in the Western Conference and it will be fun to see how the year unfolds.

Here’s how I see it shaking out in the West:

1.  Detroit Red Wings

2.  Vancouver Canucks

3.  Dallas Stars

4.  Anaheim Ducks

5.  Chicago Blackhawks

6.  Nashville Predators

7.  Los Angeles Kings

8.  San Jose Sharks

9.  Phoenix Coyotes

10.  Colorado Avalanche

11.  Minnesota Wild

12.  St. Louis Blues

13.  Calgary Flames

14.  Columbus Blue Jackets

15.  Edmonton Oilers

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