Saturday, November 10, 2007


We’re nearing the quarter-pole of the 2007-08 NHL season. (Can it really be November already? Seems like the season started just last week…) Looking at the top of the Western Conference, one might think this was the “old” NHL, where teams could win simply by opening their wallets to procure the talent they needed.

The similarities stop there.

Look past the top three, and you not only see the effects of the “new”, salary-capped league, but also the infusion of youth and talent that some clubs have been able to assemble. In my estimation, there are three clubs in the West with serious designs on the Stanley Cup, two upstart clubs, and then a gaggle of teams hoping to squeeze their way into the postseason.


Detroit (12-2-1, 25pts): The Wings started out with wins in four of their first seven games. Since then, they have won eight straight, outscoring opponents 29-13 in that span. Henrik Zetterberg has played like a man on a mission, recording at least one point in all 15 games, and leading the NHL in scoring (12-13-25). Five of his goals have come on the power play, and he is winning 57.4% of his faceoffs. I haven’t even mentioned the names Datsyuk, Holmstrom, Lidstrom, or Rafalski (all with 12 points or more). Chris Osgood has won all eight games during the streak (8-0-0, 1.48 GAA). It’s early, but it appears that the only team that can stop Detroit is…. Detroit, or possibly….

Colorado (10-5-0, 20pts): After missing the playoffs last season, the Avs have stormed back to prominence. Ryan Smyth has worked his way into the offense nearly seamlessly, but the best part for Smyth is that he doesn’t have to be THE man in Denver. With Joe Sakic, Paul Stastny, and Andrew Brunette leading the way (15 G, 34 A between them), Smyth can use his skills in a complementary fashion. The Avs have yet to max out their talents, which should scare the rest of the West.

Minnesota (9-4-2, 20pts): My apologies to all Wild fans. I thought Minnesota would get buried by an early, road-heavy schedule. I was wrong, OK? (To my relatives in Minny… ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?) Niklas Backstrom (7-1-1, 1.88 GAA) is the real thing. Balanced scoring – six players have 10+ points – keeps opponents guessing. Of the three contenders, Minnesota is the longshot, but they could be dangerous.


Columbus (8-4-2, 18pts): Ken Hitchcock is working his magic once more. The jackets have a good mix of talent and grit. Rick Nash (16 pts) and Nik Zherdev (10 pts) lead the way, while Sergei Fedorov, Jason Chimera, and Jiri Novotny have chipped in with timely scoring. Netmindr Pascal Leclaire has been a huge surprise, going 7-2-0 with five (yes, FIVE) shutouts. The biggest question marks: 1) Can Leclaire continue this torrid pace? 2) Lack of scoring depth – Nash has 10 goals; no other Jacket has more than four.

Chicago (8-7-0, 16pts): While the Blackhawks mourn the passing of team president William Wirtz off the ice, there is a renaissance beginning on the ice. Patrick Kane (5-12-17), Johnathan Toews (6-7-13), and Patrick Sharp (6-4-10) bring scoring and loads of youthful enthusiasm to the Windy City, while experience is provided by Robert Lang, Jason Williams, and Yanic Perreault. The D-corps is solid, if unspectacular. The question mark is in net. Nik Khabibulin (5-6-0) has a GAA north of 3 and a save% south of .900. If the “Bulin Wall” can be patched up, the ‘Hawks might just scare somebody.


Dallas (7-7-2, 16pts): OK, so they lead the Pacific and would claim the No. 3 seed if the postseason started today. That means very little. To say the Stars are inconsistent would be an understatement. Dallas has yet to string three wins together, and has lost five of their last eight. Last week, the Stars lost three consecutive home games; surrendering third period leads in two of them and getting shutout by Phoenix in the third. The Stars are poster boys for mediocrity. 3-3-1 at home. 4-4-1 on the road. 5-5-0 in their last ten. 44 goals scored, and 44 goals allowed. There was no move to add scoring during the summer, and the normally solid defense and goaltending have become pourous. The only positive right now is the weakness of the Pacific Division. It might be the only reason the Stars qualify for the postseason – someone has to win it.

San Jose (7-7-1, 15pts): See Dallas above. The Sharks are fantastic on the road (6-3-1), but abysmal so far at home (1-4-0). C Joe Thornton is on a point per game pace, but forwards Jonathan Cheechoo (6 pts) and Patrick Marleau (5 pts) are far behind last year’s pace. Once again, the weakness of the Pacific may be their salvation.

Nashville (7-7-1, 15pts): Winners in three of their last four, the Preds currently hold down the eighth seed in the West. After winning their first two, Nashville lost six straight by a combined 29-9. The power play is in the bottom third in the league, and the Preds allow just over 30 shots each game. Dan Ellis has surprised as the backup to Chris Mason. The former Stars product is 4-0-0 with two shutouts.

Calgary (6-7-3, 15pts): I had Calgary winning the Northwest in my preview, which tells you how prescient I am. This is a head-scratcher. Last season, people were talking about how Miikka Kipprusoff had an off-year. What are they saying now? Kipper has struggled (6-7-3, 3.14, .884) this year. Has his new contract – a six-year extension – made him too comfortable? Is new coach Mike Keenan playing him too much? Is the defense that bad? Of all the teams currently treading water, I still think Calgary is in the best position to improve. From the quotes I have read, the Flames are still looking for a full, 60-minute effort (sounds familiar to those who follow Dallas…). Can Keenan find the right buttons to push?

Anaheim (6-8-3, 15pts): The Ducks look lost. They are a shell of their former selves. Anaheim has been outscored 49-39 so far, and have not won more than two games in a row. Injuries have played a role (Rob Niedermayer, Ryan Getzlaf, and Mathieu Schneider missed time), and the short summer combined with the London trip to start the year haven’t helped, either. The biggest problem seems to be that Anaheim just wants to tread water (so to speak) until Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selaane make a triumphant return. The Ducks need to move forward without them. NOW. It really is poor form for those two to hold their club and fans hostage just because they got a ring. It’s time for those two to decide. Play or go home.

That’s all for now. I want to wish everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving! Talk to you again soon.


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