Since nine teams played their 50th game on Thursday, I decided to write two articles to break down these teams. Here’s the one involving the Eastern Conference teams. Now, time for the Western Conference, which say six teams play game number 50. We’ve got the Stars, the Red Wings, the Kings, the Predators, the Blues, and the Canucks to discuss. Let’s get to it.
Dallas Stars (21-18-11, good for 53 points): Well, their staggering total of OTLs has kept the Stars in the race for a while, but those days appear to be over. They are 3-7-0 in their last 10, and have injury concerns. Unlike the East, the West is very difficult and good teams are going to miss the playoffs. The Stars are one of the lesser talented good teams in the league, so they are probably in trouble.
Brad Richards leads the way with 57 points, with Loui Eriksson the top goalscorer with 21. At least he appears to be legit. James Neal has also improved upon his solid rookie season. However, Mike Ribiero has been disappointing, Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen are shadows of their former selves, and they miss Sergei Zubov, even if Stephane Robidas has been really good this year. Also, Marty Turco has a 2.84 GAA and a .905 SV%. There has been talk of him being traded, which would signal the Stars have given up on the season. Right now, they are in the midst of a changeover from their old stars to their new, potential stars. Clearly, it hasn’t been a smooth transistion, which will likely keep Dallas at home during the postseason.
Detroit Red Wings (25-17-8, good for 58 points): It’s been an… interesting season to be a Wings fan. It’s unusual to see them fighting for a playoff spot at this point of the season. Injuries have been devastating to them, but they are starting to sort of, kind of get healthy. Most experts still expect them to make the playoffs. I do as well, but it sure has been nerve wracking thus far.
Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are tied for the team lead in points with 37. Tomas Holmstrom leads the way with 15(!) goals. The Wings have been a low scoring team this season. Fortunately for them, Jimmy Howard has emerged as a legitimate starting goalie in the league. In fact, he’s been one of the NHL’s best thus far. He’s posted a 2.20 GAA and a .927 SV% up to this point. They’ll need him to keep playing well as they wait for the likes of Niklas Kronwall and Johan Franzen to return to the lineup. They’ve weathered the storm pretty well so far, but it’s time for Detroit to pick it up.
Los Angeles Kings (28-19-3, good for 59 points): The Kings are clearly ready to compete for a playoff spot. The only question is whether they are ready to actually attain one. Earlier this year that seemed quite likely, but now they find themselves in the dogfight for the last… well quite frankly six playoff spots. It is a tight race in the West.
Anze Kopitar has slowed down quite a bit, and now only has 47 points. Still really good, but the dream of him winning the Art Ross is long gone. Also, second in scoring is Drew Doughty with 38 points. Duncan Keith better enjoy his (potential) Norris this season, because Doughty is going to contend for those for the next decade or so more than likely. Jonathan Quick has been good enough in net, but his 2.60 GAA and .905 SV% don’t make him appear like a guy who can carry a team. He’ll need help from his defense and his forwards. They have the talent in LA, but the West might just simply be too tough this year.
Nashville Predators (29-18-3, good for 61 points): To be honest, I didn’t see Nashville being this good this season. I thought they’d be a pretty good team, but that they’d miss out on the playoffs due to a lack of offense. Well, the offense has been better than expected and with every other team in the Central aside from Chicago disappointing this season, they’ve been able to poise themselves for a playoff spot.
The Preds really distribute the scoring around. J.P. Dumont and Steve Sullivan lead the team with 32 points apiece, but nine players have scored at least 23. It’s still not a good offense, but it has been good enough this season. Pekka Rinne and Dan Ellis have both been solid in net, with Ellis slightly better (2.59 GAA, .912 SV%). There are no stars on this team (Shea Weber is probably their best player, but is hardly a household name) but they’ve gotten it done so far. Are they safe? By no means. However, they have all the reason in the world to be confident they’ll see the postseason this year.
St. Louis Blues (22-21-7, good for 51 points): Last season was a surprisingly good one for the Blues. Now, based on last year, this season has been disappointingly bad. The Blues are very close to falling out of the playoff race out West, and I certainly don’t have much confidence in them making it. A 9-14-3 home record will do that to you. As will struggling scoring.
Brad Boyes is the team leader in points with 33, and Andy McDonald leads in goals with 15. David Backes has made more noise for fighting members of Team Canada than scoring, and Patrick Berglund has been awful. The only players who haven’t disappointed this season are probably the goalies, Chris Mason and Ty Conklin. When everybody has an off year all at once, that’s how teams miss the playoffs.
Vancouver Canucks (30-18-2, good for 62 points): My predicted Stanley Cup winners have overcome early struggles to climb into a tie for the lead in the Northwest Division, and I have more faith in the Canucks than I do the Colorado Avalanche, especially since Vancouver has a +38 goal differential. They also have the NHL’s leading scorer and Roberto Luongo in net. This is a team that should win plenty along the way and make the playoffs easily. After the Sharks and Blackhawks, they are probably the third best team in the West.
That aforementioned leading scoring in the NHL is Henrik Sedin, who has 71 points. Second on the team in scoring? His brother Daniel, who has 43 points… in 32 games. Alex Burrows has the most goals with 23, and the Canucks have plenty of scoring depth this season, a rarity. They’ve also got good play out of their defense, with Christian Ehrhoff posting a plus-23 rating thus far. Luongo, meanwhile, has a 2.30 GAA and a .919 SV%. WIth the Sedins scoring like crazy and Luongo his usual self, the Canucks seem to have nothing to worry about. That Stanley Cup could still be theirs.