easternjuggernauts

Changing dynamics in the Eastern Conference (and proof that it is very different from the West)

A few days ago, we discussed some very telling numbers that justified widely-held beliefs that the Western Conference remains superior to the Eastern Conference as a whole.

Ultimately, these discussions get a little tedious after a while, though. Hand wringing over playing in a tougher conference or division solves little (although, seriously, the NFC West is pretty pathetic). Instead, it’s wiser to simply make the best of the situation and opportunities you see in front of you.

Such talk also clouds what might be a more interesting development out East: a clear hierarchy is developing in the NHL’s weaker conference. Let me break the 15 teams into four “classes” to illuminate the point for you.

Upper class (the puffy-chested)

Pittsburgh Penguins (40 points.), Washington Capitals (39 pts.), Philadelphia Flyers (38 pts.) and Montreal Canadiens (36 pts.)

There is little doubt that the Western Conference features a higher level of overall competition, with even its low-end teams such as the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers showing enough gumption to put up a good fight every now and then. That being said, it’s still quite illuminating that after the Detroit Red Wings (37 pts. in four less games played than the Penguins and Capitals), the highest ranking team in the West is the Dallas Stars (36 pts.).

While I’m still a bit unsure about the Habs’ status as a truly elite team, there is a tangible divide between the four Eastern teams who would own at least one round of home ice advantage if the playoffs began today and the rest of the pack. The Penguins, Capitals and Flyers all boast deep lineups that could reasonably give any Western contender serious pause.

Perhaps Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are feasting on a middle-of-the-pack Rangers team and two awful ones in Long Island and New Jersey, but those two squads look like they’ll actually make the Capitals fight for the top seed after Washington cruised last season.

Upper middle class (the risers)

Tampa Bay Lightning (33 pts.), Atlanta Thrashers (33 pts.), NY Rangers (33 pts.) and Boston Bruins (31 pts.)

The next strain of teams aren’t at the powerhouse level, but aside from the Rangers, seem poised to become dangerous teams in the future as well as the present. Tampa Bay and Atlanta seem ahead of their time in some ways because they’re stocked with young talent and bold-thinking front offices; Boston is holding strong despite troublesome injuries, a relatively small amount of games played and can look to a light at the end of the future for various reasons, including the potential of Tyler Seguin.

Last season, the Flyers battled the Rangers on the last day of the season for the eighth spot in what looked like a bottom-poor East. This time around, there seems to be a profound difference between the top eight and the bottom seven. At least at this point in the season.

Lower middle class (stuck)

Ottawa Senators (26 pts.), Carolina Hurricanes (25 pts.), Buffalo Sabres (25 pts.), Toronto Maple Leafs (24 pts.) and Florida Panthers (22 pts.)

Again, this cluster of team seems like they share a similar outlook: glum, if not grim. How is it possible not to look at the Senators, Hurricanes and Sabres without a sense of waste? All three teams could very well put together winning streaks, but aren’t likely to be saved by some miracle trade. Each team has been in the playoffs with frequency but cannot seem to make it a consistent, comfortable process.

The Leafs and Panthers face slightly darker fates, even if their similar paths (inconsistent front office leadership, haven’t made the playoffs since at least the pre-lockout seasons, precious few marquee scorers) are viewed with comically disproportionate interest in their respective markets.

Lower class (the impoverished)

New Jersey Devils (18 pts.) and New York Islanders (15 pts.)

Which team is in a uglier situation?

The Devils play in a new building in Newark of all places, have been one of the league’s model franchises since the mid-90s and now find themselves with a teeming swamp of a disappointing season.

The Isles are desperate for a new building, have rarely sniffed relevance since the days of Mike Bossy and even suffer self-inflicted blows when dealing with the few media people interested in covering their games.

In the end, they are the poorest of the poor both in the East and in the entire league.

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So, after looking over the near-capitalistic East, the West seems like it would please Karl Marx by comparison.

  • The top-ranked Penguins (40 pts) best the bottom-ranked Islanders (15 pts) by a staggering 25 points in the East. Conversely, in the West, the Red Wings (37) only hold a 13-point advantage over 15th-place Calgary (24).
  • There really is no reason to call the teams ranked ninth or lower in the East “bubble teams” right now since they trail Boston by at least five points. Meanwhile, in the West, the 7-10 teams (Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues, San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators) are all locked up at 30 points and can only be separated by tie-breakers. The 11th and 12th ranked teams (Colorado Avalanche and Anaheim Ducks) are breathing down everyone’s neck at 29. In other words, there aren’t many off-nights in the West because just about every one is a threat. (Mike Chen takes on the “mega logjam” in the West at From the Rink.)

Ultimately, I think it would be interesting if the two conferences maintain these quasi-political parallels. Do you enjoy sports more when brutal parity wears down great teams until they are merely good or would you rather watch a few predators exploit weaker prey? If these trends hold true, the West provides the former while the East currently projects the latter.

And the best part is that if these trends continue, next summer could bear the sweetest fruit: an answer regarding which situation produces the fittest contender in the Stanley Cup finals.

Varlamov steps up with ‘phenomenal’ performance versus Red Wings

at Pepsi Center on February 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.
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DETROIT (AP) Semyon Varlamov lifted his team to a win on a night when the rest of the Colorado Avalanche were outplayed thoroughly.

Varlamov made 43 saves and Blake Comeau scored in both the third period and the shootout to help the Avalanche to a 3-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night. It was the highest save total of the season for Varlamov.

“He was phenomenal for us,” Colorado coach Patrick Roy said. “We had back-to-back games and got in late last night. Not trying to find an excuse, but they’re a good puck-possession team. Our goalie needed to be our best player for us to win and he was.”

Matt Duchene also scored for the Avalanche, who won despite being outshot 45-21. Colorado has won nine of its last 12 road games.

Jonathan Ericsson and Pavel Datsyuk scored for Detroit, which had its three-game winning streak snapped.

“I thought we played really good,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “I thought our energy level was great, I thought we won tons of puck races and puck battles in the `O’ zone, I thought we shot the puck well, we had net presence. … What you can really control is your process and I thought our process was great.”

The Avalanche, who won at Ottawa on Thursday, improved to 6-2 on the season in the second game of back-to-backs. The shootout went four rounds, and Comeau ended it by beating Petr Mrazek with a wrist shot to the glove side.

Datsyuk scored Detroit’s only goal of the shootout. Varlamov denied Dylan Larkin, Brad Richards and Gustav Nyquist.

Nathan MacKinnon had Colorado’s first goal of the shootout on the third attempt by the Avalanche – Detroit would have won if Mrazek had stopped him.

“We play a team game. A goalie can’t win a game by himself,” Varlamov said. “We scored two nice goals, and then in the shootout a nice goal by Nate saved us and then Blake scored on a nice shot.”

Duchene opened the scoring in the first period after the Red Wings were sloppy with the puck in their own zone. Colorado’s Mikhail Grigorenko backhanded a pass to Duchene, who scored from around the edge of the crease.

Detroit evened it up in the second when Ericsson’s wrist shot from the point deflected off Duchene and then skipped off the ice surface and past Varlamov.

Comeau put Colorado ahead in the third with a shot from the slot, but the Red Wings answered on a power play when Datsyuk backhanded the puck past Varlamov from in close with 10:09 remaining in regulation.

The Avalanche had 25 blocked shots to Detroit’s four, underscoring just how much of the game was played in Colorado’s zone, but the Red Wings came away with just the one point for the shootout loss. Nyquist had a great chance in overtime when he swooped in alone on Varlamov, but his backhander was stopped.

Detroit’s Darren Helm had a career-high nine shots on goal.

“He’s shooting from everywhere,” Detroit’s Luke Glendening said. “I was hoping one would go in for him, but I think it’s a good sign that he’s getting a lot of chances.”

NOTE: Detroit D Mike Green returned after missing two games with a sore groin, and D Danny DeKeyser played after leaving Detroit’s win over Ottawa on Wednesday during the third period because of a bruised right leg. … The Red Wings were short-handed for the final 92 seconds of overtime, but managed to kill the penalty.

 

Doan makes Jets/Coyotes franchise history

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The Arizona Coyotes/Winnipeg Jets franchise has a new leader in career points.

Shane Doan set the new mark at 931 points, taking over the franchise lead from Dale Hawerchuk thanks to a three-point night in a 4-1 Coyotes win over the Calgary Flames on Friday.

He scored twice — his first goal of the night tied Hawerchuk’s record — and added an assist. At 39 years of age, Doan has 21 goals this season and is on pace for his best season in that department since he scored 31 in 2008-09.

In fact, at his age and this stage in his NHL career, he could set a new personal best for goals in a single season.

Despite all the off-ice turmoil the Coyotes have gone through, and the speculation of that franchise possibly uprooting from the desert, Doan has hung in there.

That’s not to say he hasn’t spoken out at times about the constant controversies that have come up between the organization, the city of Glendale and the NHL.

In September of 2012, prior to the lockout, he had the choice to sign elsewhere. He narrowed his options down to Vancouver and Phoenix, eventually deciding to stick with the Coyotes.

No regrets.

Kopitar dominates with a hat trick to help Kings defeat Rangers in OT

St Louis Blues v Los Angeles Kings
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Anze Kopitar received high praise from L.A. Kings coach Darryl Sutter following Friday’s win over the New York Rangers.

All Kopitar did was score three goals on four shots on goal. He was also credited with five hits while winning 65 per cent of his faceoffs. His third goal of the evening with 30 seconds remaining in regulation pushed this game into overtime, where Tanner Pearson scored the winner for L.A. in a 5-4 victory.

“It was Kopi’s best game of the season, that’s for sure,” said Sutter, as per LA Kings Insider.

“Not just because he scored three goals, but it was his best game all around in terms of using his whole package. I mean, he was a pretty dominant player.”

L.A. maintains an eight-point lead on the San Jose Sharks for the Pacific Division lead.

The Kings’ victory came at a cost. Marian Gaborik left the game in the first period after being involved in an awkward collision. He did not return, and Sutter didn’t have an update on the veteran forward when the game ended.

Video: P.K. Subban tossed after on-ice outburst toward officials

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P.K. Subban was given a game misconduct on Friday after an outburst directed at officials in the final minute against the Buffalo Sabres.

Subban was furious after the puck got caught up in the skates of the linesman in the neutral zone before Evander Kane then picked it up and scored into the open net. That put the Sabres up by two goals with 55 seconds remaining in regulation and ended any hopes of a Montreal comeback.

Subban had some choice words for officials but his argument ultimately landed him with an early exit from this game. The Habs lost by a final score of 6-4.

“I looked around to see if he was going to blow [the whistle,]” said Subban, as per Sportsnet. “The puck is coming out of the zone. It hits the linesman. He’s standing there and sees the puck coming. It goes back to the player and he puts it in the open net. It just doesn’t make any sense to me.

“Are we supposed to smile and be happy after that and say, ‘Thank you’ to the linesman? I don’t think so. I’m a little bit disappointed about that, because I felt there was a minute left in the game [and] we still had a chance to score.”

The Sabres scored four straight goals between the first and second periods, chasing Ben Scrivens from the net 1:28 into the second period.