For most of this season, the Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks clearly have been the class of the Western Conference. Yet, now, both teams face some serious questions.
For Chicago, the problem is a mixture of bad luck, goalie worries and late game struggles. As I just wrote, the team is without three of their defensemen because of injuries and is on a three game losing streak.
Unlike Chicago, most of the Sharks’ wounds appear to be self-inflicted (although they must miss the heady work of underrated defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic). They, too, are on a three game losing streak highlighted by a tremendous beating at the hands of the Dallas Stars, who humbled them 8-2. That’ll Cheech You of Fear the Fin had this to say about the team.
Talking with a coworker yesterday, the old adage “at least we’re getting the slump out of the way now” came up. Although that could be an apt point, it didn’t hold true for the team last year. This isn’t just a slump; the team is facing some major personnel issues and an overall lack of effort. That’s not to say that these issues can’t be fixed, but as of this point in the season, I’m not seeing it.
Now, it’s natural for people who cover a team everyday to truly feel each win and loss that much more. Ultimately, I think that Chicago and San Jose both can bounce back from these obstacles (although the Blackhawks better hope that Brent Seabrook’s problems are minimal.)
Still, I have to wonder: is there a true favorite to come out of the West if Chicago and San Jose falter? Let’s look at some of the other West contenders.
Vancouver: The odd thing about the Canucks is that Roberto Luongo might be the problem right now. According to the Vancouver Sun, Luongo’s been pulled a stunning four times in his last 13 starts.
Phoenix: When is this team going to “show up on the radar”? They might just be the hottest team in the NHL right now with a six game winning streak. It’s obvious that they’re more than just a feel-good story.
Colorado/Los Angeles/Nashville: You have to hand it to these three scrappy teams for doing so well this season, but I don’t see them getting to the Cup Finals this year.
Detroit: You might say that the Red Wings have “finally woken up” with a three game winning streak, but I think a lot of that comes with getting healthy. No one wants to see this team in the first round.
Calgary: Who knows if the Flames will even make the playoffs? Then again, a team with Kipper, Bouwmeester and Iginla could be dangerous if they indeed make it. I doubt it, but it’s at least … slightly plausible.
Could one of these teams steal the West or will it be Chicago or San Jose as it seemed for much of this season?