Does the West have a 'true' favorite?

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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?

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.