Inside the Western Conference Standings – December 26

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Every now and then, we’ll take a look at each conference’s standings to see if there are any trends or quirks that explain why some teams are failing and others are overachieving. Obviously, these results will reveal bigger truths once we advance later into this season … but it’s still fun and interesting to take a peek at bigger picture numbers.

Click here for the November edition and click here for the October version.

For this month’s Eastern Conference inside the standings post, click here.

Let’s take a look at some of the trends – both good and bad – in the tough as nails West.

Detroit primed for a slight fall?

The Red Wings are struggling (for them, at least) with a 4-5-1 record in their last 10 and must deal with a month of Datsyuk-free hockey (maybe more). Another bit of bad news: they’ve played six more games at Joe Louis Arena than on the road, so they’ll have to bring their squadron of veterans away from Detroit quite a bit going forward.

I doubt that the Red Wings are in significant trouble, but they might struggle to keep the top seed in the West.

Chicago faces a grind.

After playing quite a few more games than anyone else to begin the season, the rest of the league is catching up to Chicago in games played. The good news is that the struggling defending champs still are in the playoff picture, but it won’t be easy. They will face four more road contests than games at home, but they’ve been OK (8-5-3) away so far.

Los Angeles still has a shot at the Pacific title.

With two less games played and three more home games left than road contests, the Kings aren’t out of the Pacific Division title race just yet. They might need to “learn how to lose” more effectively, though, as their one overtime/shootout loss is the lowest in the West. (Only the Florida Panthers are “worse” at losing, with a big zero in the “otl” category.)

There is hope for Phoenix and Calgary.

While the Coyotes have more reasons for optimism than the Flames since they’ve played in less games (33 to 36) and own more standings points (37 to 33), both teams have more home games in the future. Phoenix will play five more games at home while Calgary will play four more once the season is over.

But not much hope for Columbus.

Conversely, the collapsing Columbus Blue Jackets played 19 out of their first 34 games at home, so they’ll need to play five more road games than home games going forward. On the bright side, they’ve actually been a better away team (8-5-2) than home team (9-9-1) so far this season.

The Ducks have been busy, but inefficient.

While Anaheim’s 40 standings points places them in a virtual tie for eighth place, they’ve played the most games in the NHL with 38 so far this year. St. Louis only needs one win in four games to pass them, while Nashville – the team they’re tied with – got to the 40 mark in four less tries.

In other words, the Ducks’ seem like they’re in better shape than they actually are at this point.

***

After looking over the standings, I feel like the Canucks might have the safest divisional lead in the NHL. The Red Wings should be able to hold onto the Central crown as well, though, unless a heavy amount of road games causes their aging squad to break down.

The Pacific is the division that’s really up for grabs. The Sharks are nipping at the Stars’ heels while the Kings and Coyotes have more home games than road games remaining (and games in hand). Even the Ducks could pose a threat based on their streaky talents, though they are a long shot for the reasons discussed in this post.

While nearly every team has a shot at the playoffs, I think the Blues and Coyotes are two teams outside the top eight who pose the biggest threats to the squads who would make the playoffs if they began today.

While the East seems to be a conference of have and have-nots, no one seems particularly safe in the West. Not even the mighty Red Wings (to some extent, at least).

The Buzzer: Kadri sinks Capitals; Saros turns out the lights in Vegas

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Three stars

1. Nazem Kadri, Toronto Maple Leafs

Three goals and an assist helped the Maple Leafs end a two-game losing skid and send the Washington Capitals to their seventh straight loss in a 5-3 win.

The Leafs had just three wins in their past 10 games coming into Wednesday, so the win was a big deal. Kadri had just one goal in his past 13 games before going off.

2. Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators

Saros could easily be the first star after making a career-high 47 saves in a 2-1 win against the Vegas Golden Knights.

Vegas had little chance based on how well Saros was tracking the puck in this one. He made 37 straight saves (a busy night by its own right) after Max Pacioretty gave Vegas a 1-0 lead in the first period.

From there it was lights out on The Strip.

3. Alex Nedeljkovic, Carolina Hurricanes

First NHL start, first NHL win. Not a bad debut from Nedeljkovic.

The 23-year-old stopped 24 of 26 shots sent his way and the Hurricanes, led by Teuvo Teravainen‘s three-point night, did the rest in a 5-2 win against the Vancouver Canucks.

His only other NHL action came in 2016-17 when he played 30 minutes in a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, making all 17 required stops.

It sure would fill a void if Nedeljkovic turns into starting material down the line.

Highlights of the night

Here’s the filthiest save Saros made of the 47:

The fans still appreciate him, even if management didn’t:

Yeah, nice passing:

Factoids

Scores

Maple Leafs 6, Capitals 3
Canadiens 2, Coyotes 1
Wild 5, Avalanche 2
Predators 2, Golden Knights 1
Blues 5, Ducks 1
Hurricanes 5, Canucks 2


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Saros sets career high with 47 saves as Predators stave off Golden Knights

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Try as a team might, sometimes the hot goalie at the other end is just too strong on a given night.

Juuse Saros was that hot goalie, and he stifled the Vegas Golden Knights at nearly every juncture in a 2-1 win for the Nashville Predators on Wednesday Night Hockey on NBCSN.

Saros made a career-high 47 saves in place of Pekka Rinne, who was given the night off on the last day of hockey before the all-star break. And he was certainly up to the task, stopping 37 straight after allowing his only blemish on the night in the first period.

Ryan Johansen‘s ninth of the season came just 52 seconds into the second period to cancel out Max Pacioretty‘s first-period goal. Johansen returned to the fold on Wednesday after serving a two-game ban for trying to decapitate Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Scheifele last week.

Nick Bonino fired home the game-winner past Marc-Andre Fleury 3:01 later. Fleury, to his credit, was his usual self, stopping 25 shots. The run support just never came, despite all of Vegas’ best efforts.

Saros has been on a roll lately, winning four of his past five starts. His season didn’t start the way he would have liked and came into the game with a .908 save percentage. But after Wednesday’s performance, he’ll leave Vegas with a .914.

With the loss, the Golden Knights will have to wait to become the first team in NHL history to reach 30 wins in its first two seasons of existence. Vegas has lost two in a row.

For Nashville, the win puts them level on points (64) with the Jets for the top spot in the Central Division, although the Jets have four games in hand and are currently on their mandated player break. Nashville has won two straight and six of their past 10.

Meanwhile, there was an alleged chomp on the finger(s) of P.K. Subban during the second period. You can read more by clicking the link there, but the quick summary is that Subban accused Pierre-Edouard Bellemare of taking a bite after one of Saros’ saves right at the end of the period. Subban had his hand in Bellemare’s face, and there was no clear angle of the bite, but Subban’s reaction certainly made it seem like something happened.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Predators’ Subban accuses Golden Knights’ Bellemare of biting him

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We (allegedly) have a biter.

At least P.K. Subban seems to think so, and the video suggests something happened based on Subban’s reaction. What actually occurred late in the second period on Wednesday Night Hockey on NBCSN, or perhaps the severity, is still up in the air.

The incident happened in front of the Nashville net with less than a minute left in the frame. Juuse Saros had covered up the puck and Subban was engaged with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. The former had his hand over the latter’s face. Not long after, Subban pulled away, shaking off his glove and grabbing his fingers.

Skating back to the Predators bench, Subban appeared to be pleading his case with Vegas’, making a few chomping motions.

He then tried to make his case to the referee, who didn’t see the incident, nor did any of the linesmen. Subban appeared to have blood on his jersey and some sort of cut on his hand right hand.

“I mean, he bit me. My finger was bleeding,” Subban said after the game. “All I tried to do was grab him. I grabbed him by his head to pull him up and he bit me. That’s it.

“I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how I walk out of there with four minutes in penalties. It wasn’t explained.”

Subban said the refs tried to apologize after the penalties were doled out.

“My finger is bleeding, like I don’t know what you want me to do,” he said.

A shot of Bellemare on the bench following the incident showed him suggesting that Subban had his hand in his mouth and was pulling up on Bellemare’s face.

“I ended up with an entire glove in my mouth and I’m like choking so obviously when he put his hand in there he removed my mouth guard and then he tried to pull me up so he gets my teeth and then he’s acting on it,” Bellemare said after the game. “He started yelling like ‘I bit him, I bit him.’ I mean, I don’t know what you have in your mouth but like if you put all of your hand all the way through and you pull up you are going to feel the teeth, I’m like, ‘What the f— is he doing?’

“I mean, I don’t know why he’s going absolutely crazy there. I don’t know what to do with this situation, I have a half glove in my throat and playing with the back of it and pulling me up and there was no mouthguard so it’s like those are my teeth.”

Bellemare was a little lost for words but found enough of them to take a shot at Subban.

“It’s like, am I surprised? Not really,” he said.

Bellemare was not penalized on the play. Subban, however, was — for roughing and unsportsmanlike conduct following an altercation with Ryan Reaves not long after the bite.

Subban left the game to get repairs but returned for the third period.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Kadri hat trick extends Capitals losing streak to seven games

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The Washington Capitals gambled on this one.

With one game remaining prior to the all-star break and their mandated week off, the Caps were looking to end their six-game losing streak and head into the mini-holiday on a winning high.

Alex Ovechkin, who could have chosen to sit this one out and serve his one-game suspension for missing the NHL All-Star Game, decided to play. The team decided to go back with Braden Holtby, 24 hours after he coughed up seven goals in a 7-6 overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.

Neither choice paid off, thanks in no small part to Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri in a 5-3 win for the host Leafs.

You see, Kadri didn’t seem all that interested in allowing the Caps to end their streak against an equally struggling Leafs team. Sure, the Leafs didn’t have the six-game losing streak entering Wednesday, but both teams each only had three wins in their past 10.

His hat trick (and four-point night) sealed Washington’s fate.

Ovechkin tried to do his part.

He scored in the game, his fourth goal in the past two nights after his 23rd hat trick on Tuesday, to put the Caps ahead 2-1 in the second period. The goal was historic as it was the Great 8’s 1,179th NHL point, tying him for first among Russia-born players with fellow legend Sergei Fedorov.

Nicklas Backstrom gave the Caps a 1-0 lead on the power play in the first, a goal that was answered by Kadri’s first of the game.

Ovi’s goal regained the lead in the second, but two goals 3:08 apart gave the Leafs their first lead of the night.

The go-ahead goal was of particular importance, given that it was Auston Matthew who fired it home, ending a seven-game goalless drought. It was just his second goal in 14 games.

Kadri rattled off his second and third of the game in the third to give the Leads a 5-2 lead before Matt Niskanen made it 5-3.

Frederik Andersen had another solid game, stopping 41 shots.

The Leafs moved three points up on the idle Boston Bruins for second place in the Atlantic Division.

Washington, despite all the losing, sits second in the Metropolitan, three points back of the leading New York Islanders.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck