The Western Conference race is a close one, but who will come out as the No.1 seed when the playoffs start?
The Western Conference has been far superior to its Eastern brothers this season from a points perspective. With the exceptions of the Boston Bruins (95 points) and Pittsburgh Penguins (92 points), an Eastern team has not eclipsed 90 points on the season yet.
The top five teams in the West are all in the 90 point range. They’re currently the St. Louis Blues (99 points), who are THN’s pick to win it all this season, the Anaheim Ducks (97 points), the San Jose Sharks (97 points), the Colorado Avalanche (93 points) and the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks (92 points).
Of the five top teams in the West, they all have a legitimate chance of going into the playoffs as the No.1 seed and securing home ice advantage until at least the Stanley Cup final. It’s not likely that any of the teams contending for a playoff spot in the West aside from these five are going to end up as No.1, unless a miraculous winning streak occurs, so who will end up as the No.1 seed?
The Blues have one of the deepest teams in the NHL and made a big splash at the trade deadline by adding goaltender Ryan Miller. They don’t have one particular skater who is their go-to guy for points, but they’re efficient at putting the puck in the net (3.21 goal for per game, good for second in the league) and they like to spread around the distribution. Their power play is in the top ten, they’re incredibly efficient on the penalty kill (2nd in the NHL) and their goaltending is top notch. Their schedule for the remainder of the season isn’t terribly tough either. The Blues have a couple of key match-ups against the Blackhawks on March.19 and April.6 and a few tricky ones against Toronto, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Colorado left on the schedule.
The Ducks have been soaring all season long, thanks to outstanding seasons from captain Ryan Getzlaf and winger Corey Perry. They score at a high clip (3.18 goals per game) and are doing a good job at keeping pucks out of the net (2.44 goals against per game), while Jonas Hiller and Frederik Andersen have been solid in goal. The Ducks could use the last season of Teemu Selanne as inspiration to take the first seed, fly through the playoffs and win it all.
The San Jose Sharks are on a six-game winning streak, are almost unbeatable at home and know how to win, but their issue in previous seasons has been winning in the playoffs. They’ve got aging legs in Joe Thornton (34), Patrick Marleau (34), Dan Boyle (37) and Brad Stuart (34) in key roles, but Thornton and Marleau are still producing and Joe Pavelski is having a career year. Antti Niemi is tied for the league lead for wins by a goaltender and the Sharks have something to prove to the naysayers out there who think they’re going to choke yet again when it counts.
The Avalanche has been the league’s biggest surprise, but they’ve proven that they’re no fluke. Patrick Roy is getting the most out of an incredibly talented squad mixed with youth (Nathan Mackinnon, Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O’Reilly) and seasoned veterans (Paul Stastny and Maxime Talbot). Semyon Varlamov has been brilliant in net and Colorado can score (3.03 goals per game), but are only middle of the pack in keeping the puck out of the net. They’ve also got a number of tough games on their schedule leading up to the playoffs, including two games against San Jose, as well as match-ups against Montreal, Boston, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Anaheim.
Finally, you can never overlook the defending champions, especially when they have Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane anchoring their line-up. The Hawks also saw the return of Marian Hossa to the line-up tonight against Detroit and he had an immediate impact, scoring a goal and adding two assists. Factor in Patrick Sharp (29 goals and 65 points), the team’s strong defence and Corey Crawford in net and Chicago is dangerous. They’ve shown in recent years they are built for the playoffs and you can expect them to go deep this season as well.
As for this writer’s opinion, I’m going with St. Louis to take the No.1 seed in the West and I’m sticking to the guns that I drew in the pre-season with the staff of THN (Ken Campbell aside) and also selecting them to win the Cup.