October’s in the books, and now November begins with even more questions than answers in the NHL’s Western Conference. So many injuries have hit the rosters that it’s beginning to raise concerns that some teams, like Vancouver, might not be able to withstand the losses of players and games early in the year.
Other teams, like Colorado and Los Angeles, have jumped out of the gates with a stronger showing than expected. Anze Kopitar leads the league in scoring, and Craig Anderson in Denver has been phenomenal (former Hawks prospect, too).
So let’s put it on paper. How do the teams in the West stack up after one month of the season, and how do they project moving forward.
15. Minnesota (5-9-0 10 pts)
The Wild thought adding injury plagued players like Martin Havlat would help them compete for a playoff spot this year, but the chance they took with those checkered pasts has come to haunt them. They’ve been outscored 42-31 through 14 games. Injuries and sloppy play have left Minnesota the lowest scoring team in the league.
14. Anaheim (4-6-2 10 pts)
The Ducks aren’t so mighty right now, and have fallen well behind the Kings in their annual competition to be southern California’s best insignificant team. Ryan Getzlaf has only scored one goal in 12 games, and the team’s third leading scorer is James Wisniewski. If not for Corey Perry and Getzlaf, the team’s 34-42 point differential would look a lot worse.
13. St. Louis (5-6-1 11 pts)
They definitely have the Blues in St. Louis right now, as they’ve only been able to muster a 2-5-0 record at home so far. Their offense has disappeared, climaxing with consecutive shutouts to end the month of October. Not a single Blues player has reached double digits in points yet, and Chris Mason is allowing 2.74 goals per game.
12. Nashville (6-6-1 13 points)
Until their last three games, the Predators weren’t living up to their name. They’ve been outscored 38-28, the worst differential in the Western Conference, and have had issues settling on a goalie. Their last three games, though, have been exceptional and they may have not only found a goalie, but their offense has come alive. Pekka Rinne appears to have established himself as the top goalie, benefiting from a 10-5 scoring differential in those three games (including a shutout of the Blackhawks).
11. Detroit Red Wings (5-4-3 13 pts)
They’ve struggled to stay healthy so far this year, already missing key components from last year’s conference championship team from free agency. With two of their top three centers out for between eight weeks and four months, the Wings are desperately seeking defense. They’ve come out of the gate averaging 3.50 goals per game, but are allowing nearly four. If there’s anything to the rumors that Detroit’s going to make a strong play to add Peter Forsberg, they could be a dangerous team.
10. Edmonton (7-7-1 15 pts)
The Oilers paid a lot of money for the 2008-09 Nikolai Khabibulin, but have seen the goalie that was regularly booed in Chicago the two previous seasons. The Bulin Wall has allowed 3.12 goals per game so far, and the offense has skated hard to keep pace. They’re very much an average team that will struggle to break into the top eight spots this spring for the playoffs without a trade.
9. Vancouver (8-7-0 16 pts)
What happens when you take Daniel Sedin, Sami Salo, Pavol Demitra and Roberto Luongo out of multiple games? That’s just to mention a few of the Canucks’ injury concerns to start this season, and they’re understandably struggling to stay above .500 through a tough early schedule. Sedin and Salo are both expected to miss most of November, so the ice will stay thin for the Canucks.
8. Dallas (6-3-5 17 pts)
If only they faced Cristobal Huet every night! Their inability to get it done in regulation has killed a team trying to get much-needed early wins without Mike Modano. They’re only converting 17.7 percent of their power play opportunities, perhaps the biggest impact of Modano’s absence. If they can get healthy and play defense (3.25 goals against per game), they could be a playoff team.
7. Columbus (7-5-1 15 pts)
The Jackets are in second place in the Central behind a strong start from Rick Nash, but are being outscored after a month of action (42-46). They’re going to need to step up their defense to allow their strong offense to shine. Obviously, getting Jan Hejda back off injured reserve should improve their defense, and that could happen as soon as Wednesday. They just lost Andrew Murray for four weeks, though. Like many teams, health is an ongoing issue.
6. Calgary (7-4-1 15 pts)
The Flames have the best converting power play in the conference (27.8 percent), but they’re allowing 3.5 goals per game. They’re an older, veteran squad that hasn’t received what they had hoped for from Mikka Kiprusoff in goal, but have been pleasantly surprised by former Blackhawks wing Rene Borque, who leads Calgary in scoring to date.
5. Phoenix (9-5-0 18 pts)
The Coyotes, unlike Edmonton, haven’t missed Wayne Gretzky for one second and have admirably played through their off-ice distractions to have a solid start. They’re third in the Pacific Division, and have held opponents to just over two goals per game. The NHL might have bought the best goalie in hockey in bankruptcy court, too, in Ilya Bryzgalov; he’s allowing only 1.78 goals per night and has sprinted out to an 8-3-0 record.
4. Los Angeles (9-4-2 20 pts)
Their offense, led by Kopitar, is as good as it gets in the league (51 goals through 15 games), but they’re not doing a lot of the little things right to jump into the top spot in the Pacific. The Kings are only killing 74.1 percent of power plays, and are only 5-3-2 in their last ten games. They’ll need to allow fewer than their current three goals per game to win their division, much less the conference.
3. Chicago (8-4-1 17 pts)
The Blackhawks are certainly talented enough to end the regular season in the top spot in the West, but haven’t jumped to that spot yet. Missing Jonathan Toews for two weeks hasn’t help a strikingly unproductive power play (17.3 percent), but their defense has been good around Cristobal Huet’s roller coaster season. Once they get Toews, Eager and Hossa back, watch out.
2. Colorado (10-3-2 22 pts)
The Avalanche have followed Anderson’s lead between the pipes and sprinted to an early lead in the Northwest, and could expand their six-point lead on a banged up Vancouver team. The perfect storm might have landed in Denver to begin this season, as the Avalanche are playing well while the rest of their division gets hurt and plays poorly. They could run away with their division before the Olympics.
1. San Jose (10-4-1 21 pts)
They took the huge gamble this summer in adding Dany Heatley to their roster, and it’s payed off on paper so far. They’ve scored almost a full goal per game more than their opponents, have the second ranked power play in the conference (25 percent) and third-best power play killing unit in the conference (85 percent). Chemistry will be a theme to watch as this season progresses, though… Heatley has never been known for making friends.