Happy Black Friday everyone, get outside and drink in the beauty of a day off and stay outta the mall! nationalhockeylink.com is going to see John Tavares and his NY Islanders vs the resurgent, maddeningly inconsistent but wholly entertaining San Jose Sharks. My lovely daughter and I will be attending in our new seats in Section 126 and remain ever hopeful of a Stanley Cup championship.
A few days ago, I said I wanted to analyze the the OutWest teams and do a little compare and contrast with the Eastern conference teams. As I mentioned in the previous column, the East is clicking along at a 57% winning percentage over the West, but what does that mean you ask? Other than sounding like a Clinton popular vote victory over Trump, it is indicating a change in style and strategy away from the “heavy game” identity employed by teams like the LA Kings, St Louis Blues and to an extent San Jose.
The Pens won the Cup by out skating their opponents and when the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Sharks in the Cup final, it was the opinion of many in the proletariat that fans wanted more speed and skill, and less hitting and goonery. Not so fast (pun intended), I for one prefer a lot of heavy checking and the occasional F ed up hit because I like the chaos created by the outrageousness of the hit and, its inspirational to the players on both benches.
That being said, the GMs of the league are drafting players formerly thought to be too small to succeed in the league. Their brand of skill and speed translate into more excitement and ultimately more goals for. Johnny Hockey Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames and Mitch Marner of the Toronto Maple Leafs are two great examples of electrifying players having success in the “New NHL”. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers. Folks are comparing him to Wayne
Gretzky, you mighta heard of him. The jury is still out on this sea change in the philosophy of building a team, and I think there is a little too much tweaking to the game we love. That is another column.
The Chicago Blackhawks are leading the Central Division and play a very up tempo game. They have a freakin All Star team. The St. Louis Blues have retooled, ridding themselves of their captain David Backes and changing their philosophy a bit by giving smaller faster players a larger role in their offense. Minnesota Wild, under Bruce Boudreau are in 3rd place and have a more offensive minded style, veering away from the trapping boring game.
The surprise of the West to me is that the Edmonton Oilers are leading the Pacific Division. A perennial last place team for the last 10 years, they’ve parlayed their consistently high draft choices and lottery pics into a very fast skill team and they have a legitimate goalie in Cam Talbot and that McDavid guy. The Sharks are in second and the LA Kings round out the top three in the Pacific.
To return to my theme of East being a bit better than the West this year, nobody is lights out lighting it up in the West. Many teams are hanging around in mediocrity, as in around a .500 winning percentage. Teams like Dallas and Nashville who went fairly deep in the playoffs last year are hanging on by a thread or currently out of a playoff spot. 20 games in at Thanksgiving, a traditional bench mark time for teams being in or out, these teams have a small mountain to climb to remain relevant to their fans and make the dance. Update: as of tonight the East vs West head to head competition lead for the East has narrowed to 60-52.