The idea that the Western Conference is so much better than the East as to be laughable is, at this point, well-trodden ground.
Of course it is. Miles better.
We have been constantly reminded over the last week or so that the East-leading Bruins, with their 32 points from 23 games, wouldn't even be a playoff team in the West. That is obviously a mind-boggling statistic, especially given the fact that they've enjoyed the benefit of playing Eastern teams far more often than their Western counterparts — i.e. 18 of their 23 games — but the fact remains that you don't get to pick the conference you're in unless you're the Red Wings.
(And by the way, that's starting to look like a very judicious temper tantrum on Detroit's part; their point total would be 10th in the West, and five points out of eighth.)
But in terms of quality, any reasonable observer would be inclined to agree that the one far-and-away best team in the East is in fact the Bruins.
Unlike the Penguins, who are second in the conference and have flattened out a bit in the last several games, the Bruins' division is actually somewhat difficult to play in, and the myriad problems with Pittsburgh's roster makeup simply don't exist in Boston.
At this point, no one should be all that impressed with the fact that the Bruins only beat the Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime on Saturday, but the way in which they did it — holding Carolina without a shot on goal from 9:13 of the first period to 11:56 of the second — was astonishing. This is what they do to the East's weak teams, and have shown an ability to weather whatever storms come their way when actual good teams run across them as well.
They beat the Sharks 2-1, the Ducks 3-2 in a shootout, and most recently edged the Rangers 2-1. These were all games in which they were coming off the first games of back-to-backs and generally pushed around at even strength, but still took six points from some of the league's best possession teams and gave away just one.
The question, one supposes, is simple: “Can that last?”
Statistically, no, it probably can't. Regression comes for us all, as the Maple Leafs have begun to learn in the last few weeks, and you therefore usually can't hope that you're going to win all those games. But the fact of the matter is that the Bruins also don't have to worry about that too much down the stretch. Though they've only played three games against the truly difficult-to-beat Western Conference teams (let's say they're Chicago, San Jose, St. Louis, Anaheim, Los Angeles, and Vancouver), the Bruins have gotten points from all three of them, losing only to St. Louis, and that in a shootout.
The thing is, all they have to do is start Tuukka Rask and score twice, and they have an extremely reasonable chance to win any game they play. That Rangers game six days ago was evidence enough of that: They were pounded in terms of possession, and it was one of those games you'd say they didn't “deserve” to win, but Rask being Rask (the best goaltender alive as it stands right now), they barely need to show up to get at least a point.
And maybe you say, too, that much like it's impossible for the Bruins to keep winning games against teams which outshoot them because they don't get off the bus, it's impossible for Rask to keep up his .945 save percentage. Probably it is. But then again — and yes this is about to become a “systems goalie” argument — when have the Bruins ever been anything less than stellar defensively, and consequently in net, since Claude Julien took over? The Bruins have had a goaltender in the top four in the league in save percentage in six of the last seven seasons, with only 2011-12 as the outlier. That season, they were still fifth in the league in goals against, and the team's save percentage came in at “just” .921; if it had counted, Rask's .929 save percentage in 23 games would have been tied for fifth, and Tim Thomas's .920 in 59 was tied for 10th.
The question, then, is how much better than everyone else in the East Rask actually makes the Bruins, and the fact that they have so many games left against the bottom of the barrel — having played only one of five against Buffalo and two of four with Florida and one of three against the islanders, for instance — leads one to believe that there are a great number of points still to be had.
The point is that even if Rask slows down, they still have the benefit of playing the East, and they've already built themselves a nice cushion from which to work. The same can't be said for some of the overachievers out West. That doesn't necessarily always lead to playoff success, but if you had one bet on a team from this awful conference to get to a Cup Final, it appears that Boston is once again the wisest choice.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: Tough bounce for the Ducks and Viktor Fasth. The goaltender was just out a month, then injured himself during warmups after just two games back, and now he's out as long as another month. Yikes.
Boston Bruins: Another reason the Bruins are far and away the team to beat in the East is that plays like this go uncalled.
Buffalo Sabres: I still can't believe they actually wore those godawful jerseys.
Calgary Flames: The Flames are apparently shopping 24-year-old center Mikael Backlund, and if you guessed that he's currently fourth on the team in corsi-for, you are a) correct, and b) acutely aware of the way in which Jay Feaster operates. Trade him for Colton Orr.
Carolina Hurricanes: Nice hands on the shortie Patrick Dwyer, awful passing on the power play by Milan Lucic.
Chicago Blackhawks: Starting to look more and more like Corey Crawford is going to be on the Canadian Olympic team. “Good news!” said every team that is not the Canadian one.
Colorado Avalanche: Gabriel Landeskog is 21 already? Good lord. Seems like just yesterday he should have been the first overall pick.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Say, the Blue Jackets have given up 14 goals in their last three games (the one in which they gave up just one was against Calgary so it barely even counts). That's probably too many. A whopping 11 of those goals have been allowed by Vezina winner and possible Russian Olympic starter Sergei Bobrovsky, on just 77 shots. Bad.
Dallas Stars: The Stars started the season with Alex Goligoski and Sergei Gonchar playing on the same pairing. Things did not go well. Once they were broken up, everything went way better for Goligoski. The lesson here is: Sergei Gonchar is old and bad now.
Detroit Red Wings: Pavel Datsyuk missed yesterday's game with what could be a concussion. That's really awful. The team is understandably taking all necessary precautions.
Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers have been great lately. Of course, it's also way too late to matter and is therefore counterproductive to getting a good, high pick, but maybe you just want the kids to keep improving under a stable coaching situation for once in their careers. Still, though, imagine them getting David Rundblad?
Florida Panthers: The Panthers exploited market inefficiencies to grab Tom Gilbert, Tim Thomas, and Brad Boyes for next to nothing (also Ryan Whitney, but the less said about that the better). Now they're some of the best players on the team. Damned with faint praise, sure, but still, there was a lot of wiggle room to add quality players with the cap coming down and few teams actually did it.
Los Angeles Kings: “Another loss for Kings' Ben Scrivens.” How many goals do you suppose he gave up in those two losses, which by the way were both in overtime? Yeah, it's three. Total. On 48 shots.
Minnesota Wild: Crazy situation in Winnipeg on Saturday. Niklas Backstrom was supposed to simply backup Josh Harding, as he was coming off a concussion and had practiced just once. Then Harding stepped on a puck in warmups, and Backstrom had to play half the game with no backup at all until Darcy Kuemper could come back from the airport, as he had been sent down. Then Backstrom stopped 37 of 39.
Montreal Canadiens: Wayne Gretzky said that if it were up to him, the reigning Norris winner would be on his country's Olympic team. That we're even having the discussion is asinine.
Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: More statistical analysis that Seth Jones is Good. I will read every story like this for the rest of his career. I don't care.
New Jersey Devils: Some kinda run the Devs have been on lately, eh? They've won four of their last six, and those losses have come against Los Angeles and San Jose. During that run, they've beaten the Predators (meh), Rangers (good), Penguins (good), Ducks (great), and Kings (great). Four of those were also on the road.
New York Islanders: Now we're getting stories about how guys WISH they could have played outside. Outdoor games are the absolute worst.
New York Rangers: Ryan McDonagh would really like to make the Olympic team, it seems.
Ottawa Senators: Jared Cowen didn't suspended for this. How does that work?
Philadelphia Flyers: Hey Jake Voracek, why don't the Flyers suck any more? “A couple weeks ago, three weeks ago, when we would have been scored on with that second goal and be up 3-2, pardon my language, we would [pooped] the bed. Right now, we were very calm on the bench.” Also, they've played the Oilers, Senators, Penguins, Jets, Senators, Sabres and Islanders, almost all of whom have been hot garbage for most of the season. Which helps.
Phoenix Coyotes: Kissy faces for Shane Doan, who hasn't elbowed anyone in the face yet this season. What a captain. Plays the right way.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Oh c'mon, Malkin. You only beat four of the five Habs on the ice to set up this goal. Get it together.
San Jose Sharks: The Sharks have allowed 12 goals in the first period this season. They've scored 32. Well then.
St. Louis Blues: This is still the best start in Blues history. They have three regulation losses. And they're still only tied for third in the West. That's absolutely amazing.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Ben Bishop might end up being on the U.S. Olympic team, which is a thing I never thought I would type in my entire life. A fun fact is that he and two other hopefuls — Cory Schneider and Jon Quick — were all in the same college hockey conference at the same time in 2005-06 and 2006-07. Which wasn't all that fair for everyone else, as you'd imagine.
Toronto Maple Leafs: James Reimer has to, at some point, stop playing so insanely well, right?
Vancouver Canucks: Usually it's a good idea not to only score one goal against the Blackhawks and hope you can hang on for a win.
Washington Capitals: The hockey world is still trying to get Mikhail Grabovski to feel bad about calling Randy Carlyle an idiot that time, no matter how right he was. Stay strong, kid.
Winnipeg Jets: Jacob Trouba will probably be back in the Jets lineup tonight, after missing more than a month of what had previously been a phenomenal start to his rookie season.
Play of the Weekend
Here's Notre Dame defenseman and Blackhawks prospect Stephen Johns hitting UMass Lowell forward Joe Pendenza so hard on Friday night they both almost go out of frame. This was maybe the biggest clean hit I have ever seen live. It was insane.
Gold Star Award
Minus of the Weekend
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “hambl” gets it.
Schenn x 2
Unless it's two Brayden Schenns, probably not. And even then, really.
Dad, I need you to drop everything and shave my legs.
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