Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.
Do yourselves a favor: Go to Vegas right now and put every cent you have on the Western Conference champions winning the Stanley Cup.
The League average for games played is now 41 games, and thus we have a fairly good picture of the 2009-10 version of the NHL. That picture is not pretty for the Eastern Conference.
If you look at the entire league table, you'll notice that nine of the top 15 teams in the NHL are from the Western Conference. That doesn't sound like a whole lot, of course, but if you whittle it down to the bottom 10 in the league, seven are in the East.
Yes, before all the New Jersey and Washington fans start emailing me death threats (again), those are two perfectly fine teams you have there. They would certainly be competitors for home ice if they played in the Western Conference. I would also include the Penguins as a legitimately good team, though mainly by default.
Otherwise, though? The Eastern Conference's playoff spots are littered with inherently flawed, mediocre teams that, were they in the Western Conference, would be cannon fodder at best.
(Coming Up: Ilya Kovalchuk's(notes) big decision; Jonathan Toews(notes) gets his lunch handed to him; Rick DiPietro(notes) gets lit up in the AHL; the Flames' 40th "Great Top Line" of the last three years; Jarret Stoll's(notes) long-awaited return; the Oilers settle all debts with angry restaurateurs; an end in sight for the Ilya Kovalchuk contract drama; why God wants to watch the Stars; and Paul Bissonnette's(notes) horrible taste in music.)
Conversely, the Red Wings, which aren't a Western Conference playoff team right now, would be a division leader regardless of the division into which they were inserted.
The difference in quality gets more obvious if you look at the numbers in matchups between East and West. Overall, Western Conference teams have dominated those in the East to the tune of 84 wins, 44 losses, and 17 overtime losses.
That's 185 points taken from 145 games, or the points-per-game equivalent of a 105-point season, give or take.
In fact, there are only three teams in the West that are below .500 against Eastern Conference opponents. Apart from St. Louis, who's not good against anybody, both of the remaining teams' records are bogged down only by sub-.500 records against the Atlantic Division, the only reasonably good one in the East.
The East, meanwhile, is 51-68-16 for 118 points, or the equivalent of a 67-point season. For reference, the Lightning had 66 last season and finished 29th in the League. This year's Oilers, the runaway worst team in the Western Conference, are on pace for 70.
Just think about that.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: Evgeny Artyukhin(notes) didn't play a game between Dec. 8 and 29, largely because he turned the puck over constantly and didn't use his size effectively. But now he's getting more time and making good on it, as he set up the Ducks' only goal in a 3-1 loss to Nashville.
Boston Bruins: Yes, Miroslav Satan(notes) signed with the Bruins for the remainder of the year at $700,000 prorated. He started practicing with the team Sunday, wearing No. 81. He's not expected to play for seven to 10 days as he gets back to game shape. Good signing. The Bruins have scored two goals or fewer in 21 of their 40 games this year so they needed, well, anybody.
Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres have been unhappy with their recent spate of slow, frustrating starts. Of course, they're 3-0-0 in their last three games, so I don't know what they're complaining about.
Calgary Flames: Oh my, the Flames might just have found a cohesive, effective top line after all ('course they've said that about a million times in the last three or four years). The line of Jarome Iginla(notes), Curtis Glencross(notes) and Daymond Langkow(notes) combined for all three Calgary goals. Great.
Carolina Hurricanes: Hope Jiri Tlusty(notes) and Zach Boychuk(notes) didn't get too comfortable. They were both sent down after yesterday's 2-1 OT win over the Rangers, this just two days after being called up. Tlusty had the primary assist on Tom Kostopulous' goal in regulation, but I guess that doesn't matter.
Colorado Avalanche: You wanna get shocked? Have a look at Jibblescribbits' Avs Team of the Decade. Tanguay-Sakic-Hejduk up front, a Foote-Blake pairing and some guy named Roy in net. This is really surprising stuff.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Jared Boll(notes) and Alex Picard were both injured in Saturday's game against the Avalanche. Picard will miss Tuesday's game in Vancouver, but they're waiting until today to see if Boll will be good to go. Because this team needed more problems.
Dallas Stars: The Winter Classic at Cowboy Stadium would be ... interesting. And of course when I say interesting I mean poorly-attended (as far as capacity goes) and the game itself would be ugly. The temperature in Dallas is going to be mid-40s all week.
Detroit Red Wings: Ville Leino(notes) might've scored the game-winner on Thursday against Colorado, but the only reason he was out there at all was that he was playing hard after having been scratched in the previous game.
Florida Panthers: The Panthers had been hinting for some time that David Booth(notes) would be back from his concussion this month. He's been skating and working out and all that, so it didn't seem out of the realm of possibility. But now, Pete DeBoer says it's, "a wild-card factor whether or not he comes back" at all this year. Yikes.
Los Angeles Kings: Jarret Stoll will be back tonight against the Sharks after missing the last seven games. To start, he's only going to get limited even-strength minutes on the fourth line, which you might not think makes a lot of sense. But hey, the other lines are playing okay, so there's no need to rush him back or anything.
Minnesota Wild: Chuck Fletcher's in an interesting situation. He has nine guys that will be unrestricted free agents come June on his roster. Will he trade ‘em? Keep ‘em? Who knows? Not him. Hint: If you're fretting over whether to keep Owen Nolan(notes) or Eric Belanger(notes), you have big problems. Chuck, blow it up, buddy. This team isn't going anywhere.
Montreal Canadiens: Remember that Carey Price(notes) mask from last week that had a bid in the mid-$6,000 range? Yeah, that one and another ended up being auctioned off for a total of $27,650. The one from last week accounted for more than $20,000 of that.
Nashville Predators: For the past six games, Barry Trotz has alternated between Pekka Rinne and Dan Ellis between the pipes, because before that the Preds had allowed three goals or more for close to two weeks. And now they've allowed just two goals in the last two games, so what's the plan, Barry? "We'll look at teams we're playing and who's had success against certain teams. Maybe that's the decision we go with or we just keep rotating. But if you're asking who's playing the next game, I haven't even thought about it." Smart.
New Jersey Devils: Decent way for Jamie Langenbrunner(notes) to celebrate being named to the US Olympic team. He netted his first career hat trick against the Wild in his home state (his hometown of Cloquet is a two-and-a-half hour drive from St. Paul) with 200 of his friends and family in the building.
New York Islanders: Rick DiPietro's getting closer to coming back. He allowed three goals on 28 shots in a 3-2 loss for the Isles' AHL affiliate on Saturday, then four on 39 in another loss on Sunday. So seven goals against in two AHL games. Great.
New York Rangers: The Rangers continue to get good news for their future as their prospects are dominating at the World Juniors. Derek Stepan has three goals and eight assists to lead all scorers in the tournament prior to Sunday's games.
Ottawa Senators: Prior to yesterday's game, the Senators had been just 1-for-30 on the power play in their previous nine games and were dead last in power play goals (with just 22!) in the entire league. So you'd figure that, with seven goals against the Flyers, they'd at least get a couple on the PP, right? Nope, 0-for-3.
Philadelphia Flyers: That Flyers/Sens game was so weird, too. The teams combined for goals and both starting goalies got the hook. Flyers goalscorers included Ian Laperriere(notes), Darroll Powe(notes) and Arron Asham(notes). They also came back from a three-goal deficit only to then lose by three.
Phoenix Coyotes: This story is all about how Paul Bissonnette works as the club's dressing-room DJ, but it completely buries the most important part. Says Scottie Upshall(notes) (emphasis mine): "Bis adds his taste, which is a little dance, a little Lady Gaga, Britney Spears. It's good." Oh, Paul Bissonnette, what are we gonna do with you?
Pittsburgh Penguins: After the Penguins lost to Tampa on Saturday night, paramedics rushed a stretcher into the Penguins coaches' room and everyone refused comment. As it turns out, assistant coach Mike Yeo was hospitalized due to an unspecified illness and missed last night's game in Sunrise.
San Jose Sharks: For some reason, the Sharks demoted Jason Demers(notes) to Worcester of the AHL, who then immediately demoted him to Stockton of the ECHL. No one seems to know why yet. My guess: San Jose plays L.A. tonight and they didn't want to fly him across the country for a day before flying him back when they call him up again.
St. Louis Blues: John Davidson's comments about the outgoing Andy Murray were nicer than they should have been. I imagine that the players wouldn't have been so kind. I hope they slid a report card under his door.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Damian Cristodero handed out his midseason report card, and his MVP was Marty St. Louis, who leads the team with 45 points. Oh it wasn't? Okay, so it was Steven Stamkos(notes), who has 21 goals to lead the team and is tied for seventh in the league, right? Wait, it wasn't him either? No, it was Ryan Malone(notes). For some reason.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Mikhail Grabovsky is out four to six weeks with a fractured wrist. Wayne Primeau(notes) is out two to four weeks with a bum knee. The Leafs have lost five of the last six. There's no end in sight.
Vancouver Canucks: Mathieu Schneider(notes) will accept his demotion to Manitoba, just to keep cashin' those paychecks. Meanwhile Kevin Bieksa's(notes) lacerated leg will keep him out for about three months, so the Canucks' D is lookin' good.
Play of the Weekend
Gold Star Award
Minus of the Weekend
Perfect HFBoards trade proposal of the week
User 'The Slave' tees up this beauty between Buffalo and Toronto.
What, like the man in the $6,000 suit is going to hold the door? Come on!