Breaking down the Wild West
OK, I haven't blogged in awhile, but it has taken me this long to study the Western Conference schedule and put it in perspective. Suffice it to say, I'm far from a math or statistics major and the combinations and permutations involving six teams chasing the final four playoff positions would challenge even a MENSA member.
What I do know is that if you are a hockey fan, though, the final 30 days of the regular season is sure to be action packed and heart rending -- depending on your particular allegiances. If you root for either the Vancouver Canucks or the Edmonton Oilers, your stretch of significant games begins with a scheduling anomaly that has the two teams playing three-consecutive games this week. It is a mini-series with a playoff feel that will certainly have playoff implications. In the five meetings this season, the Oilers have won them all and to continue that trend would quite possibly doom a down Canucks squad -- a team reeling due to injury and as a result winners of just one game in their previous seven.
The other side of the Canucks' schedule is that they control their own destiny more so than the others in the West from the standpoint that they play the most games head-to-head versus the other playoff candidates. In addition to the three-game series with the Oilers, the Canucks play the L.A. Kings twice, the Ducks twice, the Sharks twice and wrap up their season on home ice Saturday, April 15 against the Colorado Avalanche. Canuck fans will have some time to worry and wonder what if -- if the race remains close to the end -- as the other five teams all play two nights later on the next-to-last regular-season entry, including the Avs in Edmonton and the Kings in San Jose.
|The Sharks face the Kings on the last day of the regular season.|
Speaking of those two teams, it seems only fitting that they meet in the 82nd game of the season since the Sharks have had games in hand for most of the year. Currently, the Sharks have 16 games remaining, while the Kings are down to 12. That is a wide disparity at this time of year and one that the Sharks hope to capitalize on. As a percentage of their total games remaining, the Sharks play the most times outside the six-team group, meaning that much of the ground they hope to pick up in the standings isn't necessarily predicated on head-to-head matchups.
Of course, games in hand are meaningless if you don't win and to that end the Sharks embark on a crucial five-game swing through the Midwest this week. They hit St. Louis, Detroit, Minnesota and Chicago in a six-night span before playing in Columbus next Tuesday. After that run, more than half of their remaining games will come against the others five in the chase. Keep in mind how quickly things can change in just one night, never mind over a five-game road trip: Monday night the Ducks beat the Dallas Stars, 2-1, and moved from the ninth position to sixth.
That fact isn't lost, I'm sure, on the Avs as they moved to within two points of the Calgary Flames atop the Northwest Division. And I didn't even factor in that possibility -- too many ramifications for one old goalie to consider. All I know is that the final meeting of the season on April 13 when the Flames host the Avalanche is a game worth anticipating.