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The West remains the best

Friday, 02.22.2008 / 12:30 PM / Columns

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

For the third straight season, Western Conference teams are dominating their rivals from the East. Watch highlights from the Best in the West (Detroit and Dallas)
East is East and West is West, and in the NHL, the West is still best.

For the third straight season under the current scheduling format, Western Conference teams are dominating their rivals from the East. Through the first 122 of this season's 150 interconference games, the West has 69 wins to 53 for the East, a winning percentage of .566. That's an improvement from last season, when the West was 82-68, a .547 winning percentage, and from 2005-06, when Western teams went 79-71, a .525 winning percentage.

Only three Eastern teams have more than four wins against the other conference, and just two (Pittsburgh and Boston) are assured of a winning record. In contrast, nine teams in the West have five or more wins against the East, and each of the three divisions has exactly 23 victories over the East.

What kind of a difference can this make in the standings?

Consider that the Pittsburgh Penguins are 8-1-0 this season against the West, the best record of any team against the opposite conference. The New York Rangers have the worst record at 1-7-2. That's a difference of 12 points. The Penguins are eight points ahead of the Rangers in the Atlantic Division --meaning that the Rangers actually have a better record than the Pens against the rest of the Eastern Conference, but are paying the price for their inability to beat the West.

A comeback to remember -- Montreal's 6-5 shootout victory over the Rangers on Tuesday, in which the Canadiens rallied from a 5-0 deficit, was one of the great comebacks in NHL history --but not the greatest.

The Habs' rally marked the ninth time, including once in the playoffs, that an NHL team overcame a five-goal deficit to win a game. Before Tuesday, it hadn't been done since Nov. 29, 2000, when St. Louis fell behind 5-0 at Toronto before rallying for a 6-5 overtime win. The last time a team trailed by five goals and won in regulation came on March 3, 1999, when Colorado scored seven unanswered goals in the final 21:49 to stun the Florida Panthers, 7-5.

The Canadiens trailed 5-0 until Michael Ryder scored at 9:28 of the second period. But that wasn't close to the latest comeback, which came on Jan. 26, 1987, when Calgary was down 5-0 at Toronto with less than 14 minutes left in regulation --but scored five times in the final 13:58 to tie it, and won it 6-5 in overtime.

The most famous five-goal comeback win was the only one that took place in the playoffs --the “Miracle on Manchester,” when the Edmonton Oilers led Los Angeles, 5-0, early in the third period on April 10, 1982, only to see the Kings tie the game in regulation and win it in overtime.

Home games --- Florida's 5-4 loss at Carolina on Feb. 16 was the Panthers' 13th in a row at the RBC Center, where they are winless in their last 15 visits (14 losses and a tie). That's a lengthy drought --the longest current one in the NHL --but it's nowhere near the tortures the Pittsburgh Penguins once went through in Philadelphia.

The Penguins beat the Flyers 5-3 at the Spectrum on Jan. 20, 1974, ending a 10-game winless streak (0-9-1) there. Pittsburgh didn't win again in Philadelphia until Feb. 2, 1989, a streak of 42 straight games in which they managed only three ties. At one point, the Penguins lost 23 straight visits to Philadelphia --a streak of futility the Panthers would need a few more years to match.

Robidas

Finding the range -- Dallas defenseman Stephane Robidas was one of 15 NHL skaters who played in more than 50 games last season without scoring a goal. Robidas went goal-less in 81 games, though he did manage 17 assists. But this season is a whole different story.

Robidas is tops among last season's 15 non-scorers with six goals, matching his career high set with Montreal in 2000-01. He has those six goals on 108 shots, after failing to score on 106 shots last season. Five of his six goals have come on the power play --exceeding his entire career power-play total in his first six NHL seasons.

New York nightmare -- If the San Jose Sharks come up a few points short of the Pacific Division title, they can blame their trip to the New York area.

While their Pacific Division rivals went 9-3-0 in their three-game tours of the metropolitan area --including Anaheim's three-game sweep earlier this month --the Sharks took an 0-fer --losing, in succession, to the New York Rangers, the New York Islanders and the New Jersey Devils while scoring just five goals in the process.

The Sharks are the sixth team to be swept on their trip through the metropolitan area since the Devils moved to New Jersey from Colorado in 1982, but they are the second this season: Tampa Bay lost three in a row in late October.

Blake

Firing blanks -- Toronto's Jason Blake is having one of those seasons.

Blake signed as a free agent with Toronto last summer after a 40-goal season with the New York Islanders. The 40 goals came on 305 shots, giving Blake a career-best 13.1 shooting percentage --more than three percentage points higher than he'd ever managed before.

The fates may be getting even with him this season. Blake is fourth in the NHL with 261 shots on goal, including eight in Toronto's 5-1 loss to Buffalo on Thursday night. But he has just 11 goals, none in his last eight games, and owns a shooting percentage of just 4.2. Of the top eight players in shots on goal, Blake is the only one with a shooting percentage below 11 percent. He's at a pace that will give him a career-high 345 shots --but just 15 goals, a big drop from last season and his lowest total since 2001-02, the last time he didn't break the 20-goal mark.

 

Quote of the Day

This is a big year for us in a lot of ways. You can see Garth and management really trying to find that solution to get us into the playoffs and consistently have that. The pressure is great. You have to enjoy it. It just means there's a great opportunity ahead of you.

— Islanders captain John Tavares