RANK: 1ST in Western Conference
MVP: Patrick Kane (26 GP, 14 G, 16 A, 30 P)
SURPRISE: Ray Emery (13 GP, 10-0-0, 2.28 GAA, .917 SV)
The fact the Chicago Blackhawks are at the top of the Western Conference standings shouldn’t raise an eyebrow. How they’ve gotten there, on the other hand, has.
The Blackhawks survived the first 24 games of the year without a loss in regulation, setting a new record for consecutive points from the onset of a season schedule. The record, falling short of the 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers’ record of 35 games in a row with at least a point.
Both ends of the ice have to be functioning on all cylinders for such a streak to occur and that’s the case for Chicago this season. Goaltending has been an obvious strength for the club between Ray Emery’s undefeated record and starter Corey Crawford’s miniscule 1.91 goals against average.
The Blackhawks also have a conference-best 85 goals to their credit, thanks in part to the double-digit efforts from Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. Five other forwards have at least five goals to add to the scoring depth of the leading team out West.
ST. LOUIS BLUES
RANK: 5TH in Western Conference
MVP: Alex Pietrangelo (26 GP, 5 G, 13 A, 18 P)
SURPRISE: Patrik Berglund (26 GP, 13 G, 4 A, 17 P)
Projected by many to be the toast of the Western Conference after emerging as the Central Division’s best a year ago, the St. Louis Blues have been singing just that this season.
A year removed after Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak split the William Jennings Trophy, neither goaltender has been able to find a semblance of the same success this season. Elliott’s 3.65 goals against average isn’t complimented well with Halak’s .881 save percentage. With neither goalie being the answer, the team has turned to rookie Jake Allen, who has won five of six starts this season.
If the Blues are able to get solid, if unspectacular goaltending for the rest of the season, they could round into shape. The offense hasn’t been a problem in St. Louis, scoring the third most goals in the conference. If the team is able to fish fewer pucks out of their own net, the Blues could rise in the West.
DETROIT RED WINGS
RANK: 7TH in Western Conference
MVP: Pavel Datsyuk (26 GP, 8 G, 18 A, 26 P)
SURPRISE: Damien Brunner (27 GP, 10 G, 9 A, 19 P)
The loss of longstanding players Niklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom has hurt the Detroit Red Wings – but it hasn’t crippled them.
The Red Wings have regrouped from key losses and their top players have been just that, helping them to the fourth-best record in the Western Conference after finishing fifth a year ago. The likes of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have continued to pace the Red Wings offensively, while the offseason addition of Damien Brunner has paid off in spades. The 27-year-old Swiss forward leads Detroit in goals with 10 in his first season of North American hockey.
Defensively, Detroit has allowed 66 goals this season, putting the team in the upper echelon of keeping pucks out of their own net. Much of that responsibility falls on goaltender Jimmy Howard, who has put up respectable – but unspectacular – numbers this season.
It’s hard to picture the playoffs without the Red Wings, who have not failed to make the playoffs since the 1989-90 season. Should their key players continue to trouble the Western Conference as they have thus far, that streak should continue.
RANK: 10TH in Western Conference
MVP: Pekka Rinne (24 GP, 10-8-5, 2.00 GAA, .924 SV)
SURPRISE: Colin Wilson (25 GP, 7 G, 12 A, 19 P)
After finishing with home ice advantage in the playoffs a year ago, the Nashville Predators are one of those teams lumped together chasing those that currently hold down a spot in the Western Conference’s elite eight.
Though out of the playoffs by just a pair of points, the Predators would need to leapfrog three teams before being able to stake a claim in the postseason this year.
That’s not entirely impossible with one of the league’s best goaltenders between the pipes. Pekka Rinne has been lights out this season and although boasts a modest 9-8-4 record, the Vezina Trophy finalist from a year ago is still in top form with a miniscule 2.09 goals against average and four shutouts to his credit.
Now, if only Rinne could get some run support. The Predators are currently last in the conference in offense with just 54 goals through 25 games. The team has just two players that have eclipsed the five-goal plateau this season, something Nashville will need to rectify to keep pace in the West.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
RANK: 13TH IN WESTERN CONFERENCE
MVP: Sergei Bobrovsky (18 GP, 8-6-4, 2.19 GAA, .923 SV)
SURPRISE: Vinny Prospal (27 GP, 9 G, 6 A, 15 P)
One of the hottest teams in the National Hockey League heading into the half, the Columbus Blue Jackets have significantly helped their hopes of their second-ever playoff berth.
After starting the season with five wins in their first 21 games, the Blue Jackets are currently riding a five-game winning streak with Sergei Bobrovsky between the pipes. The 24-year-old Russian acquired last June has helped stabilize the crease in Columbus.
Not every move has been as rewarding as Bobrovsky. Remodeling the club after trading franchise face Rick Nash to the New York Rangers, the Blue Jackets are still waiting for the trio of Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky and Tim Erixon to round into form.
In Dubinsky’s defense, the six-foot-one center has missed Columbus’ last 11 games due to injury. While his return will give the Blue Jackets a boost, they’ll have to make due without defenseman James Wisniewski for another three-to-four weeks, a crippling blow to a defense that has allowed the fourth-most goals in the Western Conference.