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For sixth straight season, West's the best

by John Kreiser
The East has narrowed the gap, but the West remains the best.

For the sixth time in as many seasons since the adoption of the shootout in 2005, Western Conference teams are having their way against their Eastern rivals -- although not to the extent they dominated last season.

Through 244 of the 270 interconference games, Western teams have 133 wins, just 78 regulation losses and 33 losses in overtime or shootouts -- meaning they've won 54.5 percent of the games and taken home 54.1 percent of the points. Eastern teams are 111-101-32.

In the five seasons since 2005, Western teams have won at least 52.2 percent of all games -- including a high of 57.4 percent (155-87-28) last season.

No Western team has dominated this season to the extent that Vancouver (14-4-2) or Los Angeles (13-5-0) did in 2009-10, but six teams from the West already are in double figures against the East -- and Columbus leads all teams in winning percentage at .750 (9-2-1). In contrast, only one Eastern team, the New York Rangers (10-7-0) has reached double figures in wins against the West.

The Central has been the most successful of any division, by far. Entering the weekend, Central Division teams were 45-17-10 (.625 winning percentage) against the East. The Central and Pacific (47-31-10) are the only divisions to have won more than half their games in regulation.

Power's on for Ovi -- It seems incomprehensible, but Alex Ovechkin's power-play goal in Washington's 5-0 win against Edmonton on Wednesday was only his sixth of the season -- and his first in 35 games at the Verizon Center. Ovi had 50 power-play goals at home in his first five NHL seasons.

Ovechkin's struggles on the power play mirror those of his team. Washington finished first in the League on the power play last season, scoring 79 goals with a 25.2 percentage. The Caps enter this weekend 23rd in the League at 16.3 percent, and their 37 power-play goals in 68 games project to just 45 for a full season. That's a big reason Washington has gone from the League leader in goals last season (3.82 per game) to 22nd with 2.65 -- a figure that would be even lower without 11 empty-net goals, tied for second in the NHL.

Slow starts -- Don't look for a lot of early scoring when the New Jersey Devils play.

The Devils take a modern-day NHL record streak of 14 consecutive scoreless first periods against into Friday's game at Atlanta. New Jersey hasn't allowed a first-period goal since Florida scored twice Feb. 4 -- and those are the only two the Devils have allowed in the opening 20 minutes since the All-Star break. The League record is 18 games, set by the original Ottawa Senators in 1927-28.

But the Devils haven't done much scoring of their own in the opening 20 minutes -- they've gone seven games in a row without a first-period goal. The streak of seven 0-0 first periods is the most since the red line was introduced in the 1940s.

The Devils also are working on a streak of 14 games in which they've allowed two or fewer goals -- they are 12-2-0 in that span, with their only losses being a pair of 2-1 decisions against Tampa Bay on Feb. 25 and Ottawa on Tuesday. Since expansion, only Phoenix (18 games in 1998-99) and Calgary (15 games in 2003-04) have had longer streaks of allowing two goals or less.

Putting on a show at home -- The New York Rangers are a sub-.500 team at home with a 15-16-3 record. But when they do win at Madison Square Garden, it's often spectacular.

Sunday's 7-0 victory against Philadelphia was their third such win this season -- all at the Garden. There has been just one other 7-0 victory in the NHL all season -- Boston beat Carolina 7-0 on Jan. 17. Not since the 1981-82 Canadiens has a team had three shutouts in the same season when scoring seven or more goals -- that Habs team won twice by 9-0 margins and once by 7-0.

The Rangers also are one of only 10 teams to score eight or more goals in a game this season -- they beat Edmonton 8-2 at the Garden on Nov. 14 -- and they also scored seven times in a 7-2 home victory against the Islanders on Dec. 27. They're tied with Boston for the most times scoring seven or more goals in a game this season with five. All five have come at MSG; in their other home games, they're 10-16-3.

Nice company -- Roberto Luongo became the 25th goaltender in NHL history to reach 300 career victories when he led the Vancouver Canucks to a 3-1 victory in Los Angeles last Saturday. He's also the sixth among that group who hails from the province of Quebec, joining Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, Jacques Plante, Rogatien Vachon and Gump Worsley. Given his age (he turns 32 next month), Luongo could finish his career with well over 500 wins.

One to remember -- The Phoenix Coyotes became only the eighth team this season to win a game after trailing by three goals when they rallied from a 4-1 deficit to beat Detroit 5-4 in a shootout last Saturday. They also became just the third team to win after entering the third period down three goals -- Toronto (at Washington) and San Jose (at Philadelphia) rallied for shootout wins in a four-day span in early December.

St. Louis quickly became the ninth team to win after trailing by three goals when it overcame a 3-0 second-period deficit to win 4-3 in overtime at Columbus on Wednesday. The Blues were the first team to win in the five-minute overtime; three of the comeback wins came in regulation; the other five were in shootouts.

The tying and winning goals for the Blues were scored by Chris Stewart, who continues his scoring surge since coming over from Colorado in a trade last month. Stewart had 9 goals in his first 11 games with St. Louis after scoring just four times in his last 25 games before the trade. Stewart set a team record with 6 goals in his first five games with the Blues, and his 9 goals are the most by a St. Louis player in his first 11 games with the team.
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