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Super 16: Western Conference off to dominant start

by Corey Masisak /

The Western Conference has had its way with its brethren from the Eastern Conference in recent seasons, but the move of a perennial power in the Detroit Red Wings (and the young and improving Columbus Blue Jackets) in realignment was expected to shift some of the balance of regular-season power.

It hasn't materialized to this point. Teams from the Western Conference were 31-11-4 in games against Eastern Conference foes through the end of games Wednesday, which equates to a pace of nearly 118 points in a full season.

In the new divisional playoff format, a fifth-place team from one division can usurp a Stanley Cup Playoff berth from the fourth-place finisher in the other. If there could be crossover between the conferences, 10 teams from the West would be in the playoffs if they had started Thursday.

Last season there were no interconference games during the regular season, but the East had been trending upward the previous three seasons. The West went 153-87-27 against the East in 2009-10, but the gap narrowed to 142-88-40 in 2010-11 and 136-93-41 two seasons ago.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins have combined to go 9-2-0 against the West, but the rest of the conference has six wins in 35 games. The Red Wings and Blue Jackets each are 0-1-0 against their old neighbors, so it is hard to blame them.

Which conference wins more games against the other matters little once they meet in the Stanley Cup Final, but it's hard to argue against which conference has been stronger in the first weeks of the new season.

There is a distinct Western Conference flavor in Week 3 of the Super 16. Six of the top nine teams and nine of the top 13 are from the West.

DISCLAIMER: While the Super 16 is's weekly power rankings, the new-look version is going to focus more on the "power" than the "rankings" when determining the order. It's not always going to look like the League standings and likely will take more of a long view than a short one. Stop by to see where your favorite team ranks, but stay for the information. Also, the statistics and team records are through the end of games Wednesday.

1. San Jose Sharks (6-0-0)

The Sharks continued their torrid start with three more impressive victories, including a 6-2 defeat of the previously unbeaten St. Louis Blues and their second 50-spot in shots on goal against the Ottawa Senators.

Super16 Super Sharks

Team, year W-L GF GA SOG PP PK CF%
CHI, '12-13 6-0-0 3.67 1.83 27.0 26.9 95.7 54.1*
SJS, '13-14 6-0-0 5.00 1.50 41.8 26.7 83.3 58.4
*Full season

There were three times where a team had 50-plus shots on goal in 2012-13, but there already has been three this season (Anaheim had 56 against Ottawa). Since 1987 only 11 teams have had 50-plus shots on goal in a game three times in one season, and only one club, the 1988-89 Chicago Blackhawks, has had four.

Speaking of the Blackhawks, they obviously had a strong start to the season in 2012-13, going 24 games without a regulation loss. How do these Sharks stack up to those Blackhawks after six games played? Pretty well.

MUST READ: The Sharks have a bunch of players who could end up playing in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but Fear the Fin writes about an unsung player who might end up on the Canadian team.

2. Chicago Blackhawks (4-1-1)

The Blackhawks have a blown a two-goal lead in three of their first six games. They've won two of those games and lost the other in the shootout. Blowing two-goal leads against inferior teams sounds a lot like a club dealing with some lapses in concentration, which can be expected from the defending champion.

MUST READ: Jennifer Delgado of the Chicago Tribune writes about an interesting development in the aftermath of the Blackhawks' success -- the demand for ice time at area rinks has exploded.

3. St. Louis Blues (4-1-0)

San Jose already has proven to be a great team, but the Blues made the Sharks angry Tuesday. There are plenty of players scoring in the early part of the season, but Chris Stewart having zero goals and seven shots on net in five games is unexpected.

MUST READ: The versatile top line is rolling right now, writes Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins (5-1-0)

In other sports, a typical range for the "prime" of a player's career is from 26 or 27 years old until they turn 30 or 31. It is a little earlier in soccer, and a lot earlier for many positions in football.

For non-goalies in the NHL, and particularly high-scoring players, the best offensive output typically comes earlier. There are some late bloomers (Phil Esposito and Brett Hull are examples), but a lot of the all-time greats have had their best offensive seasons between the ages of 23 and 26. Gabe Desjardins found the peak for all players on average to be between 24 and 26 in a post for Arctic Ice Hockey a few years ago.

Sidney Crosby is 26 years old and is off to the best start of his career, with five goals and 12 points in six games. He's been a bit of a slow starter in the past, but not this October.

Super16 Prime Performers

Player, team Points per game
Wayne Gretzky, EDM 2.59
Mario Lemieux, PIT 2.21
Guy Lafleur, MTL 1.66
Jari Kurri, EDM 1.66
Peter Stastny, QUE 1.62
Bobby Orr, BOS 1.60

He's also been historically great in his prime seasons, but that has been skewed because of his injuries. Crosby has led the League in points per game each of the past three seasons, and he's doing so again in 2013-14.

Crosby was halfway to a scoring title in 2010-11 before concussion problems. He was three-fourths of the way to one last season before a broken jaw. He doesn't have the hardware to show it, but on a per-game basis, he has earned a place among the best scorers in League history.

Check out the adjacent table and chart below of the highest point-per-game averages for a player between the ages of 23 and 26 (the player's age on Feb. 1 in a given season) and the number of games played in their prime. Peter Stastny missed the first season because he was still behind the Iron Curtain. Mario Lemieux played at least 65 games once in those four seasons, in 1988-89, and produced 199 points that season.

If Crosby were to play 82 games this season, he needs to finish with 143 points to have the third-highest point-per-game total in NHL history among players age 23-26. If he stays healthy, that might be possible.

Prime Performers

MUST READ: The Penguins built a consistent Cup contender through the draft, but the franchise also targeted youth in building the fan base, Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes.

5. Detroit Red Wings (5-2-0)

The Red Wings are 5-1-0 against their new neighbors in the Eastern Conference. The one loss came on the second half of a back-to-back against the Boston Bruins and was avenged nine days later. Pavel Datsyuk is still a magician. Carry on.

MUST READ: Gregg Krupa of the Detroit News writes about the bevy of options at coach Mike Babcock's disposal this season, and how he isn't done tinkering.

6. Boston Bruins (3-2-0)

The Bruins have been hard to score on (seven non-empty net goals against in five games), they've possessed the puck (more than 55 percent in Corsi and Fenwick), and they've struggled to convert on the power play (2-for-19). They are doing a lot of things the Bruins typically do. Brad Marchand has scuffled and ended up on the third line. Defenseman Dougie Hamilton hasn't locked down a regular spot in the lineup. Otherwise, the Bruins' machine is running pretty smoothly.

MUST READ: While the core may be aging, Joe Meloni of Stanley Cup of Chowder writes that Tuukka Rask's contract extension will keep Boston's Stanley Cup window open for a long time.

7. Los Angeles Kings (4-3-0)

Ben Scrivens pitched a shutout in his Kings debut, so maybe Jonathan Quick won't need to play 75 games because Jonathan Bernier is gone. A couple of players on the defense corps have had long nights and Quick has allowed at least three goals four times. Jeff Carter's shooting percentage is back closer to normal but he's added volume from last season to offset that.

MUST READ: Slava Voynov has struggled in his first few games since signing a big contract, but Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times writes the Kings are being patient with him.

8. Colorado Avalanche (6-0-0)

The Avalanche have scored 21 goals in six games. Matt Duchene looks like an All-Star and Nathan MacKinnon a Calder Trophy contender. But the big story in Denver is the goaltending. The team is yielding too many shots, but six goals allowed is extremely impressive.

MUST READ: Justin Bourne of The Backhand Shelf breaks down why Duchene is a special talent.

9. Anaheim Ducks (5-1-0)

After getting beaten 6-1 by the Avalanche on opening night, the Ducks remain undefeated in games where the opposing coach does not damage the rink. They've reeled off five straight wins, getting a nice boost from offseason trade acquisition Jakob Silfverberg (four goals, five points) and late-in-training-camp trade acquisition Mathieu Perreault (two goals, five points).

MUST READ: Curtis Zupke writes about how the Ducks went Mighty again to honor the 20th year of the franchise.

MUST SEE: Teemu Selanne opens his account [VIDEO ] for the 2013-14 season in style (with a nod to Silfverberg for a slick pass to spring him).

10. Toronto Maple Leafs (6-1-0)

The Maple Leafs have been outshot in five of seven games and are the only team among the bottom-10 in Corsi-for percentage when the score is tied or a one-goal margin with a winning record. How are they winning? Special teams and goaltending, that's how. Through the end of games Wednesday, Toronto has the second-best power play, the third-best penalty kill and a goaltender (Jonathan Bernier) with a .946 save percentage in five games.

MUST READ: There's been a lot written about the Maple Leafs and advanced stats. Sean McIndoe lays out the brewing battle for Grantland.

11. Minnesota Wild (3-2-2)

After finishing last in the NHL with 26.2 shots on goal per game in 2010-11, the Wild traded for Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, a couple of gunners who were expected to rectify that problem. The next season the Wild … finished last in the League with 26.5 per game.

Progress was made last season as the Wild finished 17th. This season has started even better for Minnesota in that department and the Wild are 12th at 31.3 shots on goal per game. Their shot differential (plus-10.7) is second in the League behind San Jose.

While Heatley was a noted volume shooter in his prime, Zach Parise's ability to win puck battles might be his strongest trait. Toss in one of the best defensive pairings in the League in Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin, which wasn't there two seasons ago, and suddenly the shot totals have gone up.

Super16 Wild About Possession

Mikko Koivu CF% (Corsi-for percentage)
2013-14 68.7%
2012-13 55.8%
2011-12 45.6%
2010-11 48.1%
2009-10 51.8%
2008-09 50.0%

The Wild didn't need more shooters, per se. They needed players who would help them possess the puck more, which can lead to more shots. Suter and Brodin help the transition game, and Parise (and Jason Pominville) prolong possessions along the walls.

If there's one player who illustrates the shift for the Wild, it is top center Mikko Koivu. He wasn't a bad possession player and typically was one of the best on the club, but having Parise and Pominville flanking him seems to agree with Koivu.

MUST READ: Michael Russo of the (Minneapolis) Star-Tribune writes about the connection between Pominville and prominent unrestricted free agent-to-be Thomas Vanek.

12. Vancouver Canucks (4-3-0)

No team knows San Jose's recent dominant play quite like Vancouver. The Canucks have lost nine straight times to the Sharks -- three regular-season games and four playoff games in 2012-13 and two games this season. Mike Santorelli has been a surprise, but he's not the biggest one even with four goals at this point. Santorelli had 33 goals in 208 career games before 2013-14, but Edmonton's Boyd Gordon had 39 in 386 before potting four in the first seven games.

MUST READ: Harrison Mooney of Pass it to Bulis/Vancouver Sun/Puck Daddy fame breaks down a great goal from the Sedin twins.

13. Phoenix Coyotes (4-2-1)

Mike Ribeiro had no points in his first three games with the Coyotes, but he's got one in each of the past four and the team is 3-0-1 since the slow start. He also put seven shots on goal Tuesday after firing eight shots on net in the first six games.

MUST READ: It didn't start great, but a strong finish to a five-game road trip helped the Coyotes confirm their identity, writes Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic.

14. Montreal Canadiens (4-2-0)

The Canadiens have played well at even strength (seventh in Corsi-for percentage) but that hasn't led a lot of five-on-five goals. Montreal has won with solid work on the power play and great goaltending. Carey Price leads all Olympic campers from North America with a .944 save percentage.

MUST READ: Brenda Branswell of the Montreal Gazette writes about the man behind the voice of one of the best national anthem renditions in sports, Charles Prevost Linton.

15. Ottawa Senators (2-2-2)

Collecting six of a possible 12 points on a six-game road trip to start the season is acceptable. Staying within a goal at the Shark Tank is commendable. Yielding 42 shots per game is a serious issue that needs to be corrected.

MUST READ: While fans might be clamoring for him, Mark Parisi of Silver Seven writes that Mika Zibanejad will not be the magic elixir for Ottawa's big problem.

16. Tampa Bay Lightning (4-2-0)

The Lightning already have faced each of the conference finalists from a year ago, and own a convincing win (Los Angeles), a shootout win (Chicago) and a late-minute loss (Pittsburgh). Tampa Bay is at the wrong end of the PDO spectrum, though, with the highest shooting percentage at even strength and the fifth-best save percentage. Both figures will be hard to maintain.

MUST READ: After the MRSA outbreak in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' locker room, Damian Cristodero of the Tampa Bay Times writes the Lightning training staff is on high alert.

JUST MISSED: Nashville Predators, Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets

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