The NHL changed its scheduling format this season to expand the number of interconference games from 10 to 18 per team. The way things are going, Eastern Conference teams might want to change things back.
The West has dominated interconference play since 2005-06, when the schedules were adjusted to reduce the number of East-West meetings -- and their dominance continues to grow. The West went from 79-52-19 in 2005-06 to 82-48-20 in '06-07, to 83-53-14 last season -- and is 94-59-17 this season. Western teams have a .553 winning percentage and have taken 55 percent of the available points in 2008-09.
In contrast, the East is deteriorating -- from 71-62-17 in '05-06 to 68-63-19 in '06-07, down to 63-63-17 last season and 76-77-17 so far this season. Teams from the East are winning only 45 percent of games and taking home 45.2 percent of the available points.
No team has enjoyed the extra games against the East more than Minnesota.
The Wild entered the weekend tied for seventh in the West largely due to their performance against the East. Minnesota is just 13-18-2 against its own conference; but is 11-2-1 against the East, including home-and-home wins against the conference-leading Boston Bruins
and a road victory against Washington, the leader in the Southeast Conference.
All three division leaders in the West are also carving up Eastern opponents.
San Jose is 9-1-0, Detroit is 8-3-1 and Calgary is 7-1-1. Only two Western teams --Anaheim and St. Louis -- are below .500 in regulation against the East.
Boston, the best team in the East, is 7-3-1 against the West, but Atlantic leader New Jersey is only 6-4-0 and Washington is just 6-8-0. Eight of the 15 Eastern teams are below .500 in regulation against the West.
-- The Columbus Blue Jackets
have figured out how to play defense in the first period. Now if they could only do it in the third.
The Blue Jackets have allowed just 28 first-period goals in their 48 games, one more than New Jersey, which has surrendered the fewest in the NHL. However, they've allowed exactly twice as many -- 56 -- in the third period, tying them with Washington for the second-highest total in the League.
In general, Columbus seems to play a different style of game in the first period than in the third. There have been only 63 first-period goals in the Jackets' 48 games (35 by Columbus, 28 by the opposition), but 109 in the third (53 for the Jackets, 56 against).
No threes for Bs
-- The Boston Bruins
don't lose all that often anyway, but they never get blown out.
The Bruins, tops in the East at 35-8-6, enter the weekend as the only team in the League that hasn't lost a game by more than two goals. That's pretty remarkable -- every other team in the NHL has lost by three or more goals at least twice, and since 1997-98, no team has made it through a full season without at least three losses by three or more goals.
Though they made the playoffs last season, the Bruins were just 11-13 in games decided by more than two goals. But that was a big improvement from 2006-07, when they were among the League leaders with 24 losses by 3 or more goals.
No sunshine for Habs
-- The state of Florida has always been a nice place to visit for the Montreal Canadiens
. The weather is warm, lots of their fans show up -- and they almost always go home with more points than they came with.
But not this week.
The Canadiens' 5-1 loss at Florida on Thursday marked only the fourth time in 25 occasions on which they've played consecutive games against the Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning
that they went home without a point. It also happened in October 1995, February 2004 and December 2006.
In their first visit to the Sunshine State this season, the Canadiens wrapped up 2008 with consecutive wins at Florida (5-2 on Dec. 29) and Tampa Bay (2-1 in a shootout on Dec. 30). This time, they lost 5-3 at Tampa Bay on Tuesday before the loss to the Panthers.
The Panthers also hold the distinction of being the only team with a winning record against the Canadiens. Montreal is 25-26-6-2 all-time since Florida entered the NHL in 1993.
Count to 10
-- It's unusual these days for an NHL team to hit double figures. But it's not surprising that the Buffalo Sabres
were the first team this season to do so. The Sabres' 10-2 victory at Edmonton on Tuesday marked the sixth time that a team scored 10 goals in a game since play resumed after the work stoppage in 2005. Buffalo has been involved in four of those games, winning the last three.
There must be something about the Northeast Division that leads to 10-goal games. Northeast teams have been involved in all six in the past three-plus seasons. In contrast, the Atlantic and Central divisions haven't been involved in any. Buffalo is 3-1 in the four games it's been involved in, Ottawa and Toronto both won once -- and the Boston Bruins
are 0-2, dropping 10-2 decisions to Toronto in January 2007 and Washington last March.
Also, there must be something about January that encourages big nights -- four of the six 10-goal games took place in the first month of the new year; of the others, one came in November, the other in March.
Not so "Silli"
-- For the second time in as many seasons, Mike Sillinger
's season was cut short by hip surgery. The New York Islanders
center had the operation Monday, and there's no guarantee the 37-year-old will be able to play again.
The Islanders are Sillinger's 12th team, an NHL record that may never be broken. He wears No. 18 on Long Island – the third team for which he's worn that number. But he's also won No. 16 (four times), No. 26 (three times) and 23, 81 and 11 once each – likely giving him some kind of NHL record for most numbers worn.
Sillinger has played 1,049 regular-season games, compiling 240 goals and 308 assists for 548 points. Amazingly, the 87 points (42 goals, 45 assists) he put up with the Islanders are the most he's had with any one team. The 141 games he played for the Isles are 14 short of the most he played with one club -- he was a Columbus Blue Jacket for 155 games from 2001-03.