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Western teams are still beating up on the East

by John Kreiser
As with any other organization, the NHL undergoes change over the years. But one thing that has remained constant is the Western Conference's domination of the East -- a trend that's now into its sixth season and shows no signs of abating.

Through the first 100 of this season's 270 interconference games, the Western Conference owns a 57-31-12 record, while teams in the East are just 43-43-14. Western teams have a winning percentage of .570 and a .558 percentage of points earned; the Eastern teams are at .430 and .442, respectively.

Since 2005, when play resumed after the work stoppage, Western teams have had a winning record every season -- ranging from .522 in 2008-09 to .574 last season.

Much of the damage by the West has been done by three teams. St. Louis won its first seven games against the East before losing to Washington on Wednesday; still, the Blues' 7-1-0 mark is the best by any team against the other conference. Dallas is 8-2-0 against the East after beating the Caps on Thursday, the most wins by any team against the other conference, and Los Angeles, which went a League-best 14-4-0 against the East last season, is 7-3-0 this season after beating Florida on Thursday.

Westward Ho! -- The West has dominated the East without any help from its best team. The Detroit Red Wings are the only team in the NHL that hasn't beaten anyone from the other conference -- of course, the Wings have played just one team from the East, while the other 29 teams have played at least four games against teams in the other conference. Detroit's lone game against the East was a 5-1 loss at Atlanta on Nov. 24. They don't have a game against an Eastern team until Montreal comes to town Dec. 10.

King of the Joe -- Jimmy Howard and the Wings are tough to beat anywhere -- Detroit enters the weekend with a 16-4-2 record, the best in the Western Conference. But beating Howard in regulation at Joe Louis Arena nearly has become impossible.

Sunday's 4-2 victory against Columbus at The Joe extended Howard's regular-season streak without a regulation loss at home to 20 games (17-0-3) -- the longest in franchise history. His last home regulation loss was March 9, when Calgary beat the Wings 4-2. The last goaltender to go 20 or more games without a regulation loss at home was San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov, who was 25-0-2 at the Shark Tank between a 3-2 loss to Edmonton on Feb. 14, 2007 and a 3-2 loss to Calgary on Jan. 15, 2008.

Bearing down -- Speaking of things that are tough to do -- scoring a third-period goal against the Boston Bruins is right up there.

Through 24 games, the Bruins have surrendered a League-low 10 goals in the final 20 minutes -- in fact, no team has allowed so few goals in any period. The next-closest teams are Detroit, New Jersey and Columbus, all of whom have allowed 17 third-period goals. Ottawa and Tampa Bay have allowed the most -- 33.

The Bruins are on a pace to allow just 34 third-period goals this season. For perspective, New Jersey was the best third-period team last season with 58 goals allowed, and no team in any period allowed fewer than the 49 given up by Phoenix in the first period.

Road Warrior -- One reason for the Bruins' success is goaltender Tim Thomas, who seems to save most of his best efforts for when he's playing at TD Garden.

On Wednesday, Thomas became the first goaltender in 45 years to win his first nine starts on the road when he led the Bruins to a 3-0 victory at Philadelphia. Not since Chicago's Glenn Hall in 1965-66 had a goaltender started a season 9-0-0 away from home (Thomas did have a no-decision at Washington on Nov. 5; Hall sat out a 3-1 loss at Toronto on Nov. 20, 1965).

If anything, Thomas' performance is even more impressive than Hall's. The shutout of the Flyers was his third; Hall had two during his streak. Thomas allowed 11 goals in his nine victories (plus three in the no-decision); Hall gave up 15 in his nine wins.

At home, Thomas is "only" 4-2-1 with 10 goals allowed in seven games. Overall, he's tops in the NHL with a 1.44 goals-against average, five shutouts and a .956 save percentage -- pretty good for a guy who began the season as a backup goalie.

Streak semi-saved -- Martin Biron's struggles on Long Island on Thursday kept Henrik Lundqvist's streak of consecutive appearances against the New York Islanders intact.

Lundqvist dressed as Biron's backup, ending his streak of 27 consecutive starts against the Isles. But after the Islanders rallied to turn a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead, Lundqvist came off the bench in relief, meaning he's played in 28 in a row against the Isles. He improved to 18-9-5 lifetime against them by stopping nine shots as the Rangers rallied for a 6-5 win. Expect consecutive appearance No. 29 to come Friday, when the teams meet again at Madison Square Garden.

Slow starters -- Last season, the Islanders were the NHL's worst at scoring in the third period. This season, their issues are starting earlier.

The Islanders are going to have problems getting out of a slump that has seen them lose 14 of 15 games if they can't find a way to put the puck in the net in the first period. Zenon Konopka's goal Thursday was just the 11th by the Isles in their 23 first periods this season. New York has been outscored 23-11 in the first period this season, a big reason they're 30th in the overall standings.

Unfortunately for the Islanders, their third-period troubles have carried over from last season. New York scored twice in the third period Thursday against the Rangers but remain next-to-last with 15 goals, only ahead of New Jersey's 12.
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