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Wings, Canucks in control entering second half

by Dan Rosen
Four of the top six teams in the Western Conference come from the Central Division. It's possible that for a second straight season Vancouver will be the only team from the Northwest Division to make the playoffs, although Minnesota, Colorado and Calgary are among the many competing for one of the final berths. The Sharks hold only a two-point edge on the Kings in the Pacific Division, but they have three games in hand.

Here's an analysis of each team in the Western Conference in order of where they are in the standings coming out of the All-Star break, complete with all the pertinent details:

The Red Wings lead the race for the Presidents' Trophy. (Photo: Dave Reginek/NHLI)
1. Red Wings (67 points)

Record: 33-16-1
Non-shootout wins: 28
Games remaining: 32 (18 home, 14 away)
Significant injuries: Patrick Eaves (jaw)

Their 7-2 loss at Montreal notwithstanding, the Red Wings are in a great position coming out of the break. They lead the race for the Presidents' Trophy and have a significant amount of games remaining at home, where they've won 17 in a row, three shy of the NHL record. The Wings are 20-2-1 at Joe Louis Arena this season. The problem is they come out of the break with a four-game road trip, with games at Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton and Phoenix. The good news is only one of those teams (the Canucks) currently is in a playoff spot.

2. Canucks (64 points)

Record: 30-15-4
Non-shootout wins: 27
Games remaining: 33 (18 home, 15 away)
Significant injuries: Andrew Ebbett (broken collarbone)

Just as the Wings are in a good position, so too are the Canucks. Just like last season, they're running away with the Northwest Division as they currently hold a nine-point lead on the second-place Wild. The Canucks shouldn't have a problem finishing in the top three of the Western Conference to secure home-ice advantage at least in the first round. They'll get tested right away, though, with games against Chicago and Detroit coming out of the break. Both are at home, but then they go on the road for four straight.

3. Sharks (60 points)

Record: 27-14-6
Non-shootout wins: 21
Games remaining: 35 (16 home, 19 away)
Significant injuries: Brent Burns (charley horse), Ryane Clowe (facial fracture), Martin Havlat (hamstring), Tommy Wingels (upper body)

The Sharks are dealing with some injuries, though Burns and Clowe could be ready to go coming out of the break. Havlat had surgery to repair a partially torn hamstring in December, but GM Doug Wilson said at the time he should be back in time for the stretch run. The Sharks have played the fewest games of any team in the Western Conference, and 21 of their remaining games are against teams currently not in a playoff position. They have a season-long nine-game road trip coming next month, but they play 12 of their last 21 games at home.


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4. Blues (65 points)

Record: 29-13-7
Non-shootout wins: 28
Games remaining: 33 (13 home, 20 away)
Significant injuries: Alexander Steen (concussion), Andy McDonald (concussion)

They're 23-6-7 since Ken Hitchcock replaced Davis Payne as coach a week into November. Jaroslav Halak and All-Star Brian Elliott have formed an enviable 1-2 punch in net. They've combined to lead the NHL in shutouts (nine) and goals-against in the third period (31). The Blues went 10 straight games without allowing a goal in the third period. They're also giving up a League-low 1.96 goals per game. But the Blues' schedule will get tougher. The majority of their remaining games are on the road, where they are just 8-10-3.

5. Predators (64 points)

Record: 30-16-4
Non-shootout wins: 27
Games remaining: 32 (15 home, 17 away)
Significant injuries: Francis Bouillon (upper body)

The Predators streaked into the break on a four-game winning streak. They've won nine of their last 10 games and 12 of their last 14. Along the way they beat Chicago twice, as well as Philadelphia and St. Louis. They also won three in a row without Shea Weber in the lineup and two of three without Ryan Suter. Nashville coach Barry Trotz gives a lot of the credit to goalie Pekka Rinne, who has allowed only 12 goals in winning his last nine starts. The Preds, though, have a tough stretch upcoming with consecutive games against Philadelphia, St. Louis, Vancouver, Ottawa, Boston, Chicago and Detroit.

6. Blackhawks (64 points)

Record: 29-15-6
Non-shootout wins: 25
Games remaining: 32 (12 home, 20 away)
Significant injuries: Jonathan Toews (wrist), Patrick Sharp (wrist)

The Blackhawks expect Toews and Sharp to return when they resume play after the break. They'll open with a nine-game road trip that could go a long way toward determining if they are going to continue to challenge for the top spot in the Central Division. Right now they're fourth, but only three points shy of first. The only contending Central Division team they play on their trip are the Predators. However, they still have four games left against the Blues, three against the Red Wings and two against the Predators. They'll all be huge.

Jonathan Quick has given up two or fewer goals in 26 of his 42 starts. (Photo: Getty Images)
7. Kings (58 points)

Record: 24-16-10
Non-shootout wins: 20
Games remaining: 32 (12 home, 20 away)
Significant injuries: Simon Gagne (concussion)

It's been all about the goaltending and defense this season in Los Angeles. All-Star goalie Jonathan Quick has made 42 starts and has given up two or fewer goals in 26 of them. However, the Kings have won only half of his starts largely because their offense has been so anemic -- they're last in the League with 107 goals (2.14 per game). They've been held to two goals or fewer 36 times this season. Strangely enough, the home/road thing doesn't matter to the Kings. They win 48 percent of the time at Staples Center and on the road, and score 2.14 goals per game no matter where they are.

8. Wild (55 points)

Record: 24-18-7
Non-shootout wins: 19
Games remaining: 33 (19 home, 14 away)
Significant injuries: Mikko Koivu (upper body), Pierre-Marc Bouchard (concussion symptoms), Guillaume Latendresse (concussion symptoms)

At least they went into the break playing a better brand of hockey, winning back-to-back games against the Stars and Avalanche. Those are important victories because Dallas and Colorado are two of the teams the Wild are competing with to get into the playoffs. The win against the Avs put Minnesota in a playoff position at the break. They still have three games left against both Colorado and Dallas, as well two each against the Coyotes and Flames.

9. Avalanche (54 points)

Record: 26-23-2
Non-shootout wins: 19
Games remaining: 31 (15 home, 16 away)
Significant injuries: Matt Duchene (knee)

Duchene was expected to miss four weeks with his knee injury, but he's been out a month and the Denver Post reported last week that there was nothing to report on Duchene's status. Duchene has 24 points in 39 games this season. The Avs were on a mini-run with three wins in four games, but they lost their last two games before the All-Star break. The Avs figure to be battling the Wild, Stars, Flames and Coyotes for a playoff berth, but they play only a combined six games against those teams the rest of the way.

Jamie Benn should be ready to play, while Brenden Morrow remains on IR. (Photo: Getty Images)
10. Stars (52 points)

Record: 25-21-2
Non-shootout wins: 22
Games remaining: 34 (16 home, 18 away)
Significant injuries: Brenden Morrow (neck), Jamie Benn (appendectomy)

Benn attended All-Star Weekend, so he should be good to go once the Stars resume their schedule Wednesday at Anaheim. He was activated from injured reserve prior to All-Star Weekend. Morrow remains on IR, but ideally he'll be able to return soon, as well. He missed only one game last week. The Stars beat the Ducks 1-0 to head into the break on a high note. However, they did go 0-4-1 in their previous five games. February is a busy month for the Stars, as they play 16 games. They're home for only five of the first 13.

11. Flames (52 points)

Record: 23-21-6
Non-shootout wins: 21
Games remaining: 32 (19 home, 13 away)
Significant injuries: Curtis Glencross (knee), Henrik Karlsson (knee), Matt Stajan (ankle), Lance Bouma (foot)

The Flames went into the break off a 1-0 loss to San Jose that prompted coach Brent Sutter to blast his team's effort, especially in the second period, when they were outshot 11-3. However, if the Flames look at the big picture, they'll see a 5-2-1 record in nine games prior to the All-Star break, and the 11 points gained were good enough to put them back into playoff contention. They'll also realize they have a lot of home games remaining, and they're 13-7-2 at Scotiabank Saddledome as opposed to 10-14-4 away from home.

12. Coyotes (52 points)

Record: 22-20-8
Non-shootout wins: 20
Games remaining: 32 (18 home, 14 away)
Significant injuries: Derek Morris (lower body)

Phoenix is 4-7-5 since its last two-game winning streak (Dec. 20-21). It has a chance to win a second straight game when it returns from the break on Tuesday to host the Ducks. The Coyotes' biggest problem is that they're struggling to win in the shootout. They've lost three straight shootouts this month and are just 2-5 in them this season. They have three more games left on their current six-game homestand. In fact, they'll play seven of their next 10 games at Arena. It's a good opportunity for the Coyotes to improve their 10-9-4 home record.

The Ducks earned 17 out of a possible 18 points to get back to the edge of the playoff race.
13. Ducks (43 points)

Record: 18-23-7
Non-shootout wins: 17
Games remaining: 34 (15 home, 19 away)
Significant injuries: Dan Ellis (groin), Devante Smith-Pelly (fractured foot)

Dallas ended the Ducks' streak of nine straight games without a regulation loss (8-0-1) with a 1-0 victory last Tuesday. However, the Ducks put themselves back on the periphery of the playoff discussion by earning 17 of a possible 18 points from Jan. 6-22. They remain 12 points out of eighth place with five teams to hurdle just to get into a playoff spot, but it doesn't seem as impossible of a task anymore.

14. Oilers (41 points)

Record: 18-26-5
Non-shootout wins: 16
Games remaining: 33 (18 home, 15 away)
Significant injuries: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (shoulder), Ben Eager (back), Tom Gilbert (knee), Cam Barker (ankle)

They've won only three games since the holiday break (3-10-2), and just one of them in regulation. Nugent-Hopkins, Gilbert and Barker are all expected back early next month, so the Oilers will be getting some reinforcements for what they hope is a positive stretch run. However, it certainly appears they'll be in the draft lottery again, with the potential of getting the No. 1 pick for a third straight year.

15. Blue Jackets (32 points)

Record: 13-30-6
Non-shootout wins: 10
Games remaining: 33 (17 home, 16 away)
Significant injuries: James Wisniewski (ankle), Jeff Carter (shoulder), Nikita Nikitin (knee), Mark Letestu (hand)

As the Blue Jackets embark on their final drive to potentially getting the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, there are rumors Carter could be traded. Others could be on the move as well.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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