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Western Conference Notebook: Dec. 18

by Staff Writer / Nashville Predators
Two and a half months into the season and the Western Conference playoff race is starting to take shape. Each week will take a look at the issues around the Western Conference and how they impact the playoff race.

So far in 2011-12, Western Conference teams have posted a 64-41-20 record against Eastern Conference foes, a .592 points percentage. That projects out 320 points over the course of the 270 out-of-conference games scheduled this season, a pace similar to last season when Western Conference teams earned 324 points in the 270 games against the East.

Additionally, there have been 48 overtime points earned by Western Conference teams this season. If that pace maintains, at season’s end Western Conference teams should finish with around 123 overtime points, well off the pace established last season when teams in the West were awarded 147 overtime/shootout points.

Keeping those factors in mind, Western Conference teams should earn around 28 fewer points than last season – approximately two fewer points per team.

Last season the No. 8 seeded team, Chicago, finished with 97 points, while the No. 9 team in the Conference, Dallas, finished with 95 points. From a macro view of the early season results, the playoff cutline appears to be setting up in the mid-90s – likely in the 94-96 point range. With 38 points in 32 games, the Preds are on pace for around 97 points, a couple of points above the projected playoff cutline. The projections bear out similar to the current standings – after Sunday’s games Nashville sits in the No. 7 seed in the West, three points ahead of ninth place Phoenix.

But, from Day 1 of Camp, Coach Trotz and staff felt the combination of youth on the NHL roster and organizational depth made this year’s team likely to have more success in the second half of the season than the first. Surviving the opening two and a half months inside a playoff seed sets the team up nicely down the back stretch of the playoff race.

Central Division Notes:
The Central Division is home to the Western Conference's leading All-Star Game vote getters at all three positions (as of votes cast on Sunday night). Chicago's Jonathan Toews leads all Conference forwards with 215,886 votes, Pekka Rinne leads all Conference goaltenders with 131,808 votes, and Nicklas Lidstrom leads all Conference defenseman (and all Conference players) with 304,977 votes (click here to vote)... The Central Division currently has four teams inside the Western Conference playoff seeding. Only the Columbus Blue Jackets sit outside of a playoff seed … Central Division teams have had tremendous success against the Eastern Conference this season, going a combined 23-9-7, a .679 points percentage. The division was also the conference’s most successful against the East last year, posting a combined 53-22-15 mark in 2010-11 … There is just one intra-divisional match-up on the Central Division schedule this week: Columbus at Nashville on Thursday.

Northwest Division Notes:
The Northwest Division features three of the NHL’s top-six power-plays: Vancouver leads the NHL at 25.2%, Colorado is third at 21.7%, and Edmonton is sixth at 20.6% … The division also features two of the top-eight PK units in the NHL: Vancouver ranks seventh at 85.7% and Minnesota ranks eighth at 85.6% … There are four intra-divisional match-ups on the Northwest Division schedule this week: Minnesota at Vancouver on Monday, Minnesota at Calgary on Tuesday, Minnesota at Edmonton on Thursday, Calgary at Vancouver on Friday.

Pacific Division Notes:
Four of the five Pacific Division teams sit at .500 or better heading into this week’s games. Anaheim (9-18-5) is the lone division team below .500 … Phoenix is one of just three Western Conference teams with more road wins (9) than home wins (7) this season. Vancouver (11 road wins and 8 home wins) and Nashville (9 road wins and 8 home wins) are the other two teams … The division has struggled against Eastern Conference teams, winning just 20 of its 45 games against the East (20-18-7 record). Northwest Division teams have five games against Eastern Conference teams on the schedule this week. LA travels to Toronto and Phoenix goes to Florida and Carolina, while Dallas hosts Philadelphia and San Jose host Tampa Bay … There are three intra-divisional games on the Pacific Division schedule this week: Anaheim at Dallas on Monday, Anaheim at LA on Thursday, LA at San Jose on Friday.

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