EDMONTON – With more than 30 percent of this season’s Western Conference games going beyond 60 minutes to determine a winner, teams are leap-frogging each other in the standings at a dizzying pace.
Through Thursday’s schedule, 60 of the 199 conference games played have been three-point contests with each team receiving a point for reaching overtime, while the team that wins in overtime of a shootout gets an additional point in the standings.
Parity among league teams in this compressed 48-game schedule is the main culprit for the jostling in the standings, especially in the Western Conference where only eight-points separates the No. 4 seed from the bottom.
Whatever the reason, it’s setting the stage for high drama as a madding playoff race is definitely underway in the wild, wild West. With six weeks remaining in the regular-season, the Red Wings are also entering unchartered water. Fight for a playoff berth is new to the Wings, who annually have been among the conference’s top performers. But this year, the Wings are scratching for every single point that they can get to keep their league-best 21-straight playoff appearances alive.
A week ago the Red Wings – who are 2-5 in overtimes/shootouts this season – were the fourth seed in the West. But after getting just one point in their last three games, the Wings are the ninth seed as they prepare for tonight’s game against the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place.
“The league is close, and the three-point nights are making it a tighter race,” Wings forward Patrick Eaves said. “I knew there were a lot of three-point games, but I didn’t know that it was up that much.”
For whatever reason, overtimes and shootouts in the West are up by more than 10 percent over the Eastern Conference, where 40-of-200 games played through Thursday have gone beyond 60 minutes.
The conference standings certainly reflect the overtime/shootout statistics. The West standings are much tighter with only eight points separating No. 4 and No. 15. Contrastingly, the playoff race in the East isn’t as cramped with 19-points wedged between the fourth and 15th seeds.
Even with just two games on the Western Conference docket tonight – No. 10 Nashville plays at No. 14 Calgary – the Red Wings will wake-up Saturday in Vancouver somewhere between No. 5 and No. 10.
“We can’t be worrying about other teams, it’s about getting the job done here with the 20 guys that are dressed, night in, night out,” forward Jordin Tootoo said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in the lineup or out of the lineup, everyone has to be on the same page. Two days ago we were fourth, and next thing you know we’re ninth, so we just have to worry about us.”
There has been some talk over the years to have the NHL move to a point system that rewards winning. Right now there are two Western teams – Vancouver and Nasvhille – who remain in the thick of the playoff hunt as each has five shootout losses.
Currently some European leagues and the CCHA in the United States use a 3-2-1 system that awards three points for each win in regulation or overtime, and one point for an overtime tie. Games tied after 65 minutes advance to a shootout with the winning team receiving an extra point in the standings.
But Tootoo doesn’t think change is necessary.
“You see the parity now because of the three-point games. For me personally, it’s about winning,” he said. “When you win more often than not, good things are going to happen. I think it’s fine, personally, it’s not a big deal.”
The Wings aren’t hitting the panic button, but there needs to be an emphasis on winning, and doing so in regulation.
“You never want to giveaway another point, especially this year,” Eaves said. “We need to get as many points as we can, trying to get some sort of separation just because there’s such a logjam.
““We still have a ways to go. We just started the back end of the schedule, but it is so tight. If you don’t play a game you can move down significantly, so it’s just the way it is. We have to win the games when we play.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose