As the great divide continues between the conferences in the National Hockey League, the gap keeps widening in each of the Western Conference’s two divisions as well.
Both the Pacific and Central list four clear-cut leaders, with a large divide among the remaining six teams, none of which seem poised to make a run at the Elite Eight. The group just needs to settle on final positions to determine playoff pairings with more than 70 percent of the schedule still remaining.
Interestingly, all eight of the Western leaders have earned more points than any other team in the East. The Pacific race is especially disheartening to those from western Canada, with Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary chasing the quartet from California and Arizona, already four full games (eight points) off the pace.
The same holds true in the Central, where hopes may end for Dallas, Nashville and Winnipeg long before the league takes a break for the Winter Olympics on the eastern end of the Black Sea in Sochi, Russia, come February.
Unless something changes quickly, these six teams may quickly become early go-against teams for the balance of the season.
Vancouver displayed its lack of scoring shortcomings over the weekend. Except for a 5-on-3 power play goal, they can’t score against Cup champion Chicago, as the Blackhawks scored twice in a span of nine seconds to secure another win
John Tortorella, the former N.Y. Rangers boss who now heads the Canucks, can’t figure out what to do with the Sedin twins. Tortorella moves Daniel and Henrik to different lines, then puts them back together yet complains they often only pass to each other and no one else on the ice.
Forwards Mike Santorelli and Ryan Kesler have played with various centers, including Daniel Sedin, while Henrik Sedin centered a line with Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen to mixed results.
The lack of offensive production has taken the spotlight off a deserving Roberto Luongo, who has played well despite losing four of his last five without the shadow of Corey Schneider, who now starts in New Jersey.
Even the panel on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada expressed a preference to the decision-making on line combinations made last season by Alain Vigneault, who, oddly, took over for Tortorella in New York.
Something needs to give in Vancouver, which ranks 29th on the power play despite a collection of snipers. Hey, Canucks, this isn’t the old Northwest Division. You will need to beat more than a handful of good teams in order to advance to the playoffs.
While the Canucks linger on the outside looking in to the playoff race, look how lucky it is to be a member of the Detroit Red Wings. If the Wings were still in the West, they would rank 10th overall. But in the East, they are competing for home-ice advantage, especially with the slow start by the Ottawa Senators (offense has fallen from 2nd to 24th since last year).
Thus, they can afford to take some chances with younger skaters. Wings GM Ken Holland announced Gustav Nyquist will remain with the team for the balance of the season, so he can no longer be sent to the minors without clearing waivers.
That just means more time for players like Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss (a 5-year, $24.5 million free-agent) to get healthy from groin injuries.
Sochi goalie: The big talk in the Great White North is who will start in goal for both Canada and Team USA in the Olympics.
The Americans, which once looked strong, now have problems. L.A’s. Jonathan Quick (groin), Craig Anderson of Ottawa and Schneider are hurt or struggling, making the current leader Ryan Miller of lowly Buffalo.
However, with Miller under heavy fire every night with the Sabres, the new goalie-buster may become Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop, the tallest goalie (6-foot-7) in NHL history who once had a grandfather play in the U.S. Open – in pro tennis!
Contact Nick at [email protected].