By Amanda DiPaolo
The two faces of the National Hockey League are in the Eastern Conference, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. Even the emerging face, Steve Stamkos, can be found in the East in Tampa Bay. In four Winter Classics (including this year’s game between the Capitals and Penguins), the Western Conference has only been featured once. Furthermore, the Eastern Conference has 4 of 6 original six teams.
Despite all the pomp and circumstance that is found in the East, it is the Western Conference that is tougher, more physical and competitive. Each team in the Western Conference has a chance to win every night, no matter who the opponent. And gaining spots in the standings is most difficult in the West. After winning four out of the last five games, the Nashville Predators, for example, remain in 13th place. There’s just no winning.
In fact, there are only 7 points separating the first place Detroit Red Wings and the 13th place Nashville Predators. Why are the standings in the Western Conference so close through nearly the first quarter of the season?
One of the most obvious answers to explain why teams can’t gain ground in the West is that there are more 3 point games in the West, but that is only marginally true. There have been 32 times this season that an extra point has been handed out in the Western Conference. But so far this season 30 extra points have been handed out in the East.
The answer, though, is simple. The Western Conference teams beat up on East Conference when they meet.
Only 4 out of 15 teams have a losing record against the East. Take for example the Central Division. Though Detroit has yet to play a game against the Eastern Conference (the only team in the West to have yet to do so) St. Louis has gone 7-0-0 against the East. Columbus is 3-0-0. Chicago has a 3-2-0 record and Nashville is 3-1-2 against the Eastern Conference.
In the other two divisions it is more of the same, with the exception of Minnesota, Phoenix, Edmonton and Calgary.
Because of the lack of parity between the East and the West, to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference is easier than to make them in the West. Last year, Calgary, Anaheim and St. Louis all had more points than the 7th and 8th place teams in the East, the Eastern Conference final foes Montreal Canadiens and Philadelphia Flyers.
No one knows how the final standings will look come April, but one thing is for sure. There will be teams from the Western Conference who don’t make the playoffs with more points than teams in the Eastern Conference who do make it. And that reality makes being in the Western Conference even more tough.
Every Monday I will tackle issues important to the Western Conference. You can follow me on twitter @Predlines
For those interested in the Central Division, check out my main blog at www.predlines.com
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