Now that every team in the Western Conference has played at least 12 games, we can start putting together a picture of the NHL season so far. So what teams have playoff aspirations? What teams are likely spending the rest of the season in the cellar, counting down to the 2011 NHL Entry Draft? It's time to take a closer look at the standings.
Can you say parity? The Western Conference is very competitive this season. No division leader has more than a two game advantage over their nearest rival, and only the Edmonton Oilers have played themselves into a deep hole this season. There are only four teams in the conference without a winning record, and two of those four -- Nashville and Phoenix -- made the playoffs last season. In fact, there may be as many as 11 teams fighting for eight playoff spots by the end of the season. The NHL regular season is considered a grind, but this year it looks like a dogfight, at least out west.
Big Surprise: St. Louis Blues
The Blues have made many preseason prognosticators look brilliant so far this season. They lead the Central Division over heavy favorites Detroit and Chicago with a sparkling 9-1-2 record. They have three more points than the defending champions and have played five less games! Montreal clearly made a mistake in trading Jaroslav Halak after last year's playoff run, because St. Louis is riding his shoulders and .944 SV% straight towards a playoff berth in the NHL's premiere division.
Big Disappointment: Phoenix Coyotes
Phoenix resurrected their lost franchise with a surprise playoff run last season, riding another abandoned stud goaltender in Ilya Bryzgalov. But the sheen of that playoff appearance has worn off quickly. They are still desperate for a new buyer -- the NHL will take over if no one is found by Dec. 31 -- and attendance is in the tank. This uncertainty has led to pitiful play on the ice, as Phoenix has played like an uninspired team that doesn't know where they will live next season.
Colorado Avalanche Schedule Preview:
vs Calgary, Nov. 9. Colorado plays three games this week, starting with the Calgary Flames visiting Pepsi Center on Tuesday, Nov. 9. Calgary started the season well, claiming early season victories against Los Angeles and San Jose, but they will limp into Denver mired in a four-game losing streak (including a 7-2 beatdown at the hands of Washington).
at Columbus, Nov. 12. The Avalanche will travel to Ohio and take on one of the surprises in the Easter Conference, the Blue Jackets. Columbus has won five of its last seven games, though one of the losses was a 5-1 dismantling in Denver just last week. Columbus is riding a sturdy defense to some success, but have had some difficulties putting the puck in the net so far this season. Their leading scorer Derick Brassard's nine points would place sixth on Colorado's roster.
at Detroit, Nov. 13. This is a difficult matchup for Colorado. Not only is it the second half of a back-to-back stretch, but it comes at a time when the Detroit offense has started to discover its potency. Only twice in the past seven games have the Red Wings failed to score fewer than three goals. The Red Wings will be in the midst of a homestand and the Avalanche will be tired. Then again, the Avalanche always find a way to make their games against Detroit competitive. Games between these two teams always turn out with one-goal differentials. Only once in the past three seasons has a Detroit-Colorado game been decided by more than one goal, a 3-1 Colorado victory on Oct. 24, 2009.