Two teams with the fewest number of star skaters in their division are currently battling it out for a Northwest crown.
Note the careful inclusion of the word ‘skater’ in the previous sentence, because the Vancouver Canucks get the best goaltending in the league and the vast majority of NHL teams would trade puckstoppers with the Minnesota Wild, too. Roberto Luongo is a huge reason why the Canucks currently lead the Northwest, with Niklas Backstrom’s Wild a single point behind.
But without the injured Marian Gaborik, the closest thing the Wild has to a star skater is Mikko Koivu. Yes, Koivu is proving himself a very capable No. 1 center, but he has still only scored three goals this year.
The Canucks don’t have a point-per-game guy on their roster right now. Henrik and Daniel Sedin are quality, creative hockey players, but most people agree they’re not true, drive-your-team, front-liners.
However, what the Wild and Canucks both possess is a quality that’s equally unspectacular and essential. It’s called predictability.
I remember the late Roger Neilson once saying of the Ottawa Senators (back when they were a consistently good regular season team) that they were like a can of soup; you knew exactly what to expect every time you played them.
The Canucks and Wild both have soup-esque qualities. There’s very little in the way of surprises, which is a tribute to their coaching and the ability of their players to execute a game plan.
If you thought of the Northwest Division as the Periodic Table of Elements and I was a person with a working grasp of Grade 11 chemistry, a great, specific analogy could be made here. Instead, let’s just leave it at this; Vancouver and Minnesota are far and away the least-volatile entities in a division of head cases.
Calgary and Edmonton don’t know from one day to the next what they’ll get from their troops. Youth is the Oilers’ excuse for inconsistency, but what do the Flames blame it on? Some believe Calgary can compete for the Cup, but how many true contenders already have a 6-0 and two 6-1 losses on their docket?
Colorado has some dependable performers up front, but is reliant on goaltending that wavers from competent to crushing.
Add it up and it’s a safe bet the teams that currently occupy the top two spots in the Northwest are going to stay there.
What’s old is new – and good – again
Can’t help but notice that if the playoffs started tomorrow, five Original Six teams would qualify. Even the one that wouldn’t, Toronto, hasn’t exactly been a pushover this year and the Leafs will certainly improve once Vesa Toskala finds his game.
If you’re wondering, the last time all six old-school clubs made the post-season was 1996.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.
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