The best team in the West played the best team in the East and it turned out to be no contest Tuesday night. That should come as no surprise, since the Western Conference has proved time and again this season its superiority over teams in the Eastern Conference.
The San Jose Sharks may not have usurped the Boston Bruins for first overall in the NHL standings with their emphatic 5-2 victory in Boston Tuesday night, but it had the feel of one of those statement games. And the statement is that far better hockey is being played in the west this season.
With the win, the Sharks have a 10-1-1 record against teams in the Eastern Conference this season, with their only regulation-time loss coming to the Florida Panthers in October. But the Sharks are hardly alone in their domination over the East.
With a 6-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens Monday night, the Calgary Flames are 8-1-1 against the East, while the Minnesota Wild has the Eastern Conference to thank for the fact it continues to contend for the playoffs this season. The Wild is 11-2-1 against Eastern Conference teams, but just 16-20-2 against teams in the Western Conference.
In fact, there are only two teams in the West – the St. Louis Blues (5-9-1) and the Anaheim Ducks (6-8-1) that have sub-.500 records against the East.
Of the 188 games played between the two conferences entering Wednesday night, the West has a 106-64-18 record for a .612 winning percentage. The East, on the other hand, has an 82-88-18 record for a .484 winning percentage.
Only two teams in the Eastern Conference – the Bruins (7-4-1) and the Canadiens (7-2-1) have dominated their Western Conference opponents this season.
The difference, for the most part, is defense and goaltending. While there isn’t much of a difference between the two in goals-against average – teams in the East have a collective 2.90 GAA, while teams in the West have a 2.85 GAA – it should be remembered teams in the West are playing better competition more often and if the schedule were balanced between the East and West, the difference in those numbers would probably be a lot greater.
Despite the fact teams in the East play against inferior opponents more often, generally speaking they don’t score any more goals than those in the West.
But probably the biggest difference between the Eastern and Western Conferences is the depth of quality teams. Beyond the Bruins, Washington Capitals and New Jersey Devils, the Eastern Conference is a mish-mash of pretty ordinary teams, all of whom have large deficiencies in their lineups.
The West, by comparison, has 13 teams battling for eight playoff spots, is home to arguably the two best teams in hockey and has a top eight that is far superior to that of the East. The Columbus Blue Jackets and Phoenix Coyotes have improved greatly and even the worst two teams in the West are equal to or better than the bottom five in the East.
There are no New York Islanders, Atlanta Thrashers, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs or Tampa Bay Lightning to feast upon in the West and teams in that conference know they are in for a difficult game any time they play a conference opponent.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.