The goals are being scored in the East this season. Before Monday’s games, 15 of the top 20 scorers in the NHL were from the Eastern Conference and 13 of the top 20 scoring teams from the East. Conversely, 14 of the 20 lowest goals-against averages belonged to goalies from the Western Conference, including nine of the top 10.
“The statistics bear it out, the West is much tighter, much lower scoring,” Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland said Monday. “I just think there seems to be more 3-2 games in the West and in the East it’s more often a 5-4 game. Certainly five years ago the West was more of a skating, skilled conference and the East was kind of recognized, when you think of the Flyers and the Devils, of a big, strong, physical, tight-checking conference.
“Right now it appears both conferences have made a flip.”
There are a few theories, none of them scientific. There’s the thought that most of the top goalies and best defencemen are in the West and that most of the more talented scorers are in the East.
“There’s a lot of great goal-scorers on their side and a lot of great goaltending on our side,” Edmonton Oilers winger Ryan Smyth said Monday.
Look at the netminders. Think of the very best. Miikka Kiprusoff, Roberto Luongo, Dominik Hasek, J.S. Giguere, Vesa Toskala, Evgeni Nabokov, Tomas Vokoun, Chris Mason, Marty Turco, Dwayne Roloson, Nikolai Khabibulin – they’re all in the West.
In the East? The best in the league, Martin Brodeur, is there, as well as Ryan Miller. Maybe you include Cristobal Huet, Henrik Lundqvist, Kari Lehtonen or Ray Emery among the league’s top goalies. Either way, there doesn’t seem to be quite as many quality netminders as the West.
On defence, there’s a Norris Trophy smorgasbord in the West with Nicklas Lidstrom, Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger – who collectively have won the last six awards as the NHL’s top defenceman (since 2000).
And they are the three nominees again if the season ended tomorrow. Then add in Dion Phaneuf, Kimmo Timonen, Sergei Zubov and Ed Jovanovski as other top-end blue-liners from the West.
The East would counter with Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden, Brian Rafalski, Dan Boyle, Sheldon Souray, Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe. Talented to be sure, but as a group not quite in the same class as the Western guys.
But when it comes to forwards, the East gets the last laugh. Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Dany Heatley, Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Jaromir Jagr, Marian Hossa – those were the top seven point-getters in the NHL before Monday and all Eastern boys.
Don’t forget Marc Savard, Daniel Briere, Michael Nylander, Ray Whitney, Rod Brind’Amour, Olli Jokinen and Maxim Afinogenov, all in the top 20 NHL scorers before Monday’s games and all from the East.
“They’ve got a lot of great scorers out East,” agreed Smyth, no slouch himself with 21 goals. “Geepers, whether there’s great goaltending or not, you’ve got some great skill in the East that’s going to eventually put the puck in the net. Not to say we don’t have any skill on our side but it seems to me when you look at Sidney and Ovechkin, Heatley, the Tampa boys, there’s a lot of skill there.
“It’s flip-flopped, it used to be the other way before.”
Only five Western names were in the top 20 point leaders Monday, Teemu Selanne, Joe Thornton, Jarome Iginla, Joe Sakic and Paul Kariya. And only three Western players, Selanne, Iginla and Rolston, were among the top 15 goal-scorers.
Eastern Conference contenders Buffalo and Ottawa are the top-scoring teams in the NHL although Western Conference powerhouses Anaheim and Nashville follow. Toronto is fifth followed by Calgary, the Flames rocketing up the goal-scoring charts after a slow start this season. But overall, the East had outscored the West by 134 goals before Monday’s games, 2,083 to 1,949.
“I certainly think the emphasis in the West this year has been on defence. It’s tighter-checking,” said Holland.