Monday, 21 October 2013

Disparity Between Conferences

That was a pretty entertaining game tonight despite the Avalanche winning. As a Penguins fan, I wasn't too thrilled at seeing Jean-Sebastien Giguere look like his Stanley Cup-winning self in the Avalanche net, but kudos to Patrick Roy and the Avalanche for getting the Penguins to tap out in tonight's game. As that game was going on, the San Jose Sharks were putting the same shutdown game on the Detroit Red Wings as they won in a shootout by a 1-0 score. It appears, from the records posted, that there is some disparity between the conferences based on what's happening thus far in the season.

As it stands with the two games added in tonight, the Western Conference is 39-21 against the Eastern Conference this season. That's not a good winning percentage if you're an Eastern Conference team. In fact, if you consider that the Western Conference teams will play one game at home and one game in the Eastern Conference arenas, that's an average of 40 points per team added to Western Conference totals based upon the winning percentage currently shown. For clarity's sake, I didn't factor in shootout/overtime charity points for simplicity.

The two teams that flipped to the Eastern Conference this season - Detroit and Columbus - are a combined 2-4 thus far this season. Winnipeg, who went west, is 1-1. So while the teams that jumped conferences haven't really been a major factor against their old foes, there are a few teams that are staggeringly bad.

The New York Rangers, now coached by Alain Vigneault who came from the Western Conference, are a terrible 1-4. Part of that has to do with their poor play and some key injuries, but they were outscored 24-6 in the four losses to the Western Conference thus far. In the Rangers' defence, though, the entire Metropolitan Division has been terrible against the Western Conference. The entire division is a combined 8-20! The only teams above .500 against the Western Conference are the Pittsburgh Penguins (2-1), the New York Islanders (2-2), and the Columbus Blue Jackets (1-1)!

The Atlantic Division is closer to .500, but still six games under the even mark. Surprisingly, the Tampa Bay Lightning are the top team in either Eastern Conference division as they sit at 3-0 against the west. Buffalo counters that shining mark with their 0-4 record. Overall, the Atlantic Division is 13-19, but that's still nothing to be proud of in the grand scheme.

To me, it appears that there are two styles of hockey being played across the two conferences, and it was on display last night in the Colorado=Pittsburgh game. The Western Conference plays a far more controlled game where games are won and lost on neutral zone turnovers and powerplay chances. Teams like Chicago, Los Angeles, San Jose, and St. Louis simply don't allow easy access to their zone, and will punish any team along the boards inside their zone. The neutral zone is from where the offence is generated.

The Eastern Conference, while certainly enjoying their powerplay opportunities, play a more wide-open, free-flowing game where the north-south game is far more accentuated. Teams like the Washington Capitals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the New York Islanders, and the Toronto Maple Leafs go up and down the ice while pinpointing passes from tape-to-tape in order to create pretty goals while pulling defences and goaltenders out of position.

The dichotomy in these two styles of play could be seen last night in the Avalanche-Penguins tilt as the Penguins threw everything they had, including a couple of kitchen sinks at one point, at the Avalanche in the first and early part of the second periods. If it weren't for some incredible goaltending and fine defensive play, the Penguins could have opened up a sizable lead on the Avalanche. Instead, the two teams traded blows throughout the game with few pucks actually denting the twine.

Had it not been for a Gabriel Landeskog knuckleball on Marc-Andre Fleury, the Avalanche and Penguins could have been the second game to take a scoreless draw in the shootout last night. San Jose and Detroit did that, thanks mostly to suffocating defence by both teams as the Red Wings resorted back to a Western Conference style of play. That type of play will certainly benefit them down the stretch, especially within their own division. While San Jose would eventually win in the shootout, the Red Wings showed that they still have the moxie to skate with some of the Western Conference powerhouses.

So how is this fixed? Should this be fixed? There is no doubt that the Eastern Conference teams have the individual stars that people want to see play: Crosby, Malkin, Ovechkin, Stamkos, and others. Those guys do more with the puck in one shift than I ever have in my unimpressive hockey career. They get people on their feet, they make people shake their heads when they do something spectacular, and they are on highlight reels across the planet.

But if fans are fickle, winning is everything. And the Western Conference wins. San Jose, Colorado, and Anaheim all have as many or more points than the Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh Penguins. Ten Western Conference teams have double-digits in points already as opposed to the seven teams in the Eastern Conference. Winning is the great equalizer when it comes to fan support, and teams that win see that result at the box office.

Of course, none of this matters if an Eastern Conference team wins the Stanley Cup this season. All of this banter is all for naught at that point. However, right now it appears that the smart bet would be on a Western Conference team due to the head-to-head stats between the conferences.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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