As 2018 comes to a close, we look at where the Western Conference teams are positioned, and will be positioned as we pass the half-way mark of the season. The new year should be a lot of fun.
1. Winnipeg Jets 23-10-2 (Points per game: 1.371) +0
The Jets are consistently one of the best offensive teams in the league. Aside from the odd day off against LA or something, the Jets have been able to score four, or more goals per game without much trouble. They are 8-2-0 in their last 10, which has only only been bested by the 9-0-1 Tampa Bay Lightning, and have been able to out-score their opponents 43-27 in that time span.
2. Calgary Flames 22-11-3 (Points per game: 1.305) +1
The Flames hit a bit of a snag this week when they lost to bot Tampa and Dallas, but seven wins in their previous eight games have been able to push them comfortably atop the Pacific Division. Scoring has come fast and furious, the top line of Elias Lindholm, Sean Monahan, and Johnny Gaudreau have combined to score 54 goals in 36 games. On the back-end, David Rittich is posting an impressive .923 SV%. I had a chance to watch him recently, and he’s a very capable goalie who has earned his success, but aim for a rebound and drive the net. Good things will happen.
3. Nashville Predators 22-12-2 (Points per game: 1.278) -1
A lot of Nashville’s games have been close affairs, and it’s mostly comes as a result of the under-performing offense. Ever since Filip Forsberg went down with a 4-6 week injury on December 1st, the Preds have been playing at a .500 pace. No one has stepped up offensively.
They have lost three in a row, including games to the Ottawa Senators and Carter Hart’s Philadelphia Flyers. In their past 10 games (December) Ryan Johansen leads the team with nine points, but only three are primary points. The statisticians call the rest “noise.” Beyond Forsberg, there really isn’t a big goal-scoring threat on this team, and that has really hurt them lately.
4. Colorado Avalanche 19-10-6 (Points per game: 1.257) +0
Mikko Rantanen is a superstar, the goaltending is starting to hit a good flow, and Avs fans are starting to get cocky enough to begin looking at playoff rentals. Okay, maybe just Tom.
But seriously, the Avs are in a very comfortable position in their division — Dallas is seven points away — and the team has just been able to chug along without many distractions. Sure, the roster comes across the odd injury, but it’s nothing that can’t be handled. What will be interesting is how many wins the team will be able to bank in the final five games of 2018. CHI, ARI, VGK, CHI, and LAK aren’t the toughest opponents, and three of those games are at home.
Can Colorado supplant Nashville in time for 2019? it’s possible.
5. San Jose Sharks 19-12-5 (Points per game: 1.194) +2
The Sharks have a really easy end to the month, and for a team that is only just starting to regain some chemistry, it’s coming at the perfect time. LAK, ARI, ANA, EDM, and CGY are on the horizon for the end of 2018, and bagging some wins early could put some major pressure on the Calgary Flames before the second half of the season begins.
6. Anaheim Ducks 19-13-5 (Points per game: 1.162) -1
This team is a broken record at this point. Aside from the odd game versus a bottom-feeder or the Dallas Stars, the Ducks continue to get out-shot, and out-chanced, but still find a way to be break-even or bettter in goals. Pontus Aberg has been a miracle find for the Ducks. The 25-year-old former phenom on the Nashville Predators has 11 goals for the team in only 31 games. His success kinda says a lot about the Edmonton Oilers not being able to handle his “late-night partying” long enough for him to bag some goals and the Ducks are.
7. Vegas Golden Knights 12-15-2 (Points per game: 1.135) +3
Just as the Golden Knights started to put some points on the board, one of their top scorers Max Pacioretty was forced to the Injured Reserve. Hopefully for the Knights, he’s not out for too long, but if he is, the team gets to play Los Angeles three times in the next two weeks.
Also, congrats to the Flower.
8. Edmonton Oilers 18-14-3 (Points per game: 1.114) -2
The Oilers have been getting good shooting luck and mega goaltending, but at the same time, their very good shot metrics have fallen off a cliff under Ken Hitchcock. Mikko Koskinen has been a good goalie for Edmonton, but he’s doomed if they continue on this path.
Maybe they're switching systems or something. pic.twitter.com/4GX5lrGDXa— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) December 19, 2018
9. Minnesota Wild 17-12-2 (Points per game: 1.059) -1
Apart from the two games against the Montreal Canadiens and Florida Panthers where the Wild scored 12 goals, the offense is dry in Minnesota. They have 10 goals in the 10 games this month not against those two teams, which is terrible inconsistent. They play the equally dry Dallas Stars tomorrow. It’ll be interesting to see if we get no goals, or all the goals.
The #MNWild are paying Tyler Ennis $2.17M while he plays for the Leafs and has more goals than Coyle, Nino and Koivu. Woof.— Andrew Freeman (@Andy_Freeman2) December 19, 2018
10. Dallas Stars 17-15-3 (Points per game: 1.057) -1
The Stars have lost five of their last six games and are dropping closer to the bottom half of the conference than the top half. The injury-plagued roster has had a lot of trouble scoring; the only time in the past two weeks where they scored three goals or more was the high-scoring loss to the Colorado Avalanche.
11. Vancouver Canucks 17-17-4 (Points per game: 1.000) +1
The Canucks are enjoying time with Elias Pettersson, Jake Virtanen, and Josh Leivo. The team is exceeding expectations, they’re playing fun hockey, and the youth are in charge.
The one downside of that is narratives such as “old players are being pushed out of the lineup” carry a critical overtone to them.
benning’s 2017 free agency:— chris (@CorsiGuy) December 20, 2018
sam gagner: waived, in the ahl
alex burmistrov: out of the league
anders nilsson: .901 as a canuck
michael del zotto: https://t.co/fBm3gaHkh5
12. St. Louis Blues 13-16-4 (Points per game: 0.909) +1
The Blues busted out a “controversial” win over the Edmonton Oilers this week that got some major buzz on the west coast, but for the most part, this team is struggling to keep the puck out of the net. Jake Allen has a .898 SV% in 27 games this season. An “8” as the first digit in a save percentage is not a number goalies want to see, especially 27 games in.
13. Arizona Coyotes 14-18-2 (Points per game: 0.882) -2
This report came out hours before I submitted this article, so I feel comfortable saying I’m breaking news here.
According to sources close to the Coyotes organization, a change in ownership is “pending and imminent.” Those are not good words to hear if you’re a Coyotes fan, but it might be great news if you live in the Houston Texas area. I’m just sayin’.
14. Chicago Blackhawks 12-19-1 (Points per game: 0.811) +0
Corey Crawford has another concussion. At 33-years of age and two Stanley Cups under his belt, it might be time for the Hawks goaltender to hang them up.
In other news, never touch a mascot’s head.
15. Los Angeles Kings 12-20-3 (Points per game: 0.771) +0
They somehow found a way to beat the West’s Best Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday night. Austin Wagner had two goals in the win, his first milti-point game of his career. The goals have been hard to come by for the Kings. They’re 35 games into their season and only have 79 goals. Dustin Brown is the team’s leading goal-scorer with NINE (9!) goals on the year! To compare, Brandon Saad of the Blackhawks also has nine and he’s fourth on the team in goals.