A few teams played intra-conference games this week, while others played against division and conference rivals. As the week comes to a close, let’s take another look at how things have changed in the Western Conference.

Western Conference Standings
1. San Jose Sharks, 36-7-6, 78 pts.
2. Detroit Red Wings, 33-11-7, 73 pts.
3. Calgary Flames, 30-17-4, 64 pts.
4. Chicago Blackhawks, 29-13-8, 66 pts.
5. Dallas Stars, 25-19-7, 57 pts.
6. Anaheim Ducks, 26-24-5, 57 pts.
7. Minnesota Wild, 26-22-3, 55 pts.
8. Edmonton Oilers, 26-22-3, 55 pts.
9. Vancouver Canucks, 23-20-8, 54 pts.
10. Nashville Predators, 25-24-3, 53 pts.
11. Columbus Blue Jackets, 24-23-5, 53 pts.
12. Phoenix Coyotes, 24-24-5, 53 pts.
13. Los Angeles Kings, 22-21-7, 51 pts.
14. Colorado Avalanche, 25-26-1, 51 pts.
15. St. Louis Blues, 21-24-5, 48 pts.

Denotes division leader

Western Conference – Divisional Standings

Detroit Red Wings, 33-11-7, 73 pts. – 2 game winning streak
Chicago Blackhawks, 29-13-8, 66 pts. – 3 game winning streak
Nashville Predators, 25-24-3, 53 pts. – 4 game winning streak
Columbus Blue Jackets, 24-23-5, 53 pts. – 3 game losing streak
St. Louis Blues, 21-24-5, 48 pts. – lost last game

Calgary Flames, 30-17-4, 64 pts. – 3 game losing streak
Minnesota Wild, 26-22-3, 55 pts. – lost last game
Edmonton Oilers, 26-22-3, 55 pts. – won last game
Vancouver Canucks, 23-20-8, 54 pts. – won last game
Colorado Avalanche, 25-26-1, 51 pts. – 2 game winning streak

San Jose Sharks, 36-7-6, 78 pts. – 2 game losing streak
Dallas Stars, 25-19-7, 57 pts. – won last game
Anaheim Ducks, 26-24-5, 57 pts. – 2 game losing streak
Phoenix Coyotes, 24-24-5, 53 pts. – 5 game losing streak
Los Angeles Kings, 22-21-7, 51 pts. – 2 game winning streak

Western Conference – Parity makes for interesting playoff race
Well, the log jam of teams stuck at 53 points in the West has been broken. Yet, things are still VERY tightly contested and this playoff race will most likely continue for a few more weeks. One thing is for certain, should the Colorado Avalanche have a 4 or 5 game losing streak, they may roll off the mountain and be the first to drop out of the pack.

Today, I’ll be focusing on the Central Division.

Central Division

The Detroit Red Wings will square off against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday as the Oilers continue to try to gain ground in the Western Conference standings. Detroit will try to win its third straight game after losing a season high 5 in a row.

Marian Hossa scored twice in a 5-4 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes on Wednesday, February 4. Henrik Zetterberg also scored in his first game back since straining his back with all the money bags he’s been carrying from his huge 12-year/$73 million contract. However, not all is rosy in Detroit, as they will be without the services of Tomas Holmstrom, who will be out for 3 to 5 weeks due to having hernia surgery. One would suspect all the abuse in front of the net on power plays has finally caught up to Mr. Holmstrom. Also of issue, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock has been searching for answers as the Red Wings penalty kill continues to plummet in the PK rankings, which has allowed 50 goals on 218 kill attempts. This works out to a 77.1 kill percentage, ranking Detroit 27th in the league. Babcock told NHL staff writer Dan Rosen “If we were to go into the playoffs today with the penalty kill the way it is now we can’t win. I say that with all honestly. We can’t win.” Serious words from a serious coach.

The Chicago Blackhawks defeated the sputtering Calgary Flames 5-2 on Thursday, February 5 fuelled by a goal and 2 assists from Andrew Laad. Laad, who spent two seasons in the Western Hockey Leag with the Calgary Hitmen started his huge homecoming evening with a tiebreaking assist on Adam Burish’s goal at 11:28 of the 2nd period. The ‘Hawks are riding a 3 game winning streak and are now within 7 points of the Central Division leading Detroit Red Wings, whom they will not face again until April 11 and April 12 when the Red Wings and Blackhawks will face off in a home and home series to end the season and could very well determine the division champion.

The Nashville Predators are riding high on a 22 save shutout performance from Dan Ellis, along with Jason Arnott’s 350th NHL goal in a 2-0 win over the Minnesota Wild, Nashville’s fourth consecutive win. Friday’s win was preceded by a 5-2 victory over the Ducks and back-to-back 2-1 victories over the Phoenix Coyotes and Edmonton Oilers. The Predators are hoping that Jordin Tootoo and Wade Belak will be back in the lineup for Sunday’s game against the Dallas Stars. Tootoo is listed as having a lacerated right hand, received on February 1 against the Oilers. Meanwhile, Belak is listed as day-to-day with an “upper body injury”, thought to be a shoulder injury incurred on Thursday against the Ducks. The Predators also placed defenseman Alexander Sulzer, who is expected to miss up to 4 weeks with a separated shoulder, on injured reserve. His roster spot has been filled by recently recalled forward Patric Hornqvist from Milwaukee (AHL).

The Columbus Blue Jackets are mired in a 3-game losing streak after falling 4-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night. Columbus, which is only two points out of the 8th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, played for the first time in 20 games without rookie goalie Steve Mason and lost its third in a row and fifth in seven games. Mason has been shelved with an ongoing case of pneumonia and has been replaced by Syracuse Crunch (AHL) goaltender Dan LaCosta on an emergency recall basis. In another roster move, the Columbus Blue Jackets signed goaltender John Murray to a professional tryout contract.

One area that the Blue Jackets need to improve is their play with the man advantage. While the power play unit went 1 for 5 in Pittsburgh, Columbus still sits dead last in the NHL power play standings with 27 goals on 225 attempts for a miserable 12.0% conversion when up a man.

The Jackets will get no rest for the weary, however, as they return home to face the conference leading San Jose Sharks on Saturday night. Columbus may also be missing defenseman Marc Methot (4-9, 13 pts., +6) due to flu-like symptoms.

The St. Louis Blues made a decision to try and ride hot goaltender Chris Mason out of the Central division cellar when they placed Manny Legacy on waivers on Friday morning. Mason has gone 4-1-2 with two shutouts and a 1.23 goals-against average in his last seven games. Meanwhile, Manny Legacy cleared waivers and will be joining the Blues’ AHL affiliate Peoria Rivermen. St. Louis recalled goaltender Chris Holt of Peoria to replace Legacy on the roster. Legacy, an ‘07/’08 All-Star net minder lost his starting job to Mason before this season’s All-Star break and has been hampered by a “lower body injury”, which was suffered against Boston, since January 19.

St. Louis enters Saturday night’s meeting with the Colorado Avalanche having secured at least a point in eight of its last nine games, going 5-1-3 in said stretch of games. The Blues alternated wins and losses in their last six games, following Tuesday’s 4-2 win over the Columbus Jackets and a 2-1 shootout loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday. The Blues might be without one of its top scorers, as rookie Patrik Berglund (16-16, 32 pts., tied for second on the team) suffered a “lower-body injury” early in the third period Thursday and his now listed as day-to-day.

Western Conference – News and Notes

Today’s news and notes will be occupied by the Dallas Stars.

• 10’s are wild as the Dallas Stars trounce the NY Rangers. Mike Ribeiro had two goals and two assists, while line mates Jere Lehtinen and Steve Ott had three points each as the Stars held a shooting gallery at home against the new York Rangers and an incredible 10-2 victory. Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundvqist, who was sidelined with flu-like symptoms, watched as his backup, Stephan Valiquette made 29 saves and attempted to survive the evening. The sold-out American Airlines Center erupted with each goal as Valiquette, who was shelled with 39 shots on the night, slowly transformed into Swiss cheese with a Rangers sweater. The Stars feasted as they got two goals from rookie James Neal, a goal and two assists from fellow rookie Fabian Brunnstrom, three assists from defenseman Matt Niskanen, a goal and an assist from blueliner Darryl Sydor, two assists from Mike Modano and a goal each from Brad Richards and Brian Sutherby.

• This is the second 10-goal game in the Western conference in recent weeks as the Buffalo Sabres put a 10-spot up against the Edmonton Oilers on January 27th, which also had a final score of 10-2.

• The Dallas Stars made a few roster moves on Friday, sending goaltender Tobias Stephan back to Bridgeport of the American Hockey League on Friday while recalling Brent Krahn from Chicago of the AHL to serve as Marty Turco’s backup on Friday night. The highest profile move made by the Stars was the release of troubled forward Sean Avery, who was suspended for comments made earlier this season about NHL players dating former girlfriends of his. The Stars will now be on the hook for half of Avery’s $4 million/season salary with any team willing to take the chance on him.

The Western Conference sort of reminds me of a Super Mario Brothers game – circling sharks, exploding flames, and falling octopi.

Have a wonderful day!