I hope you all had a wonderful Valentine’s weekend and President’s Day (USA). I’ve been under the weather for a few days and, other than checking a few things online, I’ve been unable to truly focus. And a copy/paste job just wouldn’t do justice to anyone. So, I apologize for the “lateness” of this.

Nonetheless, things are starting to heat up again in the Western Conference, as a single point can make the difference between being a 6th seed or a 9th seed and planning. As I mentioned last time, if the Colorado Avalanche had a 3 or 4 game losing streak, their season may be over. Well, they’ve had an abysmal 10 game set, as you’ll see below. So the big question is: will the Avs deal Milan Hejduk and/or Wojtek Wolski?

Last week:
Western Conference Standings – 02.07.09
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.

This week:
Western Conference Standings – 02.16.09
1. San Jose Sharks, 37-8-9, 83 pts.
2. Detroit Red Wings, 37-12-8, 82 pts.
3. Calgary Flames, 33-18-5, 71 pts.
4. Chicago Blackhawks, 31-15-8, 70 pts.
5. Vancouver Canucks, 27-21-8, 62 pts.
6. Dallas Stars, 27-21-7, 61 pts.
7. Columbus Blue Jackets, 28-23-5, 61 pts.
8. Anaheim Ducks, 28-25-5, 61 pts.
9. Edmonton Oilers, 28-23-4, 60 pts.
10. Minnesota Wild, 28-24-3, 59 pts.
11. Nashville Predators, 27-26-3, 57 pts.
12. Los Angeles Kings, 24-22-8, 56 pts.
13. Phoenix Coyotes, 25-27-5, 55 pts.
14. St. Louis Blues, 23-25-7, 53 pts.
15. Colorado Avalanche, 26-30-1, 53 pts.

Denotes division leader

Western Conference – Divisional Standings – 02.16.09

Detroit Red Wings, 37-12-8, 82 pts.– 6-3-1 in last 10
Chicago Blackhawks, 31-15-8, 70 pts. – 6-4-0 in last 10
Columbus Blue Jackets, 28-23-5, 61 pts. – 6-3-1 in last 10
Nashville Predators, 27-26-3, 57 pts. – 7-3-0 in last 10
St. Louis Blues, 23-25-7, 53 pts. – 5-2-3 in last 10

Calgary Flames, 33-18-5, 71 pts. – 5-4-1 in last 10
Vancouver Canucks, 27-21-8, 62 pts.– 5-2-3 in last 10
Edmonton Oilers, 28-23-4, 60 pts. – 5-4-1 in last 10
Minnesota Wild, 28-24-3, 59 pts. – 5-5-0 in last 10
Colorado Avalanche, 26-30-1, 53 pts.– 3-7-0 in last 10

San Jose Sharks, 37-8-9, 83 pts. – 4-2-4 in last 10
Dallas Stars, 27-21-7, 61 pts. – 7-3-0 in last 10
Anaheim Ducks, 28-25-5, 61 pts. – 5-5-0 in last 10
Los Angeles Kings, 24-22-8, 56 pts. – 7-2-1 in last 10
Phoenix Coyotes, 25-27-5, 55 pts. – 2-8-0 in last 10

*Western Conference – Playoff remains tight *
Well, the “log jam” I mentioned the first time I posted an article about the Western Conference is back. As of Monday, Dallas, Columbus, and Anaheim all have 61 points, a mere point behind the 5th seed (Vancouver), one point ahead of Edmonton and 2 ahead of Minnesota. Some teams, such as Dallas, Nashville, and Los Angeles have really turned it on lately, winning 7 out of their last 10 games. The “biggest losers” of late have been the San Jose Sharks, the Western Conference’s best team which hit a speed bump on their trip to the East coast, the Colorado Avalanche, and the Phoenix Coyotes.

Today’s focus, the Pacific Division:

Pacific Division
The San Jose Sharks had a 4 game winning streak to close out the month of January, with their last victory being a 2-0 shutout win over Phoenix on January 29. Since then, the Sharks have had 2 3-game losing streaks. The first began with a loss at home against Chicago (4-2), continued with a shootout home loss against Carolina (4-3), and an overtime loss in Columbus (3-2). San Jose then embarked on a 4-game East coast road trip to face the Eastern Conference leading Boston Bruins, the floundering Pittsburgh Penguins, the Buffalo Sabres, and the surging New Jersey Devils. They started the trip off with a tightly checked and highly physical game against the Boston Bruins. The Sharks skated into the 3rd period down by a goal, but exploded for four unanswered goals for a 5-2 victory.

San Jose then caught a charter to Pittsburgh to face the Pittsburgh Penguins for their second game against each other this season; the Sharks won the first game 2-1 in San Jose in late October 2008. While many were expecting the Penguins to be shark bait, Pittsburgh showed what made them the Eastern Conference defending Champions and defeated the Sharks 2-1 in a shootout, with Penguins captain Sidney Crosby scoring the only shootout goal.

San Jose lost another one goal game in Buffalo, this time 6-5 via a shootout, in an emotional game in which the Sabres and the Buffalo community reeled after having a plane crash in the Buffalo metro area and 50 lives leave this world.

The Sharks and New Jersey Devils were skating in a 5-5 tie late in the third period when David Clarkson scored his second goal of the game on a power play with 3:32 remaining to eventually give the Sharks their final one goal loss of the road trip.

San Jose will get to return to their time zone and home ice for 3 games in a row against Edmonton, Los Angeles, and Atlanta. Many Sharks fans do agree that this is but a small bump in the road and San Jose will rebound once they are back home in the HP Pavilion.

The Dallas Stars continue to shine as they have gone 7-3-0 in their last 10 games, with the biggest margin of victory being a whopping 8 goals in a 10-2 trouncing of the visiting New York Rangers on February 6. Following the Rangers game, the Stars continued their 4-game home stand with alternating wins and losses, the first of which was against Nashville (4-1) on February 8. The Stars then were shut out at home by the Phoenix Coyotes (1-0), defeated the Vancouver Canucks (2-1) and then hit the road to Chicago (and lost 6-2). Tonight, they will be facing the Columbus Blue Jackets in an all important battle for 2 standings points.

The Stars have been powered by the great Mike Modano, who has eight assists in nine games, Brian Sutherby, who has four goals in his last eight games (after going scoreless for 15 games after being traded from Anaheim), Fabian Brunnstrom, who has 2 goals and 2 assists in his last 4 games, and James Neal, who has five goals and five assists in his last 9 games. Brad Richards has also chipped in 3 points in the last 5 games. More amazing for Dallas is that the Stars have been able to get things together without their leader, captain Brendan Morrow for a majority of the season. Of course, stellar goal tending from Marty Turco, to the tune of 26 straight starts, has also been helpful for the continued success of the Stars.

The Anaheim Ducks have been stagnant of late. Only a year and a half removed from their 2006-2007 Stanley Cup season, the Ducks find themselves sitting in the 8th and final spot available for the playoffs and could easily be on the outside looking in within days. The Ducks were shutout on a visit to Minnesota (3-0) on February 4, but were able to rebound with a pair of victories in a home and home set of games against the Calgary Flames (2-1 in regulation and 3-2 in overtime respectively). However, with an 8-4 thrashing at home against the Atlanta Thrashers, many are beginning to believe that the Anaheim Ducks just may not have enough to make it into the playoffs.

Between the pipes, Ducks netminder Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who has not been as sharp as in years past, has a dismal 3.09 GAA and a .903 save percentage, making him 37th in the league (GAA) and 33rd (sv. %) in the NHL. Captain Scott Niedermayer is a -8 on the season while still chipping in 38 points (8G-30A) and his brother Rob has been a healthy scratch by Anaheim head coach Randy Carlisle.

With this in mind, there is a likely hood that the Anaheim Ducks will fall into the “seller” category in this year’s trade dockets, with the possibilities of Chris Pronger and Scott Neidermeyer leaving Anaheim’s pond for good.

Staying in southern California, the Los Angeles Kings have been hot throughout the month of February, but have tapered off of late. The Kings began the month on a 4-game road trip to the East coast. With a 1-0 shutout victory in Ottawa over the home Senators, a 5-4 victory over Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, a 3-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils, and a 4-3 shootout victory over the New York Islanders, the Kings went 4-0 on their road trip, and furthered their hopes of making it into the playoffs. However, upon returning home to Los Angeles, the kings were burned by the Calgary Flames in a 2-0 shutout and lost a tightly contested match in a shootout 3-2 against the Edmonton Oilers.

The Kings are still in the playoff hunt thanks to the stellar play of Dustin Brown, who has 14 points (7G-7A) in the last 11 games for Los Angeles. Brown has also been a physical leader, with a career-high 12 hits registered against the Oilers on February 14, a game in which Edmonton was out hit 41-33 by the kings.
Meanwhile, in the desert of Arizona, the Phoenix Coyotes are desperately trying to find answers, much to the chagrin of head coach Wayne Gretzky. The Coyotes ended January with a 3-game losing streak, only to have another 3-game losing streak begin the month of February. Their lone win so far this month was a 1-0 shutout victory in “Big D” over the Dallas Stars. Returning home to Jobbing.com Arena has not helped what ails the ‘yotes, as they lost 4-3 to the Canucks and 7-5 to Calgary once again.

The only bright spot for the Coyotes of late is the activation of defenseman Kurt Sauer off of injured reserve after missing 14 games. Sauer has 4 assists and 32 PIM in 43 games in his first season in the desert. He averaged 20:47 minutes in ice time per game (5th most on the team) before hitting the IR.

Will the Coyotes be sellers at the deadline, willing to part with young talent such as forwards Mikkel Boedker, Viktor Tikhonov, and Peter Mueller to get proven NHL talent? Will they part with veterans like defenseman Ken Klee or forwards Steven Reinprecht, Olli Jokinen, or even their beloved team captain Shane Doan? Or will Gretzky and company hold off and hope to build off of the experience the youngsters on this team are obtaining for a larger push next season?

With financial issues for the team, attendance issues (which may be solved now as the NFL’s NFC champion Arizona Cardinals have finished their season), and a continuing inability to win means that not everything is as sunny as it should be in Phoenix.

The Western Conference reminds me of a Super Mario Brothers game – you’ve got circling sharks, flames coming out of nowhere, and falling octopi.

Have a wonderful day!