Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Your 2009 Mid-Season Hockey Report: Western Conference, Northwest Division

After a bit of a delay, we're back to wrap up our not-so-mid-season mid-season hockey look, and today's focus is none other than the Northwest Division, where Canadian and expansion/relocation teams often times grapple and knock one another out in dubious fashion. If you're just joining us, we last looked at the Central, and before that, we ran the course of the Eastern Conference, examining the Southeast, Northeast, and Atlantic divisions as well.

In first place are the Calgary Flames. They've accumulated 78 points to date, and have done via the helping sticks of Jarome Iginla, Mike Cammalleri, Rene Borque, and the oft-scrutinized Todd Bertuzzi. Each of these cats has contributed significantly in to the offensive point totals running from Borque's 21 goals and 19 helpers to the captain Iginla's 66 points. Dion Phaenuff and Adrian Aucoin have tallied their share of points as well, and done so from their defensive positions. In all, the Calgary defensive pairings have held their ground, albeit in a relatively weak division. The 10-point edge they hold, however, comes with many thanks to netminder Mikka Kiprusoff, who has played lights out between the pipes, going 36-15 to this point in the campaign. He's let over 150 pucks past him, but still holds a .902 save percentage and, as his record suggests, has seen more action than most of his league counterpoints.

That point differential between first and second in the Northwest leaves the Vancouver Canucks looking up at the Flames. If the season ended today, they'd be the five seed, and perhaps the most amazing story out of British Columbia is that Vancouver still employs both of the Sedin twins. And rightfully so; Henrik and Daniel lead their clubs in productivity, with 57 and 59 points respectively. Mixing the roster with a blend of youth and journeymen like Mats Sundin and Pavol Demitra, the Canucks are playing some of the most well-rounded stick and puck in the west. Their defense yields one of the best +/- differentials in the conference, and this has been a big boost for Roberto Luongo, who's gotten most of the nods in net. He currently sits at 19-8, and having faced nearly 1000 shots.

In third place are the Minnesota Wild. They're not too far behind the Canucks in the division rankings, and only one point behind the Blue Jackets in conference. Minnesota has never put out much in they way of offensive juggernauts, but Mikko Koivu leads the club with an impressive 55 points. Their defense is rather middle-of-the-road, but they still manage to get noteworthy production from most everyone on the squad. In goal, the often-average Niklas Backstrom has had an up year, posting 28 wins and a .926 save percentage through 45 contests.

Tied with Minnesota are the Edmonton Oilers. They've managed to stay scrappy all season, and done so with considerable output from several defensemen. Sheldon Souray leads the protective pack with 40 points, while Tom Gilbert and Lubomir Visnovsky are right behind with 34 and 31, respectively. The Oilers' success thus far comes via an approach not usually observed in Alberta. Most seasons, Edmonton's roster is full of veterans, while they've fielded a considerably younger roster this go-'round. In net, Dwayne Roloson has strung together 21 wins, while letting just over 100 pucks cross the line.

Bringing up the rear are the once-esteemed Colorado Avalanche. Having put together upwards of 10 division championships, they failed to qualify for the post-season two years ago, got back in this past season, and really have their work cut out for them these last couple of months. At 57 points, they sit dead last in the west, but only eight points out of the eighth-seed spot for post-season qualification. Ryan Smyth and Milan Hejduk, as they always do, have had solid seasons. The offensive production behind them isn't atrocious; they've gotten help from guys who were perhaps overlooked in October. Their defense, however, is far from the glory years of Deadmarsh/Foote, Blake/Bourque. Further proving my you-should-never-ever-fire-Joel Quenneville theory, the Avalanche would've needed phenomenal play in net to make this season a success, and a 16-24 mark from Peter Budaj isn't gonna cut the mustard, especially when he's faced nearly 1200 shots in almost 2500 minutes of playing time. Thems just ain't good odds.

That'll just about wrap our NHL reports up. We'll make every effort to stay sober enough to examine the Pacific on the morrow.