Since the last time I did a dive into the Western Conference standings, the race for the final few playoff spots has become even more competitive. While none of the teams beyond the Big Five of the West are world beaters, hot streaks from Arizona and St. Louis has made life Edmonton’s playoff pursuit more difficult.
1. Calgary Flames
33-13-5 (71 points) / 190 Goals For (2nd) / 145 Goals Against (12th)
Not much to see here. The Flames haven’t dropped a game in regulation since Jan. 3 and now look to be running away with top spot in the Western Conference. The Flames are scoring at will and their goaltending has been steadier than it was in the first half. If the Oilers squeak into the playoffs, there’s a very good chance we’ll see a Battle of Alberta.
2. San Jose Sharks
29-16-7 (65 points) / 187 Goals For (3rd) / 167 Goals Against (25th)
The Sharks have been one of the hottest teams in the league in 2019. San Jose went on a seven-game winning streak after the New Year that featured an impressive 5-2 over Tampa Bay and pulled themselves to second in the Western Conference. The offence has found its groove and the Sharks are looking like the contender everyone expected they would be when they acquired Erik Karlsson in the off-season.
3. Winnipeg Jets
31-16-2 (64 points) / 168 Goals For (8th) / 137 Goals Against (5th)
The Jets and Predators are in a dogfight for first place in the Central Division. The two teams are currently tied in points with 64 but Winnipeg has played three fewer games. The most impressive thing about the Jets is how they’ve continued to roll despite injuries to Nik Ehlers and Dustin Byfuglien.
4. Nashville Predators
30-18-4 (64 points) / 161 Goals For (9th) / 135 Goals Against (4th)
As I said above, the battle in the Central is between Nashville and Winnipeg. Obviously, the goal here is to finish first and get home ice advantage when these two teams inevitably meet in the second round of the playoffs.
5. Vegas Golden Knights
29-19-4 (62 points) / 157 Goals For (10th) / 140 Goals Against (6th)
After a massive hot streak in December and January that was capped off by a seven-game winning streak in the New Year, the Golden Knights have cooled off through a difficult schedule. They’ve dropped four of their last six games, getting dropped by top Western teams like Nashville, Winnipeg, and San Jose. Vegas still has a big lead on the teams below them in the Pacific but San Jose and Calgary might be pulling away when it comes to home ice advantage.
6. Minnesota Wild
26-21-3 (55 points) / 142 Goals For (22nd) / 142 Goals Against (9th)
Here’s where things start to get wild, no pun intended. The last time I looked at the playoff race, the Wild were on the outside of the playoffs looking in, but they’ve since capitalized on poor streaks from Colorado and Dallas to climb up the standings. The key for the Wild to be successful is keeping the puck out of the net. In their current stretch in which they’ve won three of four, Minnesota has allowed just 10 goals.
7. Dallas Stars
24-21-4 (52 points) / 126 Goals For (29th) / 128 Goals Against (2nd)
The Stars have gone into a bit of a tailspin as of late and have fallen back into a logjam in the Western Conference wild card mix. Dallas has dropped five of their last seven games, including losses to basement teams like Los Angeles and St. Louis. They’re having a rough time scoring goals, as they’ve scored more than one goal just twice in their last seven games. I guess CEO Jim Lytes’ message to Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin didn’t help much.
8. Colorado Avalanche
22-20-8 (52 points) / 169 Goals For (7th) / 162 Goals Against (21st)
The Avalanche are in an even bigger tailspin than the Stars. Colorado has dropped 12 of their last 15 games. Their goaltending has cooled off and riding one good offensive line has caught up to them. Colorado had been overachieving all season so this isn’t all too surprising.
9. Vancouver Canucks
23-22-6 (52 points) / 147 Goals For (16th) / 161 Goals Against (20th)
I’ve had a hard time taking Vancouver seriously as a playoff contender all season but here we are. It’s the All-Star break and the Canucks are tied for a playoff spot. They managed to go 2-1-2 while Elias Pettersson was injured and are thoroughly in the mix with the trade deadline approaching. I can’t see them buying, given their long-term plans, but the may opt not to sell given the playoffs are in reach.
10. Anaheim Ducks
21-21-9 (51 points) / 120 Goals For (30th) / 153 Goals Against (19th)
Three things on this planet will survive the apocalypse — twinkies, cockroaches, and the Anaheim Ducks. Despite a 12-game losing streak, the Ducks are one point out of a playoff spot at the All-Star break. They’re old, slow, decimated by injuries, and they can’t score, but Anaheim still finds a way to squeak out wins (and those ever-important overtime losses).
11. Arizona Coyotes
23-23-4 (50 points) / 132 Goals For (28th) / 142 Goals Against (9th)
After a miserable start to the season, some solid play since the New Year has the Coyotes in the mix for a playoff spot. Arizona has won six of their last nine games and have passed the Oilers in the standings. They’ve been excellent at keeping the puck out of the net all year and now their offence is starting to come around a little bit. They might be the dark horse to watch in the West.
12. St. Louis Blues
22-22-5 (49 points) / 139 Goals For (26th) / 149 Goals Against (14th)
Oh man, even the Blues are in the mix now. It looked like the Blues were dead just a few weeks ago, but all it takes to bring you to life in the playoff race in the West is a solid stretch. The Blues have gone 5-2-1 in their last eight games and they now sit three points out of a playoff spot.
13. Edmonton Oilers
23-24-3 (49 points) / 144 Goals For (20th) / 163 Goals Against (23rd)
The Oilers badly need Oscar Klefbom back. They’ve been terrible in their top defender’s absence, going 5-12-1. The poor streak has dropped them to 13th in the standings. While they’re only three points out, they’ll have to jump over a lot of teams to get into a playoff spot.
14. Chicago Blackhawks
18-24-9 (45 points) / 156 Goals For (11th) / 190 Goals Against (31st)
I said last time four teams — including Arizona and St. Louis — were out of the picture and it turned out that wasn’t accurate at all so I don’t even feel comfortable writing off Chicago. I mean, given the way the West is, a stretch where they go 6-3-1 would have the Blackhawks right in the mix. It’s hard to imagine that happening, but you never know.
15. Los Angeles Kings
20-26-4 (44 points) / 114 Goals For (31st) / 150 Goals Against (17th)
I am confident saying L.A. is out of the picture. They began their firesale on Monday shipping Jake Muzzin to the Toronto Maple Leafs and guys like Alec Martinez, Tyler Toffoli, and Jeff Carter could be next.
What does it all mean?
Only six points separate the Minnesota Wild, who sit sixth in the West, and the Edmonton Oilers, who sit 13th. Last time, I broke the West into three tiers. The first was the locks: Calgary, San Jose, Vegas, Nashville, and Winnipeg. That hasn’t changed. The only thing that has changed is two teams from the basement tier have moved into the middle tier. Arizona and St. Louis are thoroughly in the playoff mix, further convoluting the Western Conference race for the final few playoff spots.
The Oilers aren’t in an admirable position right now. As I said earlier, while three points isn’t a huge hurdle, they have to jump a handful of teams to get back into a playoff spot. The key for the Oilers, and this isn’t rocket science by any stretch, will be winning games against the teams they have to hop. They have 32 games left, and nine of them will come against teams fighting with them in that middle tier. If the Oilers can win a good chunk of those games, it’ll go a long way in salvaging their season.