When one looks at the bunched up Western Conference standings, there are 13 teams vying for the eight playoff spots as of January 13, 2020. The only team with any kind of comfortable lead is the St. Louis Blues who own an 11-point lead over the trailing Dallas Stars. The Western Conference playoff race are tightening up as teams scramble for a position as if it were a horse or car race.
The Eastern Conference is also very tight, and that will be covered in another article soon. Be sure to watch for it.
Western Conference Playoff Race Is Really Tight
As of this writing, the Vegas Golden Knights with 54 points hold a slight wild card lead over the Edmonton Oilers with 53 points. Following them is a large group of teams who still have a shot at playing in the postseason. The Winnipeg Jets, Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild, Chicago Blackhawks, and San Jose Sharks are all still in the running.
Many factors including injuries, trades, players in slumps or hot streaks will factor into which team finishes where. One thing is certain… the race is really getting interesting! As an NHL fan nothing can be more exciting than to follow your team at or near playoff time to see where they end up.
Another factor to consider is games played at this point of the season. The Predators hold games in hand to get a wild card spot with virtue of having only played 44 games thus far. That gives them anywhere from a two to four games in hand situation… which can be critical as the season progresses.
St. Louis Blues 30-10-7, 67 points
The Blues are playing much like reigning Stanley Cup champions play… with decisive abilities and great goaltending. Jordan Binnington is the force behind their success and the magic he showed us all last season and into the playoffs is still there. If he continues to play at the level he has, the team should have no worries going into the playoffs and beyond again this season.
Dallas Stars (26-15-4, 56 points)
The Stars too are experiencing much more success since they fired their head coach… hey, maybe there’s something to that. They were rolling right along with winners of six straight until the Sharks beat them on Saturday night 2-1. They are 9-4-1 under their new head coach Rick Bowness. They’re just nine points behind the Blues with one game in hand.
Colorado Avalanche (25-15-5, 55 points)
The Colorado Avalanche have been hit with hard times of late going just 3-5-2. Their defence has seemed to slip a bit and that’s never good. It should be a classic battle tomorrow night as they face the Stars with a chance to leapfrog over them into second place in the Central Division behind the Blues. The Avalanche are definitely a playoff caliber team who many predict will take the West title.
Arizona Coyotes (25-18-5, 55 points)
The addition of Taylor Hall has made this already fast young Arizona Coyotes team add a new dimension to their attack. Hall is a skilled, swift forward and exactly what the offence-starved Coyotes needed to compete at a higher level. Now, if they can get their star starting goalie Darcy Kuemper back they may make some more noise to join the teams in the playoffs. Another pleasant surprise for the Desert Dogs has been forward Conor Garland who leads the team in goals with 15.
Calgary Flames (25-18-5, 55 points)
The Calgary Flames seem to be the hottest team in the West with five consecutive wins under their belt. The new head coach, Geoff Ward can be given some credit for the Flames acting like their nickname of late. They are also winners of six of their last 10 games helping their resurgence to the top of the Pacific Division, until they lost to the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 13. One sees how things change. The Coyotes moved ahead of them using the tiebreaker of regulation wins.
Vancouver Canucks (25-17-4, 54 points)
The Vancouver Canucks have a talented team oozing with youth and offensive explosiveness led by Elias Pettersson. He is having a great sophomore year, but he needs help from his teammates if they expect to get to the playoffs and beyond. They’ve made a surge and hold the best record in their last 10 games (8-2) to stay right in the fight for a playoff position.
Vegas Golden Knights (24-18-6, 54 points)
The Golden Knights have struggled lately and have had to fight back in games where they are down. In fact, they did the unthinkable by falling behind 3-0 in four consecutive games, losing three of them. Even with that, they are still in the hunt to be in the playoffs the third straight time in their young existence. A real test for the Vegas team will be the upcoming road trip where they play eight straight on the road and nine of 10 away from T-Mobile Arena. If they survive that they deserve to be in the playoffs. They currently hold down the first wild card spot but not by much.
Edmonton Oilers (24-18-5, 53 points)
Edmonton had been playing very well and, in fact, led the Pacific Division for a while. Right now they are very much in the playoff picture and fighting for a spot like all these teams. They currently have the last wild card slot but by the slimmest of margins… one point over the Jets. The Jets also have that handy game-in-hand to help them. If you have the Connor McDavid/Leon Draisaitl show every game you have a chance to win.
Winnipeg Jets (24-18-4, 52 points)
Winnipeg is hanging in there with just as bad a record (3-5-2) in their last 10 games as the Avalanche. If they can turn things on, the playoffs are a definite possibility. They have been getting exceptional play from their goalie Connor Hellebuyck that is helping them stay relevant. He has a 20-13-4 record along with a 2.64 goals-against-average while maintaining an excellent .920 save percentage. While he can’t do it all, like Binnington he can make a huge difference.
Nashville Predators (21-16-7, 49 points)
The Predators have been rejuvenated a bit by what else… a head coaching change. What came as a bit of a surprise, Peter Laviolette became the sixth NHL coach to be looking for a new job this season. John Hynes who was let go by the New Jersey Devils was one of those unemployed head coaches, but he was not out of for long. He takes over a Preds’ club who had been floundering. With Hynes’ direction and discipline they may be headed to the playoffs where many feel they belong. And don’t forget they have those games-in-hand.
Minnesota Wild (20-19-6, 46 points)
The Wild have really turned their season around. They are just seven points from a playoff spot with two games-in-hand. They had better not look over their shoulders because the Chicago Blackhawks are right behind them. By virtue of the Wild going 4-5-1 in their last 10 games and the ‘Hawks going 6-4, they’ve lost some ground… or ice. They may run out of gas by the time that playoff teams are determined. But still have a chance to make it.
Chicago Blackhawks (20-20-6, 46 points)
Chicago are struggling to stay in the playoff hunt even with injuries disabling them. They lost both defencemen Calvin de Haan, and Brent Seabrook and may not get either one back this season. Dylan Strome also had an ankle injury he’s recovering from to add to the list of players down. Even with these distractions they have hung in there for now. We’ll need to see if they can stay the long-term or not.
San Jose Sharks (21-22-4, 46 points)
The Sharks have struggled yet are still within range of playoff potential. They did lose Logan Couture to a fractured ankle for about three weeks. They just haven’t been consistent enough to be able to compete with the other teams in the West. Their goaltending is still in question although their new head coach Bob Boughner has installed Aaron Dell in place of Martin Jones with some good results. Dell has come away with four out of five wins lately to enforce Boughner’s decision to give him a try.
Now, this is a playoff race. Even though there are still 34-37 games left to be played by the above-mentioned teams, the race remains close. Any set of factors can change that. Who will come out of the pack of 13 in the Western Conference playoff race to be able to go for the coveted Stanley Cup hardware?
Follow it all here. We will cover all the action and if your team doesn’t make it… there’s always next season.