Western Conference Round Robin Preview

Western Conference Round Robin
DENVER, CO - JANUARY 18: Colorado Avalanche Tyson Jost (17), front, in action during 1st period of the game against St. Louis Blues at Pepsi Center. Denver, Colorado. January 18, 2020. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Hockey is finally back after months off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Four of the best Western Conference teams will be battling it out in round-robin play for a chance to be the number one seed. The St. Louis Blues, Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche, and Dallas Stars will play three games each to determine the top four seeds.

This Western Conference round-robin tournament starts this weekend in Edmonton at Rogers Place. With all kinds of questions surrounding this and the other qualifying-round matchups, here’s a preview of what to look for during the Westen Conference round robin.

Western Conference Round Robin

What To Expect?

Well, one thing is for sure: nobody knows. One thing fans are going to notice off the bat is that hockey is being played in the summer. However, with a four-month pause breaking the season into two parts, the resumption of the 2019–20 season feels like a whole new season. That means there is a chance for sloppy play and teams that had momentum back on March 12 will be starting from scratch. The ice conditions might not be the greatest as the NHL has adopted a tournament-style to play five to six games a day in one place.

If you look at the NHL restart and compare it to Major League Baseball, defence (like pitching) should be ahead of the offence (the bats). That favours teams like the Blues and Stars. But once things get back on track, will the offence overtake the defence? Possibly. That means teams like the Avalanche and Golden Knights will benefit. But as many fans know when it comes to the playoffs the saying goes defence wins championships.

While these four teams are playing for the top seed in the round-robin tournament, they are ultimately looking to get back in a rhythm on the ice. Which of these four teams will make every move count and go all-in to capture the top spot? Will a team decide to rest their players, even more, to get them ready for the Stanley Cup Playoffs? How will coaches handle their goalie rotations? Will a team’s starter play more than the backup? Lots of interesting questions will play out in the round-robin.

Ultimately what it comes down to is who out of the four Western Conference teams want it more in the round-robin. Plus which teams match up better against one another. No team wants to be at a disadvantage to start the playoffs. However, it is not like home-ice really means anything, or does it?

Players Returning

The big news coming out of Phase 3 was all the players coming back from injury prior to the March 12 pause. A string of top players were missing from the top four Western Conference teams. One team that’s benefiting the most from the break are the St. Louis Blues. The Blues have forward Vladimir Tarasenko back from injury. It was thought Tarasenko was gone for at the rest of the season and first couple rounds of the playoffs. Now the break allowed Tararsenko to get fully recovered from his injury, and his addition makes the Blues a favourite to win the Stanley Cup again.

Another team getting a boost is Colorado. Right before the March 12 pause, it seemed like the injury bug hit the Avalanche pretty hard. Players like Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar went down with injuries. Makar was dealing with an upper-body injury and while he did play one game before the break, the extra time off certainly helped him recover even more. Rantanen was dealing with a shoulder injury and but was then able to fully rehab it in Finland during the break. Having Rantanen back will allow that top line of Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog to shine.

The news was not the greatest for the Golden Knights, who will be without Max Pacioretty for an extended period. Pacioretty did not travel with the team to Edmonton and it is unclear when he will be ready to play. No Pacioretty is a big blow to Vegas’ offence.

What is at Stake?

Blues

For St. Louis, they are looking to establish themselves as a dynasty in the NHL. St. Louis has always been a great team but having won a Stanley Cup last season has catapulted them to the next level. Also, the Blues want to join the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings as the only back-to-back Stanley Cups winners since 1992. If the Blues get the number one seed, they have a good chance of repeating. Another title sets them up to have a real long dynasty. Plus they will be playing for Jay Bouwmeester, who collapsed during a game against the Anaheim Ducks. So there is that factor too.

Golden Knights

No longer a surprise team in the league, Vegas wants to prove their inaugural season was no fluke. Vegas made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final that season, losing to the Washington Capitals. Last year, the Golden Knights lost in the first round to the San Jose Sharks. Vegas wants to re-establish themselves as the premium team in the Western Conference — in just their third season of existence. They will now need Mark Stone to carry the offence with no Pacioretty.

Avalanche

For a young Colorado team, they are looking to show they can hang with the big boys in the Western Conference. With the likes of MacKinnon, Rantanen, Landeskog, and others Colorado has put themselves in a position to win. Their defence is one of the best and only getting better. After being underdogs the last two seasons, they are now a favourite to win the Stanley Cup and get back to their glory years. Getting the number one seed is a step in the right direction. Colorado’s big question mark will come in goal.

Stars

Last season Dallas came so close to getting to the Western Conference Final, losing to the Blues in Game 7 in double overtime. The Stars have used that as motivation this season to be back in a position to make another deep run. It will be on players like Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin to propel this team far. Having Ben Bishop helps, but he has to stay healthy. The Stars played well against teams from the Central Division, but it is a different animal this team of the year.

Prediction: St. Louis wins the top seed.

Main Photo:
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Jim is a 2008 graduate of Saint Michaels College who is currently writing about the NHL for Last Word on Hockey. His work includes writing about the New Jersey Devils as well as NHL Notebooks for the Metro and Central Division. Jim has a passion for the game of hockey. As one coach put it "he is the student of the game." When Jim is not writing he can be found at the local rinks playing or being a referee. Throughout his time in the game, Jim continues to coach a local high school team. In addition, he broadcasted several New Jersey Junior Rockets games for the Eastern Hockey League. Reach him on Twitter: @JimBiringer

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