Monday, Jan. 31, 2011
By Chris Boden
The Blackhawks have had a five-day break from The Grind, followed by three games in four days, followed by another six days off, including Monday's practice. Now that they've caught up on some rest, and the playing field is fairly level in the Games Played column, here's a quick peek at what the other Western Conference contenders are up to coming out of the All-Star Break:
Detroit (66 pts.) They're "only" 13-9-4 since November, but impressively 9-5-2 since Pavel Datsyuk went down, beginning a string of injuries that's included Danny Cleary, Brad Stuart, and Tomas Holmstrom. Now, Datsyuk's set to return. After facing Ottawa and Columbus this week, the next six include a pair of meetings each versus Nashville and Boston, plus tilts with the Rangers and Lightning.
Dallas (65 pts.) Bounced back to beat Edmonton after surrendering seven goals in each of their two previous losses to Vancouver & Calgary. Tons of salary cap space if a management in flux chooses to use it (they've already picked up Jamie Langenbrunner) for potential blue line help since the forwards and goaltending seem capable. They return to action hosting Vancouver, traveling to Boston & Philadelphia, then home to Phoenix & the Hawks.
Nashville (60 pts) They're coming off a 3-3 trip, with wins over Phoenix, Colorado & Edmonton, while losing to the Hawks, Calgary & Vancouver. They're not "home-free," but they've played the most road games in the NHL. 22 of their final 32 are at home.
Anaheim (60 pts) The one team that the league's still catching up to after playing 52 games already. They've made the most of it, too, after a 4-7-1 start, capturing 10 of 13 since Ryan Getzlaf was sidelined December 28th with facial fractures. They open the second half with six of eight on the road.
Phoenix (59 pts) Entered the Break with a five-game road win streak despite dropping four of six overall. They'll face three contenders out of the chute: at San Jose, home to Vancouver, Minnesota and Colorado, followed by a trip to Dallas, then back home against the Hawks (then Washington). They have a five-game trip at the end of the month to Nashville, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Columbus, then Chicago.
San Jose (56 pts) They rebounded from a six-game losing streak with a four-game win streak before a shootout loss in L.A. Antti Niemi's back in Cup form. After hosting Phoenix out of the Break, it's seven straight and 10 of 12 on the road, including Washington, Boston and Nashville. The two they have at home are followed by a trip to Detroit & Pittsburgh.
Colorado (56 pts) They score - and give up - goals in bunches. Keep an eye on that goals-against number with Craig Anderson not up to last year's form, and whether Peter Forsberg completes his comeback following the huge loss of Tomas Fleischmann. They managed to go only 7-7-2 in 16 home games of their last 21 overall before the break, and play six of eight on the road out of the second half gate.
Minnesota (55 pts) After starting the season in Helsinki, they were back in the States for just two games before Todd Richards put his team through a Bag Skate. Four games later, they lost their breakout player from last season, Guillaume Latendresse, to sports hernia surgery. This team was 13-13-4 in mid-December, but has gone 12-6-1 since, including four wins in their las five. Fourteen road wins surpasses last year's total, which is needed when you play only .500 at home. Save for a game against Edmonton, their entire month of February is against the Blackhawks, Vancouver, and the other teams on this list.
Los Angeles (55 pts) They'd lost 10 of 12 (including a 2-6 homestand) before their three-game win streak into the break (over Phoenix, Boston and San Jose). Now, a 10-game road trip, including a four-day span with stops in Pittsburgh, Washington and Philadelphia.
Calgary (54 pts) The Flames were flickering towards being extinguished (sorry about that...), only to go 10-3-3 in their last 16. Their four-game win streak into the break came at the hands of Dallas, Vancouver, Nashville and St. Louis. Mikka Kiprusoff has stopped 92 of 97 shots the last three games when the power play's connected six times, and their PK's gone 14-for-14. They'll look to pick up where they left off at Nashville and at Atlanta this week.
Columbus (51 pts) We keep waiting for the Blackhawks' first foe before the break to go away. Will the month of February against the other teams on this list (save for single games against Edmonton and Pittsburgh) do that?
St. Louis (51 pts) Last year: great on the road, bad at home. This year: the opposite. And it's been an unhappy New Year - going 2-8- in 2011 so far, including 0-3-1 to finish the first half. They've allowed 27 goals in their last six road games. T.J. Oshie and Roman Polak are back. Now they wait on Andy McDonald and David Perron to return from concussions. Looking at their schedule, if they're to make a move, February's the time.
Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.