Stanley Cup Playoffs 2012: Which Western Conference Team Will Take the 8 Seed?
Last week, I wrote an article predicting which Eastern Conference teams currently out of the Stanley Cup Playoff picture had the best chance at taking the last spot. This week, I will switch focus and predict which Western Conference team could lock up the No. 8 seed.
The Western Conference is always extremely competitive. Currently, the 11th place team in the conference, the San Jose Sharks, are just one point away from the eighth seed. The Anaheim Ducks are only eight points out, and if they go on a tear, they too can snatch the last spot from the Calgary Flames.
However, when it comes down to the last spot, teams will do whatever they can to secure it, and this conference race is sure to be tight right to the end of the season.
Here is a look at the five teams that have the best chance to secure the West's final spot. Just like the Eastern Conference, I will analyze each team's strengths and weaknesses, their record against playoff-bound teams and predict whether or not they can make the postseason.
All statistics presented are as of the end of games on Sunday, March 11.
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Current Record: 32-25-12 (76 points, eighth in Western Conference)
The Flames have veterans with experience as Stanley Cup finalists and champions. Alex Tanguay won the 2001 Cup with the Colorado Avalanche, while Jarome Iginla and Mikka Kiprusoff were on the 2004 Flames team that went to the finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning. However, Calgary lost to Tampa in seven games.
One of the team's other key vets is defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. Bouwmeester has not missed a regular season game since he played for the Florida Panthers in 2003-04, and he is good for about 20-30 points a season.
Calgary's defense is 15th in the NHL at 2.66 goals surrendered per game. Their special teams sit just outside the top 10, with an 18.2 percent power play (12th) and an 11th-ranked penalty kill with an 82.8 percent success rate.
Calgary has just four players posting at least 30 points, and as a result, the offense is 23rd in the NHL with 2.44 goals scored per game.
Health is also an issue for the whole team. Only seven players have played at least 60 of the team's 69 games.
Head coach Brent Sutter has never taken the Flames to the playoffs and did not have success when he was in charge of the New Jersey Devils. While he was in New Jersey, the Devils did not get past the first round in either 2008 or 2009.
Record Against Playoff Teams (Since All-Star Break): 3-2-5
Playoff Odds: The Flames may be in the eighth spot for now, but ultimately, their weaknesses will override their strengths, and they will be outside of the picture once again.
Los Angeles Kings
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Current Record: 32-25-12 (76 points, ninth in Western Conference)
The Kings boast a strong defense, as they are third in the NHL with 2.06 goals against per game. Drew Doughty, arguably one of the league's best defensemen, has posted two 40-point seasons and has 11 points in 12 career playoff games.
Goaltending is solid in Los Angeles, with Jonathan Quick manning the pipes and already posting two 30-win seasons in his career. He currently has a record of 28-19-11 with a .929 save percentage and a 2.00 GAA. He is ninth in the NHL in wins and fourth in save percentage and GAA.
The Kings' roster has several players with Stanley Cup experience, so this team knows what it takes to compete and win. Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne were Cup finalists with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010. Defenseman Rob Scuderi went to the 2008 finals with the Pittsburgh Penguins and helped them win it all in 2009, while forward Justin Williams won the 2006 title as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Kings' offense is 29th in the NHL with just 2.17 goals scored per game. This is disappointing when their roster has players such as Anze Kopitar, who could have 70 points this season, but will still have a down year after posting 73 points in 2011.
Mike Richards, who came to Los Angeles in a blockbuster trade with the Flyers over the summer, has just 35 points in 61 games. However, he missed games with an injury. Dustin Penner, acquired in a trade at the 2011 trade deadline, has been a disappointment. He had six points in 19 games after coming to the Kings last year and has 14 points in just 52 games this season.
Head coach Darryl Sutter has limited playoff success in recent coaching jobs. His teams have lost in one of the first two rounds in eight of his 12 seasons as a head coach, and his Flames team missed the playoffs altogether in 2003.
Record Against Playoff Teams (Since All-Star Break): 4-4-1
Playoff Odds: Jonathan Quick has what it takes to help the Kings steal a few games, and this squad is certainly not short on playoff experience. They have won three out of their first five games in March, so if they can get on a roll and get their offense to produce, they will have a good shot at the playoffs.
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Current Record: 36-30-4 (76 points, 10th in Western Conference)
The Avs have a solid record in overtime and the shootout, going 12-4 and ranking second in the NHL. They are also fourth overall with a 52 percent faceoff-win percentage, so they can quickly gain control of the puck.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere has been a strong veteran presence in goal. The 2003 Conn Smythe winner and 2007 Stanley Cup winner is in his first year in Colorado and has a record of 15-10-2 with a .920 save percentage and a 2.23 GAA. His GAA is eighth in the NHL.
In addition, forward Milan Hejduk continues to produce at 36 years old, posting 35 points in 69 games. He is the lone member of the team left from the 2001 Stanley Cup championship.
Both of the Avs' special teams are in the top half in the league. Their power play is clicking at an 18.4 percent success rate, while the penalty kill is 14th (82.5 percent).
Forward Matt Duchene is out for three to four weeks with an injury and has been limited to just 26 points in 48 games. This will hurt since Colorado struggles on offense, as the unit is 22nd in the league with 2.50 goals per game.
Record Against Playoff Teams (Since All-Star Break): 2-3-2
Playoff Odds: The Avs are getting good goaltending and went on a four-game winning streak at the end of February. However, they have only won three of six games to start March. They will have to step up in a crowded conference if they want to make the postseason.
San Jose Sharks
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Current Record: 33-25-9 (75 points, 11th in Western Conference)
The Sharks are in the top 15 in both defense (ninth with 2.51 goals surrendered per game) and offense (2.66 goals per game; 15th in the league). They have strong offensive depth, with three players posting at least 50 points and four defensemen posting at least 20 points.
San Jose also has a good mix of young players and veterans. Standouts include 2011 Calder Trophy runner-up Logan Couture (tied for second on the Sharks with 53 points) and Stanley Cup winners Dan Boyle and Antti Niemi.
In addition, the Sharks' power play is fifth in the NHL with a 20 percent success rate.
For as good as the power play is, the penalty kill is the opposite. The unit is 28th in the NHL with just a 78 percent success rate.
Martin Havlat, acquired over the summer from the Minnesota Wild, has been a bust for San Jose. He posted 15 points in 26 games before being sidelined with an injury that has kept him out of the lineup since Dec. 17.
Record Against Playoff Teams (Since All-Star Break): 4-6-1
Playoff Odds: There is no doubt the Sharks have the talent to make the postseason. However, they have not had a winning streak since the All-Star break, and they will have to establish some consistency to beat the competition.
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Current Record: 29-30-10 (68 points, 12th in Western Conference)
Anaheim has a strong core of forwards from the 2007 Stanley Cup run, including last year's Hart Trophy winner, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Teemu Selanne. Perry is third in the NHL with 34 goals.
Bruce Boudreau, who was hired at the end of November to replace Randy Carlyle, has experience turning around struggling teams. When he took over the Washington Capitals in 2008, the Caps went 37-17-7 to win the Southeast Division and give Boudreau the Jack Adams Trophy.
Two of Anaheim's strengths are also its weaknesses this year. Their offense is 24th in the NHL with 2.44 goals scored per game, a result of early-season struggles and some of their stars having down years.
Boudreau also has not had a lot of playoff success. When he was coaching the Capitals, the team never got further than the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
In addition, both of the Ducks' special teams are in the bottom half of the NHL. The power play is 20th with a 16.2 percent success rate, and the penalty kill is 18th with an 81.6 percent rate.
Record Against Playoff Teams (Since All-Star Break): 6-3-2
Playoff Odds: The Ducks have shown they can compete against playoff teams, which is something other teams on the brink can't say. However, they have gone 2-3 in March and need to turn their offense into a strength once again if they want to lock up the eighth seed.