Every couple of weeks I will chronicle what goes on in the NW division. A round up of each team and what to look forward to in the coming weeks, and what we have learned about each team this season.
After only one or two games, this week will be very light, but we did learn some things about what to expect this year...
*The teams will be listed in alphabetical order to prevent any favouritism.
1. Calgary Flames, T-1st in Northwest 2-0-0, 4pts, 2-0-0 in last 10
The Calgary Flames have played 60 minutes of great hockey and 60 minutes of Mikka Kiprusoff saving the day, and fortunately or unfortunately, these minutes were spread all over the two games. Thanks to a gaffe by Khabibulin, the Flames come out of week one with two wins.
Some offseason questions concerned the Flames scoring depth, thanks to Jay Bouwmeester's contributions and Mikka Kiprusoff, those questions have been answered so far. Iginla, Jokinen, and Langkow have all played okay, but nothing great, while David Moss, Curtis Glencross, Rene Bourque, Brandon Prust and Mark Giordano have all put up points so far. Jay Bouwmeester has played 59 minutes in the first two games, has two pts and is a +3. He won't be able to keep this pace, obviously, but he has been a huge help reducing Phaneuf's minutes and giving Sutter a viable option. Kipper has been outstanding so far, and if that continues the Flames will have a great season.
With wins against division rivals coming so far, the Flames are doing well.
2. Colorado Avalanche, T-1st in Northwest 2-0-0, 4pts, 2-0-0 in last 10
Colorado had very minimal expectations going into the season, and are already exceeding those expectations. The Avs are expected to come back down to Earth, and more than likely sooner, rather than later, but for now the wins over highly favoured teams San Jose and Vancouver are great. The divisional win over Vancouver is a great thing for the Avs, but also the Flames, Oilers and Wild.
The pickup of Craig Anderson has been a brilliant move so far, holding the fort against San Jose's potent attack and shutting out the Canucks less powerful, but still dangerous, offense. If he can play anywhere near this level for a sustained period of time, the Avs could be a dangerous team. Now, the brilliance of Wojtek Wolski and Paul Statsny will probably not continue at this pace, but if the young guns continue to impress, this will be a fun season in Denver.
3. Edmonton Oilers, T-3rd in Northwest, 0-1-0, 0pts, 0-1-0 in last 10
The Oilers are still an enigma after just one game, and no real questions have been answered. The big free agent acquisition in Khabibulin gave away at least a point to the rival Flames, and none of the young players have shown whether they will be a better team this year than last. It is still too early to say what will happen in Edmonton this season.
Khabibulin and Comrie's seasons will have a large effect on what happens with the Oil, and a playoff spot is definitely up for grabs. One game is not a trend, so Oiler fans should just relax and let the first dozen games unfold.
4. Minnesota Wild, T-3rd in Northwest, 0-1-0, 0pts, 0-1-0 in last 10
Similar to the Oilers situation, the Wild haven't played enough hockey to even begin to answer any questions. The Wild lost to the Jackets, 2-1, and that somehow managed to give 10 players a -1. Minny is a bit of a question mark this season, and honestly could finish anywhere from 5th or 6th to 13th to 14th. It will take a few more games before anything becomes remotely clear.
For the first time, the Wild have a new coach from last season, and how the team reacts to him and the new systems will be very interesting.
5. Vancouver Canucks, 5th in Northwest, 0-2-0, 0pts, 0-2-0 in last 10
The Canucks are expected to battle the Flames for the Northwest Division crown, and Luongo is expected to start for Canada at the Olympics. If the first two games are anything to go by, neither of those things have a hope of coming true. Luongo gave up some soft goals and the Canucks couldn't recover in time in a 5-3 loss to Calgary, and getting shut out in Colorado was a similar game. The Canucks aren't playing terrible—they played great in the second half of the game against the Flames—but they haven't figured out how to play anything close to a full game, and can't recover from a terrible start. They also need some work on the PK, and the defence is not a strength.
The offseason additions of Shirokov and Samuelsson have been good, though it seems odd that Cody Hodgson wasn't good enough to crack this roster, as a little more offense wouldn't seem misplaced. The lack of talent on the blueline was demonstrated; if the Canucks' offence wasn't cycling the puck in the corner, the blueline couldn't seem to handle the puck with any regularity.
Luongo's struggles have to end for this team to have a shot. A .857% save percentage and 3.53 GAA will not be good enough for Vancouver to succeed. That both losses were to divisional opponents is also a blow. If Calgary had won one of the two games to start the season against Vancouver last year, Calgary would've won the division. The Canucks have to turn this around, especially before the epic road trips that the team will have to go on thanks to the Vancouver Olympic Games.
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