Recently, in the Twitterverse, I’ve been noticing a lot of people asking who the best team in the Western Conference is. From a Bruins perspective, people are of course wondering who the toughest team for the Bruins to face in the Finals would be. Since I don’t believe in jinxes, I’m going to use this space to determine which would be the toughest team for the B’s to face in their hopeful 3rd Stanley Cup Finals in 4 years.
First, here are the conference, non-divisional standings through the first 6 teams (nobody outside of these 6 has any claim to be the best of the conference, even if you had a Jack Edwards level of bias for any of these teams).
St. Louis: 103 Points, 71 GP
San Jose: 101 Points, 73 GP
Anaheim: 99 Points, 71 GP
Chicago: 97 Points, 72 GP
Colorado: 94 Points, 71 GP
Los Angeles: 88 Points, 72 GP
Now, let’s look at each team’s Fenwick For Percentage with a close score (within 1 goal in the 1st and 2nd period and tied in the 3rd or OT), at 5 on 5.
Teams: (Ranking in the League, FF%)
Los Angeles: (1, 56.6%)
Chicago: (2, 55.4%)
San Jose: (3, 55.0%)
St. Louis (7, 52.6)
Anaheim: (16, 50.2%)
Colorado: (27, 47.0%)
Right off the bat, we can eliminate Colorado. This won’t surprise many people, as the only ones who were really pushing the idea that the Avalanche are the best team in the West are the one who claim that it’s true because of Patrick Roy’s “intensity” or “knowledge of how to win” or something like that. Colorado is a good team, but possession numbers like that simply aren’t good enough for anyone to even thik that they’re in the West’s cream of the crop.
The same can be said for Anaheim. While 16th in the league isn’t exactly 27th, it’s still not good enough for them to be a serious part of the debate. It might be enough if they had a better goalie than Jonas Hiller, who is fine, but a 91.4 SV% isn’t exactly elite. It’s respectable, but not enough to bring a 16th ranked team to the top.
That leaves us four finalists, and each one has a legitimate claim. LA proponents would point entirely to advanced stats, and they’d have a reason. Well, they’d also point to having Jonathan Quick, the Conn Smythe winner 2 years ago, and a roster who does know what it takes to win, however much that intangible matters. Marian Gaborik might be able to help with their season-long scoring drought, although that hasn’t really happened so far. At the same time though, LA does have trouble scoring goals to the point where many fans, myself included, are wondering whether or not they are one of the few teams where shot quality does truly matter, and in a negative way.
Read this post, which I’ve linked to on this site before, but that’s because of how enlightening it can be. The first thing that you’ll notice when reading both graphs is that I have even more reason to eliminate Anaheim from the Best in the West discussion. The first thing that you’ll notice is that the Bruins are absolutely awesome, to the point where the author, Tyler Dellow, who is usually a proponent of the idea that shot quality isn’t that important, says that the B’s might actually be able to affect shot quality in a positive way. When you have Zdeno Chara and defensive forwards like Patrice Bergeron, maybe that isn’t all that shocking. It also does help affect the CF% to GF% ratio to have the best goalie in the league, but let’s get back to talking about the West. Dellow also wonders whether or not LA does have truly bad shooting accuracy.
Let’s get back to the Kings — they clearly have a chance to be the best. We’ll look at San Jose next. While everyone seems to think of San Jose in terms of whether or not Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau will get their first rings, the real reason that the Sharks have a slightly better chance than last year is Joe Pavelski. Pavelski has never had more than 66 points in a season, and he’s already at 67 now. He’s been playing at left wing with Joe Thornton while Couture and Marleau make up the C-LW 2nd line combination. If Tomas Hertl can give them in the playoffs, they could be the team to beat. And if anyone was to (stupidly) doubt whether or not San Jose has enough offensive firepower to win it all, just think of their first power play combination: Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Dan Boyle. So yeah, you could pick the Sharks as well.
I think St. Louis became a real possibility in the Best of the West debate with the Ryan Miller trade. Jaroslav Halak was better than a lot of people realized, but Miller is a step up, and he will continue to benefit from playing behind the Blues’ defensemen instead of that of the Sabres. Speaking of the Blues defensemen, their top three of Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, and Kevin Shattenkirk are downright scary. St. Louis’ possession number aren’t that good, but they have remained an elite team while their team shooting percentage has come back down to a reasonable level, as it was very high earlier in the season. Ultimately, I am a little concerned that St. Louis is really as good as its record. The possession numbers aren’t quite where the top 3 teams in the West are, and I don’t know if Alex Steen will keep up his insane age-30 breakout season.
That leaves us with the Blackhawks, and they’re still my pick to win the West and be the toughest matchup for the Bruins. The Hawks are right there with the Kings in the fancy stats, and that mc79hockey post really shows us something, in my opinion. They’re an elite team even when Toews and Kane aren’t on the ice, which is just stupid. Keith and Seabrook will be counted on more heavily in the playoffs, and that combo should be as huge for them as it was last year.
The Blackhawks only have two concerning questions. One is the health of Patrick Kane. Personally, because I don’t want the B’s to have to face harder competition, I’m rooting for the Avs to knock off the Hawks in the first round while Kane and his knee are still rusty. The second question is the addition of Teuvo “Turbo” Teravainen. Teravainen is a 19 year old Finnish prodigy after lighting up the World Juniors the past 2 years. The Hawks just brought him over after his Finnish season ended, and he might fill the only huge hole in the Hawks’ lineup: 2nd line center. Michal Handzus is simply not that good, and he is far too bad to be playing with Patrick Kane and even Kris Versteeg. The Hawks have decided tonight to put Turbo at 3C, but, if he plays well there, don’t be shocked to see him play 2C. With his and Kaner’s offensive skills, that makes a lethal top 6 which is complemented by an already elite bottom 6 and awesome defensive unit. Corey Crawford might not play as well as he did in the 2013 playoffs, but he’s good enough with the team around him to do some more damage in the postseason.
All in all, if Turbo is anything close to what many are hoping, then the Blackhawks just don’t have any weak spots. That’s why they’re the Best of the West, and that’s why they’d be the toughest competition for the Bruins for the 2nd year in a row.