East is East and West is West, at least in conference terms, and it’s up to Joe LaTengo to determine where these eight teams stand before the “great Judgment Seat.”
Three of Wednesday’s pairings (Winnipeg at Montreal, Boston at New Jersey, San Jose at Anaheim, and Minnesota at Vancouver) feature recently ascending teams meeting squads on the decline.
Winnipeg had a December to remember, with 10 wins in 14 games including a 4-0 shutout victory over the Habs at the MTS Centre on December 22. The Jets might not see Dustin Byfuglien return until the Bruins game on Jan. 10, but other blueliners have stepped it up: Tobias Enstrom and Zach Bogosian have chipped in on offense, while Ron Hainsey and Mark Flood have helped stabilize the back end. They’ll be needed as the team chases its fourth straight win at the start of its four-game road trip. However, the 5-8-4 road record shows they like home cookin’ a little too much.
Montreal is in trouble: slumping badly with seven losses in the past eight games, taking heat for promoting unilingual Randy Cunneyworth to the head-coaching job, and spending a pile of cash to extend defenseman Josh Gorges. Goaltender Carey Price should appreciate having the NHL’s leading shot-blocker in front of him, but it’s debatable whether he’s worth a rumoured $3.9 million US per season ($23.4 million US over the six-year life of the deal). Gorges can break up fights, though, as he got in the middle of a scrimmage scrap between Tomas Plekanec and P.J. Subban on Monday.
Boston-New Jersey seems to be the most even match on this Wednesday slate. The Bruins won seven in a row until Dallas stopped them 4-2 on New Year’s Eve. The Devils, meanwhile, were victorious in seven of their past 10. They didn’t start the New Year on the right foot, though, losing 3-2 in overtime to Ottawa on Monday.
The Sharks haven’t been playing like a top-tier team, but they did get a shootout win in Vancouver on Monday to notch five wins in their past seven games. At the same time, Anaheim doesn’t seem to be playing any better for Bruce Boudreau than when Randy Carlyle was the bench boss. They’ve lost six of their last seven; ironically, their only two-point result in that stretch came in a 3-2 win during a visit on the day after Christmas to the HP Pavilion (aka the Shark Tank).
At one point, Minnesota was the top team in the league; now, not so much. They started December with five straight victories, but then slumped badly with only one win in their last 10 since. As mentioned, the Canucks lost in a shootout on Monday to San Jose, but December was good to them with 10 wins in 16 games.
The early NHL betting seems to be favouring an even split between visitors and hosts; now it’s up to you to determine if you agree.