Apr 022010
 

No one wants to play the dreaded Wings, but who would you rather the Canucks face in the first round: Nashville, Los Angeles, Colorado, or Calgary?

Let’s grade the top nine teams in the Western Conference (throwing Calgary in the mix on the slight chance they snag the final spot) in three categories: Offense, Defense, and Goaltending.

I’ve assigned a grade by giving the top NHL team in that category a mark of 100% and the lowest 50%, and used that scale to calculate a percentage for each team and then translate into a letter grade. Make sense?

We’ll look at these goals per game, shots against per game, and save percentage only; use your judgment to adjust rankings based on injuries, momentum, or insights gained watching games.

Ready? Let’s go.

OFFENSE

TeamsGoals For Per GameGrade
Vancouver3.22A
Chicago3.14A-
San Jose3.14A-
Colorado2.91B
Los Angeles2.78C+
Detroit2.72C+
Nashville2.65C
Phoenix2.56C-
Calgary2.51C-

Only the high-octane Capitals have scored more goals this season than Vancouver, led by the league’s best line and six scorers with more than 20 goals. At the bottom: Phoenix’s bunch nobodies and Calgary’s Jarome Iginla and a bunch of nobodies.

DEFENSE

TeamsShots Against Per GameGrade
Chicago24.8A+
Los Angeles27.6B+
Calgary28.9B
Nashville29.1B
Vancouver29.3B
Phoenix29.8B-
Detroit29.8B-
San Jose31.2C+
Colorado32.0C

We’re looking at shots and not goals against per game to isolate the defense from the goaltending. By that measure, Chicago’s blue-chip defense has been the league’s best this season, led by likely Norris-winner Duncan Keith. The young Kings are the best of the rest.

GOALTENDING

TeamsStarting GoaltenderSave PercentageGrade
DetroitJimmy Howard0.925A
CalgaryMikka Kiprusoff0.921B+
San JoseEvegeni Nabokov0.921B+
PhoenixIlya Bryzgalov0.920B+
ColoradoCraig Anderson0.917B
VancouverRoberto Luongo0.916B-
NashvillePekka Rinne0.910C
Los AngelesJonathan Quick0.907C-
ChicagoAntti Niemi/Cristobal Huet0.901F

We’re looking at save percentage and not wins, goals against or shutouts because it’s the stat that best isolates a goaltender’s performance from the team’s.

Is Jimmy Howard really the best goalie in the Western conference? His lack of experience will be tested going into the playoffs. Meanwhile, Ilya Bryzgalov is Ryan Miller’s main competition for the Vezina.

Chicago has the awkward combination of allowing the least number of shots per game, but having problems stopping the few shots they see. They can’t decide if Huet or Niemmi will hurt them less.

OVERALL

TeamsOverall GradeComments
VancouverB+The deepest and most balanced team in the West. Their fortunes depend on Luongo finally turning it on.
San JoseBGreat goaltending, mediocre defense. Can Thornton, Heatley and Marleau keep scoring in the playoffs?
ChicagoBPoor goaltending is the Hawks' Achilles heal. Do they wish they kept Khabibulin?
DetroitBThese playoff veterans are the hottest team in the league right now: 9-0-1 in their last ten.
CalgaryB-Calgary's inability to find good linemates for Iginla will be what does them in.
ColoradoB-Fading down the stretch, this young team won't do much this year.
PhoenixB-The Coyotes will face the Wings in round one, and home-ice advantage won't help them much.
Los AngelesB-The Kings are loaded with young talent. Can Doughty and Co pull off a first-round upset?
NashvilleC+Probably the weakest team in the first round, and mediocre in every category.

How would you grade the Western teams? Let us know in the comments.

  • Hello There

    I don’t believe you can take the overall season and make a strong case for who will be the weakest team going into the playoffs. Clearly, after the last month of play you can’t consider Nashville the weakest team in the West.

    Pekka Rinne has been phenomenal in March. The Red Wings are red hot, but the Hawks, Sharks, Avs and Coyotes have been struggling recently.

    How you go into the playoffs shouldn’t be underrated. I’d be scared of Nashville, even if you don’t want to give them the respect they deserve.

  • Hello There

    I don’t believe you can take the overall season and make a strong case for who will be the weakest team going into the playoffs. Clearly, after the last month of play you can’t consider Nashville the weakest team in the West.

    Pekka Rinne has been phenomenal in March. The Red Wings are red hot, but the Hawks, Sharks, Avs and Coyotes have been struggling recently.

    How you go into the playoffs shouldn’t be underrated. I’d be scared of Nashville, even if you don’t want to give them the respect they deserve.

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