We’ve been waiting for an Alpha to seize the West, and Vegas may finally be ready to step into that role
Top-heavy. Weak. Inconsistent. Wide open. All of those labels have been used to describe the NHL’s Western Conference this year, and all of them have merit. We’ve spent much of this year keeping a close eye on the conference standings and enjoying the parity (even though much of it is bad parity) while waiting for one or two teams to take over and establish themselves as Alpha. The Blues and Avalanche have been the closest candidates, but both have had ugly stretches that left us not so sure.
Now, another contender has entered the discussion: The Vegas Golden Knights.
After entering the season with high expectations, the Knights had a frustrating first half that ultimately cost head coach Gerard Gallant his job. But since bringing in Pete DeBoer to replace Gallant behind the bench, Vegas has found new life. Now, they’re hitting their stride and starting to look like the dominant team we thought they could be before the season.
But are they now the top dogs in the West? It depends who you ask. William Hill Sportsbook currently has VGK with the third-best odds to win the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl as conference champions, but it’s close. Here’s how things sit right now:
- St. Louis Blues (+300)
- Colorado Avalanche (+320)
- Vegas Golden Knights (+350)
- Dallas Stars (+650)
- Edmonton Oilers (+800)
However, given what we’ve seen from the Knights lately, they’re the top-ranked Western Conference team in this week’s edition of our Power Rankings. They’re getting hot at the right time and the numbers suggest they may be the conference’s biggest threat heading into the playoffs.
|1||Bruins||They just keep rolling. They lost an old-time hockey matchup against Tampa Bay over the weekend but it’s their only loss in their last five games and they’re the first team in the league to hit 100 points. Presidents’ Trophy watch is officially on.||—||44-14-12|
|2||Flyers||A nine-game winning streak came to an end with a loss against Boston on Tuesday but the Flyers are tied with the Bruins for the best record in the league since the start of February (14-4-0) and have been the best offensive team in the league over that span. They very much look like a real threat to take the Metro division and/or be a menace in the playoffs.||1||41-21-7|
|3||Golden Knights||The Knights are finally starting to look like the dominant team that many, including myself, expected them to be this year. They’ve won eight of their last 10 games and look great in all three zones. They’re creating high-danger chances in bunches and not giving up much in their own end, turning themselves into an analytics darling. (Since February, VGK is controlling a whopping 58.3 percent of shot attempts at 5v5.) Pete DeBoer has gotten this team to fully buy in and it’s paying dividends.||2||39-24-8|
|4||Blues||They had their latest heater — an eight-game winning streak — come to an end with a loss to the Devils in New Jersey before then losing to the Panthers, but the Blues are still holding on to their Central division lead and have played great hockey over the past couple of months. Their defense has been very good, thanks in large part to elevated performance from Colton Parayko.||2||42-19-10|
|5||Avalanche||The Avs have lost three of their last four (two of the three coming against the Ducks and Kings) but more concerning is the lower-body injury that knocked Nathan MacKinnon out of Monday’s game in LA and will sideline him for a few weeks. Colorado has been resilient in the face of injuries this year but losing MacKinnon is a brutal blow.||1||42-20-8|
|6||Lightning||It’s been real tough sledding for the Lightning lately. They did get a big statement win against the Bruins over the weekend but then quickly followed it up with losses to the Red Wings (yuck) and Maple Leafs. They’ve won just three of their last 10 and it seems like they’re losing hope for a late surge to the top of the Atlantic.||—||43-21-6|
|7||Capitals||The Capitals were one of the most consistent and impressive teams in the league over the first half of the season but things have not gone well for them over the second half. They still control the Metro for the time being but Philly is pushing and Caps remain plagued by some concerning issues — including how much they’re giving up in their own end and a lack of execution on special teams.||—||41-20-8|
|8||Hurricanes||Morgan Geekie got called up and scored three goals on his first three NHL shot attempts and suddenly the Hurricanes have won three in a row. Consistency has been an issue for this team but they’ve snapped out of a recent slump and are back on the uptrend.||3||38-25-5|
|9||Oilers||They’ve got points in five of their last six and are still hanging tough in the Pacific as they sit three points behind the Golden Knights. That being said, they haven’t looked very good lately, especially at 5v5, and they’re relying too much on goaltending and special teams to bail them out.||1||37-25-9|
|10||Penguins||The Penguins have looked like a mess lately and they lost eight of 10 before getting a big win against the Devils this week. It’s too soon to say that they’ve snapped out of their funk but they’ve proved to be a resilient team all year and they’re still only four points from the top of the division right now. It’s probably better to get this skid out of the way before the playoffs.||1||40-23-6|
|11||Rangers||The Rangers just will not go away and neither will Mika Zibanejad. DJ Z now has 10 goals in his last five games (40 on the year) and New York is within three points of a Wild Card spot in the East. At this point it’s hard not to root for them.||5||37-28-5|
|12||Flames||The Flames’ offense has been clicking and they’re currently tied with the Flyers as the most productive team in the league at 5v5 since February. Calgary has won six of 10 and is currently holding top-three in the division. The bad news is they’re also giving up a lot (third-most goals allowed in that span) and are performing above expectations. Still, you’ll take the results, especially in a tight Pacific playoff chase, but there’s reason to be skeptical.||3||36-27-7|
|13||Stars||Things are drying up in Dallas right now. After nearly climbing to the top of the Central, the Stars have lost six in a row and have scored a total of six goals in that span (three of them coming in one game). I know they’re not exactly known for their offensive prowess but…come on. That’s not gonna get the job done.||5||37-24-8|
|14||Jets||I’ve been skeptical about Winnipeg all year simply because of that defense and how much they rely on Connor Hellebuyck to bail them out but the Jets have been playing well lately. They’ve won three in a row and are locked into a three-way tie for the first Wild Card spot in the West. If they get into the playoffs, Hellebuyck should get some Hart consideration.||4||37-28-6|
|15||Wild||I don’t totally understand it but the Wild are surging. They’ve won seven out of 10 and have the league’s sixth-best point percentage (66 percent) since February. They’ve got the fifth-best 5v5 goal share in that span, behind Philly, Boston, St. Louis and Vegas. Not bad company to be in, but are they for real? I’m not convinced.||5||35-27-7|
|16||Predators||The Preds are a difficult team to figure out given some of their swings and inconsistencies. They’re one of the most unpredictable teams on a night-to-night basis but they’ve put together a good string lately, winning three in a row. Goaltending has been better as the team has moved to Juuse Saros on a more regular basis and that might be enough to sneak them into the playoffs.||3||35-26-8|
|17||Maple Leafs||They went 0-2-1 during their California road trip and scored a total of three goals against three of the worst teams in the league in the process. That’s horrendous for a talented (albeit top-heavy) team trying to get it together and lock down a playoff spot. Luckily, they were able to bounce back with a big win over Tampa this week but the Leafs are extremely lucky that Florida has been terrible lately.||5||36-25-9|
|18||Canucks||It’s been rough sledding for the Canucks over the past month and a half, especially since Jacob Markstrom went down. but they found enough offense to put together wins against the Avs and Islanders this week. And they should be getting Markstrom and Brock Boeser back soon, so that could help them regain footing in time to cross the finish line in a playoff spot.||5||36-27-6|
|19||Coyotes||Goal scoring continues to be a problem for the Coyotes, both at 5v5 and on the power play. The Western Conference Wild Card race has a lot of contenders and, yes, the Coyotes are still one of them, but they’re really going to need to tighten up offensively and start producing if they want to get into the dance this spring.||2||33-29-8|
|20||Blue Jackets||They’re still holding a playoff spot but are 3-6-6 in their last 15 and may find themselves on the wrong side of the bubble soon. They’re fading and have a tough schedule to close out the season. It doesn’t look great.||1||33-22-15|
|21||Panthers||The Panthers have won two in a row and have points in their last three but they lost three in a row before that. They haven’t been able to put together consistent performances and that may be what ultimately costs them a playoff spot. If they miss, it’s going to really sting knowing how much Toronto has struggled late in the year too.||1||35-26-8|
|22||Islanders||The Islanders still have a chance to get into the playoff picture but things are falling apart on Long Island and this team is going to have to get it together real fast. The Isles have lost seven in a row and there are issues across the board. It’s not going to be a simple fix.||8||35-23-10|
|23||Devils||Whoa, hey, look at the Devils! They’ve got points in eight of their last 10 and are looking pretty decent lately, though that’s maybe not the best news in the world for a team that’s still going no where other than the draft lottery this year. But I guess it’s a little easier to stomach a meaningless late season surge when you’re looking at three potential first-round selections this year.||3||28-29-12|
|24||Kings||The NHL’s hottest team at the moment is the Kings, which is a sentence that absolutely nobody expected in mid-March. Los Angeles has won six in a row and those wins have come against some quality competition: Colorado, Minnesota, Toronto, Vegas, New Jersey and Pittsburgh. Okay then. Sure.||4||29-35-6|
|25||Blackhawks||Sports betting is legal in Illinois now so at least Blackhawks fans can make money betting against their favorite team.||1||32-30-8|
|26||Canadiens||If the Canadiens didn’t get swept by a historically bad Red Wings team this season, they’d be two points out of a playoff spot in the Atlantic. That’s still very funny to me. I hope they miss the playoffs by seven or eight points just for maximum humor.||3||31-31-9|
|27||Sabres||Remember when the Sabres were buyers at the trade deadline?||2||30-31-8|
|28||Ducks||The Ducks have won three of four and got a point in the loss. Do these California teams know how tanking is supposed to work?||1||29-33-9|
|29||Sharks||They’ve lost three in a row and seven of their last 10 and now sit just one point away from being the worst team in the West. Now that’s how you tank…for another team that owns your first-round pick this year.||2||29-36-5|
|30||Senators||Another week, another debacle in the Senators’ organization with the firing of CEO Jim Little after just eight weeks.What a mess.||—||25-34-12|
|31||Red Wings||Still haven’t hit 40 points in the standings.||—||17-49-5|
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