x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

West teams running roughshod in NHL over Eastern foes

Only one Western Conference team has a losing record against the East

Nail Yakupov and the Edmonton Oilers are the only Western Conference side not finding any joy against the Eastern Conference. They are the only Western Conference team with a losing record against the East. Derek Leung / AFP
Nail Yakupov and the Edmonton Oilers are the only Western Conference side not finding any joy against the Eastern Conference. They are the only Western Conference team with a losing record against the East. Derek Leung / AFP

The old schoolyard taunt, “My brother can beat up your brother,” has some empirical truth to it for Western Conference teams in the NHL.

The brethren of the West are clearly stronger than their Eastern Conference counterparts through the first eight weeks of the season. On-ice evidence does not lie.

Although the number of games each team has played outside its own conference varies widely, Western clubs have been dominant. Only one, Edmonton Oilers, of the 14 teams from the Pacific and Central divisions has a losing record against the East.

Of the 16 teams from the Eastern’s Atlantic and Metropolitan divisions, only Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs have winning records against the West.

The points standings are lopsided, as well. Through Saturday’s games, Boston led the East with 32 points, which, if slotted into a 30-team ladder, would put the Bruins in a tie for eighth behind seven West teams.

The dominance is hard to fathom in a league that structures parity into its DNA. Some have offered guesses as to the reason, including the theory that East players do not stay up late at night to watch games in the later time zones and are not as familiar with those opponents.

That seems a stretch in this era of ubiquitous video and detailed advance scouting.

After running a brutal Western gauntlet through Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Jose and Anaheim, in which Tampa Bay managed just one point, the Lightning coach Jon Cooper offered some insight on the debate.

“It’s amazing to me, the different styles,” Cooper said. “The West, especially the play-off teams, are all big and strong and structured. They wear you down through the game.

“The East teams are a little bit of everything. Some are big, some are small. I think they are a little more predictable.”

What this means, if the trend holds up through April, is that some otherwise-deserving teams from the West will miss out on the play-offs. Three Western teams with winning records are currently outside the post-season places. In the East, every winning team is in.

If teams from the “left” side of North America are inherently stronger this year, some suggest that the bias is heightened by geography. The spread-out Western teams are conditioned to lengthy trips and adapt better to long-distance travel when they play in the East, or so the theory goes.

In any case, the NHL salary cap and favourable draft opportunities for weaker teams should eventually bring the conferences back in balance.

In the meantime, the East is getting its lunch money lifted.

sports@thenational.ae