by PuckStopsHere on 05/29/13 at 12:12 AM ET
The second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs are almost over and we have yet to have a single game pitting an East Conference team against a West Conference team. The first time this season they play against one another will be the Stanley Cup finals. Effectively we have two different hockey leagues in North America this year who will only meet in the championship.
There are some clear differences between the leagues that we are seeing clearly in the playoffs. The top seven scorers in the playoffs all play in the East Conference. They are David Krejci, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Sidney Crosby, Nathan Horton, Jarome Iginla and Derick Brassard. The top scorer in the west is Logan Couture. It is easier to score in the East Conference. The top three highest scoring teams in terms of goals per game are all there (Pittsburgh, Boston and Ottawa). It is harder to score in the west. The four teams that have allowed the fewest goals per game in the playoffs are Los Angeles, Chicago, San Jose and St Louis.
The West Conference has historically been the better conference. We have no games to show that this year but they have had the better record annually for well over a decade. Low scoring hockey tends to be better hockey than high scoring hockey. It takes skills to prevent goals. Many goals are scored as a result of mistakes. The NHL is always lower scoring than the AHL, which is always lower scoring than the ECHL, which is lower scoring than any pick-up games I play.
That doesn't mean that I am predicting a West Conference Stanley Cup champion. There is a good chance the opposite will be true. The last time a two league shortened season occurred in 1995, the East Conference swept the Stanley Cup finals. New Jersey beat Detroit in four games straight. I think it is clear that Detroit was the more talented team but it wasn't an entirely fair match up. The entire East Conference had played their entire season in the Eastern time zone. New Jersey has it better than many of their conference mates. They can sleep in the beds at home if they play games against Philadelphia or either New York team. Travel was as close to a non-issue for New Jersey as it has been for any team in modern history. Travel can be a determining factor in hockey games. The better rested less travelled team will have a better record than the tired team. Not only do they have more time to rest, they also have more time to practise and more time to rehab injuries. It is a much more significant advantage than many will accept.
The East Conference does not have things quite as good in 2013. They have to come to the Central time zone to play the Winnipeg Jets, but it doesn't compare to west teams who play games in four different time zones. There is a good chance that despite being a better league, the West Conference will lose the Stanley Cup. They are travel disadvantaged. That is an interesting paradox. The west is best, but they may be so disadvantaged they lose anyway.
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