By Matt Canamucio
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - OK, so last time out we took a look at the Eastern Conference and it was pretty apparent that the Buffalo Sabres have a pretty good handle on things. But what about the West?
Heading into the season the Ducks were a trendy pick to win it all. And why not? They advanced to the conference finals a season ago, and made perhaps the offseason's biggest acquisition in Chris Pronger.
Anaheim has taken that momentum from the prognosticators and carried it into the regular campaign. At press time they lead everyone with 46 points and are excelling in nearly every facet. Pronger and captain Scott Niedermayer are the best two defensemen on any one team, while an offensive attack that seemed rather ordinary is getting production from all areas of the depth chart. And the goaltending, whether it's Ilya Bryzgalov or J.S. Giguere in there, has been terrific.
While we have a long, long way to go before we can begin handing the Ducks any hardware, it appears as if they are indeed the class of the conference. The gap might be tighter than it is in the East, but there is still a gap.
You probably have to look right in the Ducks' division to find the second-best team in the West, San Jose. Jonathan Cheechoo and Joe Thornton aren't spitting out points at the rate we saw a season ago, but did anyone really expect that? They're still putting up numbers, and the likes of Patrick Marleau and Milan Michalek are increasing their output. The Sharks, like the Ducks, have two capable netminders, but in all likelihood one of them will be dealt before too long.
The Predators are indeed for real, if you hadn't figured it out by their back- to-back playoff appearances. But just how real are they? Nashville has the second-highest goal total in the West, despite having only one guy in double figures. And as we saw last spring, balance is the name of the game when it comes to making a playoff run. Barry Trotz will need starting netminder Tomas Vokoun to stay healthy, something he wasn't during the playoffs and isn't now. Chris Mason is a decent backup, but he isn't likely to anchor you too far.
Detroit isn't doing things the way we're used to, as Mike Babcock has the club stressing defensive play as opposed to offensive fireworks. All you need to know about the Red Wings is that their leading scorer is captain and future Hall of Fame defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom. Behind Lidstrom has been Dominik Hasek, who leads the league in goals-against average and is at a level we haven't seen him at in a while. Of course, there is always that fear that he will feel a pop in his groin, thus throwing a wrench into everything.