The NHL is often regarded as a league that is dominated by the eastern seaboard. And although logistically that is still true, the NHL has experienced a power shift over the past few years. The best hockey in the league is now being played in the Western Conference with the top five teams in the western conference being the likely favorites to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup this summer.
Despite geographical location, the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks are indeed in the Western Conference where they have fierce competition from within their own division. For the Blackhawks, the quantity of wins, in reality, outweighs the quality of them. Despite 26 games played (tied for 2nd in the NHL), the Blackhawks rank third in regulation and overtime wins, diminishing their league-high 40 points just a little bit.
That being said, who stands in the Blackhawks’ way? In my opinion that comes down to perception as well as previous history. For starters, the Colorado Avalanche in all honesty are probably better than the Blackhawks as of this writing. Although the Blackhawks’ loss to the Avalanche was fluky Colorado does not only have a win in the season series, but they do have a stronger strength of schedule and therefore a better Relative Power Index (RPI).
That being said, both the Avalanche and the Blackhawks are behind the best team in the NHL right now, the St. Louis Blues. St. Louis has 39 points in 24 games to go along with a league best strength of schedule. Their RPI is the best in the NHL as is their plus-35 goal differential.
In addition, the Blues are also 3-0 in the season series against the Blackhawks and Avalanche, meaning that despite a hot streak and the reputation as the team to beat, the Blackhawks are no longer the team to beat even in their own division.
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