I have to admit I get sick of hearing NHL analysts and experts talking about how poor the competition is in the Eastern Conference compared to the Western Conference. Some go as far as to say that the East is weak compared to the West. Pittsburgh Penguins fans everywhere cringe at the statement as their favorite team sits atop the Eastern Conference with 82 points and poised for yet another playoff berth.
The fact of the matter is that the East isn’t weak, and the Penguins are just one team that can prove otherwise. First, you will never see an apologist article written by me in terms of why the Penguins are so dominant in the East. It isn’t their fault the bottom half of the conference isn’t quite as stellar as the West, and on top of that, the Penguins are doing what good teams should do by winning games that they should win.
Look past the Penguins and you certainly don’t see as many teams nearing the 80-point plateau, but that doesn’t make them any weaker than those in the West. The Boston Bruins, who represented the East last year in the Stanley Cup Final, are behind the Penguins, and after them there is a slew of teams that can all be lethal come playoff time.
Comparing the East and the West is similar to comparing apples to oranges. The teams are built differently and, more importantly, play a different style. The Penguins are one of the few teams capable of playing both. Winning the back and forth style of the West yet anchoring down and being able to win the 2-1 grudge matches associated with those Eastern Conference teams like the Bruins is critical to being elite.
The Penguins aren’t just capable on paper, but they have proven their capability this season. The Penguins are 11-4-1 against Western Conference opponents this season. Not too bad for a conference that could never “hang” with those on the other part of the country.
Is the Western Conference a more complete conference top to bottom? Certainly, the numbers don’t lie in that regard, but to say that the entire Eastern Conference is weak is a hasty generalization against quality teams like the Penguins and Bruins.
When the rubber meets the road, regular season statistics mean nothing. The Penguins have proven that the past four years. What matters is who is playing the best hockey come playoff time, and that team could be a team out of the muddled East as much as it could the highly touted West. One thing is for sure: The Pittsburgh Penguins are proof that the East is certainly not weak.