Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Of sticks and measurement

On the surface, tonight's West Coast opener looks like a pretty good matchup for the Caps. Anaheim has one less point in two more games than the Caps, and they're a bit long in the tooth. Both teams play some fairly weak competition in conference (Phoenix, LA, Dallas in the Pacific, and Tampa, Florida, and Atlanta in the Southeast). But here's the big difference:

Anaheim plays in the Western Conference.

Surprising? Not if you look at a map (or have a fourth grade grasp of US Geography). But it is important, because the Western Conference is, without a doubt, superior to the East. Pittsburgh fans will no doubt point to their miracle comeback against Detroit as evidence to the contrary, but that game was an abberation (for a number of reasons). Look at a list of Stanley Cup Winners from 95-96 to the present. The West owns 8 Cups to the East's 4 during that period, and if the league actually called penalties during the playoffs it wouldn't even be that close (we're looking at you, New Jersey).

The simple fact is this: San Jose and Detroit are BY FAR the best teams in hockey (and anyone who has read this blog before knows how much I despise Detroit). After that, the next group of teams (Minnesota, Anaheim, Calgary) would all be likely division leaders in the East.

That's why this road trip is so important to the Caps. If they want to call themselves an elite NHL team, they need results out west. A solid victory against a tough Anaheim team would go a long way towards establishing the Caps as a team to beat (alas, beating LA will not). A win against San Jose would... well, lets see how the Caps fare against Anaheim and LA first.

In short, if this team is for real, this road trip will show it.

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