Chicago, IL — I had previously blogged there is a disconnect between NHL fans that watch only playoff games vs regular season games and there are fans that only follow their team and not what is doing on in their own division or conference let alone the entire league. If you fall into these categories you are missing out. There is some incredible talents that you simply must tune in for.
There is no question that there is a big disparity between the Eastern Conference teams and the Western Conference teams. Main stream media caters to the east because they are located in the east, but if you are in the east you are missing out on some really, really good hockey teams in the west. Chicago, Minnesota & St. Louis may be established hockey markets with some excellent teams but there are some non-traditional hockey markets like Dallas and California that you really need to see as well.
If you are in a fan base that is in the West particularly on the west coast the time difference is a big inhibitor but there are some teams in the east you should try and catch if for no other reason than to see the difference between the conferences. Yes everyone knows about the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins but believe it or not there is a team in Florida you should be looking out for & in Columbus, OH as well.
Between NHL Network, NBCSN and mainstream NBC you should be able to catch these teams in a time that is acceptable with your schedule.
For those who normally follow teams in the east, I would strongly suggest you catch a Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Edmonton Oilers or Minnesota Wild game if you want to see what skating truly fast means. These teams have young, skilled stars or stars in the making you want to catch. If you thought the transition game was only in basketball these teams show that in hockey transitioning or in hockey parlance “playing off the rush” is an art that is mastered in the west.
California dreaming, ah who doesn’t love the natural beauty of California, it just so happens that all three of their hockey clubs play really good hockey as well. The San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and the defending Stanley Cup champs LA Kings all play a very balance game. All have solid to spectacular goaltending, solid defenses and big power forwards. These teams can hit as well as they can put the pucks in the net.
Then there is the St. Louis Blues who you will like if you’re a fan of the East as their physical style is more closely akin to the east generally speaking. This team however has arguably one of the best defenses in the league. Sure LA has Drew Doughty and Chicago has Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook but you’ll want to check out the quad defenders of Alex Pietranglo, Jay Bouwmeester,Kevin Shattenkirk & Barret Jackman if for nothing else to see how annoying Jackman is. Sorry that is my Blackhawks bias coming out.
Here are 5 games that are must see to really check out the West:
2/8 – Chicago Blackhawks @ St. Louis Blues which is a national broadcast on NBC at 12:30 EST so even if you don’t have cable you can check this rematch out of round 1 of the 2013-14 playoff Central division rivals. This rivalry is shaping up in the central to be equally as good as any in hockey. Simplified this is a skilled finesse team vs a physically bruising defense first team and these teams and fan bases do not like each other. The Chicago Blackhawks are flat out just fun to watch as there is so much skilled talent you never want to miss a Patrick Kane show or a Jonathan Toews vs David Backes battle in the faceoff circle.
2/22 – Dallas Stars @ Minnesota Wild on NBCSN @ 8pm EST. This game features some really good rising young talent and Minnesota’s Xcel Energy Center is appropriately named. The fans in Minnesota are among one of the best in hockey and they know their hockey. The Dallas Stars have a great young skilled duo in Jaime Benn and Tyler Seguin who can flat out fly with the addition of Jason Spezza and Alec Hemsky this team is a new force in the Central worth checking out. We all know Minnesota has Ryan Suter and Zach Parise from the big free agency coo but do you know Erik Houla, Mikael Granlund & Jonas Brodin?
3/1 – Anaheim Ducks @ Dallas Stars on NBCSB @8pm EST. This is another revisit of a 2013/14 playoff first round match. If Dallas has a great young duo in Seguin/Benn then Anaheim has the original duo in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Getzlaf is one of the best team captains in the West and the Anaheim Ducks has one of the most potentially brilliant young up and coming goaltenders in America’s own John Gibson worth tuning in for all the hockey talent alone.
3/30 – LA Kings @ Chicago Blackhawks on NBCSN @8:30pm EST. If you missed the hockey masterpiece 7 game series between these two in the 2013/14 Western Conference Finals you definitely need to catch this one. The difference was literally one bounce that separated one team from the Stanley Cup and the other from raising it. These two teams keep getting in each other’s way in the playoffs and are seemingly on a collision course once again. Chicago knocked out LA in 2012-2013 to win the Cup then LA returned the favor this year the Hawks want the Cup back so this will be a great regular season tune up. The added bonus the game is in the Madhouse in Chicago’s United Center with Jim Cornelison’s rousing hair raising, bone chilling national anthem that is truly must see.
4/11 San Jose Sharks @ LA Kings on NBC @3pm EST. This is one of the best battles in the Pacific division. The San Jose Sharks have consistently made the playoffs but can’t get past LA. Both teams are a combination of youth, skill, veteran saavy and being big physically imposing teams. The difference has been goaltending and resilience. The LA Kings know how to win under pressure which is something San Jose has yet to figure out but they have plenty of star power that you want to tune in for. I know in the east you are used to King Henrik in nets but if you have not checked out your Quickness you have to see the quirky yet brilliant Jonathan Quick in the LA nets.
For those fan bases in the West you need to watch some of the teams in the East who definitely play a different brand of hockey particularly on the defensive side. If you like edgy fight filled brash hockey the east has it with their hate filled rivalries. You thought Pennsylvania was only interesting in the political arena well it’s interesting in the hockey world as well. The best of these in my humble opinion are as follows:
10/16 – Boston Bruins @ Montreal Canadiens on NHLN @ 7:30pm EST. I know this is early for the west coast for a Thursday night but this is a NHL Original Six classic and it is on hallowed ground in Montreal’s Bell Centre. If you have not heard Oh Canada sung among one of the most passionate fan bases you have to check this out. Like the Blackhawks/Blues this is a classic skill finesse vs physical bruising hockey. Ever since Bruins’ big Zdeno Chara knocked out Max Pacioretty the disdain has reached epic proportions between these teams. Montreal star D man and Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban is reason alone to tune into this one couple that with a long standing hatred between these two franchises it is truly must see TV.
10/22 – Philadelphia Flyers @ Pittsburgh Penguins on NBCSN @8pm EST. If there is another rivalry in the east filled with hate you can be sure it is this one but make no mistake there is plenty of skill here as well. The battle between captains Claude Giroux of the Flyers and Penguins Sidney Crosby is worth tuning in for. Both teams are in the process of make- overs and trying to find that winning formula to get them to the next level. Divisional rivals standing in each others way builds contempt and there is plenty here. Both teams have struggled with defense and goaltending inconsistency and are more similar than either care to admit.
12/1 – Tampa Bay Lightning @ New York Rangers on NHLN @7pm EST. This is not a conventional matchup but one that features probably one of the most exciting hockey players in the league in Tampa’s Steven Stamkos. Stamkos is a pure goal scorer and delicious to watch him from the top of the face-off circles blast pucks past goalies. The Lightning also has Canadian junior sensation Jonathan Drouin. The Rangers made it all the way to the Stanley Cup and have former Tampa Bay Lightning beloved forward Marty St. Louis who left the Lightning with bruised feelings towards management and that is icing on this contest as he would love nothing better than to beat his old team. And then there is the King – Henik Lundqvist who is must see in the NY goal. Get your neck ready for break neck speed in this one.
1/28 – Washington Capitals @ Pittsburgh Penguins on NBCSN @8pm EST. This rivalry is not what it once was and the Crosby vs Ovechkin battle has become somewhat irrelevant with neither team really being a playoff force yet there is no denying these teams are entertaining to watch. Alex Ovechkin is one of the most enigmatic pure talents in the NHL when he is on. This year Washington has former Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz so the Capitals will be interesting to see if there is any transformation under a primarily defensive coach and how offensive talent Ovechkin responds.
2/19 Columbus Blue Jackets @ Pittsburgh Penguins on NBCSN @ 7pm EST. Ok I know this is the third Penguins game I picked but they have all been divisional match-ups and this Metropolitan division is somewhat a puzzlement in that the teams in this division should be contenders for the Stanley Cup coming out of the East yet fall short. Columbus is not the same team as when it was in the West and was the league’s doormat. The addition of Scott Hartnell from the Philadelphia Flyers brings instant bite and skilled size up front. The Jackets also have one of the best young goalies in the league in Russian born Sergei Bobrovsky or “Bob” as he is known who manned the team Russia nets this past Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
There are also three regular season games that are must see regardless of what team you follow or what conference you like.
The Winter Classic on New Year’s Day that will feature an inter-conference match-up with the Chicago Blackhawks visiting the Washington Capitals which hopefully will have some snow is must see.
The All Star game that will be held in Columbus, OH this year from January 22-26 at Nationwide Arena and is well worth tuning in not for the game but the skills competitions where I guarantee you will be awed when you see what can be done with a puck.
The battle of California in San Francisco’s new football Levy Stadium featuring the LA Kings @ the San Jose Sharks. The NHL has figures out how to get ice to not melt when outdoor temps are at 70-80 degrees that coupled with a state of the art new NFL stadium and some great NHL teams is reason to tune in.
Try catching some of these games you will be not only entertained but also get a pulse on the league and other teams either outside your conference or divisions. You will understand the rivalries better in the playoffs and also see the differences between the two conferences. Is it October yet?