(Rich Lam/Getty Images)
Read up on the latest tidbits and trends as Hockey Night in Canada's play-by-play voice Jim Hughson takes you behind the scenes and into Saturday's featured game.This week's work:
Vancouver Canucks at Toronto Maple Leafs (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT)The Script
The San Jose Sharks topped the Western Conference last season by one point over Chicago mainly because they were better against the East.
Their records were almost identical in the West, but the Sharks got one extra win against the other conference.
Colorado snagged the last playoff spot in the West by five points over St Louis. And the Avalanche got five more points than the Blues against the East.
The commonality is that West beats East, and it's been that way for years.
Last season the West was 66 wins over .500 against the East, and only three teams (Dallas, Edmonton and Columbus) had losing records against the opposite conference. All three missed the playoffs.
Already this season the West is 35-15-7 against the East through Wednesday's games.
Since the start of the 2005 season (post-lockout), the West is 574-359-114 for a .603 winning percentage against the East.
So we know the West is best. But why?
Here are a few theories -- feel free to add your own.
*In the last 10 years, the East has had 32 of 50 top-five picks in the draft and seven No. 1 picks. Most of these picks have been dynamic forwards (Ovechkin, Malkin, Crosby, E. Staal, Stamkos, Tavares), prompting teams to build around offence. It's also created cap problems, so some Eastern teams haven't had money for a strong blue-line.
*The collectively weak nature of the East has allowed mediocre teams to make the playoffs, while Western GMs have had to build strong teams just to compete.
*Travel is so tough in the West that teams have to be strong defensively to survive on the road.
*There are more high-end forwards in the East, and better defenceman and goaltenders in the West. That leads to a different style of game in each conference. The East is wide open, while the West is much more button-down, and when the two meet we know which style usually wins.
Any way you slice it, the West has been best. The Vancouver Canucks won 13 of 18 against the East last season, and are 4-for-5 in 2010-11 as they get set to play the Leafs.In the Spotlight
The Leafs couldn't resist temptation, and recalled prospect Nazem Kadri from the AHL. And so the 20-year-old will play his first game of the season at home against a very good team on national television.
You could make the case that this is too much to ask of Kadri, and that the pressure could cause even a more seasoned player to seize up. A road game like the one Toronto just played in Florida on Wednesday might have been a better spot for the season debut.
The Leafs' front-office didn't debate the subject too much. They felt Kadri was the best forward on their AHL team the last eight games, and the pressure is bound to be there whether he's called up now or in two weeks. They need a spark, and hope he'll provide it and not wilt in the spotlight.
Curiously, the Canucks have a similar centre in 20-year-old Cody Hodgson who, like Kadri, is just now heating up in the AHL. But Vancouver is in a much better spot in the standings, and Hodgson is staying in Manitoba to get comfortable in the pro game.
It will be interesting to check in on the different developmental paths of the players after some more time has passed.On the hotstove
While the coaching death watch has begun for Toronto's Ron Wilson, he won't get the Leafs out of this predicament unless Phil Kessel scores again.
Many figured from the outset that Toronto would be offensively challenged this season, and Kessel has compounded that by going seven games without a goal. In fact, he hasn't even created one with an assist over that time
It can be argued that he needs an experienced centre, or that the team has so little depth it's easy for opponents to focus on Phil, but a lot of it has to be on Kessel, who seems to be getting further from the net as the slump goes on.
Maybe he'll just never be a No. 1 forward, and is better suited in a supporting role. Outtakes
Kris Versteeg is just one of many Cup-winning Blackhawks suffering through a championship hangover. His 2-4-6 minus-5 so far don't match his 4-8-12 plus-3 start last season with the Hawks. Perhaps Vancouver will be a tonic for him, since he played so well on a line with Dave Bolland and Andrew Ladd against the Canucks last spring.
Unless there's a change of mind, Roberto Luongo is scheduled to play against Toronto. Vigneault said he planned to play his No. 1 goalie in the first three games of a five-game trip, meaning backup Cory Schneider gets Game 4 of the swing in Buffalo on Monday.From the stat pack
Wouldn't Kessel love to have a centre like Henrik Sedin? We couldn't write about the Canucks without mentioning the league's MVP last season, so here are Henrik's totals and league ranking in assists in each of his last five seasons.
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- 2006-07: 71 assists, 4th in NHL
- 2007-08: 61 assists, 4th in NHL
- 2008-09: 60 assists, 8th in NHL
- 2009-10: 83 assists, 1st in NHL
- 2010-11: 16 assists, 1st in NHL (thru Nov. 11)