Canucks Watch: Vancouver must take advantage of weak division

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The NHL’s Southeast Division used to be stuck with the moniker the “Southleast Division” and rightfully so. Back in the days before the Washington Capitals were a powerhouse, the grouping lacked a model franchise and struggled to get more than two of its teams into the post-season.

But the Southeast was never so bad that three of its members finished 13, 14 and 15 in the post-lockout Eastern Conference. In fact, the last division to suffer that kind of futility was the Central Division in 2005-06, when Columbus, Chicago and St. Louis grabbed hold of the West’s bottom three rungs.

The difference between the Southleast and that year’s Central is that the Central housed the Detroit Red Wings – a model franchise not just in the division, but across the league. The Red Wings took advantage of their inferior competition by going 25-3-4 against the Central that year en route to a 58-win, 124-point season that was the team’s best performance since its record-setting 62-win 1995-96 season.

So we entered Tuesday night with the Canucks atop a Northwest Division that includes the West’s bottom three teams: Minnesota, Edmonton and Calgary. It’s fair to say that, given their Stanley Cup aspirations heading into the season, the Canucks are a powerhouse, so it’s time to take advantage. In the past two years when the Canucks won the Northwest they scored 15 wins against a pretty strong division with a rising team in Colorado, so 20 should be their goal for 2010-11.

With a 6-1-0 start, Vancouver is certainly off on the right foot as they haven’t lost a divisional game since a 6-2 decision to Minnesota Oct. 19. The only divisional games the Canucks play through the rest of December are two against the Oilers, but in January they have six divisional showdowns.

As Ken Campbell wrote in a recent issue of The Hockey News magazine, the West is clearly the better conference. There are deeper, tougher teams and the road to the post-season and Stanley Cup is much more difficult than it is in the more watered down East. So the fact Vancouver’s trek is already difficult enough playing on the Left Coast means the importance of putting away their weaker divisional opponents is immense.

It might just be what gives them the edge to finish first in the West and earn home-ice advantage throughout the post-season.

This article was originally published in Metro News. For more hockey commentary, check out Metro Sports.

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