A one-sided conference debate in NHL

November 6, 2013

The Capitals are 4-5-0 in inter-conference play so far, and their next three opponents reside in the opposite conference. (Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

Just over one month into the NHL season, Western Conference teams are dominating their Eastern counterparts.

The West has traditionally bested the East in head-to-head competition, but this season has been particularly one-sided: The West’s record stands at an impressive 66-26-10. The Capitals are 4-5-0 in inter-conference play so far, and their next three opponents — beginning Thursday against the Minnesota Wild — reside in the opposite conference.

After practice Wednesday, the Capitals failed to reach a consensus on any sort of explanation for the Western Conference’s early-season dominance, with most players chalking it up to coincidence.

A recurring theme, though, was the widely held perception that there are stylistic differences between the conferences’ approaches to the game.

“They always say the East is more high-fly, more goals, more offense, and the West is all defense and tight checking,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “Maybe that has something to do with it.”

According to Alzner, it is easier for a defensive-oriented team to adjust to an offensive style than vice versa, which would give the West a distinct advantage.

As always, there are exceptions to the rule. The Bruins, for example, play a bruising style of game, while the Red Wings, who joined the East this season, were perennial Western favorites by playing a system that emphasized puck possession and skill.

Capitals coach Adam Oates disagreed with Alzner, stating that the contrasting conference styles are the other way around.

Either way, Washington (8-7-0) will be tested by Minnesota (9-4-3), which is in the midst of transforming into a puck-possession, transition team. The Wild were allowing the fewest even-strength shots against per 60 minutes as of Wednesday.

The Capitals have not played the Wild since they signed forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter in July 2012.

“That whole team is playing really well,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “Those two are obviously catalysts of their team, but they’ve got other weapons on that team as well. It’s going to be a hard test.”

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Elliott Smith | November 6, 2013