One look at the 2022-23 NHL Standings show you that the Eastern Conference is a warzone. A good 15 teams are in the running to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Boston Bruins to the Detroit Red Wings. But when you switch things over to look at the wild wild West, things are a lot different.
For whatever reason, the conference is wide open with eight teams separated by less than ten points.
The Vegas Golden Knights are towards the top of the standings as they lead the Pacific Division with 80 points. But after slipping out of the playoffs last season, the VGK will try and rebound with another playoff birth. With this year's playoff picture appearing to wide open, the VGK are excited.
"I think what excites our team is that we are one of those teams in the mix right?… We've battled through some adversity that last year they went through as well and they didn't get where they want to go. So we still have work to do. But I think that the team is excited because we are still playing well without some key pieces. I think players look around and say 'why not us,'" said head coach Bruce Cassidy.
It sounds silly to reiterate, but the Golden Knights, or any other team in the West will only have to play an Eastern Conference Team once in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the team that reaches the Stanley Cup Final.
The 2023 NHL Trade Deadline saw an arms race in the Eastern Conference with players such as Patrick Kane, Bo Horvat, Vladamir Tarasenko, Tyler Bertuzzi, Ryan O'Reilly and others going to contending teams. But the VGK will only have to play one of these teams if they make it to the dance.
"Even if there had been some major moves on our side, I still think it's pretty open," added Cassidy about the West.
All of this is not to say that the Western Conference doesn't have their own heavy hitters. The Colorado Avalanche are defending cup champions, the Winnipeg Jets are having a sneaky good season, and the Peter DeBoer-led Dallas Stars lead the conference in points.
"You always look at Colorado, they are the defending champions until someone beats them. They look like they are coming on a bit but they are still not the top team… Dallas is playing some good hockey, Edmonton is always dangerous with their top guys and yougo right down the list. LA added some pieces that they think will help, Seattle has been a nice surprise. I think wide-open is a fairly good term to use," said Cassidy.
For the Golden Knights, the focus is on simply improving their game in the stretch run as they gear up for the playoffs.
"It doesn't matter whether you're 1 or 16. As long as you get in, it's a race no matter what it is, right? People can look at it all they want. For us, you just got to get in. That's the only thing that matters. Obviously, you want to be 1 in your division, that's the goal, and obviously, you want to be playing your best hockey and your best hockey leads to winning hockey games coming down the stretch," said defenseman Zach Whitecloud.
The VGK have won eight of their last eleven games and collected points in ten of their last eleven. After last season, we would be hard-pressed to confirm playoffs too early, but by the way things are looking, the VGK are on the right path, and don't need to
"For us, it's just about getting two points every night. We're not going out there to lose hockey games. So you're not going out there to tie or go to overtime, you want to win in regulation. It doesn't matter if you are playing a team from the East or the West or the Pacific, you don't want to give teams any points and you want to be playing your best hockey," said Whitecloud.
If the VGK continue to win games it will be a stress reliever for fans who do not have to scoreboard watch around the NHL like they did last season.
"I don't think at any point in the season you're looking like 'Hey, we gotta get X amount of points ,or this and that., I think you're just trying to go and play your best game every single night," added Whitecloud.
The Golden Knights will close out a three-game homestand on Sunday against the Montreal Canadiens at 3:00 p.m.