On Friday, April 4, 2014, the Anaheim Ducks dropped a 5-2 decision to the Nashville Predators. The following day, the St Louis Blues suffered an embarrassing 4-0 drubbing, courtesy of the Colorado Avalanche. St Louis then dropped a 4-2 decision to a Chicago team which was minus Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, on Sunday. Anaheim then dropped a Sunday evening contest to the Edmonton Oilers, 4-2.
These are supposedly the top two teams in the NHL's Western conference, but recently both have struggled.
In the last 10 games, Anaheim is a rather shaky 5-4-1, while St Louis is just 5-5. Neither squad has looked anywhere near championship-caliber. These are two teams fighting it out for the best record in the conference, and both also still have a shot at finishing the season with the best record in the NHL. That should provide plenty of incentive to play well, but such has not been the case.
Much has been written about teams getting "hot" at the right time, and making a great playoff run. I have never liked this narrative, because it implies that an element of dumb luck was involved. There are still some who think the Los Angeles Kings were lucky to win the Stanley Cup in 2012. In reality, anyone who took an objective look at how the team played during the last month of the season, would be able to plainly see that we were all witness to the coming of age of a new Western Conference superpower. Instead, many media types chose to focus on their having been the eighth seeded team in the West, and thus the team did not really get the credit they so richly deserved.
Consider this, in the past, many teams have started the season on a roll, and then ridden that hot start, to a top three or four seed come playoff time. At season's end, all that is looked at is their overall record. Virtually every season, there are some highly seeded teams which have not played truly good hockey in the weeks, or in some cases, months leading up to the postseason, then everyone is "shocked" when they falter in the playoffs. Fact of the matter is, how a team plays in the final month of the season is so much more important than how they may have played in the first month of the season.
As for teams which "get hot at the right time", it usually does not happen by accident. The regular season is all about fine-tuning the team, and working on the areas of weakness so that when the time comes, the team has as few liabilities as possible, and is functioning well as a unit. Teams which do not address glaring weaknesses, and instead just remain content with an acceptable regular season record, often struggle during the postseason.
Good teams know how to find a good rhythm when it really matters:
The regular season is about winning individual games against different teams each night. Postseason is about beating teams which have the ability to focus solely on your team, and your strengths and weaknesses, without worrying about which team they will play in the next game. It is much more of a mental struggle, and requires a completely different mindset. Being hard to beat in the regular season, does not always translate to being hard to beat in the postseason.
Anaheim and St. Louis have been very good all season long. In stretches, they have been excellent. Both are well deserving of their high seeding, but looking at the big picture, has either team been playing consistently well in recent weeks ?
Both teams have about 11 days to get it together.
Granted, the Blues have been missing Alex Steen, and the Ducks lost Sheldon Souray, Cam Fowler, and most recently, Tim Jackman, but injuries are part of the game and other players need to step up. The Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Detroit Red Wings are definitely not shedding any tears for the Blues or Ducks when it comes to injury problems.
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