For many, many years, the Western Conference teams have had a winning record against Eastern Conference teams. According to NHL.com, it’s been that way since the 05-06 season. There are a number of possible explanations that have been offered for this trend, most commonly how most Western Conference teams are considered to have a deeper roster than most Eastern Conference ones.
The Carolina Hurricanes cannot claim to have a deeper roster than most teams, nor can they claim to have a winning record against the West, but their position in that regard is not a poor as one might think. They currently hold a 6-10-1 record against Western Conference opponents this year, which is just slightly below the pace of the 55-58-16 record Carolina holds against the West since the 05-06 season. For a team that has only made the playoffs twice in that time span, that record certainly could be a lot worse.
When it comes to Canadian teams, however, the difference between the Western and Eastern teams makes all the difference. As the Hurricanes try and shake off their 3-0 loss to Vancouver last night, and focus on tonight’s game against Ottawa, here is some perspective on just how much difference time zones can make.
Eastern Conference Teams: Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto
The Carolina Hurricanes have always had the number of what was once the Northeast Division. So it should come as no surprise that, since the 05-06 season, the Canes have had a winning record against the three Canadian teams that were once a part of that division. Carolina holds a 21-11-2 record against the Toronto Maple Leafs, an 18-12-4 record against the Montreal Canadiens, and an 18-13-3 record against the Ottawa Senators in that time span. Combined, the Hurricanes boast an impressive 57-36-9 record against the Eastern Canadian teams.
Carolina and the three teams have had their shares of highs and lows since 05-06. Carolina and Ottawa were the two best teams in the East in the 05-06 season, and their 2-2-0 record against each other that year reflected just how evenly matched they were. Toronto and Montreal were bubble teams, but Carolina had vastly different fortunes against each team. The Hurricanes were 2-1-1 against the Maple Leafs, but they swept the season series against Montreal, as well as defeated the Canadiens in the first round of that years’ playoffs.
In the 10-11 season, the Canes fell just short of a playoff spot, missing out on the 8th seed by just one win. Perhaps winning another game against the 6th seeded Canadiens could have changed their fortune, as the Hurricanes finished the season 1-3-0 against Montreal. Combined with the 2-2-0 record against Toronto and the 3-1-0 record against Ottawa, Carolina finished this season breaking even against Eastern Canadian teams.
This year, Carolina has still got six more games against Eastern Conference Canadian teams, including tonight’s contest against Ottawa, their first meeting of the season. So far, the Canes are 1-0-0 against Toronto and 0-2-0 against Montreal, not entirely unsurprising considering their respective place in the standings.
Western Conference Teams: Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton
For as well as the Hurricanes have performed against the Northeast division over the years, they’ve performed just as poorly against the Northwest division, which contained the three Western Canadian teams. Since the 05-06 season, Carolina holds a 3-4-1 record against the Vancouver Canucks, a 2-5-1 record against Calgary Flames, and a 3-4-1 record against Edmonton Oilers, a combined total of 8-13-3. The sample size may be smaller, but the Hurricanes’ performances against these Western teams speak for themselves.
Take, for example, the February 3rd, 2009 game against the Vancouver Canucks. It was a back-and-forth game throughout, but the Hurricanes had found surprising success on the powerplay, scoring twice in the game, including a goal early in the 3rd period which tied the game at 3. So when Carolina earned another powerplay opportunity with just under three minutes remaining in the game, it seemed like a chance to earn a win against a team they didn’t beat often. Instead, the Canes gave up a shorthanded goal with 1:22 remaining, essentially throwing away an opportunity to earn at least one point out of that game.
Sometimes, it seems like everything is going against Carolina. In the midst of a winless October earlier this season, the Canes faced the Edmonton Oilers, one of the few teams that has performed as poorly as Carolina over the past few seasons. The opportunity was there for the win, entering the third period tied at 2. But a seemingly missed call by the officials early in the period led to an Eberle goal, which sent the game off the tracks for the Canes, losing 6-3. Replays clearly showed Edmonton forward Benoit Pouliot slashing Canes defenseman Brent Bellemore so hard that it breaks his stick, but the official kept the play going, leading to an Eberle goal moments after.
Calgary may be the Hurricanes’ worst nightmare. The Carolina franchise holds a 19-40-7-1 record against the Flames, dating all the way back to the 1979-1980 season, when the Hurricanes were the Hartford Whalers and the Flames were in Atlanta. This ranks as the worst point percentage the Hurricanes have against any opponent. In addition, Carolina has only beaten the Flames in Calgary four times in their entire contest history. Most of the results between the two teams are similar to the contest earlier in the year, which saw the Flames blank the Canes 5-0, while allowing only 16 shots on goal.
The Unique Case: The Winnipeg Jets
This is where the difference may be truly noticeable. The newly arrived Western Canadian team, the Winnipeg Jets, were once the Atlanta Thrashers, a team that was once a divisional rival of the Hurricanes. Carolina performed well against the Thrashers, boasting a 25-14-3 record against Atlanta since the 05-06 season. When the Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg, however, the Hurricanes’ fate against the team seemed to change overnight.
Despite having a very similar roster, the Canes suddenly struggled against the ex-Thrashers. In the 12 contests between the two teams since the relocation, Carolina holds a 4-6-2 record. Once again, a small sample size, but the performances against Winnipeg this year, as well as the Canes’ historical performances against Western Canadian teams, does not give much hope that record will become much better. Perhaps adding insult to injury, Winnipeg’s coach is Paul Maurice, who the Hurricanes hired and fired…twice…during his coaching career.
With the Canes trip to Ottawa tonight, history says there’s a good chance for a Canes victory. Certainly better than their odds against Vancouver last night. However, with the Senators rested and waiting for the Hurricanes as they take the long flight up on the back-end of a back-to-back, history may have little to do with tonight’s performance.
Jonathan Gardner currently lives in Raleigh, NC and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.