Penguins get first extensive taste of Western Conference

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Is it pride on the line? A clash of styles?

The Penguins weren't in a rush to admit to either Monday as they looked ahead to having three of their next four opponents come from the Western Conference, beginning with a game tonight against Edmonton at Consol Energy Center.

The Penguins have gotten their 4-1 start within the East. The East, though, is getting pummeled in the early going.

Before Monday, West teams were 27-6-3 against the East over the first two weeks. The Penguins play Edmonton, Vancouver and Colorado over the next week, all at home (with a game at Philadelphia squeezed in), but the West has not been tamed in interconference road games, starting 9-2-2.



Today's game

  • Matchup:

    Penguins vs. Edmonton Oilers, 7:08 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.

  • TV, Radio:

    Root Sports, WXDX-FM (105.9).

  • Probable goaltenders:

    Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins; Devan Dubnyk for Oilers.

  • Penguins:

    Are 3-0 at home, with 12-3 scoring edge. ... Were second in NHL in faceoffs (winning 57.9 percent) before Monday. ... Jussi Jokinen has five goals, 13 points in 15 career games vs. Oilers.

  • Oilers:

    Are 1-4 in past five games in Pittsburgh. ... Were yielding 5 goals per game before visiting Washington Capitals Monday. ... Were third in NHL in faceoffs (winning 57.4 percent) before game against Capitals.

  • Hidden stat:

    In 66 games between the clubs, Edmonton never has shut out the Penguins.



Penguins center Brandon Sutter wasn't buying any notion of inferiority.

"It will be interesting to see at the end of the year if everything evens out, but I don't think there's much there," he said of the lopsided record.

For years, there has been an idea, even a stereotype, about different styles of play in each conference.

"I certainly have noticed how well the West has done this year," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "I don't know if that's a small sample size. I don't know what that means or what that says or if that means their style in that conference is different, but it's been duly noted. We should be aware of it."

A common perception is that the Eastern clubs play a more open style, the Western teams a more conservative game.

"You hear a fair amount about how the conferences play different styles," Bylsma said. "The interesting part is they flip-flopped in the past 20 years in terms of what you hear is displayed. So I'm not entirely sure that it holds true -- that they play a different style or a different type of hockey."

One believer is defenseman Rob Scuderi, who spent the past four seasons with Los Angeles after beginning his career with the Penguins and now is back with his original team.

He thinks it is more than a theory and that there is a difference between the conferences.

"A little bit," he said. "From spending my time in the West, I thought most teams are little more rigid in terms of the execution of their systems. There's not as much freelancing as there is here in the East.

"That's my opinion, just my take on the situation."

If there is a difference, then there's the question of whether one style produces more success.

"I'm not sure what the reason is, but the last few years the winning percentage for the West against the East has been much higher," Scuderi said. "I'm not sure if it's a case of maybe the East teams traveling West and not being used to that travel. That's just a stab at it. But overall it's kind of a mystery to me."

The East and West did not meet last season because of the NHL lockout and abbreviated schedule. In 2011-12, the West was 136-93-41 against the East, after going 142-88-35 in 2010-11.

Edmonton, however, has not exactly been a part of the West's dominance. The Oilers were 1-3-1 overall, 1-1-1 against the East before Monday. Edmonton finished at or near the bottom of the West in 2011-12 and 2010-11 and was a game under .500 against the East both seasons.

Edmonton has a stable of young, skilled players but is adjusting to new coach Dallas Eakins.

In addition to their early losses, the Oilers are dealing with a push-me, pull-you situation between Eakins and center Nail Yakupov, the first overall pick in the 2012 draft. Eakins made Yakupov a healthy scratch the past two games, although the 20-year-old Russian could be back in the lineup tonight. The issue apparently is reining in Yakupov.

"I'm going to play my game," he told the Edmonton Journal. "I'm not going to change but maybe play better without the puck, or forecheck more, but I love playing with the puck. I really don't like skating all the time, and forechecking, and hitting somebody every shift. I don't think it's my game."

There have even been unsubstantiated reports of suggestions from Yakupov's native Russia that he could leave the Oilers to play in the Kontinental Hockey League.

The Penguins-Oilers matchup hardly will define any trends on its own, but the recent East-West numbers aren't something the Penguins want to be a part of.

"Maybe it goes in cycles," Penguins center Sidney Crosby said. "There is definitely something to be said for it if you look at top scorers. Usually, a good chunk are out of the East.

"I think [the styles are] pretty similar. Who knows? In a month, that [record] may be totally different."

Then Crosby smiled and got a competitive twinkle in his eye.

"Hopefully, the East can get in back there a little bit," he said. "That's a pretty big margin."

penguins

Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly. First Published October 14, 2013 8:00 PM


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