The West will be back

The poor play of the Western Conference, an explanation of intentional offsides and this week's starting lineup.

Updated: November 20, 2003, 6:17 PM ET
By Barry Melrose | Special to ESPN.com

Open Ice

The Western Conference is playing poorly against the East because of poor play at the top. The Detroit Red Wings and Dallas Stars were thought to be potential Stanley Cup contenders, and instead their seasons are starting to fall by the wayside.

The Stars are under .500 -- 1-6-0-0 against the East -- and are giving up a ton of goals. Usually a defensively sound team, the Stars have given up at least three goals in their last eight games. They've also given up at least four goals on five occasions -- and they're only 19 games into the season. On top of that Marty Turco, last year's runner up for the Vezina Trophy, is having a terrible season. Last year Turco led the league with a 1.72 GAA and 31 wins. And this season he's 6-8-3 with a 2.61 GAA and a .890 save percentage. That type of drastic drop is directly contributing to the Stars' downward spiral into mediocrity.

Though the Red Wings are 1-3-0-0 against the East, they haven't been plagued by poor play; they have been hurt by a couple of important injuries. They've lost star defenseman Derian Hatcher (out four to six months) with a knee injury and left wing Henrik Zetterberg (out four to six weeks) with a leg fracture. Forwards Steve Yzerman (knee) and Darren McCarty (back) are hampered with minor injuries. Luckily for the Red Wings, they have been able to stay afloat with a 10-7-2 record.

Once those two teams are able to shape up the Western Conference will once again start asserting their dominance over the East.


This week's starting lineup

Ty Conklin
Conklin
Goaltender
Ty Conklin, Edmonton Oilers: What a wonderful surprise Conklin has been for the Oilers. He's replacing injured goalie Tommy Salo (injured hip), but looks like he's been playing in the NHL for years. He's 5-2 with a 1.90 GAA and a .938 save percentage, and is playing lights out. He's a major part of the reason why Edmonton is in the thick of the playoff race and currently tied for fifth in the conference with 20 points.

Forwards
Ladislav Nagy, Phoenix Coyotes: He's an example of a good, young player contributing to his team's success. The 24-year-old has 10 goals and 10 assists for the playoff-contending Coyotes. He's making an effort to prove himself as one of the top players on his team and in the NHL.

Alex Tanguay, Colorado Avalanche: With the offseason acquisitions of Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya, it seemed Tanguay would take a back seat. But a series of injuries to Kariya and Peter Forsberg, and nagging injuries to others have provided an opportunity for Tanguay to shine. And he's taken advantage as he leads the NHL in points (25) and is tied for first in assists (18).

Robert Lang, Washington Capitals: Lang is in the midst of a nine-game scoring streak that reflects the pride he has in his team and himself. With the Capitals playing such poor hockey it'd be easy for a player to start conceding defeat, but Lang has stuck it out and is continuing to play strong.

Defensemen
Sergei Gonchar, Washington Capitals: Gonchar is another example of a Capitals player who hasn't packed it in for the season. He's playing fantastic hockey for the Capitals and is fourth in the NHL in assists (16).

Joni Pitkanen, Philadelphia Flyers: Right now, he's the best rookie in the NHL and one of the best players on his team. He's immediately contributed to the Flyers' surprising season with great numbers and great hustle. He's tied for fourth in the NHL with a plus-10 rating and is in the top 10 in four categories for rookies (goals, assists, points, plus/minus).


Plus/Minus

Plus: Young players
Several young players are having noteworthy seasons. Players like Pitkanen, Jason King (Vancouver), Tanguay and Nagy have stepped up their play and made their presence known on the ice. There are so many great, young players it's comforting to know the future of the game is in such great hands.

Minus: Dallas Stars and Ottawa Senators
The Dallas Stars and the Ottawa Senators have been quite a letdown. Before the season many believed these two teams had a shot at facing each other for the Stanley Cup. Now they're both hoping to turn their seasons around and make the playoffs.


Puckology

Barry --
What is an intentional offside? I know what offside means, but how does a player intentionally cause an offside and how do the refs know to call it?
-- Jessica, Chantilly, Va.

An intentional offside is called when the referee feels a team caused the offside to stop play. For example, the offending player could be a defenseman who's under pressure and isn't as comfortable handling the puck. Instead of risking a turnover he might take the offside so the offense can reset. This rule is in place to stop that type of stall tactic and it encourages the game to keep moving. It also can be called when a player shoots the puck into the offensive zone with teammates already over the blue line. The subsequent faceoff for either call takes place in the penalized team's defensive zone.


E-mail bag

Hey, Mr. Melrose:
First of all, I am not the famed Crosby of the "Q," but I do play hockey. My question was this: who has the best coaching staff in the NHL? Personally, I like Andy Murray and his L.A. Kings staff, because they are contenders even with all the injuries they have year in and year out.
-- Sidney Crosby, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan

Thanks for the question Sidney and good luck with your hockey career. I have to agree that Andy Murray's staff in Los Angeles does a great job every season. This year they are atop the Pacific Division with 20 points and seem to be playing inspired hockey. If they're able to continue their strong play, they'll be tough to stop during the playoffs.

I also like the job Mark Crawford is doing with the Vancouver Canucks this season. They are in first place in the Northwest Division with 26 points and are one of the best teams in the NHL. It's very difficult to coach an NHL team, but these two coaches are making it look easy. They are utilizing good rotations and are getting the most out of not just their superstars, but also their role players.

Barry Melrose, a former NHL defenseman and coach, is a hockey analyst for ESPN. He'll answer selected questions submitted to his e-mail bag each week. Also, click here to send Barry a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

Barry Melrose

NHL studio analyst
Former NHL player and coach Barry Melrose is an NHL studio analyst for ESPN.