Wild center Eric Belanger was ecstatic last week when the NHL announced that it would return to a schedule next season where every team plays every other team at least once.
Not because he's tired of seemingly playing Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Colorado every night, although, "that's part of it."
After spending last season in the East with Carolina and Atlanta, Belanger feels "it's a lot easier" playing in the East and that it's about time Eastern teams hop on an airplane for flights "more than two hours."
"It'll be nice to see a different style of play where it's more open, but here in the West when you travel so much and go into different time zones all the time, it's a big difference," Belanger said.
The West is a much more defensive conference. Just look at the statistics: Eight of the top 10 scorers and 15 of the top 20 scorers in the NHL reside on Eastern Conference teams.
But Belanger wonders if part of that is because players in the West are more tired.
"I'd be curious to see a guy that spent 10 years in the West and 10 years in the East and see how big the difference is, not just in points but in injuries," said Belanger, who spent his first five seasons in Los Angeles. "In the East, a long trip was four days, and after games, we'd fly home and get in at like 12:30. Here, it's like 4 a.m."
Next season, teams will play divisional foes six times each, as opposed to eight, which will allow the Wild to see every East team.
"We're just as big of fans as everybody else," winger Mark Parrish said. "We want to see [Sidney] Crosby and [Alex] Ovechkin, too."Gotta love the fans
Canucks defenseman Mattias Ohlund, who broke Mikko Koivu's leg with a slash Nov. 16, was booed when his name was announced as a starter Sunday and every time he touched the puck during the Wild's 2-1 victory.
"They have great fans in Minnesota," Ohlund said. "They're passionate, and they should cheer their guys and hound the opponent."A breakout star
Aaron Voros made the most of his 9 minutes, 8 seconds of ice time. He scored the winner, got into a fight, had nine penalty minutes, three shots and two hits.
He displayed exactly what the Wild saw when he burst onto the scene during a training-camp scrimmage in White Bear Lake, where he almost incited a riot by now-current Wild teammates after he checked veteran Keith Carney.
"He's exactly the guy we saw in training camp, a guy that finishes checks, goes to the net, really battles to win pucks," coach Jacques Lemaire said.Filling in for Walz
One day after Wes Walz retired, the video marquee outside Xcel Energy Center had a picture of Walz with the words, "Thanks, 37." Jumbotron tributes were greeted with a standing ovation from the capacity crowd.
Walz's departure "depletes the depth," GM Doug Risebrough said, but added, "I'm not looking at adding a center. The value of a centerman is pretty important, but with [Pavol Demitra and Brian Rolston] able to fill in, I feel we can manage through little situations."