With the NHL on Christmas break for three days, things in the Central Division are heating up. While nine points separate teams in the division, the focus remains on the top three teams. At some point during the first half of the season each of these teams has held first place for a period of time. Time to go inside the NHL Central Division Notebook to recap the week that was heading into the break.
NHL Central Division Notebook
Feeling the Blues
Entering December the St. Louis Blues were firing on all cylinders. As a matter of fact at one point in the season the Blues were the best team in the NHL. Right now the Blues are fighting the injury bug and not playing good hockey. Heading to Western Canada, the Blues hoped to change their fortunes. Unfortunately for the Blues, things got worse. Even though St. Louis sits in first place entering the break, they have lost three of the last four games. With Jaden Schwartz out of the lineup, other players will need to pick up the slack for the Blues to be successful. One of those players have been Brayden Schenn. Schenn leads the team in points, but it has been the play of others like Paul Stastny that have kept the Blues above water.
Going in Reverse
For the Nashville Predators the team has hit a bump in the road. After starting off the month strong, the team has lost three games in a row. Most teams know losing streak will happen, but Nashville was playing some of their best hockey before this little skid. Though the team still sits in second place, Nashville knows they need to play especially inside the division. Only gaining one point against divisional opponents did not help their position in the standings. What has been impressive is the play of Kevin Fiala. Fiala is a crucial player for the Predators and is vital to their success. If Fiala and his line mates can regain their magic from the playoffs, Nashville can remain a contender in a tough Western Conference.
The Winnipeg Jets were flying high several weeks ago, but not the Jets are heading back to the ground. Despite picking up three points during the week, the Jets are not playing the hockey head coach Paul Maurice would like them to play. Some of the play of their top stars has not be satisfactory of late. For the Winnipeg Jets, backup goaltending needs to improve. Though Steve Mason has played better as of late, his performance in the last reminded fans why the team needs to play Connor Hellebuyck more. Hellebuyck has been the better goalie this season and truly captured the position of the number one goalie. While the offense for the Jets has been good, the production of their players has slowed down. If the Jets want to maintain their position in the standings, the team must start playing complete games once again.
Best of the Rest:
-The rise of the Dallas Stars is something everyone expected coming into the season. Little adjustments by Ken Hitchcock has propelled the Stars into the playoff picture. Nothing is guaranteed, but right now the Stars hold the first wild card position. As the Stars hit their heart of their schedule, winning two divisional games has helped the cause for the Dallas Stars. The play of Ben Bishop has been superb. Bishop was brought in for this exact reason to guide the Stars in big games. Another reason for the success of the Dallas Stars has been the play of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. Both players led the team in scoring with 32 points. If Seguin and Benn can continue their pace look for Dallas to move up the standings as the season goes on.
-The Chicago Blackhawks remain one of biggest mysteries in the NHL. Their inconsistent play has left them on the outside looking in on the final wild card spot for the playoffs. It has been a struggle all season for the Blackhawks on the ice. Though the team is only one point behind the Ducks for the final playoff spot, there is no guarantee the Blackhawks will make the playoffs. In fact, do not be surprised the Blackhawks struggle the entire season. Even if Chicago gets into the playoffs, they will not go far. While Corey Crawford and Patrick Kane have played great all season, others like Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews have been non existent. Especially Sharp, who was just a healthy scratch. One reason for their failures is the inability to improve the team as multiple players hold massive contracts.
-The Minnesota Wild are team going in the opposite direction. Despite winning against the Ottawa Senators, the Wild lost their next two games. Playing in florida is tough, but it appeared the Wild had turned a corner. Unfortunately for Minnesota they have been playing catch up all season. Injuries are still playing a factor for the Wild’s poor play, but eventually the team needs to realize certain players will not be coming back for a while mainly Zach Parise. In fact the there is no timetable for his return. The lone bright spot for the Wild has been the play of Eric Staal. Staal is having a season for the ages. He is the main reason why Minnesota is not out of the race for the final playoff spot.
-What can you say about the Colorado Avalanche except they are a team that competes every night. Heading into the break on a high note always helps a team’s confidence. Picking of five points during the week has propelled the Avalanche in the standings. One of Colorado’s wins was against the Pittsburgh Penguins. That is a huge accomplishment for a team that could not win games last season. Nathan MacKinnon is a playing like a man on a mission. MacKinnon is out to prove he is still one of the elite players in the league. He leads the team with 40 points and is in the top 15 in NHL scoring. If MacKinnon continues on his hot pace he will be in the top 10 soon enough. If the Avalanche can get more consistent play do not sleep on them making a run for the final playoff spot.