With 2017 coming to an end, the Central Division race is at a boiling point. While the top three teams remain the same, the position keep changing on a weekly basis. However, the rest of the teams in the division are no push overs either. Who knows what 2018 will bring for the teams in this division, one thing is for sure, the action will be fast and fierce. Time to review the last week of 2017 in the weekly edition of the NHL Central Division Notebook.
NHL Central Division Notebook Weekly Edition
Bright Lights in the Big City
The Nashville Predators are a mission to prove last season was no fluke. In the final week of 2017, the Predators were able to take two of three divisional games to regain first place in the division. While Nashville would have liked to win all three games, gaining four points in a very tough division does help. The wins became costly as leading scorer Filip Forsberg left Friday’s game with an undisclosed injury. There is no timetable on his return. This is a huge blow for a team that has high hopes of returning to the Stanley Cup Final. If Forsberg is out for a long period of time, the question will be who will be pick up the scoring left behind. The team will need Ryan Johansen to step up his game for this team to be successful without Forsberg in the lineup.
Jets Still Flying High
For the Winnipeg Jets it has been a week of ups and downs. Winning two games so far during the week has helped heal the blow of losing Mark Scheifele for six to eight weeks with an upper body injury. At the time of Scheifele’s injury, he was leading the team in scoring. Now Blake Wheeler has picked up his game without Scheifele in the lineup to take over the team lead in scoring. Another player who has been producing since Scheifele has been out of the lineup has been Nikolaj Ehlers. Ehlers is one of more underrated players in the league. The Jets are sitting in a good position as the second half of the season draws near. Don’t be surprised if the Jets get hot and take over the division lead once 2018 comes around.
St. Louis is Feeling the Blues
The St. Louis Blues have fallen on hard times as of late. Losing two games inside the division has drop them from first to third. St. Louis was able to salvage the week by defeating Carolina to close out 2017. While Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko are continuing to produce in the absent of Jaden Schwartz, the Blues are finding difficult to score as of late. Scoring use to never be a problem for the Blues. However, injuries have plagued this team as of late and they do not have the same potent lineup they did that made they one of the best teams in the league. Blues goaltending has not been an issue all season, but the timely save has not been there. St. Louis will get things turned around. There is not danger of them missing the playoffs. The Blues just need to weather the storm of injuries.
Best of the Rest:
-Hockey is a results based business. For the Dallas Stars the results are starting to come after a rocky start. Though Dallas will need to improve their divisional record, the Stars are sitting in a good position in the first wild card spot. This in all in part to the play of Ben Bishop. Bishop is finally settling into his new home with the Dallas Stars. He has a proven track record of winning and bringing teams to a Stanley Cup Final. Another factor for the Stars is the fact the team is finally playing the way coach Ken Hitchcock wants them to play. It took some time for the players to adjust to Hitchcock’s ways, but now the team has and they are getting the results they want. For Stars to maintain their position in the West, they must continue to improve with each game.
-The Minnesota Wild are climbing the standings quickly. As a matter of fact, the Wild occupy the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference. With a rash of injuries to start the season, the Wild were able to survive and climb up the standings. During the past week, the Wild received some good news. Zach Parise returned to the lineup for the first time in 250 days. In fact, now with Parise back in the lineup, the Wild will be at full strength the first time all season. The amazing season of Eric Staal is continuing. Not only does he lead the team in points with 31, but has found a way to adapt his game to the new style in the NHL. Despite their roller coaster ride to begin the season, the Wild are in a good position to start 2018 strong.
-It has been a tough season to be a Chicago Blackhawks fan. Chicago is in a pattern of winning a bunch of games followed by losing a bunch of games. Despite all of this Chicago is still in the playoff picture, but it will not be easy. Chicago cannot follow up a major winning streak with a big losing streak. But it has been a struggle all season. Things do not get easier as Corey Crawford has been placed on IR with an upper body injury. Crawford has been the best player for Chicago and his loss can be felt immediately. Chicago does not have the greatest backup goaltenders but if Chicago’s offense can get enough goals to win games, the Blackhawks might be able to survive. Any chance of the playoffs ride on whether or not Chicago can lift their game to an elite level.
-Nathan McKinnon’s stellar season is continuing for the Colorado Avalanche. MacKinnon is showing why he is still one of the elite players in the league. He leads the team in points with 43 and has a chance to finish top ten in scoring for the first time since his rookie campaign. There was so many expectations for Nathan MacKinnon when he came into the league. After his rookie season, his production dipped, but since the trade of Matt Duchene, MacKinnon has found a new spark along with the Avalanche. Colorado is a pesky team and will continue play hard even though the results might not be there.