NHL Central Division Notebook: Winnipeg Surging Ahead

It is a battle atop the Central Division standings. Three teams have separated themselves from the rest of the pack. If these teams want to remain at the top, they must continue to win as the rest is catching up in the standings. Let’s go inside the NHL Central Division Notebook to recap the week that was.

NHL Central Division Notebook

Flying High

The Winnipeg Jets have surged to the top of the Central standings once again. Even without Mark Schiefele in the lineup, the Jets are still an offensive juggernaut. Despite losing to a divisional opponent, the Jets were able to pick up five of six points during the week. This has allowed them to stay in first place for the time being. What has surprised many people about the Jets this season is the play of their defense. While there is no one player standing out points wise, structurally the Jets are playing a better game. Head coach Paul Maurice is happy the team has cut down on their penalty minutes. This is allowed the team to flourish. As a matter fact, Dustin Byfuglien broke is goalless drought. Now that “Big Buff,” is scoring from the back end, the offensive numbers for the Jets will pick up even more.

Keeping It Simple

For the St. Louis Blues getting back to basics in what is in order. St. Louis was able to climb to the second spot in the division as they picked up five of eight points during the week. Both games the Blues were able to win came on home ice. While both of their loses were on the road. St. Louis has come to the realization that Jaden Schwartz will not be coming back to the lineup anytime soon. This has allowed other players to pick up their games. One player in particular has been backup goalie Carter Hutton. Hutton who started majority of the games this week for the Blues, is showing why he is more than capable of carrying the load. Though there is no goalie controversy in St. Louis, Hutton has been playing better and deserved his playing time.

Status Quo

Life without Filip Forsberg is going to be difficult for the Nashville Predators. The team’s leading goal scoring will not be back for eight weeks. Nashville will need others to produce in his absence. Mainly, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson. Neither player is lighting the world on fire. In order for the Predators to be successful in the second half of the season, these two players must step up their games immediately. Both Johansen and Arvidsson were great for Nashville last season guiding the team to the Stanley Cup Final. In order for that to happen again this season, both players need to pick up the scoring. While Johansen entered the season on the injury list, there is no excuse for why Arvidsson is not scoring more consistently. Look for those players to find another level in the second half of the season.

Best of the Rest:

– The Dallas Stars are maintaining their position as the first wild card team in the Central Division. Winning two of three games during the week definitely helps that. With the play of Ben Bishop being outstanding, Dallas is poised to jump into the top three of the Central any day now. The team enters their mandatory by week on a hot streak. Players like Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov are consistently scoring. John Klingberg is proving why he is one of the more underrated defensemen in the league. Klingberg leads the defense in points with 39 and is involved in the play every time he is on the ice. Everyone’s pick to make the playoffs prior to the season starting could be a realization if Dallas can continue to gain points in the standings.

– After finishing dead last in the NHL last season, the Colorado Avalanche find themselves holding the final card spot in the Western Conference. Thanks in part to a four game winning streak. Words cannot describe the play of Nathan MacKinnon. If the Avalanche can hold their position in the second half  of the season, MacKinnon could be nominated for the Hart Trophy. Even if Colorado does not make the playoffs, he should still be nominated. MacKinnon has been the main reason why Colorado has turned their season around. Once Duchene was traded, the cloud of negativity surrounding the team was gone. While MacKinnon gets all the attention, Alexander Kerfoot is putting together a nice little season for himself. Though he has gone through his rough patches, his play of late has helped the Avalanche win games. Going forward the Avalanche have a nice nucleolus to build around.

– The Minnesota Wild are sitting in a good position. The Wild sit tied with the Avalanche in points with 47. However, because the team has played more games, the Wild sit on the outside looking in on the final wild card spot. Eric Staal continues to have a career season. He leads the Wild in goals with 19 and points with 37. While those numbers might not be Hart Trophy worthy, the fact remains he is the reason Minnesota is in the position they are in. Without the play of Eric Staal during the beginning of the season, one can only imagine where the Wild maybe in the standings. Minnesota just needs to keep winning in the second half of the season to maintain their position in the standings. With Dallas on a bye, Minnesota will hope to leap frog them in the standings.

-What can be said about the Chicago Blackhawks. A team that had hopes of winning a Stanley Cup this season now find itself in last in a very tough Central Division. Though Chicago sits only one point out of the final playoff spot, it has not been easy for Chicago this season. With Corey Crawford out of the lineup, the team is relying on 32-year-old Jeff Glass, and Anton Forsberg in goal. Nothing against those two, but they are not Crawford. Despite what Patrick Kane is doing offensively, most would agree Crawford has been the best player for Chicago. It will be interesting to see what Chicago does in the second half of the season. Tough divisional games appear on the schedule this week. However, if Chicago can win and gain ground in the standings, they may have a chance at the playoffs.

 

Read More:

Puck Wire: Top Hockey News From The Weekend That Was: January 8

NHL Metro Division Notebook: Capitals Regaining Form

 

Photo Credit: By mark6mauno (Dustin Byfuglien) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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