NHL Central Division Notebook: Four Team Race at the Top

NHL Central Division

Throughout the season so far it has been a three team race atop the Central Division standings. Recently though a fourth team have thrown their hat into the ring. With Nashville, Winnipeg, St. Louis, and now Dallas amongst the best in the Central Division, things certainly will heat up in the coming weeks. Time to go inside the NHL Central Division Notebook to see how the Dallas Stars are amongst one of the better teams in the division.

NHL Central Division Notebook

Back on Top

It was a pretty successful week for the Nashville Predators. Despite losing three games in the extra session, the Predators were able to pick up four points and leap-frog Winnipeg for the top spot. The three games the Predators did lose in the extra, the team was missing their best forward. Filip Forsberg was suspended for three games, but made an impact again once he returned. P.K. Subban continues to do P.K. Subban things as he continues to lead the team in points. After being critical of Viktor Arvidsson’s play several weeks ago, Arvidsson has turned his game around. Over the past seven games, Arvidsson has six points as he is turning into the player that helped lead the Predators to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago. Look for Nashville to ride the play Arvidsson down the stretch.

Grounded for Now

For now the Winnipeg Jets have been grounded. Losing back to back games for the first time in a while, the Jets have slipped out of first place. One of their loses came at the hands of the St. Louis Blues. The Jets did not play particularly well in that game either. Then Winnipeg played better against the Rangers, but some sloppy play in the later half of the game. Blake Wheeler continues to be a hot for the Winnipeg Jets. Wheeler leads the team in points with 60 and got his line-mate Mark Scheifele back in the lineup. Scheifele returned against the Blues and did not look particularly. However, in the game against the Rangers, Scheifele looked like his old self picking up a point. One player who took charge during Scheifele’s absence was Nikolaj Ehlers. Ehlers will be relied upon to keep the Jets in a playoff position.

Feeling the Pressure

The St. Louis Blues are definitely feeling the pressure. Having been one of the top teams in the division for most of the season, St. Louis has a team breathing down their backs after splitting four games this week. The loss to Pittsburgh does not hurt that much because it is against the Eastern Conference, but the loss to Minnesota hurts a lot. Allowing teams that are lower in the standings to pick up points just closes the gap even further between the contender and pretenders in the division. St. Louis did follow that loss up with wins over Colorado and Winnipeg on back-to-back nights. However, the Blues are trying to regain the consistency they had in the beginning of the season. Every aspect of the Blues game must get better in order for the Blues to remain in the top three.

Best of the Rest:

-The fourth team that is becoming a serious contender in the Central Division is the Dallas Stars. With their five-game winning streak snapped at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks, the Stars find themselves one point behind the St. Louis Blues. If Dallas would have won, they would have leaped frogged the Blues for third position. Dallas is playing much better over the last month. John Klingberg has been one of the main reasons for the Stars recent success. Klingberg has always been a good defensemen, but this season he is playing on another level. In fact, Klingberg’s name has been mentioned for the Norris Trophy this season. If Dallas can continue to put wins together, there is no reason for them to leap frog one of the teams in the top three. It is a four team race for the top spot in the division.

-Finding consistency over the recent weeks has been a blessing for the Minnesota Wild. One player in particular has been great over the last two weeks. They say your goalie has to be your best player, well Devan Dubnyk has been. Dubnyk was named third star of the week by the NHL. Through three game Dubnyk went 2-0-1 with 1.96 goals-against average, .950 save percentage and one shutout to backstop the Wild. During this stretch the Wild were able to pick up five of a possible six points in the standings. If the Wild want to remain in the final wild card position, Dubnyk will need to continue his stellar play.

-For the Colorado Avalanche sitting two points out of a playoff position is something out a great accomplishment. However, if Colorado really wanted to get back in a playoff position, they cannot go through a massive losing streak with Nathan McKinnon out of the lineup. During the current stretch, the Avalanche have played well. In fact, the Avalanche received some good news as the team announced MacKinnon started skating on his own. One player who has played well during his absence has been Alexander Kerfoot. Kerfoot is now fourth in the team in points and is improving with each game he plays. Colorado will be in thick of things until the final as their compete level is so good.

-The Chicago Blackhawks are sitting in last place in the Central Division. What a remarkable thing to say considering how well the Blackhawks have been over the last several years. However, the team has never been able to build around Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews due to their massive contracts. These contracts have hampered the Blackhawks which has led to the team making trades to shred salary. Lots of young players on the Blackhawks this season. Trying to find the right players to play with Kane and Toews has been an issue. Chicago will probably make a couple of moves at the deadline to be a better team in the future.

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Photo Credit: By Michael Miller (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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