Now that the push to the Stanley Cup Playoffs is on, teams in the Central Division are raising their level. As a matter of fact one team in particular is on a mission to prove last season was not a fluke. While the battle for the top spot is down to two teams, the rest of the positions are constantly changing. The Central Division like the Metro is hoping to send five teams to the playoffs. However, the wild card race could not be any tighter. Time to go inside the NHL Central Division to see how Nashville is remaining so dominant.
NHL Central Division Notebook
Increasing the Lead
The Nashville Predators are showing the rest of the hockey world they are no fluke. After setting a franchise record 10-game winning streak, the Predators next’s goal is to win the Central Division. Even in defeat Nashville was still able to pick up a point. Under head coach Peter Laviolette the Predators have been playing a true team game. It all starts with their goaltending and defense. Their good defensive structure leads to generating chances offensively. And most of the time Nashville takes advantage of those opportunities. Now with their leader Mike Fisher in the lineup, the Predators are playing for him and are emotionally charged. Nashville sniffed the Stanley Cup Final and they want to get back their this year. It will not be easy, but the Predators have the team to do it.
For the Winnipeg Jets trying to maintain ground and keep pace with the Nashville Predators is their main focus. Though the Jets had their winning streak stopped by the Flyers over the weekend, Winnipeg is still in a good position. The biggest thing for the Jets right now is to stay healthy. Mark Scheifele is still sidelined with a shoulder injury. Though it is believed there is no structural damage, the Jets do not want to rush him back until he is healthy. Defensemen Toby Enstrom and Jacob Trouba remain out of the lineup with injuries. Enstrom is dealing with nagging injury and Trouba has been out of the lineup with a lower body injury. It appears Trouba could return to the lineup this Thursday. Even with the injuries Patrik Laine has been able to join the 40-goal club and has a chance at the Rocket Richard Trophy.
For the Minnesota Wild it is all about standing pat in the Central Division. The Wild are hoping to lock in their position in the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the end of the month. Though Minnesota has teams chasing them down for that spot, it appears with each game the Wild are raising their level. Despite having their four game winning streak stopped by the Oilers, the teams behind them were not able to take advantage. Eric Staal continues to have a dream season leading the Wild in scoring. Most thought his career was over when he came to Minnesota, but playing for this team might have been the best thing for him. There is a good chance he could be a finalist for the Hart Trophy. Throughout the team’s early season struggles, it was Staal that was able to keep the ship a float.
Best of the Rest:
-For the Dallas Stars things have not gone according to plan as of late. Dallas has been trying to keep pace with the Wild. In fact at times during the past few months, the Stars were in third place in the Central Division. However after suffering three of four loses during the week, Dallas is three points behind the Wild. With the Stars losing to begin their six-game road trip, their head coach Ken Hitchcock is not happy with their play. As a matter fact, Ken Hitchcock feels that his team is not playing the kind of hockey that can win many games down the stretch. Dallas will need more from their star players. Without Ben Bishop in the lineup, Dallas will need to rely on Kari Lehtonen to keep the ship from sinking. If Dallas can get things together then they will not need to just rely on Lehtonen.
-The Colorado Avalanche are having an amazing season. Nobody saw this team having this much successful this considering how bad Colorado was last year. Holding onto the final wild card spot by just one point, the Avalanche just sit two points behind Dallas and five points behind the Wild. Nothing will be easy for Colorado down the stretch. Some very tough divisional games face Colorado down the stretch. If there is one player that will his team into the players is Nathan MacKinnon. MacKinnon has put this team on his shoulders since the beginning of the season. The Avalanche have become MacKinnon’s team ever since the Matt Duchene trade. If Colorado does get into the playoffs it was be the biggest surprise of the season.
-Despite being three points out of the playoffs, it feels like a long road for the St. Louis Blues to get into the playoffs. Through the past two games, the Blues are showing signs of life. St. Louis was able to beat two teams in the playoff race in San Jose and Los Angeles. Still the road will be tough for the Blues to get into the playoffs. But winning against teams ahead of them in the standings certainly helps. With Calgary on a tailspin, the Blues still have a shot. St. Louis will need to elevate their game to the next level. As Carter Hutton deals with an injury, St. Louis went back to Jake Allen. Allen is starting to show form of his brilliance from the beginning of the year. If Allen can get his act together the Blues will have a shot at making the playoffs.
-With only a few weeks left in the season, the Chicago Blackhawks are playing for pride. Even being out of the playoff race for quite some time, Chicago has been able to pick up points and wins over the past week. Though it has not been pretty, the Hawks are getting it done. One player that has been pretty steady all year has been Patrick Kane. Kane continues to be his usual self. Though his point totals have been down this season, he is still by far the most productive Blackhawks player. While Jonathan Toews not playing particularly well this season, as of late his playing like the Jonathan Toews of old. However for most of the Blackhawks it could be too little too late.