Things are certainly heating up in the mighty Central Division. The Nashville Predators are a walking M*A*S*H unit, the Colorado Avalanche keep on winning, and the Winnipeg Jets are starting to take off. The two other contending teams in the division are fighting for the two wild card spots in the Western Conference. With the calendar flipping to December, keep your eye on the Central Division especially if the Predators continue to have injuries pile up. Time to go inside this week’s edition of the NHL Central Division Notebook.
NHL Central Division Notebook: Avalanche Warning
Currently, the Nashville Predators are the walking wounded. Injuries continue to pile up. With P.K. Subban, Kyle Turris, nd Viktor Arvidsson already on injured reserve, you can now add Filip Forsberg to that list. Forsberg will sidelined four to six weeks with a hand injury. Three of the Predators top six forwards are sitting on injured reserve. This also means that $25.25 million worth of the team’s $72,764,165 cap hit, or 34.7 percent, is on the sidelines. Once these players got injured, the Predators are 5-5 over their last ten games, and their grip has loosen some on the Central Division. Nashville is barely hanging on to first place. While tied in points with Colorado, Nashville has two more regulation wins than Colorado. Things do not get easier for Nashville, but this will be a good test for the team.
The red hot Colorado Avalanche continue to win hockey games. It appears there is an “Avalanche Warning” heading for the entire Western Conference. Colorado has caught the mighty Nashville Predators, and if the Avalanche continue to win, they will be in first place sooner rather than later. This may sound like a broken record, but Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog are the best trio in the NHL. Rantanen and MacKinnon have 45 and 43 points respectively. Landeskog is the forgotten man on that line. Though he has complied 30 points this season. Both Rantanen and MacKinnon are on pace for over 120 points each. Regardless of what other teams try to do, they can’t stop this trio. Many thought this team would slow down with being so top heavy, but that isn’t the case. In fact Colorado is getting stronger.
Even with the Winnipeg Jets goaltending being below average, the team is still in the hunt for the Central Division title. Connor Hellebuyck could be much better and will need to be if the Jets have hopes of making a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. When you look at this team from the outside, Hellebuyck has been the weakest leak this season. He has given up weak goals when the Jets had the momentum in their favor. A prime example was last week against Pittsburgh. Winnipeg up by a goal and Hellebuyck lets in a weak goal to allow the Penguins back in the game. Over the weekend, the Jets showed their true grit. After blowing a 3-1 to New Jersey, Winnipeg found a way to win in overtime 4-3. Sunday against the Rangers, Winnipeg rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win 4-3 in a shootout.
Best of the Rest:
Dallas Stars – The Dallas Stars had a successful road trip through Western Canada picking up five of six points which included two wins. Dallas is starting to picking steam. The Stars are starting figure out ways to win games on the road which is essential come playoff time. After a hot start, the Stars top line cooled off some. Recently though, the top line is starting to heat up again. Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov are scoring big goals at big times for the Stars. Look at Saturday in Vancouver, trailing the whole game, the Stars score two goals in the third period. The game winner scored by Radulov was set up by Benn. The Stars have a lot of talent on their roster. It also helps that Ben Bishop is back in the lineup. Bishop is the key to the Stars success this season.
Minnesota Wild – If the Wild want to make the playoffs for a seventh straight season, Minnesota will need to end a three game losing streak. During this streak, Minnesota has dropped in the standings from second to fourth. While Minnesota is still in a playoff picture, the Wild would rather be in the top three than battling for a wild card spot. Minnesota heads on a big road trip through Western Canada. Picking up as many points as possible during this road trip will certainly help their cause in the standings. Zach Parise continues to stay healthy and is a big reason why the Wild are playing so well this season. Ryan Suter is also playing well this season. Minnesota hopefully can finally close the deal after signing these two players to big deals all those years ago.
Chicago Blackhawks – Even with the coaching change, the Chicago Blackhawks are no better than they were. Clearly, Chicago is in a rebuilding mode. Stan Bowman clearly sent that message as Chicago traded Nick Schmaltz to Arizona for Dylan Strome and Brendan Berlin. Since the trade, Dylan Strome has notched two goals and one assist, while Brendan Perlini has yet to register a point in a Chicago uniform. The Blackhawks are not what they use to be. But that is the price of success. Most executives in the NHL will take three championships in the time frame the Blackhawks got them, for having issues with the salary cap. Eventually, the Blackhawks will have to figure out a way to move some of these bad contracts. Outside of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Brandan Saad, and Alex DeBrincat, the Blackhawks just do not have the offensive firepower they once did.
St. Louis Blues – Here is another team that is a complete train wreck. The St. Louis Blues still cannot get it together. Another tough week for the Blues, as the team only picked up one point. As noted in several other posts, the Blues signed all these players in the off-season with the hopes of competing for the Stanley Cup. That appears not to be the case. In a league that is getting younger and more skillful, the Blues got older. Another problem for the Blues is goaltending. Jake Allen is not cutting it anymore. The only off-season acquisition that is doing anything for the Blues is Ryan O’Reilly. O’Reilly leads the Blues in goals and points. Other than that none of the other Blues top scorers are not producing. More changes might be on the way for the Blues.
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