With the NHL on a holiday break for the next three, the Central Division is heating up. Currently, the division has three teams in the playoffs, with two more fighting for the wild card positions. The Central Division continues to live up to being one of the tougher divisions in the NHL. Regardless of what position a team is in, said teams will fight tooth and nail to earn two points in the standings. Let’s go inside the NHL Central Division Notebook as these teams hit the holiday break.
NHL Central Division: Where the Top Teams Stand
A team that is continually on the rise is the Winnipeg Jets. After a slow start to the season, the Jets are starting to find their groove. In particular Mark Scheifele. Scheifele continues to amaze as he leads his team to victory after victory. Scheifele has four game winning goals in the month of December, three of which have come in overtime. If the Jets are on in a close game, you can count on Scheifele scoring the game winning goal. The rest of the team is catching fire as well. Patrik Laine was not scoring at a high rate through the first month of the season, now he has 23 goals. All it took was home Finnish cooking. The Jets have two solid goaltenders as well. Connor Hellebuyck is rounding into form, while Laurent Brossoit is filling in nicely as his backup.
While still one of the best teams in the NHL, the Nashville Predators have run into a bit of a roadblock. Granted Nashville is dealing with injuries, the Predators have yet to hit their peak performance. The Predators head into the break, the team lost four games in a row only picking up one point. Having injuries to key players never helps, but Nashville is not playing well. Despite all of this, Nashville still sits in a playoff position. But how much longer can they hold on if they do not start picking up victories? The way teams are playing behind them, it could be one week or it could a couple of weeks. Hopefully this time off will allow those injured players to get even more rest and be ready to return to the lineup.
One of the best stories of last NHL season continued into this season. The Colorado Avalanche are picking up where they left off last season. However, nobody expected this. The combination of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog have propelled this trio to the top line in the NHL. Both Rantanen and MacKinnon have compiled over 50 points as each player is on pace for over 120 points. Lately though the Avalanche have come back down to Earth. After a fast start, the winning has slowed down some. But that has not stopped Colorado from maintaining their position in the Central Division. Going forward though, the Avalanche need to find more depth scoring. Having a great top line means nothing, if the rest of the team does not score. That is a must if Colorado wants to succeed.
Best of the Rest:
Dallas Stars – Sounds like a broken record, but imagine if the Dallas Stars could get it together on the road. We all know how good the Stars are on home ice. Despite, their minor hiccups this past week, the Stars have an excellent home record. As it stands right now, the Stars sit tied with the Oilers in points, but Edmonton has played fewer that is why they hold the final wild card spot. If the Stars can figure out to get a nice winning streak together, Dallas could find themselves in a playoff spot once again. Dallas did receive some good news during the week as John Klingberg returned to the lineup. In his absence, Miro Heiskanen filled in admirably. As the Stars continue to get healthy, look for them to make a push once the holiday break is over.
Minnesota Wild – A team that had some much promise to begin the season, has the chances of making the playoffs come crashing down. The Minnesota Wild held a playoff position in the beginning months of the season. However, after going through some tough stretches, the Wild find themselves on the outside looking in. Granted the Wild are still within striking distance, but it is definitely going to be a struggle. Not only is Minnesota chasing Dallas, but Vancouver, Edmonton, and Anaheim. This is a tall order for a team that is not playing well as of late. One pleasant surprise has been the play of Zach Parise. Parise is having a season for the ages. After dealing with injuries for most of his time in Minnesota, Parise has turned into the player of old. Unfortunately all the news is not good as Matt Dumba remains sidelined because of injury.
St. Louis Blues – Here we get to the to the teams that have disappointed us those far this season. The first on the list is the St. Louis Blues. Coming into the season, the Blues had so much promise. St. Louis made splash after splash as they won the off-season. Many people picked to the Blues to make the playoffs this season. Unfortunately, for the Blues, the pieces the team did add might have been the wrong ones. Instead of getting faster, the Blues got slower. Though Ryan O’Reilly has been doing his part ever since coming over to St. Louis. Even though the Blues have been able to pick up some victories over the past two weeks, that has been rarely the norm this season. Don’t be surprised if the Blues are seller come trade deadline time.
Chicago Blackhawks – The second team on this list is the Chicago Blackhawks. Nobody expected the Blackhawks to have this poor of a season. However, maybe we should have all should have seen this coming after the Blackhawks were swept out of the playoffs in 2017 and failed to make the playoffs last season. The Blackhawks have so much money tied up in five players, it is hard for Chicago to add any other pieces. But that is the price you pay for winning championships. In fact, the Blackhawks will even find it hard to trade some of these players. On the bright side, a player the Blackhawks traded for Dylan Strome, is finding success in the Windy City. Strome never found any success in the desert, but after being reunited with Alex DeBrincat, Strome has found his scoring touch.