The Nashville Predators sit atop the NHL standings, but all the teams in the Central Division are getting the job done these days.
With all 5 teams ranked among the top 12 in the NHL right now, the Central Division, is establishing itself once again as the class of the league. For a few years now it has had a reputation as one of the league's toughest quintets, but what's going on here?
Follow after the jump as we take a look at exactly how each team is getting the job done these days...
They're the only team in the NHL without a loss in regulation, and the Preds are happy to bank as many points as possible during these early weeks, as they've had to battle through injuries to key performers like Matthew Lombardi, Ryan Suter, Pekka Rinne, and Marcel Goc. Organizational depth has allowed them to move Colin Wilson back over from the wing, and J.P. Dumont has chipped in offensively despite limited ice time. The penalty kill is finally starting to round into form, and the few new pieces (like defenseman Shane O'Brien and winger Sergei Kostitsyn) are starting to look more comfortable in their roles.
Goaltending, however, is clearly what has kept the Predators winning these days, as they're actually getting outshot by 4.3 shots per game, the 7th-worst figure in the league. Is this the best team in hockey? Of course not, but they're soldiering through adversity with some admirable pluck, and should be a very dangerous squad if they can ever get healthy. Until then, it's those nifty Nordic netminders who are carrying the load:
|2010 - Anders Lindback||5||259||3||0||11||2.55||146||135||.925||0|
|2010 - Pekka Rinne||4||228||2||0||6||1.58||133||127||.955||1|
Detroit Red Wings
Watch out, the Wings are off and running despite missing Brian Rafalski due a knee problem. Jimmy Howard looks as good as he did last year so far, and the big guns are firing in Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, and of course their ageless wonder on the blueline. Their offense stands 2nd in Goals per Game (3.29), and is paired up with the top penalty kill so far (91.7%). It's all about tipping the ice in their favor, and when it comes to soaking up huge minutes and tipping Shots For & Against in the right direction, they don't come much better than Nick Lidstrom:
|2010 - Nicklas Lidstrom||7||1||7||8||4||0||1||0||0||20|
With all the roster turnover during the summer, a bit of a stumble out of the gate was to be expected in Chicago, and their barely-above-.500 record reflects that. Besides skating without offensive defenseman Brian Campbell so far, the Hawks have had to get used to new faces filling key roles. Raw talent, however, is enough to make them competitive on any given night until they get their lines settled, and they can maximize their high-end talent by loading up the power play, which is currently ranked 3rd (26.5%). New (old) goalie Marty Turco is off to a decent start, and having two point-per-game guys up front doesn't hurt.
|2010 - Marian Hossa||10||7||4||11||4||8||1||0||1||28|
|2010 - Patrick Sharp||9||8||3||11||-4||0||3||1||3||38|
St. Louis Blues
The youth movement in St. Louis is off to a tremendous start, and is best exemplified by their league-best +8.9 differential between Shots For & Against Per Game. The have the 2nd-best Shots For figure (34.6), and the best Shots Against (25.7), a hallmark of last year's Chicago team that won it all. To top it off, their new #1 goaltender Jaroslav Halak is earning his hefty paycheck, with a .929 Save Percentage that's good for 7th overall. That's a winning combination all around, and validates some of the hype surrounding this team from national commentators.
While they're getting contributions throughout the lineup, perhaps the biggest step forward is being taken by T.J. Oshie, who now has 8 points in seven games.
|2010 - T.J. Oshie||7||1||7||8||3||6||1||0||0||15|
Columbus Blue Jackets
A pre-season pick by many to toil in the Western Conference cellar, the Blue Jackets are off to a surprisingly strong start under rookie head coach Scott Arniel. Interestingly, they've compiled a winning record despite getting outscored, and boasting a losing record (2-3) on home ice. Steve Mason hasn't particularly impressed in goal, and the Nikita Filatov experiment is still very much a work in progress, so the precipitous plummet through the standings is likely right around the corner.
|2010 - Steve Mason||6||359||3||3||19||3.18||190||171||.900||0|
For reference, here's a table featuring some of the numbers used in this piece (most are from NHL.com, I added the differential columns). Just click on any column header to sort by that value:
|Team||GP||W||L||OT||P||G/G||GA/G||Goal Diff||PP%||PK%||S/G||SA/G||Shot Diff||FO%|
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Which team will win the Central Division?
Chicago Blackhawks (16 votes)
Columbus Blue Jackets (7 votes)
Detroit Red Wings (72 votes)
Nashville Predators (139 votes)
St. Louis Blues (45 votes)
279 total votes