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Central Division Roundup: Week One

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What’s happening around the Central.

NHL: Winnipeg Jets at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

As we wrap up the first week of the season, let’s take a look around the division.

Standings:

NHL.com

Who’s Hot:

The Colorado Avalanche are off to a good start to their season.

The Nashville Predators are also doing pretty well, though they’re lagging pretty far behind in the scoring race. Still, last night they finally managed more goals than Auston Matthews, so we’ll take that and their tied-for-first-in-standings-points at the end of the day.

Who’s Not:

So, the St. Louis Blues are a team, huh.

A Closer Look:

Chicago Blackhawks (2-0-2):

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews seems to have come back from the dead. He has eight points (5G, 3A) in his first four games, and all of his points have come at even strength. Alex DeBrincat’s second year is off to a great start; his seven points are just behind Toews’s.

The team as a whole is just breaking even in 5v5 shot share (50% over the first four games), but they’re doing much worse in shot quality, probably because they’ve forgotten what defense is. Also, their power play is anemic (1 for 15), their penalty kill is awful (giving up 4 in 13), and Corey Crawford, who had quietly been excellent, is still out with lingering concussion symptoms.

Former Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward has been doing Carolina Hurricanes goalie things in Crawford’s stead—he’s allowed 18 goals over the four games he’s played, for a .867 SV%. The Blackhawks’ division-leading 18 goals scored are bailing him out for now, but either he’s going to have to work harder or they’re going to have to learn to play some defense.

Also, Brent Seabrook and Marcus Krüger are still getting icetime.

Conclusion: Nice record; not sure they’ll be able to keep it up unless they make some changes.

Colorado Avalanche (3-0-1):

The Avalanche stunned everyone last year with their rapid turnaround from a dismal 2016-17. This season, they seem to be building off of where they left off. Mikko Rantanen leads the team with seven points, and Nathan MacKinnon has been the beneficiary of most of those assists, putting up five goals and an assist of his own so far on the year. At the other end of the ice, Sam Girard is winning hearts and Semyon Varlamov has a sparkling .955 SV% over three games played.

Their special teams have been fantastic, with the power play converting on 5 of 15 and the penalty kill killing off all but one of 19. They’re not quite breaking even in shot share, but they’re doing much better in shot quality—if they can just tilt the ice a little more they’re in a good place to go.

On the down side, Avalanche fans have to be hoping that Philipp Grubauer can do better than he has in his one game so far in burgundy. They’re also not getting that much production from anyone except MacKinnon and Rantanen, which could spell trouble in the long term—Carl Söderberg does have three goals, but he’s also been spending almost all of his time on ice in his own end, so I’m not sure how long that will last.

Conclusion: A very solid start for a skilled young team.

Dallas Stars (2-0-1):

The obvious thing about the Stars this week is that they gave up seven goals to the Toronto Maple Leafs in their most recent game, but the Leafs have been averaging five goals a game. These things happen. Even including that shelling, Ben Bishop has been playing extremely solid hockey this season. Tyler Seguin leads the team with eight points (3G, 5A) and some very nice shot rates, with Alex Radulov and Jamie Benn close behind on the points leaderboard.

Not so much on the shot-rate chart, though; the Stars are having a rough year in the Corsi league. Their 46% of shots taken at even strength is 22nd in the league, and they’re barely making up for it with shot quality, squeaking into the middle of the league. Their penalty kill is meh (allowing 2 in 8), though their power play has been excellent (4-in-8) in limited opportunities.

Conclusion: There’s not much not to like about this Stars team other than their shot rates. As they continue to settle in with new coach Jim Montgomery, they look like they’re going to be a threat.

Minnesota Wild (1-1-1):

Matt Dumba has had a good season so far, and Eric Staal is solidly above water in shot share. Devan Dubnyk has been fantastic.

Other than that...where do I start. There is a four-way tie for team scoring lead, which is three points. They’re taking just 47% of the shots at 5v5 and they’re giving up better chances than they take. Their power play has yet to find the net, though at least they’ve only failed to score on seven opportunities; their penalty kill has given up a respectable 2-in-11 while scoring a shorthanded goal. It’s just been a really tepid first few games, with not much to say.

Conclusion: I’m still stuck on the fact that Ryan Suter scored a shorthanded goal. Check back later.

Nashville Predators (3-1-0):

The Predators, unlike the Wild, don’t have a four-way tie at three points for team scoring lead; they have a six-way tie at three points for team scoring lead. Viktor Arvidsson has multiple goals on the season. Pekka Rinne has been great, except for the home starter against the Calgary Flames; Juuse Saros is having a rougher start to the season.

One thing the Predators are doing well is keeping the puck at the right end of the ice; their 52% of shots at 5v5 is second-best in the Central, and they’re doing much better at getting it close to the net and keeping it away from their net than they were at the start of the season. They still need to do a lot of work defensively, but they’re moving in the right direction.

They also need to do some work on special teams. The power play has gone 0-for-15 this season, and I’m open to suggestions about what to rename it. The penalty kill has allowed 3 in 11, which just isn’t great. They have at least been on the penalty kill somewhat less so far this year.

Conclusion: The Predators need their stars not named Pekka Rinne to step up in order to keep up the good record.

St. Louis Blues (1-1-1):

New acquisition Ryan O’Reilly has four points, all assists, and returning player David Perron has three goals. Otherwise...oof. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Blues have a pack of injuries and they’re having goalie trouble.

The best news for the Blues is probably that if and when Robby Fabbri and defensive specialist Carl Gunnarson come back, they’ll be in a better place with them than they are without them.

The Blues are currently about breaking even in 5v5 shots taken and in where those shots are coming from, which is a start. Jake Allen’s save percentage is in the basement, though, and given that it’s been dropping annually since 2015-16, back when he shared the cage with Brian Elliott, I’m not sure how much light is at the end of the tunnel.

Conclusion: Maybe if they try bubble wrap?

Winnipeg Jets (2-2-0):

Last night’s fracas aside, the Jets have had an okay but not good start to the year. 22-year-old Kyle Connor has been making the most of his chances; his four points (3G, 1A) lead the team, with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler trailing him. Connor Hellebuyck has been okay in net, and the team has been doing very well overall in shot share, taking a division-leading 54% of shots at 5v5.

Oddly, Connor, Wheeler, and winger Jack Roslovic are underwater in shot share despite their individual production and the team’s excellent numbers. Jets fans will probably hope this steadies out. They’d probably also like their team to get back out of penalty trouble—the Jets’ 20 times shorthanded are tied for the league lead, though they’ve only allowed goals on three of those. The Jets’ power play, meanwhile, is at a respectable 2-for-10.

I’m keeping an eye on Patrik Laine, who only has two goals so far this season but who’s really been helping the Jets with both shot quantity and shot quality.

Conclusion: I don’t think the Jets stay “okay but not great”. They’re in good position to get a lot better than they currently are.