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Central Division Roundup: Week Three

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We're closing in on our first coach firing of the season! Also some other things.

NHL: St. Louis Blues at Winnipeg Jets James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

The Predators didn’t play a single Central Division opponent this week, but that doesn’t mean nothing has been happening.

Standings:

NHL.com

Who’s Hot:

Don’t look now, but the Minnesota Wild have won their last four straight and have made it well within striking distance of the middle of the pack.

Who’s Not, Other Than The St. Louis Blues:

...I was going to pick on someone else this time. I was all set. I had the header typed out and everything.

It’s the Blues.

I guess that’s why they call them the Blues.

A Closer Look:

Chicago Blackhawks (6-2-2):

Their defense is a nightmare, but Corey Crawford is rocking a .946 SV% (!) through his first four games back from injury.

The depth scoring also isn’t great. Patrick Kane, whom I was very much enjoying not having to write about, has overtaken the team lead in goals (9) and is tied with Alex DeBrincat in points (14). The two of them and Jonathan Toews (6-5–11) have scored 23 of the Blackhawks’ 37 goals, or 62%. Assists matter, but if only three of your players can actually get it past a goalie, and your goalie is standing on his head every night, you’re trusting a lot to luck and health.

Maybe it turns around. Brandon Saad has finally scored some goals, and Henry Jokiharju has really been trying to score some goals, but the Blackhawks have been see-sawing back and forth for me between “yeah, maybe” and “no, probably not” all season, and this week we’re landing on...

Conclusion: Probably not. Right now, even with a few signs of life among the rest of their players, they look very top-heavy. Next week I’ll probably change my mind again.

Colorado Avalanche (6-2-2):

Speaking of top-heavy, the Avalanche are looking to be a one-line wonder again this season. Mikko Rantanen (4-12–16), Nathan MacKinnon (8-7–15), and Gabriel Landeskog (8-4–12) are eating the competition alive. The two next-most-productive players on their team have six points each. Not great.

At least the Blackhawks are spreading out their production across two lines—with the Avalanche, it’s just one. However, it’s not as simple as “try to shut them down, then score when they’re off the ice.”

Philipp Grubauer has settled into the Mile High City, putting up a .925 SV% over three games, but that’s being overshadowed by starter Semyon Varlamov’s frankly absurd 0.953 SV%. They need the help, because they’re underwater in shot share, barely clearing 45% of the shots taken at 5v5, and they’re not doing any better with shot quality than they are with shot quantity.

Conclusion: The Colorado Avalanche are getting badly outshot while getting superb goaltending, you say?

Dallas Stars (5-4-0):

The Dallas Stars are one of three Central Division teams with a better home record than road record. They’ve gone 5-2-0 at home and have yet to get a point on the road.

Defender John Klingberg (5-4–9) leads the team in goals and has taken more shots than anyone except Tyler Seguin, whose eleven points (3G/8A) lead the team.

Good news: they’re also getting regular contributions from a few other forwards. Bad news: one of those forwards is Alexander Radulov, who has missed the last three games with an injury and is still second on the team in points. Other bad news: they, too, are having some issues with depth scoring. Ben Bishop has been keeping them in games at home, but hasn’t had as much luck on the road.

For a team that’s had some staggeringly dominant second periods, the Stars aren’t winning either of the shot battles (quality or quantity) at even strength. They have a deadly-looking power play that’s been very effective, but that’s the only area in which they really stand out.

Conclusion: I am no longer convinced the Stars are trending the right way. There’s still plenty of time for them to turn it around, and they may have started tonight (even Roman Polak had a goal!), but we’ll see.

Minnesota Wild (5-2-2):

The Wild have finally started to get some contributions from their younger cluster of core players. Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund both had three points in the last week, and Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba both chipped in two.

However, Zach Parise added four to maintain the team scoring lead (he has 4-7–11), and Ryan Suter added three to his own season total (now at 2-6–8) to keep the kids out of the team’s top two. Granlund and Zucker both have seven points; they are the only players still in their twenties with more than five. 35-year-old Mikko Koivu has six points in the eight games he’s played. Nobody except Parise and fellow 34-year-old Eric Staal has been going to the front of the net. I can’t keep doing this every week. Someone please put Nino Niederreiter’s face on a milk carton.

Devan Dubnyk has continued his excellent start to the season, with a SV% to date of .946, which is good for the Wild since backup Alex Stalock has been having a bad couple of games. They’d probably like to be able to trust Stalock more than they do right now, since Dubnyk also is not getting any younger, but they’ve put Dubnyk through worse in the past. For yet another year, the skaters have opted to get outshot while prioritizing shot quality; it seems to be working pretty well for them at both ends of the ice. Their power play is apathetic, but everything else is looking pretty good.

Conclusion: Honestly, it seems to be working for them. Whether they can keep it up for the full 82 and into the playoffs I don’t know, but for October it’s just fine.

Nashville Predators (8-2-0):

The big story for Nashville this week has been Pekka Rinne’s injury. He’s eligible to return from IR for tomorrow’s game against the Oilers, but we don’t know if he’ll be healthy enough to do so. Juuse Saros has been holding down the fort, earning the W in relief last Friday night and going 2-1-0 with a .919 SV% in his three starts since then.

Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson have broken into double-digits in points, with Forsberg and Arvidsson tied for the team lead in goals with seven. Arvidsson’s ten 5v5 points lead the entire NHL. Kevin Fiala has found the net (it was in the blue paint the whole time!). The offense is starting to look up. There are some weird trends, offensively, with the defense—Mattias Ekholm leads all Predators defenders in offensive production, and Roman Josi appears to be leaning in to the rover role with nothing to show for it—but when it comes to the forwards, things are settling into place.

The Predators also lost third-pairing defender Dan Hamhuis to injury. I’m not completely sure how much difference this will make to their defense, but it’s worth keeping an eye on. More worrying is their mediocre 5v5 play—they’re barely above water in all three of shots, unblocked shots, and shots on goal, though they’re doing somewhat better in shot quality—and their awful special teams.

Conclusion: Fun-da-men-tals [clap clap, clap clap clap] (Also, you can also check out Chris Brooks’s latest The Week That Was for more details on last week, and stay tuned for Monday’s installment!)

St. Louis Blues (2-4-3):

As of the time of writing, head coach Mike Yeo is still employed.

[checks watch]

Ryan O’Reilly has eleven points (2G/9A). David Perron’s 5-4–9 is second on the team. I’m not actually sure where the Blues have put either their offense or their defense, but forward Patrick Maroon and defender Jordan Schmaltz at least have excellent shot rate numbers. Schmaltz actually looks pretty good overall on paper, at both ends of the rink.

Jake Allen’s all-situations SV% is 0.876. Backup Chad Johnson’s is 0.857. Multiple people covering the Blues have pointed out that this isn’t all on the goalies, and looking at their shot rates against (not great) and shot rates for (awful), there’s a strong impression that the Blues are spending most of the game sitting in their own end, where they happen to be giving up a lot of shots from the low slot.

Have they considered sitting Jay Bouwmeester again?

Conclusion: Oof.

Winnipeg Jets (6-3-1):

The Jets have a good power play and a bad penalty kill. Former Vezina finalist Connor Hellebuyck’s performance has been slipping as the season progresses, and he’s now sitting at a .907. Would it really be a Paul Maurice team with good goaltending?

Mark Scheifele has ten points (5G/5A) with Blake Wheeler (2G/7A) and Kyle Connor (4G/5A) just behind him in team scoring. The Jets are getting contributions from up and down the lineup—but their offense at even strength is really struggling. Only two of Wheeler’s nine points, and three of Connor’s, have come at 5v5 play. Scheifele has four. Defender Jacob Trouba leads the team in 5v5 production with five assists. Only 16 of the Jets’ 31 goals so far have been scored 5v5.

Trouba has been having a good season, but Dustin Byfuglien has been having an excellent one. He doesn’t quite have the point totals, but he’s been very good defensively both 5v5 and even on the penalty kill.

Conclusion: The further into the season the Jets get without 5v5 production from their big names, the more worried about them I get.