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Central Division Roundup: Week Five

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A coach firing! (It wasn’t the one I thought it would be.) Plus some other things.

NHL: Nashville Predators at Colorado Avalanche Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Short week for the Preds. Long, long week for some other teams. Let’s take a look.

Standings:

NHL.com

Who’s Hot:

It’s been a good week for the Nashville Predators, who’ve padded their win streak and their goal differential.

Who’s Not:

It’s, uh, it has not been a good week for the Chicago Blackhawks.

A Closer Look:

Chicago Blackhawks (6-7-3):

Joel Quenneville, the man who’d led the Blackhawks to their three Stanley Cup wins of the salary cap era—something no other NHL coach has yet accomplished—was fired earlier this week.

I don’t understand it either.

As numerous people have pointed out, a lot of the Blackhawks’ struggles cannot be blamed on Quenneville. Stan Bowman’s “trade everything and the kitchen sink, and fire half the people who are left” response to his team getting swept out of the 2017 postseason is much more likely to be the problem. There’s only so much a coach can do.

The Blackhawks have added another game to their losing streak (now at 6) under new head coach Jeremy Colliton. Struggling winger Brandon Saad had a good week, posting two points in two games and staying afloat in shot share, before getting injured in practice yesterday.

Marcus Kruger, who has not been having a good season, was injured on Thursday against the Hurricanes. Duncan Keith, who has been having a good season, escaped suspension after being ejected from last Saturday’s game against the Flames. It’s been a busy week in Chicago.

Corey Crawford’s sv% over the last two games was .892 and that’s not going to get them where they need to be. After his first game back, he had three stupendous games, but since then things have been bad behind an even worse defense—he’s gone .870 since then, over the course of their losing streak, and Cam Ward hasn’t been better.

Conclusion: If they’re not going to fix their defense, they need Crawford to be superhuman again. (Note: they should really fix their defense.)

Colorado Avalanche (7-6-3):

It hasn’t been a great week in Denver either. Semyon Varlamov has dropped another two games, putting up a sv% .875 this week and lowering his sv% for the season to a mortal .927. Even more frustratingly for Avs fans, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen have been held off the scoresheet entirely, with Nathan MacKinnon adding just one point to his totals.

They’ve scored three goals and allowed nine. That’s a bad time.

What’s a worse time is that they’ve done that while being underwater in terms of shot share and shot quality. They haven’t just not been getting the bounces—they haven’t really been playing that well, either.

Even worse than that is that their two losses came against other Central Division opponents. Their loss to the Winnipeg Jets allowed the Jets, who still have a game in hand, to leapfrog them in the standings.

Conclusion: I said last week that the Avalanche were doing well getting goals scored and were going to stop allowing so many pretty soon. They stopped doing the wrong part of that.

Dallas Stars (9-6-1):

It’s been a busy week for the Stars, who played four games this week but still haven’t made it out of the middle of the pack in the Murderers’ Row of the Central Division.

John Klingberg broke his hand blocking a shot on Thursday, which is the really big story for the Stars. Klingberg has been loudly excellent this season, helping to get the ice untilted and the puck out of his own end while also scoring a lot.

Defender Marc Methot has missed the last four games with an injury. In his absence, nineteen-year-old rookie Miro Heiskanen has apparently been unleashed offensively by playing with [checks notes] Roman Polak. Heiskanen is riding a three-game point streak and has been the Stars’ leading scorer over the last four games.

Jamie Benn (7-5–12) has scored two more goals, as has Devin Shore (5-6–11). The two of them finally pass—or, in Shore’s case, tie—Alexander Radulov, who has played in just seven of the Stars’ sixteen games, on the leaderboard.

Conclusion: The Stars have been really struggling with puck possession all season, had it even worse last week, and have now lost their best defender in terms of shot share. It’s probably going to get worse before it gets better again.

Minnesota Wild (10-4-2):

It was a great week to be Finnish in Minnesota.

Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund scored five points each in the Wild’s four games, while also being among the team’s best forwards in terms of shot share. Granlund’s 9-8–17 on the season brings him to the top of the team leaderboard.

Jason Zucker, who is not Finnish, added three points of his own and is closing in on the scoring leads, while also leading the team in 5v5 shot share this week with a stellar 65%. The Wild also got contributions from many other players on the roster.

The team is doing a lot of things right. This week they were on the right side of the ice (winning the shot quantity battle), and all season they’ve been in the right parts of the ice (winning the shot quality battle, both for special teams and 5v5). Devan Dubnyk had a rocky week, with a .909 sv% over three games, but he still only allowed six goals. That’s the kind of play a goalie hopes to face when having a rough stretch (CC: Chicago).

Conclusion: I’m interested in seeing how the shot share trend continues for the Wild, but this was a really promising week for them in many ways.

Nashville Predators (12-3-0):

Viktor Arvidsson has returned from IR, and Pekka Rinne has been absolutely superhuman since his return from IR.

Neither Ryan Johansen nor Filip Forsberg has scored in the Predators’ last week of hockey played; Forsberg has been held without a point since Arvidsson’s injury. Hopefully Arvidsson’s return will jumpstart that line again. Fortunately, the scoring slack has been picked up in the meantime by Nick Bonino (four points in the last two games, 0-6–6 on the season) and Colton Sissons (one hat trick, 4-2–6 on the season), just as we all expected.

Roman Josi (4-5–9) has two points over the last two games—the only other Predators skater to have added more than one. He also tied Shea Weber’s franchise record for shots on goal by a defender in one game (ten) in last Saturday’s game against the Bruins.

The Predators have mostly been on the right side of the ice, with the exception of the fourth line, the third pairing, and Kevin Fiala. They’ve been having a much more challenging week in regards to shot quality, however, giving up more dangerous chances than they’ve been taking.

Conclusions: The Predators got some good luck and some outstanding goaltending this week to keep them flying. Over the next week I’d like to see them work on not needing as much luck.

St. Louis Blues (6-5-3):

The Blues haven’t really turned it that far around, though they did win more games (2) than they lost (1) this week. It’s been a dismal three games in terms of shot share (below 40% at 5v5) and shot quality (ditto). Former Leafs winger Nikita Soshnikov was the only player on the Blues’ roster to stay on the right side of the ice this week, and he spent fewer than seven minutes out there.

However, Ryan O’Reilly scored five goals, and Tyler Bozak and Vladimir Tarasenko both added four assists. Tarasenko (6-8–14) is now behind only O’Reilly (8-12–20) on the leaderboard, which has to be closer to where Blues fans would like to see him.

The Blues may be moving back to their natural state of Goalie Controversy. Jake Allen posted a .889 sv% in his one start this week, while backup(?) Chad Johnson got the next two starts and saved 71 of 72. He’s had a better two games than Pekka Rinne, and that’s saying something. Johnson’s sv% for the season is .941, while Allen’s has improved to .879. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Conclusions: There are multiple posts on St. Louis Game Time going from “asking” if the Blues should re-hire Joel Quenneville to telling the Blues to stop messing around and re-hire Joel Quenneville.

I can’t blame them, but as a Predators fan I’d really rather the Blues hung on to Mike Yeo for a while longer.

Winnipeg Jets (9-5-1):

The Jets played just a single game in the last week.

Blake Wheeler had five points.

I was going to remark on how Patrik Laine still wasn’t scoring when I noticed the TOI column, and then the Games Played column, and then I did a really comical double-take.

I’m not comfortable commenting on trends over the course of a week when a team has only played once, but it’s probably worth noting that the Jets’ weird inability to do much 5v5 seems to be continuing. Only two of Wheeler’s points, and one of Mark Scheifele’s three, came 5v5; they each added another on a 4v4 goal. The rest of the scoring—including Patrik Laine’s goal—came on the power play again.

Winger Brendan Lemieux, who has been both unskilled and unproductive, got suspended for two games earlier this week and has one game of that suspension left to serve. Defender Dmitry Kulikov, who has been even worse than Lemieux while also not producing, was injured in the game against the Avalanche and may or may not return tomorrow.

Conclusions: If the Jets can sort themselves out 5v5 they’re going to be real trouble for everyone else, and I have to think eventually they will.