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Central Division Roundup: Week Six

A less lively week than last week, but some things still happened.

NHL: Nashville Predators at Dallas Stars Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

As much as we’d probably like to pretend the past week never happened, it did. Let’s take a look around.

Standings:

NHL.com

Who’s Hot:

It’s been a pretty tepid week at best in the division. Cooler temperatures are settling in, and nobody’s really set the world on fire. The sizzling win streaks have headed for the northern Atlantic, where the Buffalo Sabres (four-game streak) and Toronto Maple Leafs (three-game streak) are the only teams who’ve won more than two in a row. No team in the West has won more than one straight.

That paragraph was very weird to write.

Who’s Not:

Shoutout to the only team in the Central not to get at least two points total out of their last two games, your Nashville Predators!

A Closer Look:

Chicago Blackhawks (7-8-5):

The Predators have had a bad week, but the Blackhawks have had a bad couple of weeks. They’ve lost nine of their last ten games, including a 1-2 shootout loss last night against the LA Kings’ Nth-string goalie, while scoring only sixteen total goals over that stretch.

If you’re a Blackhawks fan, Henri Jokiharju’s play is probably some comfort. The young defender has continued to keep the puck moving up the ice, and, from what I can tell, his defensive liabilities look like they might actually be Duncan Keith’s.

Jonathan Toews (9-7–16) scored three points last week—one on all but one of the Blackhawks’ four total goals—tying him with Alex DeBrincat (also 9-7–16) for second in team scoring. Patrick Kane (12-11–23) still leads the team. Brent Seabrook’s ten points are the next-most of any player.

Speaking of Brent Seabrook, he’s returned to the top defense pairing, so that’s going to be a fun time for the goalies. Corey Crawford is back to superhuman form, with a .952 sv% over three games this week, and even Cam Ward has been good (.925 in one game). Crawford’s shutout of the Blues got the Blackhawks their only victory of the last couple of weeks.

Conclusion: Banners fly forever but they don’t fill seats.

Colorado Avalanche (9-6-4):

It was a pretty good week for the Avalanche. Mikko Rantanen added another five (!) points, to bring his season total up to 29 (7G/22A). Tyson Barrie, Nathan MacKinnon, and Carl Söderberg each added four. MacKinnon (12-14–26) and Gabriel Landeskog (12-8–20) are tied for the team lead in goals. The production of Söderberg, on the second line, and Alexander Kerfoot, on the third, is a lucky break for an Avalanche team struggling to get any foothold in the offensive zone without MacKinnon’s line.

It’s a ghost town out there.
Micah Blake McCurdy/@IneffectiveMath, hockeyviz.com

Semyon Varlamov has been solid over his last couple of games, with a .920 sv%, while Philipp Grubauer had a rough game against his former team/Avalanche goalie farm.

The Avalanche continue to go with the “get outshot, hope the pucks go in the correct net anyway” strategy. It worked better for them this week than last week, maybe because they at least won the scoring chance battle for now, but I’m not sure I see it as a viable long-term strategy. Then again, if anything is going to make me seriously question the value of shot share as a metric, it’s Ian Cole leading the Avalanche over their last three games with a 58%.

Conclusion: The Avalanche have the talent to get away for a while with doing things wrong, but at some point they’re probably going to want to start trying to do things right.

Dallas Stars (10-7-2):

Devin Shore, who’d had a very solid start to the season, has joined the injured list. On the other hand, the Stars have gotten Alexander Radulov back.

The oddest thing for me about the Stars this season has been how anemic their offense is. 5v5, they’re taking the second-fewest shots per hour in the league, they’re not getting to dangerous locations to take their shots, and yet they have the forward group they do and a coach who’s preached offensive creativity.

Jamie Benn (7-7–14) scored two points this week, bringing him past the injured John Klingberg (5-8–13) to second on the leaderboard behind Tyler Seguin (5-12–17). Twelve other Stars players added a single point to their totals, but they used up most of their scoring for the week in their 4-5 OT loss to the Predators—they added one goal in a regulation loss and a second in an overtime win.

Ben Bishop has had better weeks, which is what happens when you allow five goals in one game and get a shutout in your other. Anton Khudobin was solid and probably deserved better in his regulation loss.

Conclusion: The Dallas Stars are looking like the offseason winners again. I don’t know how they keep doing this.

Minnesota Wild (12-5-2):

Devan Dubnyk had another forgettable week, but his team did not. Bruce Boudreau’s team is still playing the shot-quality battle, and by and large it’s working out.

For the second week in a row, 35-year-old Mikko Koivu (4-12–16) scored five points, while also leading the team in 5v5 shot share. He now sits tied with 34-year-old Zach Parise (7-9–16) just behind Mikael Granlund (10-9–19).

The mysterious Nino Niederreiter did find the scoreboard again this week, but once again didn’t distinguish himself much there. He’s barely shooting the puck at all, which is going to cause problems with scoring, but if he’s trying to remake himself as a defensive forward he’s missing some aspects of that as well. He pops out a mile as their best skater in pure shot suppression, but he’s losing the scoring chance battle. At this point in the season, I think what we’re seeing from Niederreiter is probably what we’re going to get—a vaguely defensive forward who isn’t trying to produce.

The team as a whole managed, once again, to stay just barely afloat in shot share, while continuing their quality-over-quantity thing. They’re playing slow but very steady, just as we’re all used to.

Conclusion: I’m still not clear on why the Ducks fired Boudreau, but this was another week in which the Wild continued trending in the right direction.

Nashville Predators (13-5-1):

The Predators are sobering up after a PDO bender, and it’s not pretty.

Viktor Arvidsson went back on the IR with a broken thumb this week, joined a few games later by P.K. Subban. Dan Hamhuis is back to shore up the defense corps, but frankly I’d rather have Subban if I got to choose.

The Predators have been unable to get to the front of the net and even more unable to keep the opponent away from the front of the net. Juuse Saros has struggled badly in rough circumstances, with a .852 sv% over his two games this week; Pekka Rinne has been extremely good in similarly rough circumstances, with a .943 sv% in his two games.

Filip Forsberg (12-6–18) did manage four points this week to tie Ryan Johansen (3-15–18), who added three, for team scoring lead. The Predators also got three points each from several skaters not on Johansen’s line: Kevin Fiala, Craig Smith, and Roman Josi.

Also, the power play is a joke, but we all already knew that.

Conclusion: I said last week that I wanted to see the Predators work on not needing as much luck in order to win. They didn’t improve their play and they stopped getting as lucky. It’s November, so this is a good time to buckle down and fix things. Do that.

St. Louis Blues (7-7-3):

The Blues have stayed on the right side of the ice, mostly in the right parts of the ice, and have still won just one of their last three games. I was all set for it to be Jake Allen again, but Allen has actually been great, allowing just two goals total in his last two games with a sv% of .962. It was backup Chad Johnson’s turn for a bad game, and his wasn’t great but it wasn’t unspeakable either.

It was just a meh, forgettable, these-things-happen week in St. Louis until last night’s 4-1 win over the Golden Knights.

Jaden Schwartz, who’s had a quiet season so far after returning from injury, scored three points last week. Ryan O’Reilly (10-13–23) also added three to continue to secure his place atop the leaderboard. The team continues to be heavily reliant on O’Reilly for goalscoring; no one else except Vladimir Tarasenko (6-10–16) has more than five. O’Reilly has pretty much been their brightest spot this season—signing him over the summer was an excellent move.

Conclusion: I don’t even know. Not the best week, but with the standings arranged differently I doubt Blues fans would care.

Winnipeg Jets (11-5-2):

The Jets actually scored six goals at 5v5 this week. Mark Scheifele (10-10–20) had two of them, and Kyle Connor (9-7–16) a third. Both forwards still trail their former linemate Blake Wheeler (3-21–24) for total team scoring, but Wheeler has struggled to produce at 5v5 almost as much as Patrik Laine (8-3–11) has.

Both Jets goalies had an excellent week, probably helped out by how much time the puck spent at the other end of the ice. It was a good week for the Jets in terms of shot share and a better week in terms of shot quality, seasoned with a tasty dash of good luck.

Conclusion: Things look like they could be starting to steady out for the Jets. That’s bad news for the rest of the Central, and good news for them.