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Central Division Roundup: Week Seven

Mike Yeo finally gets kicked out, everyone is injured, and other stories.

NHL: Nashville Predators at St. Louis Blues Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Some good, some bad, and a very weird schedule for everyone. I don’t know if I recognize the world with no NHL games on a Thursday.

Also, I just noticed no Central team has yet won in a shootout. They’re a combined 0-5 so far this season.


Who’s Hot:

The Colorado Avalanche improved on a good previous week by going undefeated since my last roundup. They’ve won three straight and are two points out of second with a game in hand and a much better goal differential.

Who’s Not:

Imagine firing Joel Quenneville because your team was bad, and then finding out your team was actually just bad. It’s been rough sailing (flying?) in Winnipeg this week too, but the Chicago Blackhawks are in their own special kind of trouble.

A Closer Look:

Chicago Blackhawks (8-10-5):

Corey Crawford underperformed just a little for a NHL goalie this week, but the Blackhawks’ trash fire of a team defense meant that there was pretty much no chance.

Jonathan Toews (11-9–20) led the offense with four points, making his way back up to second. Alex DeBrincat, who started the season off very well, has been quiet lately, and added just one point of his own, bringing him to 9-8–17. Brandon Saad has a facial fracture, but he’s still playing, and scored two goals this week.

With no Quenneville to blame any more, rookie defender Henri Jokiharju found himself a healthy scratch in the Blackhawks’ most recent game. As Second City Hockey points out, Jokiharju has been pretty darn adequate.

Conclusion: The hot seat is probably going to become the hot potato, at this point. I’d tell them to embrace the tank, but I don’t want them to embrace the tank.

Colorado Avalanche (12-6-4):

It was just a good week in Colorado.

The Avalanche stayed on the right side of the ice, in the right parts of the ice. They got seven points from both Mikko Rantanen (9-27–36) and Nathan MacKinnon (14-19–33), with Gabriel Landeskog (14-11–25) trailing behind with a mere five points and Tyson Barrie (3-17–20) adding four, including two of his goals on the season.

It is true that they’re still not getting as much depth scoring, but honestly, with a top line crushing the competition so effectively, I’m not even sure at this point if it’s fair to ask for more from the rest of the players. Rantanen and MacKinnon are first and second in the league in points, with Connor McDavid trailing MacKinnon by one point. At some point most NHL goalies are going to make a save, and they’re clearly not doing it on the Avalanche’s top line.

Semyon Varlamov had an okay sv% of .917 in his start this week, but Philipp Grubauer was excellent with a .944 in his two games.

Conclusion: Like I said, it was a good week.

Dallas Stars (12-9-2):

The Stars’ offense shone in a couple of their games this week, as they scored six on both the Islanders and the Senators. Their other two games, also in the east, didn’t work out as well for them, and they finished the week 2-2.

Ben Bishop has joined John Klingberg and numerous other Stars players on the injured reserve. They’ve also been missing Julius Honka, who has been ill. The Stars have played twelve separate defenders this year, and that’s not counting Stephen Johns, who has been out all season with post-concussion symptoms. Their defense corps is a ragged mess. It is astonishing how well they’ve been managing.

Some of their unexpected defenders, Joel Hanley and Taylor Fedun, helped control play very well this week. Others, like rookie Ben Gleason, did not. Still others, like first-year NHL player Gavin Bayreuther, fell somewhere in the middle. The Stars’ makeshift defense corps has really performed on paper about as you’d expect any defense corps to do.

Behind them, Anton Khudobin has been struggling in Bishop’s absence, while new backup Landon Bow was perfect in the 31 minutes he played in relief of Khudobin. Bishop himself was having a good week before his injury.

At the other end of the ice, Alexander Radulov is back with six points and a vengeance. He and Jamie Benn are tied for second, both with 8G/10A, behind Tyler Seguin (7-15–22). It was a very productive week for the Stars’ stars, with those three forwards and Esa Lindell each managing north of four points.

Conclusion: Once the Stars are healthy, they’re going to be much more dangerous.

Minnesota Wild (14-7-2):

Matt Dumba’s six points this week brought the 24-year-old defender way up the leaderboard; he’s now at 17 points on the season (10G/7A). Mikael Granlund (10-13–23) and Zach Parise (10-10–20) each added four points of their own to maintain their grips on the top two spots, and a number other players were also regular contributors.

There’s an interesting point about Dumba’s offensive breakthrough, though. The Wild have shuffled their defense pairings this week, which isn’t something they usually do; his production went from good to outlandish when he was reunited with Jonas Brodin on what should probably start getting called the Wild’s first defense pairing if they can keep up their outstanding play at both ends of the ice. It’s not just the production, either, it’s that with Dumba and Brodin, who got defensive usage, the Wild outshot the opponent two to one, while taking three of every four high-danger shots.

Devan Dubnyk had a bad week, with a sv% of .873 in most of two games, and missed yesterday’s game due to illness. Alex Stalock was adequate in relief, good in his own starts, and has been solid overall, which is good news for Wild fans.

Conclusion: I am definitely going to be keeping an eye on that Brodin-Dumba defense pairing.

Nashville Predators (16-6-1):

The injured list potentially keeps growing. Kyle Turris left last night’s game against the Blues with what looked like a hand injury. His current status is unknown, but I think we can all agree that the interval where Nick Bonino was the second-line center isn’t an interval we want to repeat for long, especially with Viktor Arvidsson still out.

Juuse Saros’s struggles this season have continued. Pekka Rinne has done very well, but Pekka Rinne is 36 years old and can’t be asked to play every night. The Predators need a reliable backup. This isn’t to say that Saros is #ActuallyBad now, but the situation right now, with a young goalie who’s not getting regular starts because he struggles every time he does start, isn’t great for anyone.

In happier news, Filip Forsberg (14-6–20) has gotten his groove back while Ryan Johansen (4-17–21) continues to produce. In P.K. Subban’s absence, the rest of the defense corps has at least been chipping in offensively; Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, and Roman Josi all had three points this week. Dan Hamhuis is helping Ekholm out defensively. And Calle Jarnkrok had four points, including a hat trick.

Conclusion: The Predators have some work to do defensively and in goal, but know, I’m not going to say “it could be worse” because it’ll no doubt get worse.

St. Louis Blues (8-10-3):

The Blues finally got rid of Mike Yeo. My only question is, what took them so long?

To be fair to Yeo, the Blues are struggling with a lot of injuries right now. They got Patrick Maroon back from IR last night, but they’ve lost Jaden Schwartz (again), Carl Gunnarsson, and Alex Steen. Schwartz has been their best possession player this season by a lot, and he’d managed to put up nine points in the fifteen games so far he’s been healthy enough to play.

This week the Blues got production from the rookies—three points from nineteen-year-old Robert Thomas. They got production from the acquisitions—three points from Brayden Schenn (5-8–13), who keeps climbing up the leaderboard, and two from Ryan O’Reilly (11-14–25), who remains at the top. And they got production from the defense—two points from Alex Pietrangelo, whose nine points lead Blues defenders in scoring. It was a quieter week for Vladimir Tarasenko (6-11–17), but I have to feel like that’s going to change soon. Tarasenko’s shooting percentage won’t be this low forever.

Jake Allen has had an excellent week in goal, with even his worst single-game sv% still above his season average (which is creeping ever closer to .900). Chad Johnson, meanwhile, had one not-so-good game.

Conclusion: If they feel like trying to kick the Starting Goalie Jake Allen football again, more power to them, I guess.

Winnipeg Jets (12-7-2):

The Jets might have had a lackluster week, but Patrik Laine scored six (!) goals in the three games they played. Four of those goals were scored 5v5. For a team that’s struggled to get production 5v5 from anyone, but especially from Laine (whose 44 goals scored last year were second only to Alex Ovechkin’s), this is great news.

Laine’s current stat line is a lopsided 14-3–17, but I suspect Jets fans will happily take the goals.

The Jets also continued to get production from Kyle Connor (10-10–20) and Mark Scheifele (11-12–23), as well as Bryan Little and Dustin Byfuglien. Blake Wheeler, who still leads the team in overall points (3-22–25) had a much quieter week, with just a single assist.

The team stayed on the right side of the ice and more or less in the right parts of the ice this week, but they got identically bad goaltending from Connor Hellebuyck and Laurent Brossoit—both goalies stopped just one of every eight shots they faced for a .875 sv%—and won just one of their games this week, a 6-3 victory against the Canucks.

Conclusion: The Jets might be starting to work things out. That’s trouble for everyone else.

Statistics courtesy of Big-picture analysis assisted by the dataviz work of Micah Blake McCurdy and Sean Tierney.