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Central Division Roundup: Week Four

The Blues aren’t the worst! The Blues aren’t the worst!

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at St. Louis Blues Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Another week without seeing any of our Central Division foes directly, but these things happen. Let’s take a look around.


Who’s Hot:

It was a pretty tepid week without a lot of changes near the top of the standings. I keep wanting to say it’s the Winnipeg Jets, but they’ve gone 2-2-0 since the last time we did this—there’s just been motion around them from other teams’ bad weeks and/or games in hand. Give this one a pass.

Who’s Not:

The Chicago Blackhawks have lost four straight, though they salvaged a point from one of those losses.

I think it might be time to revisit this delightful piece of arena organ-playing.

A Closer Look:

Chicago Blackhawks (6-5-3):

Artem Anisimov (2-6–8) took steps to close the gap between the team’s top producers and the rest of the crowd by going point-per-game over the four games the Blackhawks have played since the last roundup, and Patrick Kane (11-7–18) added another four points of his own, but other than that it was a lackluster week offensively for the Blackhawks, whose six goals in four games over the last week were the league’s worst.

It was also a lackluster week defensively for the Blackhawks, as they allowed seventeen goals over those same four games—almost the league’s worst. You’re not going to win much getting outscored three to one, and the Blackhawks in fact did not.

After his strong start Corey Crawford faltered, and Cam Ward wasn’t able to pick up the slack. Neither goalie cracked the .900 mark this week, though it’s important to remember that I really cannot overstate how bad their defense is. You may want to cover your small goalies’ eyes:

Think of the red as blood in the water.
Micah Blake McCurdy/@IneffectiveMath,

They’ve honestly been doing well controlling shot rates, but not that well.

Conclusion: This is more like the Blackhawks team I was expecting to see going into the season.

Colorado Avalanche (7-4-3):

It’s been a weird week for Avalanche fans. Their top line of Mikko Rantanen (5-19–24), Nathan MacKinnon (11-10–21), and Gabriel Landeskog (11-7–18) is still clicking merrily along, and they’ve gotten secondary scoring by the bushel as well, but they’ve lost three of their last four games—the last two were a 5-6 loss to the Calgary Flames and a 6-7 OT loss to the Vancouver Canucks.

There’s very little “weird” about the kind of week it’s been for their goalies. It’s just been a bad one.

The Avalanche also lost Tyson Jost and Sven Andrighetto to injuries this week—Andrighetto in particular had had a good couple of games before landing on the IR.

Conclusion: A little like Whack-a-Mole, one thing went right and another thing went wrong. I seriously doubt they get .856 goaltending for the rest of the season. If they keep up the rest of this, things are looking good.

Dallas Stars (7-5-0):

The Stars have finally won a road game! (Two, in fact.)

They’ve also lost defender Connor Carrick, who has not been terribly good, to injury. Alexander Radulov is back out again after returning for a single game, but at least he’s now fallen to third on the team in points (5-6–11 in seven games played this season), behind Tyler Seguin (3-11–14) and John Klingberg (5-7–12).

Seriously, who had a defender and a forward who’s missed almost half the season tied for the Stars’ team lead in goals this far in? Now put your hand down; you’re lying.

The Stars got a little bit of depth scoring this week, including four points from Devin Shore (3-6–9), but didn’t have the kind of offensive explosion the Avalanche did. Then again, they also didn’t lose the majority of their games. They got a lot of help from their goaltenders, especially backup Anton Khudobin, while being pretty badly outshot up and down the lineup.

Conclusion: The Stars might be trending in the right direction, but they’re going to need some help to get anywhere.

Minnesota Wild (7-3-2):

It was a fantastic week for Mikael Granlund (6-6–12), who scored twice and added three assists (two of them primary) to jump into a three-way tie for team scoring lead, joining Zach Parise (4-8–12) and Ryan Suter (3-9–12). Eric Staal also had a great week and joins the overrepresentation of the draft class of 2003 at the top of the Wild’s leaderboard, becoming the fourth player on the team to reach double digits in points (4G/6A).

Once it’s done being 2018 it’s still going to be 2019, if you wondered, not 2009.

The good news is that my attempts to put Nino Niederreiter on a milk carton last week seem to have worked—he had three assists this week (bringing him to 0G/5A on the season), as well as a better 5v5 shot share than almost anyone else on the roster. Jason Zucker also added two assists, and a variety of under-30 players led in individual shot generation both 5v5 and at all situations, so we can hope to see more youth production soon.

I’d missed this last week, but I’m not going to let that keep me from pointing it out: Devan Dubnyk and Alex Stalock each have an assist on the season. The Wild are the only NHL team so far to have both goalies contributing offensively. They’ve also been playing fine in goal, though this week was a downturn for Dubnyk. Then again, the Wild were badly underwater in shot share again, so maybe it was inevitable.

Conclusion: NatStatTrick sorts on-ice contributions by unblocked shots for, and I honestly mixed those up with player ages while pulling the Wild’s numbers and didn’t even bat an eye.

Nashville Predators (10-3-0):

Pekka Rinne got a pretty harsh welcome back from injury, as the team left him to face 43 shots from the high-octane Lightning. The good news: he stopped 42 of them anyway, and got some goal support. The bad news: the Predators have been tilting the ice in the wrong direction, and spent another week getting outshot more often than not.

Viktor Arvidsson (8-4–12) is missing time due to an injury, which isn’t good. His linemates Filip Forsberg (10-4–14) and Ryan Johansen (2-13–15) have been carrying on without him, and the Predators have finally also gotten some scoring from other players—Kyle Turris, Calle Järnkrok, and Ryan Hartman were all notable contributors this week. Forsberg and Roman Josi again led the team in shots taken over the last three games, though the fact that Josi led the team in 5v5 shots taken is something of a concern.

That gets to my biggest worry about the Preds’ 5v5 play. I addressed it in the comments last week, but, basically, the Predators are playing extremely slow, careful hockey. They have forwards who can shoot and score—or, in Johansen’s case, can make other forwards shoot and score—and they have defenders talented enough to be pushing the pace consistently. This isn’t the 2012 team. They can and should be able to take it up the ice.

Conclusion: I’m having weird, bad PDO bubble feelings about this team. I’d love if they could start playing consistently as well as I know they can.

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

The Blues haven’t lost a game since I started the countdown to Yeo getting fired, so I’m pleased to take all credit for this. They also finally got Robby Fabbri, as well as Carl Gunnarsson, back.

Of course, they’ve only played twice, so there’s not much else to talk about.

Vladimir Tarasenko’s three goals took him into the team lead in goalscoring (he’s now 6-4–10 on the season), and Ryan O’Reilly’s four points kept him securely atop the leaderboard with 3G/12A. Winger Zach Sanford also had a good week with four points of his own.

Jake Allen allowed six goals in just under five periods to improve his SV% on the season to .878 (yes, I said “improve”), but the Blues were still able to outscore their opponents over the past week. Technically they have three games in hand on several of their divisional rivals, and at least one game in hand on all of their divisional rivals, but there’s only so far that’s going to get them.

Conclusion: They really need to do something about their goaltending.

Winnipeg Jets (8-5-1):

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Winnipeg Jets took some bad penalties and lost some hockey games.

Connor Hellebuyck’s post-Vezina-finalist slump continues, but at least the Jets got an explosion of offense from some key players.

Blake Wheeler had seven points this week, bringing him to 2-14–16 on the season. Dustin Byfuglien added six points to his totals, more than doubling his production so far (he’s now at 2-9–11)—I’m wondering if now that he’s producing we’ll get to recognize how good his season has been so far. And, as Jets fans have probably been waiting for, Patrik Laine scored some more goals, including a hat trick in Finland.

However, they’re still not scoring at even strength. Of their ten goals last week, only four came 5v5, with a fifth goal at even strength but not 5v5. Byfuglien’s two points led the team in 5v5 production. Six of Wheeler’s points, all of Laine’s goals...nothing, without some help from the other team and from the refs.

Conclusion: The Jets are doing a lot of things right on paper, but that’s not enough. Hopefully it’ll come.