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Central Division Roundup: Week Ten

Double digits, baby!

Vancouver Canucks v Nashville Predators Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

There’s a newcomer atop the standings. Without any further ado, let’s get to it.


Who’s Hot:

The Winnipeg Jets had a sizzling week, moving into first place in the division and second in the league with a nice string of wins.

Who’s Not:

The Dallas Stars have rocketed from Hot to Not, losing all three of their games this week in regulation. Sorry for pointing out your luck last week, Stars.

A Closer Look:

Chicago Blackhawks (10-18-6):

The Blackhawks won one game and got a third point in an OT loss this week, and they still have the second-fewest standings points in the league. Only the Los Angeles Kings have fewer. The Blackhawks are also the only team in the Central to have won fewer than half of their last ten games—the Jets have taken off and everyone else has been more or less treading water. Even with this week’s recent successes, these are dark days in the Windy City.

They lost Artem Anisimov, who’s been better than I expected he would be this season, to a concussion last weekend, and placed young defender Gustav Forsling on the IR as well. Forsling, unlike Anisimov, has been pretty bad this year, but the injury still can’t have been what the team hoped for him.

Corey Crawford had an adequate week, with a sv% of .912, but Cam Ward’s one game was a disaster.

Good news for the Blackhawks: the offense made an appearance this week. Jonathan Toews (16-14–30) had six points, and other familiar names also showed up: Patrick Kane (15-22–37) had five; Duncan Keith and early-season vanishing act Brandon Saad (9-11–20) both added four; and Alex DeBrincat (13-12–25) continued his recent steady production with three, matching Brent Seabrook’s production. The defense did not make as much of an appearance, but that’s been par for the course.

Conclusion: Blackhawks fans would probably like to see more from Saad and DeBrincat, as well as forwards like Dylan Strome (one point this week) and defenders like Henri Jokiharju, as the core continues to age.

Colorado Avalanche (17-9-6):

The Avalanche also lost all three games this week, but did manage to salvage a point against the Blues. Semyon Varlamov was pulled from both of his starts this week, allowing eight goals total in just over an hour of icetime, and Philipp Grubauer was very little better in relief, though the Avalanche did manage a point in the game he started.

Worse, the injury bug has bitten. Vladislav Kamenev is injured again and will require surgery, potentially missing the rest of the season, and center Alex Kerfoot has missed the last two games with what was initially described as an illness and is now being described as an injury.

But we’ll always have the Avs’ top line. Mikko Rantanen (13-40–53) scored six points this week, while Gabriel Landeskog (19-19–38) added five and Nathan MacKinnon (20-28–48) a mere four. They did this while driving play, being among the Avalanche’s best players in shot share as well as, well, every other respect. Scoring below them was very flat, with J.T. Compher managing two points and a number of other players one each.

Conclusion: I could have listed the Avalanche as this week’s Who’s Not, too. It’s that OT point and the top line that saved them.

Dallas Stars (16-13-3):

The Stars’ points leaders this week were 19-year-old defender Miro Heskainen, with four, and Esa Lindell, with three. Good week to be a Finnish defender for Dallas—Julius Honka also added one point in his first game back so far—but a bad week to be...anyone else for Dallas. Devin Shore and Jason Spezza added two points each, but the top line of Alexander Radulov, Jamie Benn, and Tyler Seguin managed just a point each over their three games this week. Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin will both probably be happy to forget this week as well.

The Stars’ road record has been a concern all season, and their current road trip will take them from the Pacific into Colorado before it ends. It’s true that they have a poor road points percentage—their 14 standings points in 18 road games, or 38.9% of available road points, is sixth-worst in the league—but they’ve also played a lot of their games so far on the road, and their home points percentage is a lot better.

It’s not a good strategy for long-term success, but we could see them shift around in the standings as their schedule changes. The bigger concern is obviously the depth issues that being that much better at home shines a spotlight on—we saw something similar with the Predmirals these past few weeks. One good thing for Stars fans is that John Klingberg’s return is probably getting close, if the initial injury timetable still holds.

Conclusion: I’d say “live by luck, die by luck”, but the Stars just plain didn’t play very well this week either.

Minnesota Wild (17-12-2):

Devan Dubnyk had a stellar pair of games this week, allowing only one goal in each for a combined sv% of .967. His team was also great in front of him, getting him goal support by the bushel. Nino Niederreiter (7-11–18) scored three of their twelve goals this week and added an assist, while Ryan Suter (4-22–26) and Zach Parise (15-14–29) led the team in points with five each. Mikael Granlund added four points of his own to remain atop the leaderboard with 11-21–32.

Mikko Koivu is still out with an injury, but his absence forced Bruce Boudreau to find a forward line combination that’s been firing on all cylinders. Niederreiter has five points and Parise has six in the two and a half games they’ve played together with Charlie Coyle centering them. Their line has been a little bit below even in shot share at 5v5, but they’ve done a bit better with shot quality and I’m not willing to write their production off completely just because their opponents got a few more shots at goal than the Wild did over the span of just a couple of games.

I spent a lot of time earlier this season puzzling over Niederreiter’s vanishing act before I finally gave it up and concluded he was the vanishing act. If what he really was was the scoring winger I kept waiting to see, held back by his linemates, perennial Selke candidate Koivu’s absence might be a blessing in disguise for Boudreau.

Conclusion: Any sentiment about Koivu aside, this looks like it was a fun, fun week to be a Minnesota Wild fan. If Dubnyk and the offense keep it up, it’s going to be a really un-fun time in the Central.

Nashville Predators (21-10-1):

Kyle Turris is back from injury and set up a nice goal in his return, and fingers are crossed that P.K. Subban will join him soon. The Predators have been hanging in there through the injuries with some players from the bottom-six finally stepping up and Pekka Rinne treading water.

Colton Sissons (7-9–16) had four points in the Predators’ three games this week—two goals, including the OT gamesaver against the Canucks, and two assists—while Roman Josi (5-18–23) and Mattias Ekholm (3-17–20) added three more each. Josi slipped past Filip Forsberg (14-8–22), still on the IR, for second in team scoring, while Craig Smith and Ryan Hartman both passed the much-missed Viktor Arvidsson in goals.

Hartman had a particularly good week, leading the Predators in all-situations shots at goal and getting in close to the net to take those shots, while also helping his team to its best share of on-ice shots at 5v5—the Predators outshot their opponent two to one with Hartman on the ice this week. (Matt Irwin did have a better game, but he only played in the one.) He was only rewarded with one point, but we also remember the goal that was too beautiful to live:

The power play this week was another story, but I’m sure Chris Brooks will have more to say about that in the next installment of The Week That Was.

Conclusion: Apart from the putrid power play, this week saw the Predators doing more or less what they needed to do.

St. Louis Blues (12-14-4):

Oh, Jake Allen.

The Blues have their third win streak of the season and their first since November 9th, in spite of some 1980s goaltending from Allen (sv% of .877) and Chad Johnson (.800 in relief). But win streaks don’t mean anything if you don’t have hope, and the Blues haven’t.

Rumors were circulating earlier this week that the entire team is available for trade. Whether the wins turn this around, I don’t know, but unless they can keep stringing them together I doubt it.

Jaden Schwartz, back from injury, and Ryan O’Reilly (13-18–31) led the Blues in points this week with three each. Colton Parayko, David Perron (10-8–18), and Ivan Barbashev led the Blues in goals this week with two each. Vladimir Tarasenko (9-11–20) was once again held off the scoresheet, though his seven shots on goal were the second-most of any Blues forward and his sixteen shots at goal the most of any Blues forward. He’s been extraordinarily unlucky this season, and the Blues have suffered for it.

(The red patches are stretches during which the skater—in this case Tarasenko—scored less than you’d expect given his shots, and the grey patches stretches during which the skater scored more. Tarasenko has been underperforming by a lot, and it’s unusual for him; he’s most likely going to get better, which is to say luckier, soon.)

Conclusion: I very genuinely don’t even know. I can talk about the Blackhawks being bad easily, but I don’t know how to explain what’s wrong with the Blues. Injuries, sure; iffy goaltending, sure. But...oof.

Winnipeg Jets (21-9-2):

There’s a new leader in the West. I’m surprised the Predmirals held out this long.

The Winnipeg Jets played four games this week and Mark Scheifele (20-23–43) had eleven points, which is the kind of thing that makes me scroll back up to check to make sure my date filters were correct. They were. What’s even more absurd is that nine of those points were primary—four goals and five primary assists, with just two secondary assists among the bunch.

Compared to that, the seven points each managed by Dustin Byfuglien, Josh Morrisey, and Blake Wheeler (5-38–43) are barely even that impressive, and the fact that Patrik Laine (23-6–29) has once again found the net with five points this week is barely worth mentioning. What is noteworthy is that three of Laine’s points were assists, doubling his assist count for the season, and four of them came at 5v5—tying him with Scheifele for 5v5 production.

It remains extremely striking just how much of the Jets is their non-5v5 play. This week’s note, though, is about their opponents. They’ve had much less success against good teams and have played a lot of games against bad ones. Just as the Stars might see their schedule turning in their favor, the Jets might see theirs turning against them. Or they might not.

Conclusion: ELEVEN POINTS.