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Central Division Roundup: Week Eleven

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It was a good week for teams that didn’t need a good week, and it was a bad week for teams that really needed not to have a bad week. Sometimes all you can do is shrug.

NHL: Nashville Predators at Chicago Blackhawks Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

I for one am glad the week is over.

Standings:

NHL.com

Who’s Hot:

The Chicago Blackhawks are on the longest winning streak in the Central and their first three-game winning streak of the season. Maybe the rest of the division took up a collection to try to keep that first-overall pick away?

Who’s Not:

The Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild each enter the break on a four-game losing streak and with key players injured.

A Closer Look:

Chicago Blackhawks (13-19-6):

The Blackhawks beat three divisional opponents—the Predators, the Stars, and the Avalanche—all in regulation this week, which would be good news if they were trying to keep points away from their divisional opponents. As it is, that’s unlikely to be a major concern of theirs.

What is a concern is the loss of Corey Crawford. They got Artem Anisimov and Gustav Forsling back, but lost Crawford and Marcus Krüger, both to concussions. (I’d like to commend the Blackhawks’ management on their medical transparency.) With any player, there’s a real chance that any concussion could mean the end of their career, but for Crawford—whose concussion a year ago today kept him out until mid-October, and who has only been healthy enough to play 22 games this season—that concern seems a little more obvious. I hope he does whatever’s best for him and gets well soon.

There’s no easy way to transition from that to points, so I’ll just charge in: Patrick Kane (17-26–43) led the Blackhawks this week with six points, and Alex DeBrincat (16-14–30), making a return to the weekly updates, had five. Defenders Erik Gustafsson and Connor Murphy had four and three points respectively, and almost every other player who appeared in more than one game this week had at least one. Jonathan Toews (16-15–31) had a quiet week with just one point, but stayed just barely ahead of DeBrincat on the leaderboard.

Cam Ward was adequate, and rookie goaltender Collin Delia had a superb game, stopping 35 of 36 in his third NHL game and first of the season.

Conclusion: Delia has to be a bright spot for Hawks fans right now.

Colorado Avalanche (19-12-6):

With a chance to overtake the reeling Predmirals in the divisional standings, the Colorado Avalanche have instead lost both players and games of their own. Defender Nikita Zadorov has a lower-body injury, Colin Wilson is out with a shoulder injury on no timetable to return, and Semyon Varlamov is ill.

Pavel Francouz, a 28-year-old with no prior NHL experience, made 21 saves in relief of Philipp Grubauer on Saturday as the goalie of record in the Avs’ attempted comeback against the Arizona Coyotes, but the one late goal he allowed was the gamewinner. Grubauer had had two excellent games before that, but faltered playing both halves of a back-to-back. Varlamov, prior to sitting out ill, had not had a good week.

And now, the news you’ve all been waiting for: Nathan MacKinnon (22-34–56) had eight points this week, Mikko Rantanen (16-43–59) had six, and Gabriel Landeskog (24-19–43) had five. Some other players, including J.T. Compher and his mere four points, also made an appearance on the scoresheet.

Tyson Barrie, who has the most points of anyone not on that lethal top line, has 24. I don’t wish injury on anyone, but I wish there were some way to know whether there’s something like score effects at work here, and Rantanen and MacKinnon are just getting dibs on all the points, or whether the rest of the team would still look like this with a less effective top line. Again, I’m fine not finding out, because nobody is going to healthy-scratch the leading candidate for the Art Ross for a week or two to satisfy my intellectual curiosity, and that’s as it should be.

Conclusion: For a team with a home record as bad as the Avalanche’s I have to think their fans feel pretty good with where the team is right now.

Dallas Stars (18-15-3):

John Klingberg returned this week for a Dallas Stars team that has been missing him badly since his injury. He’s had one point in two games and stayed respectably above water in shot share, while the team around him also headed enthusiastically for the right side of the ice.

Alexander Radulov (11-18–29) led the team in points with six, while Tyler Seguin (11-21–32) and Jamie Benn (15-15–30) added five each. Taylor Fedun, still in the NHL as the revolving door of defenders starts to settle and the Texas Stars start to get their defense corps back, more than doubled his production this season with three points.

Martin Hanzal, who returned from injury last week, is injured again. Ben Bishop, who’s had an excellent week, narrowly escaped injury of his own but seems to be okay after being pulled from a game for concussion testing.

Conclusion: Now that Klingberg is back, we can start to get a sense of what the Stars are this season—and whether it’s too late.

Minnesota Wild (17-15-3):

Devan Dubnyk had a good week, but the same can’t be said of the team in front of him. The Minnesota Wild scored a league-low three goals in four games this week; they were the only team that didn’t score more goals than they played games.

Jordan Greenway and Mikael Granlund (11-23–34) had two points each this week. Greenway scored two of the Wild’s three goals and Jason Zucker had the third. Eric Staal (12-11–23) and Zach Parise (15-14–29) led the team in shots at goal this week, but neither managed to score and Parise was kept off the scoresheet entirely.

The Wild lost Matt Dumba (12-10–22) to injury last Saturday. Dumba, who is expected to miss a lot of time, is fifth on their team in points, tied for second in goals, and has led the team in shots at goal both 5v5 and in all situations. He does trail Ryan Suter in total points—Suter has 26, 22 of them assists—but leads all Wild defenders in most on-ice offensive metrics. Without having seen the games, I really wouldn’t even try to guess whether the team’s sudden offensive struggles without Dumba are just bad luck or whether there’s some kind of cause-and-effect relationship going on, but it’s worth noting that they are much better offensively with him than without him in general.

Shots taken and allowed by the Wild this season at 5v5 with and without Matt Dumba (a right-hand/right-side defender). Areas which are red mean more shots than league average are being taken from there, which is good in the offensive zone and bad in the defensive zone. Areas which are blue mean fewer shots than average are being taken from there, which is good in the defensive zone and bad in the offensive zone.
Micah Blake McCurdy/@IneffectiveMath, hockeyviz.com

Conclusion: Looking at those on-ice heatmaps, Wild games are probably going to be close to unwatchable without Dumba, regardless of who wins them.

Nashville Predators (22-13-2):

The Predators have played five games since my last recap, including the entirety of a four-game roadtrip, and the roadtrip went...badly.

Colton Sissons, who’s been good in the absence of the Preds’ better players, was injured in the game against the Chicago Blackhawks. Yannick Weber, who hasn’t been awful, left yesterday’s game with an injury and his status is unknown. If he misses time, the Predators will be left with only one healthy(?) right-shot defender unless they call someone up. P.K. Subban, Filip Forsberg, and Viktor Arvidsson remain on injured reserve.

Ryan Johansen (6-25–31) and Roman Josi (7-21–28) traded basic defensive competence for offensive production, putting up five points each over this stretch while both making an assortment of infuriatingly stupid and costly mistakes. Mattias Ekholm (3-19–22), who missed a close game against the Flyers this week due to illness, scored two points to tie Forsberg for third in team scoring and also made some stupid and costly mistakes of his own.

Juuse Saros had a very good week, winning his one start with an outstanding performance and getting the Predators to overtime when he relieved Rinne against the Senators. Pekka Rinne had a better week than he will get credit for—he struggled in the games against the Senators and Bruins, but he was very good in the losses against the Blackhawks and Flyers. Neither goalie has been getting much if anything by way of goal support.

Special teams were awful again this week, with the awful power play costing the Preds at least one point against the Flyers and the penalty kill joining the naughty list as well. Maybe they can bank up their declined penalties for some 4v4 time?

Conclusion: I can say the Avalanche are doing fine treading water because I don’t have to watch them do it. Avs fans are probably thinking the same about us. Get well soon, Preds roster.

St. Louis Blues (14-16-4):

It was a week of more of the same for the Blues. They lost two, won two, and haven’t traded Vladimir Tarasenko (11-11–22) or Brayden Schenn (7-15–22) yet despite the rumors of a fire sale. Jake Allen had a bad week. New backup goalie Jordan Binnington had a worse 38 minutes.

Schenn scored four points this week, and Tarasenko had two goals. Young defender Vince Dunn joined veteran forwards David Perron and Tyler Bozak in a three-point week. Ryan O’Reilly (13-19–32) had just one point but easily maintained his place atop the leaderboard.

Tarasenko led the team in both shots at goal and shots on goal this week. He’s been playing hard all season, and it’s possible his luck is finally starting to turn. If it is, he’ll bring a much better return if or when the Blues trade him. Other than that, I don’t know what there is to say about this Blues team. No new injuries, no new returns from injury; no trades, no dramatics, no excitement.

Conclusion: Even Game Time, the physical fan-run paper the SBN site is named after, is having a rough season.

Winnipeg Jets (24-10-2):

The Winnipeg Jets solidified their place atop the Central Division this week. They’ve only lost two games all month, which is even more impressive than Patrik Laine’s absurd 18-goal November. Laine has been much quieter again this month, but his team has not.

Nikolaj Ehlers (15-12–27) had five goals and an assist this week. Mark Scheifele (22-27–49) also added six points to his own totals. Blake Wheeler (5-43–48) had five points and Dustin Byfuglien (4-24–28) added four. Kyle Connor, who also has 28 points, was kept off the scoreboard this week. In goal, Connor Hellebuyck had a fine week, and Laurent Brossoit got a shutout against the Canucks.

Adam Lowry has missed a couple of games due to injury, but the Jets have been just fine without him. They had a good week after an incredible month and are getting production from almost all the players they need to be getting it from. Even if the weakness of their competition at this point in their schedule is helping them out, it’s extremely important to be able to beat the teams you should be able to beat.

Conclusion: I really can’t overstate how key it is that the Jets are able to score goals against bad teams in order to win the hockey games.