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Central Division Roundup: Week 9

Has this week felt really long to anyone else?

Nashville Predators v Arizona Coyotes Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images


Who’s Hot:

The Dallas Stars, who are on a four-game win streak despite not really doing anything else particularly noteworthy, make their first appearance here.

Who’s Not:

As this goes live it’s projected to be a balmy 28°F, with no wind chill, in Chicago on this sunny Saturday afternoon. If you think that actually that sounds pretty cold, you haven’t seen the Chicago Blackhawks lately.

In their most recent game, on December 6th, they took their first lead since November 18th, after a span of twelve days or eight games where they never held the lead (though they did manage one win in OT early on in there). They then allowed two goals in the next 53 seconds—they led for just 41 seconds.

A Closer Look:

Chicago Blackhawks (9-16-5):

What is there to say about the Blackhawks at this point?

Jonathan Toews (13-11–24), Duncan Keith (0-12–12), and Patrick Kane (13-19–32) led the team in points this week with three each, which feels like a sentence from 2015. New acquisition Dylan Strome had two goals and a 54% shot share, which was a very respectable showing.

Former excellent backstop Corey Crawford’s sv% of .907 over three games was an improvement from last week. Crawford’s fall is really exposing the team, and coming as it does after an injury it’s sad to watch—this isn’t the inevitable decline of a very skilled player slipping towards forty, but something sharper and less natural.

Artem Anisimov (6-9–15) has quietly been one of the Blackhawks’ better players this season off the scoresheet, and had another week just now where he led the team in shot share. His shot quality metrics aren’t bad either. It’s possible the Blackhawks might start looking to move the 30-year-old center, who has two years remaining on his deal after this one, if anyone offers them a useful package for him. It’s also possible that they decide to keep him around.

Conclusion: So...those Jack Hughes highlights...

Colorado Avalanche (17-7-5):

It was Gabriel Landeskog (17-16–33)’s turn to shine as he led the team with five points this week. Mikko Rantanen (12-35–47) added four, and Nathan MacKinnon (19-25–44) took the week off and scored a mere three, as did Carl Söderberg. They’ve had very little depth scoring past Söderberg and Tyson Barrie, but I stand by my belief that there’s only so many goals that can happen, and MacKinnon & co. are hoarding them all.

Semyon Varlamov had a rough game that looked like a rough week; he got a shutout against the Red Wings, then allowed six to the Penguins in a comically see-sawing game: three goals for the Penguins in the first period; three goals for the Avalanche in the second period; and a natural hat trick for Patric Hörnqvist, over the span of 2:47, in the third period. Philipp Grubauer played well and secured the win in his one start.

The Avalanche stayed on the right side of the ice and in the right parts of the ice this week, though they’ve been trending down some in both of those respects after a brief surge. Still, the fact that they can do it at all, and that they’ve got this much skill even when they’re not, is a bit unnerving.

Conclusion: I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to see the Avs win the Central this year.

Dallas Stars (16-10-3):

Glass center Martin Hanzal returned from injury for his first game of the season. He was not very good. Luckily for the Stars, both Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin played exceptionally well, with Bishop’s .956 the lower of the two sv%s.

Jamie Benn (12-12–24)’s three points this week helped him pass Alexander Radulov (9-13–22) on the scoring leaderboard. Tyler Seguin (8-18–26) had a quieter week as boxscores go, but was still excellent at helping the Stars control play.

The defense pairing of journeymen Joel Hanley and Taylor Fedun had another excellent week, this time with less favorable usage. They led all Stars defenders in their share of almost every on-ice metric at 5v5 (shots at goal, shots on goal, dangerous chances), and all Stars skaters in their share of unblocked shots.

Conclusion: The Stars are hanging in there in spite of a lot of injuries. They’re giving up a lot of shots, but they’re holding their own in terms of shot danger, and they’ve gotten the luck they need when it comes to scoring goals and making saves.

Minnesota Wild (15-12-2):

The Wild have also had a rough week, losing three games and barely winning a fourth. Mikko Koivu, who has been excellent this season, was injured in their shutout loss to the Calgary Flames, missed the next game, and is questionable for future games.

Fellow Finn Mikael Granlund made sure I’d still have someone to talk about, scoring four points to bring himself to 11-17–28 on the season. Jason Zucker (9-9–18) had two goals, the only Wild player with more than one this week.

It was also another rough week for the goalies, with Alex Stalock managing a .870 sv% in two games and Devan Dubnyk improving to a .847 over three (he was pulled less than ten minutes into a blowout loss against the Oilers).

The goalies’ bad week really seems to sum the whole thing up. The Wild had a team sh% of 6.02 this week and a team sv% of .849. Both of those are awful, and together they gave the team the league’s worst PDO over the last week. You’re not going to win many of those games, but the sv% in particular I don’t see holding. They have been having some declining luck with shooting percentage for the last few weeks, and that might be something to keep an eye on.

Conclusion: The Wild aren’t great, but they’re not this bad.

Nashville Predators (19-9-1):

Shortly after last week’s roundup was posted, Filip Forsberg officially joined the Predators’ IR list and is expected to miss at least a month—his projected return date is somewhere in the neighborhood of Viktor Arvidsson’s. There is still no timetable for the returns of either P.K. Subban or Kyle Turris.

The Predators needed Pekka Rinne to step up in the absence of, uh, approximately half their team, but unfortunately weeks of being hung out to dry are catching up with him. Rinne had a bad week. Then Juuse Saros, seeing ice for the first time in much too long, had a subpar period in relief. Not great.

The defense has been iffy, and Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis in particular didn’t have the kind of week the Predators needed them to. Although they held their own in the middle measures, they got both outshot worse than almost all the rest of the Preds’ skaters this week (the team took 56% of 5v5 shots at goal overall this week, but only 51% of them with Ellis and 53% with Josi), and were badly underwater around the net, giving up high-danger chances at a greater rate than any other defenders. With one of the Preds’ top four out, it’s reasonable to expect the defense pairing that doesn’t have a third-pair guy on it to be the top pairing, and Josi-Ellis have not been delivering this year.

Ryan Johansen (5-20–25) did manage to step up, adding four points over the week’s three games. Kevin Fiala (5-10–15) and Craig Smith (7-7–14) added three each. Eeli Tolvanen scored his first NHL goal and added his first NHL assist.

Conclusion: It’s going to be a long month until the top line is back. Hopefully the team can keep winning enough games to stay in the playoff race, while also improving their methods.

St. Louis Blues (10-13-4):

Robby Fabbri and Alex Pietrangelo joined the IR party this week, and Carl Gunnarsson, who has been injured for weeks, was also formally placed on IR. They did at least get Alexander Steen back.

Jake Allen put on his Dr. Jekyll outfit this week and led the Blues to their only victory, with a little help from Colton Parayko, in a 1-0 win over the Jets. He also held the Oilers to two real goals in a shootout loss, and overall managed a .968 sv%. Chad Johnson’s was over a full tenth lower, at .864; the battered Blues did not win the game he was in net for.

Brayden Schenn (6-10–16) was the only player on the roster with multiple points this week; he had two. Vladimir Tarasenko (9-11–20), who led the team in shots at goal with 18 and tied Ryan O’Reilly for shots on goal with 10, was held off the scoreboard entirely. O’Reilly (12-16–28) managed an assist but was equally unlucky with his own shots.

Conclusion: I have to think the Blues need, if not a cursebreaker, to take a long hard look at their goalie coach and their training staff. Every year they get hit with a massive pile of injuries.

Winnipeg Jets (17-9-2):

Fun trivia fact: this week, the Jets became the first team in the Central to win in a shootout this season, with a 4-3 win over the Rangers. Both Jets goalies had a good week.

Dustin Byfuglien returned last night against the Blues, hopefully not once again prematurely, and had an excellent game. The Jets got Andrew Copp back from injury, then lost him again. Josh Morrissey also joined the injured list.

Patrik Laine (21-3–24), after an absurd November, has yet to score a point this month, but his 21 goals still lead the Jets. Mark Scheifele (16-16–32) scored three goals of his own this week and added an assist to close the goalscoring gap between him and Laine, and Blake Wheeler’s four points brought him to 4-32–36 on the season and held his scoring lead.

It’s not really a Jets recap if I don’t point out how few of those points came at 5v5—Scheifele and Wheeler once again had just one each. Their top producers just are not producing if nobody’s in the penalty box. The Jets’ all-situations 93 goals for and 78 against, or 54.4% of goals scored in their games, is good for sixth-best in the league. At 5v5, they’ve been outscored 56-55—less than two-thirds of their goals are coming during the game’s default state, and I was surprised it wasn’t a smaller share.

Conclusion: If the Jets can’t figure out where the puck does and doesn’t go at 5v5, they’re probably going to have a bad time in the playoffs. If they can, the rest of the league is in trouble.

Coming Soon:

It was announced this week that, when the Seattle NHL team joins the league in 2021 (my vote is for the Seattle Kraken, please and thanks), the Arizona Coyotes will be moving to the Central Division.

Speculation that the Arizona Coyotes would also be moving to Houston immediately began. Regardless, within the next few years, there’s going to be an eighth team at the party.

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