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Central Division Roundup: Week Fourteen

We’ve got goals! We’ve got trades! We’ve got a couple of the same Eastern Conference teams who kept seeing Central Division opponents this week!

Nashville Predators v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images


Who’s Hot:

The Winnipeg Jets are back to flying high (sorry, that was bad) after a bumpy last week.

Who’s Not:

The Colorado Avalanche are still...doing something. I don’t know what they’re doing, but they’re doing it.

A Closer Look:

Chicago Blackhawks (16-22-8)

Every time I turn around, the Blackhawks have made another trade of minor players for minor players. This week, it’s Jan Rutta leaving Chicago and Slater Koekkoek entering. Picks also changed hands. My take on the trade: now we’re going to have to spell Koekkoek five times a year instead of twice. Thanks, Tampa.

There’s some speculation that Corey Crawford might return from his concussion, which would be...interesting. The Blackhawks have had goalie problems, though really what they’ve been having have been defense problems—which Crawford alone can’t solve. This week, at least, Collin Delia and Cam Ward both turned in solid performances, which is good for Ward and bad for Delia.

Patrick Kane (24-34–58) had seven points this week and is running away with the top of the leaderboard. Erik Gustafsson added four points of his own and rose to fourth in team scoring (8-19–27). Several other players had three points.

Henri Jokiharju, recently back from the World Junior Championships, looks like he’s probably back to his old form, leading the team in shot rate and quality shares in the game he played. Brandon Davidson also had a very solid week, and Alex DeBrincat (21-15-36) is doing a lot of things right—taking a lot of shots himself, while also having good things happen around him on the ice. DeBrincat added three points this week as well.

Conclusion: Look, I don’t ask for much, universe, but can goalies...stop letting Kane add more points? Thanks. Much appreciated.

Colorado Avalanche (20-16-8)

Something is rotten in the city of Denver.

Smoothed 5v5 team shooting percentage (black line) and opponent shooting percentage (red line). Shown at the end of the Avalanche chart here: PDO hell.
Micah Blake McCurdy/@IneffectiveMath,

The Avalanche cannot buy a save. They can’t borrow, beg, or steal one. Their goalies are plummeting straight off a cliff, dragging the team behind. Philipp Grubauer had a .700 sv% in his game this week, and Semyon Varlamov had a .733 sv% in his. You’re not going to win many hockey games like that, and indeed the Avalanche did not.

Gabriel Landeskog, the Central Division’s Last Man In to the All-Star Game, led the Avalanche with four points this week, bringing him to 27-24–51 on the season—a mere fifteen points behind Nathan MacKinnon (26-40–66) and seventeen behind Mikko Rantanen (20-48–68). MacKinnon and Rantanen both added three points of their own.

The frightening thing about the Avalanche right now is that for all their horrific goaltending, the team as a whole has been playing phenomenally of late. They’ve been owning 198 feet of the ice. Last week they got 76 shots on goal while only allowing 37, came close to doubling up their opponents in total shots as well as shots on goal, and got outscored twelve to seven for their pains. They’ve been in the right parts of the ice, too—this isn’t perimeter shooting while allowing the opponent to crash the net.

Conclusion: If the Avalanche can keep up this level of play once their goalies get un-cursed, they’re going to be a phenomenally dangerous team.

Dallas Stars (23-18-4)

The Stars’ most recent game was a loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, so that’s cool and fun for them.

Tyler Seguin (17-26–43) had five points this week, John Klingberg (6-15–21) had four, Alexander Radulov (14-25–39) had three, and three other players had one point each. And that was the Stars’ scoring for the week. But please, tell me more about how it’s Seguin’s fault that the Stars weren’t winning games.

I think there is a decent case to be made that Jamie Benn (18-15–33, one point this week) is doing less of the work on the Stars’ top line—Micah Blake McCurdy and Ryan Stimson had a good conversation about this a few weeks ago—but he does have value and he is, you will note, still leading the team in goals.

Halfway through the season, the Stars only have three ten-goal scorers, and all three of them are on the top line. Miro Heiskanen (9-11–20) has been getting the puck in the net better than any of the rest of the Stars players, and that’s about the goalscoring pace Klingberg would have been on if he were healthy as well. Speaking of Klingberg’s health, he’s tied with Jason Spezza for fourth in team scoring despite having played sixteen fewer games. We talk about the Avalanche as a one-line team, but at least they have J.T. Compher and Carl Söderberg giving them some secondary scoring, for whatever that’s worth. The Stars have a nineteen-year-old defender. That’s not ideal drafting and asset management.

Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin both had forgettable weeks, with save percentages hovering around average.

Conclusion: If the Stars make the playoffs, it’s going to be thanks to their top line and their goaltending, and I’m not sure that that’s a recipe for prolonged success.

Minnesota Wild (22-18-3)

The Wild got a shutout and got shut out this week. Three of their four games were one-goal wins, including a very helpful one over the Winnipeg Jets, and then there was the 0-4 loss to the Boston Bruins. Backup Alex Stalock took the L, while Devan Dubnyk posted a .943 for the week.

Mikael Granlund (12-27–39) had the goal in the Wild’s 1-0 win over the Canadiens, sent Shea Weber out of the game, and added another point this week to remain tied with Zach Parise (19-20–39) for the lead in team scoring. Parise added four points of his own this week, as did Jared Spurgeon (7-19–26). The 29-year-old Spurgeon is making an effort to get some under-30 blood back at the top of the leaderboard; this week’s push brought him to one point behind Eric Staal (13-14–27, two points this week) and Ryan Suter (4-23–27, no points this week).

The game against the Canadiens was costly for the Wild, as Eric Fehr was injured on an extremely late and overall not-good hit. Fehr, who has not returned, hasn’t been good for the Wild this season, but that’s still not something you want to see happen.

The team spent most of the week, as has become their custom in recent years, losing the shot share battle and winning the shot quality battle. Joel Eriksson Ek managed to find himself in the right part of the ice more often than not, so good for him I guess.

Conclusion: Looking at Fehr’s injury—he joins just Matt Dumba on the injured list, at the moment—it’s striking to me how healthy the Wild have been this season. They’ve lost the second-fewest man-games (tied with the Sharks) and have lost very little by cap hit or performance.

Nashville Predators (27-15-4)

First Colton Sissons, then Filip Forsberg, returned from injury this week, and it was wonderful. You might even say it was #glorious. Forsberg wasted no time in wresting the team goal-scoring lead back from Craig Smith, scoring two goals to bring him to 16-8–24 on the season. Sissons, meanwhile, added four points in the team’s four games.

The more impressive Swede this week, however, was Mattias Ekholm (6-28–34), who had an eye-popping eight points in the Preds’ four games this week—two in each game. Frequent scapegoat Kevin Fiala (8-19–27) moved into fourth in team scoring with five points of his own, and P.K. Subban joined Sissons in the four-point club. Numerous other players had three, and only three Preds skaters who played in more than one game had no points at all.

Pekka Rinne had a bumpy week, finishing with a sv% of .915 after shutting out the Toronto Maple Leafs but struggling while playing both halves of a back-to-back against the Blackhawks and the Blue Jackets. Juuse Saros, with an excellent game against the Canadiens, missed the Blue Jackets game due to illness but the team seems to expect that he’ll be ready for tomorrow’s game.

With Forsberg back, he, Ryan Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson tilted the ice to an impressive extent. The Predators took 73% of the shots with Forsberg on the ice at 5v5, 75% of the unblocked shots, and 77% of the shots on goal, with scoring chance and high-danger chance numbers right in line with the rest. Arvidsson and—to a slightly lesser extent—Johansen trailed along in his wake. The rest of the team had a little more trouble, especially in the shot quality department. Ekholm, oddly enough, did not combine his dazzling production with equally-dazzling on-ice metrics; he had a bad week in that respect.

Conclusion: This team looks so much better with Forsberg. They still have work to do, but wow. Wow.

St. Louis Blues (18-20-4)

Speaking of injuries, Alexander Steen is back on the injured reserve, and so is Robert Thomas, while Tyler Bozak and Vince Dunn are also missing games this week. Losing Thomas and Dunn especially has to sting for Blues fans, since good young players getting icetime is one of the saving graces of seasons that have stumbled into the nearest trash can and then spontaneously caught fire. At least 25-year-old goalie Jordan Binnington is having a good season.

And, speaking of trash fires, our colleagues at St. Louis Game Time think that the reason Vladimir Tarasenko is having such a bad season is poor play, not poor luck. I’m not sure that I buy that completely, because I don’t believe it would take that long for NHL goalies to adjust to what Tarasenko does—he had years of scoring lots of goals, after all—but that could be a complicating factor. (One thing I definitely disagree with is the claim that injury, if Tarasenko is injured, is no excuse for underperformance. There’s only so much you can do with damaged tools, and for athletes their bodies are their tools.)

Tarasenko (12-13–25) actually had three points this week, though only one was a goal and the other two were secondary assists. It’s still something, and better than he’s managed in recent weeks. Defenders Alex Pietrangelo and Carl Gunnarsson also added three points to their totals, while David Perron (15-16–31) had four and Ryan O’Reilly (16-26–42) had five.

In good news for Blues fans, Binnington allowed just one goal in the two games he played last week, including a shutout of the Flyers. In less-good news for Blues fans, Jake Allen, who for some reason started and played all of two games this week, had a sv% of .774 despite everything his team could do; he faced just 31 shots in both full games combined, and still allowed seven goals. That’s Colorado bad.

Conclusion: I’m not sure how long it’ll take the Blues’ goalie mess to ruin Binnington as well, but if they can possibly avoid that they should.

Winnipeg Jets (28-14-2)

Last Saturday the Jets officially lost Nikolaj Ehlers, who’s probably been their best two-way forward, until mid-February. Ehlers is sixth on the team in points with 27, fourth in goals with 15, and has been extremely sound both offensively and defensively. Losing him is going to hurt, especially since Dustin Byfuglien is also still out. Tyler Myers also missed the Jets’ most recent game; his status for Sunday is uncertain.

Blake Wheeler (8-49–57) had eight points this week, while Jacob Trouba, Kyle Connor (16-18–34), and Mark Scheifele (24-31–55) each had six. Bryan Little had five, Brandon Tanev had four... It was one of those weeks for the Jets.

Laurent Brossoit played a very good game against the Detroit Red Wings, while Connor Hellebuyck had a bumpier week. Allowing four goals to the Avalanche doesn’t matter if their goalies have forgotten they’re allowed to make saves, though, so the Jets’ only loss this week was to the Wild. (Also, shoutout to Arctic Ice Hockey contributor HLLivingLoco, who titled that game recap “Jets Bored to Death by the Wild”.)

I don’t even know what to say about the scraped data for the Jets this week. Tanev, Mathieu Perreault, and Myers were the only players who stayed above even in shot share, and also the only players who stayed above even in scoring chance share as tracked by Natural Stat Trick, but there were only five players below even in high-danger chance share. Times like these I really wish more sites let you slice things up by week. If anyone caught some Jets games this week, I’d love to hear about whatever was going on.

Conclusion: With Byfuglien and Ehlers out, the Jets are going to have some work to do to keep their top seed in the division.

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