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Central Division Roundup: Week Sixteen

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With this schedule, remind me again why the NHL couldn’t do the Olympics last year?

NHL: Nashville Predators at Vegas Golden Knights Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

With the All-Star Weekend going on, surrounded by some time off, there’s a bit of a lull in actual hockey coming up.

Standings:

NHL.com

Who’s Hot:

The Minnesota Wild are heating up again, which might be the only thing keeping the city of St. Paul from freezing into a solid block of ice.

Who’s Not:

The Colorado Avalanche are skidding rapidly downhill. “Avalanche” is never a great name for a sports team (as a singular noun, it’s just awkward), but you really never want it to turn into a metaphor.

A Closer Look:

Chicago Blackhawks (18-24-9):

The Blackhawks made another minor trade, acquiring prospect Dominik Kubalík from the Kings for a late pick. They are also making players available for trade, for all your Veteran Grit And Experience™ needs.

(That’s actually not fair—Andreas Martinsen was recently waived and cleared waivers, but the other two, Chris Kunitz and Marcus Krüger, have been among their best defensive players. Krüger has done so despite overwhelming defensive usage; it’s not Chicago hype to say he’s a useful shutdown player, and I hate to think what’s going to happen to the Hawks’ goalies if they unload him and Kunitz both.)

Speaking of goalies, Collin Delia had another rough game this week, but it was in a 8-5 barnburner of a Blackhawks victory over the Capitals; “score six or lose” is sometimes a set of instructions instead of a lament. Cam Ward played very well in a much tighter win against the Islanders, who are apparently good this year? Weird world. Meanwhile, Corey Crawford was spotted at practice this week.

Brendan Perlini became the second of the players involved in that recent trade to be injured—Nick Schmaltz is already missing considerable time for the Coyotes, and now Perlini has suffered a concussion. Other than that, though, it was a great week for the Blackhawks. Patrick Kane (29-42–71) and Jonathan Toews (22-26–48) both had six points, Dylan Strome added five, and Alex DeBrincat (25-18–43) had four. Several other players added one each.

Conclusion: When the most interesting news out of Chicago in a week is that Marcus Krüger might be available in trade, it’s probably for the best that they’re not playing in any outdoor games in 2020.

Colorado Avalanche (22-20-8):

The worrying news out of Colorado this week is that Erik Johnson is out with a concussion and Nathan MacKinnon suffered a foot injury in Wednesday’s game against the Wild. MacKinnon hopes to be back after the All-Star break, but there isn’t a guarantee, and there’s no timetable for the return of Johnson, who has not been one of their better defenders this season but is still adequate in a thin defense corps.

Tyson Barrie (6-33–39) led the team in points this week with four, while a variety of other players put up two each. Mikko Rantanen’s total for the season now stands at 23-51–74, while MacKinnon has 27-44–71 and Gabriel Landeskog 29-25–54.

Semyon Varlamov managed one good game in there, in a blowout win over the Los Angeles Kings, but the Avalanche are still getting wrecked by their goaltending. Varlamov struggled in his other start, against the Predators, and Philipp Grubauer struggled against the Wild. That loss to the Wild was particularly rough for a team that’s been fighting to stay in the playoff picture.

Conclusion: If MacKinnon doesn’t get well soon, the Avs are in for a world of hurt.

Dallas Stars (24-21-4):

The Stars played one game this week, an important victory over the Jets. Tyler Seguin, Esa Lindell, and John Klingberg had two points each; six other players had one point in the 4-2 win. Ben Bishop stopped 27 of 29.

Minnesota Wild (26-21-3):

Wild GM Paul Fenton continues a time-honored Minnesotan tradition of using other teams’ farm systems—and specifically the Preds’ farm system—as his own. This week, he claimed Anthony Bitetto off waivers, which means that in the last two weeks the Wild have replaced Justin Kloos (meh), Nino Niederreiter, and a late pick with Pontus Åberg, Victor Rask, Brad Hunt, and Anthony Bitetto. The only way this doesn’t wash out as a loss for the Wild is if they’re collecting spare defenders to make a trade, as the commenters on Hockey Wilderness suspect.

Niederreiter, incidentally, has four goals in his first four games with the Carolina Hurricanes, which has brought his shooting percentage for the season right up to about his career average. Remember not to sell low, folks.

Eric Staal (17-19–36) had three points this week, while Zach Parise (20-24–44), Charlie Coyle, and Jordan Greenway each added two. A variety of other players, including new additions Rask and Åberg, had one point each. Mikael Granlund’s 41 points (12G/19A) are still good for second on the team, but he was kept off the scoreboard. Meanwhile, Devan Dubnyk had a great week, with a sv% of .942 over three games.

Conclusion: Better week than last week, but what’s with all the trades and waiver claims?

Nashville Predators (30-18-4):

The Predators lost eighth defender Tony Bitetto on waivers this week but got Ryan Johansen back from suspension.

Nick Bonino led the team in points this week with five. Austin Watson had four—all four in concert with Bonino—and Roman Josi (8-28–36), Ryan Ellis, and Calle Järnkrok each had two. Viktor Arvidsson’s goal against the Avalanche broke his tie with Forsberg to give him the team lead, with 19.

Pekka Rinne had a great game against the Avalanche, and Juuse Saros made up for a poor game against the Florida Panthers with a phenomenal game against the Vegas Golden Knights, stopping 47 of 48.

Conclusion: The Preds’ goalies have been up to the task when called on, but they’ve been called on a lot.

St. Louis Blues (22-22-6):

It was a good week for the Blues, except that they lost David Perron (second in team scoring with 17-18–35) to injury on Saturday. For some extremely weird reason, Natural Stat Trick is pretending that only one of these games involved any goals, so my apologies if I missed something in recounting points for the week and in total—I had to hand-count from boxscores.

Ryan O’Reilly (18-32–50) led the team with four points this week, while Vladimir Tarasenko (17-15–32) had three and lots of other players had two each. Vince Dunn, still leading Blues defenders in points and now with 21 (5G/16A), is really having an excellent season. The Blues as a whole have turned their season around of late, but they have so much ground to make up I don’t know if they’re going to be able to do anything but work themselves out of good lottery odds.

Jordan Binnington played all three games this week and was overall solid in net, for a sv% on the week of .903 thanks to a pedestrian game against the Kings.

Conclusion: The Blues are entering a difficult part of the season, and the West is such weak competition this year that it’s going to make their decisions more complicated.

Winnipeg Jets (31-15-2):

The Jets played one game this week, and lost to the Stars. Connor Hellebuyck had a rough game, allowing four goals and finishing with a sv% of .897. Brendan Lemieux and Kyle Connor were the goalscorers, and Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, and Mason Appleton added assists.


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