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Central Division Roundup: Week Thirteen

At last.

NHL: Nashville Predators at Detroit Red Wings Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Predators are getting standings points again. 2019 is off to a better start than we feared. Meanwhile, everyone else is doing everything at once.


Who’s Hot:

While nobody was looking, the Dallas Stars leapfrogged the Colorado Avalanche and made it into a divisional playoff position. They’ve won some games recently.

Who’s Not:

It’s been a pretty warm week in the Central, with three different skids snapped and no new ones begun. Compared to last week, things are balmy.

A Closer Look:

Chicago Blackhawks (15-21-7):

For some reason, the Blackhawks are trading spare parts with the Edmonton Oilers. I didn’t know they were allowed to make trades with teams that aren’t based in the sunbelt while wearing red, but here we are. They sent Brandon Manning, who isn’t very good, to Edmonton in exchange for Drake Caggiula, who also isn’t very good. Sure. Okay. Caggiula has not yet been make it to Chicago due to visa issues.

Young goaltender Collin Delia has been outstanding for the Blackhawks, with his .939 in two games this week bringing his sv% for the season down to a mere .952. That’s something. Cam Ward had a less-good but perfectly adequate game as well.

Patrick Kane (23-28–51) padded his lead in the team scoring race with four points this week, and Jonathan Toews (16-21–37) and Erik Gustafsson (8-15–23) each added three. Gustafsson is starting to be a recurring name around these parts. The 26-year-old defender is now tied with Brandon Saad for fourth in team scoring.

The Blackhawks had a brief burst of hope when they’d won five of six, but they’ve lost their last two games, including one game where Dellia made 47 saves. They also got kicked all over the ice this week in terms of shot quantity and shot quality, with Dominik Kahun, Saad, and Toews the only exceptions.

Conclusion: I don’t think Caggiula is going to be the missing piece, though Gustafsson is an interesting emergence. If Henri Jokiharju also continues to develop, they have some hope on the blueline for the first time in a while.

Colorado Avalanche (20-14-8):

The Avalanche got a badly-needed win last night, snapping a six-game skid in a blowout of the New York Rangers. Tyson Barrie (5-25–30) and Nathan MacKinnon (25-38–63) led the team in points this week with six each, while Mikko Rantanen (19-46–65) added five points and Gabriel Landeskog (25-22–47) added four. A handful of other players also scored.

Barrie had a great week in general, with a team-leading shot share of 63% in the Avs’ four games. He also passed John-Michael Liles’s record for most points by a defender in franchise history.

It was a rough week for both regular Avs goalies. Semyon Varlamov, who was injured again, had a sub-.900 sv% in the two games he did play. Philipp Grubauer got the much-needed win against the Rangers, but before that he allowed four goals on fourteen shots to the Sharks. Third-string goalie Pavel Francouz played very well in half an hour of relief, but has now returned to the AHL—Varlamov may be ready to return.

Conclusions: Regression is catching up to the Avalanche again, sooner than it did last time they went on a bender. It’ll be interesting to see whether their undeniable top-end talent is able to beat the odds, or whether the rest of the team will weigh them down.

Dallas Stars (22-16-4):

Welcome to the top three, Dallas.

The bad news first: Jamie Benn (17-15–32) was injured in Wednesday’s win over the Devils and is considered day-to-day. The Stars, who have struggled with depth all season, are likely to need some help on their top line, and Benn is a really excellent finisher.

Ben Bishop has been very good in net this week, with a .925 sv% over three games, but Anton Khudobin’s game-stealing performance against the Capitals last night has to be the more memorable in net.

Alexander Radulov (13-23–36) had a ridiculous seven points this week, climbing to second in team scoring just behind Tyler Seguin (15-23–38), who added six points of his own. Radek Faksa had four, John Klingberg had three, and the Stars now have a pileup of relatively young defenders with just under twenty points—Klingberg and Esa Lindell with 17, rookie phenom Miro Heskainen with 19. Heskainen’s nine goals are fourth on the team, behind only the top-line forwards.

Faksa had a great week possession-wise as well as on the scoresheet, while defender Taylor Fedun also continues to impress in terms of shot share and shot quality. I’m sure the Stars would rather have had all their defenders, especially Klingberg, healthy, but Fedun seems to be the kind of surprise you hope you get when everyone gets hurt.

Conclusions: If Benn is out for long I don’t think the Stars can keep up their new pace, but there are still some promising indications this week.

Minnesota Wild (19-17-3):

The Wild also snapped a skid, going 2-1 in their last three after losing five straight. Matt Dumba is still on the IR, and remains sixth on the team in points and third in goals, but the rest of the team is healthy.

Devan Dubnyk had a very good week, posting a .930 sv% over three games. Alex Stalock is still their backup, but I had to check to be sure. Zach Parise (18-17–35) led the team in points this week with five, while Charlie Coyle had four and Mikko Koivu and Jared Spurgeon each added three. Mikael Granlund, who still leads the team in scoring with 11-26–37, had just one point.

It wasn’t Granlund’s best week in shot share or shot quality, either, which is odd because those have been strengths of his this season. It was an excellent week in both those respects for Parise, Coyle, and Ryan Suter (4-23–27).

Conclusions: A solid week for a team that needed better than solid. Although the Wild have a lot of games in hand, they also have a lot of ground to make up.

Nashville Predators (24-15-3):

The Predators also snapped a skid, with a pair of wins over the Capitals and the Flyers, before succumbing to bad habits and losing embarrassingly to the not-great Red Wings last night. It’s been a bad week for the team, which has gotten caved in on shots of all kinds and hasn’t made it up at all with shot danger.

Rocco Grimaldi has been a bright spot, helping his teammates outshoot and outchance the opposition, and leads the team this week with a 57% shot share. He also has four points in the last four games.

Joining him in the four-point club are Viktor Arvidsson (now at 17 points in 18 games), Mattias Ekholm (3-23–26), and Craig Smith. Ryan Johansen (8-28–36) and Kevin Fiala both scored five points this week. Smith and Fiala are now tied with the absent and much-missed Filip Forsberg for fourth in team scoring at 22 points on the season. Roman Josi’s two points this week secured his spot ahead of Ekholm at second in team scoring with 7-23–30.

Juuse Saros had a shutout against the Flyers. Pekka Rinne’s three games this week were much less good, with a sv% for the week of .872 that isn’t completely out of line with any one game’s performance. The Predators have spent way too much of the week with the puck in their end, and it’s taking a toll.

Conclusion: Like I said in my preview of tonight’s game, that needs to change ASAP.

St. Louis Blues (16-18-4):

Vladimir Tarasenko is either sick or sick of playing in St. Louis. The star winger, who is not off the table for trade talks, missed the last game with an unspecified illness and is not confirmed to play today. Alex Pietrangelo and Robby Fabbri both returned from injury last Saturday, which has to be welcome news.

Jake Allen and new backup goalie Jordan Binnington both had lousy weeks—or, in Binnington’s case, a lousy ten minutes—in net. It is what it is, at this point. They’ve been through head coaches, goalie coaches, development coaches...I don’t know where the problem is with the Blues’ goaltending, just that something’s amiss.

Ryan O’Reilly (15-22–37) and David Perron (13-14–27) each had four points this week. Alex Pietrangelo, with two, was the only other player to score more than one.

Defender Vince Dunn had a ridiculous week in terms of shot share, helping the Blues take 78% (not a typo) of shots 5v5. He also helped them to 73% of unblocked shots, 71% of shots on goal, 74% of scoring chances as defined by Natural Stat Trick, and, um, 0% of actual goals scored. Rough week, kid.

Conclusions: The Blues either need to get better, so I have more to talk about, or make more trades like the Blackhawks keep doing, so I have more to talk about.

Winnipeg Jets (25-13-2):

It was a very quiet week for the Jets. Dustin Byfuglien was injured—lower-body, this time, so at least not another concussion—in last Saturday’s game and is expected to miss around a month. Byfuglien (4-25–29) is fourth on the team in points, third in assists, and has been their best shutdown defender.

Blake Wheeler (6-44–50), Andrew Copp, and Brendan Lemieux each had two points this week. Wheeler passed Mark Scheifele (22-27–49), who was held off the scoreboard entirely, for team lead in scoring. We had a Patrik Laine (24-7–31) sighting as Laine scored another goal at last, but overall there was very little offense to write home about this week.

Lemieux added some excellent shot rates and shot locations to his résumé this week with some across-the-board excellent numbers and the shooting luck to reward them. Other usual suspects like Nikolaj Ehlers, Wheeler, and Jacob Trouba also managed to stay on the correct side of the ice—which isn’t surprising, since the Jets as a whole had a great week in that respect. Only two regulars (Kyle Connor and Ben Chiarot) were below even in shot share, though shot quality was a lot more broadly distributed.

Connor Hellebuyck had what probably would have been an adequate week for the high-flying Jets of yesteryear, with a sv% of .900 over three games, but alas for him, the goal support went missing. The Jets went 1-2 this week, scoring only one goal in one of the games and being shut out in another.

Conclusion: It’s surprising how tight the top of the Central is. The Jets have one game in hand on the league and two on the three teams right behind them, but you have to win the games in hand. We’ll see how this shakes out, and also whether Laine makes a reappearance in this odd-numbered month.