Central Division Roundup: Week 8

Trades! Awful mishandling of concussions! Goals! It’s like the 1980s in here this week.

Let’s just jump right in today.


Who’s Hot:

The Colorado Avalanche have had another good week, especially standing out against the tepid rest of the division.

Who’s Not:

The St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks are in a race to the bottom of the standings, and man, is it weird.

A Closer Look:

Chicago Blackhawks (9-12-5):

The big news this week is the Blackhawks’ trade of forward Nick Schmaltz to the Southwest Blackhawks Arizona Coyotes for forward Dylan Strome and winger Brendan Perlini. Schmaltz has a record of NHL success which Strome—his direct counterpart in the trade—doesn’t, but Strome has impressed more outside the NHL and is still young enough that he might manage to adapt. All three young players involved in the trade had been struggling this season with their current teams.

It’s a gamble for the Blackhawks—the issue with Strome is his speed and skating. Some great players create without needing to zip around, by slowing the game down and passing skillfully. Plenty of hockey players, however, are held back by that sort of thing. If Strome pans out as they’re probably hoping he will, the Blackhawks will have secured a skilled player with great vision. If he doesn’t...well, enjoy Arizona, Schmaltz.

Perlini is probably a bottom-six winger, not great either defensively or offensively but with power play upside.

Oh right, the Blackhawks also played some games. Neither Corey Crawford nor Cam Ward was able to stop pucks this week, with both goalies putting up a sub-.900 sv%. The Blackhawks have been playing 1980s hockey all week: a 5-4 OT win, a 3-8 loss, a 5-6 loss. Just silly.

The most interesting thing is that they’ve actually gotten depth scoring. Patrick Kane (13-16–29) and David Kampf, who doubled his season point total this week, both had four points, but that was the biggest contribution from any player. Defender Erik Gustafsson was the only Hawks player with more than one goal.

Defender Henri Jokiharju missed the last two games due to illness but looks like he’ll be returning tonight. (While you’re here, check out Rachel’s preview of tonight’s game!)

Conclusion: I feel like trading middle-six forwards for each other is deck chairs on the Titanic, but Perlini and Strome can both contribute, so it’s not awful.

Colorado Avalanche: (15-6-5):

Semyon Varlamov had another good week in net, with a .933 sv% in his three starts. It wasn’t as good a week for Philipp Grubauer, but these things happen.

Oh, you wanted to hear about the offense?

The wonder duo of Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen continue their reign of terror. MacKinnon’s eight points this week (4G/4A) brought him to 18-23–41 on the season, which still wasn’t enough to unseat Rantanen at the top of the leaderboards. Rantanen added seven points of his own, bringing him to 11-32–43. The two of them are leaving even Gabriel Landeskog (15-13–28) behind.

Tyson Barrie has now missed a couple of games with an injury, but the Avalanche have found ways to keep racking up the standings points without him.

Conclusion: Gonna spell it out: Mikko Rantanen, with 43 points, has almost twice as many as Filip Forsberg, the Preds’ leading scorer, who has 22, and more than twice as many as Ryan Johansen, who has 21. That Avs top line is something else.

Dallas Stars (13-10-3):

Tyler Seguin (8-17–25), Jamie Benn (10-11–21), Alexander Radulov (8-12–20 in sixteen games), and...rookie defender Gavin Bayreuther (2-2–4 in eight games)...all had a semi-productive week.

It was a close, stifling week for the Stars from one angle: a 2-3 regulation loss, a 0-1 overtime loss, and a 4-3 overtime win. Their regulation loss, on the road against the Avalanche, seesawed twice in the last five minutes—Benn got the go-ahead goal at 15:03 of the third period, the Avs tied it 2:15 later, and Rantanen scored the game-winner at 18:03. The overtime games were never a case of one team leading the whole way.

From another angle, the Stars got consistently blown out of the water and were lucky to take three points. The Oilers dominated the shot count in their 1-0 OT win over the Stars, though they relied a little too much on point shots; the Avalanche started taking over in the second; and the Flames made a hard push in the third that almost got them a win and did get them a point.

Anton Khudobin, starting in the absence of an injured Ben Bishop, had an excellent week, putting up a .930 sv%. Bishop has returned from IR and is expected to return to the ice tonight, which is more good news for the Stars.

Conclusion: They really need John Klingberg back.

Minnesota Wild (14-9-2):

It was a really flat week for the Wild—they had two games and lost both of them, including a comeback stunner by the Coyotes. Devan Dubnyk, as you’d expect, didn’t have a great week, managing a .814 and allowing four goals in each loss.

Jared Spurgeon had three points, and Zach Parise (12-10–22) and Mikko Koivu (4-17–21) solidified their places behind Mikael Granlund (11-13–24).

I’d been interested by their shuffling of their defense pairings last week, and—that loss to the Coyotes aside—I’m feeling pretty good about my early interest. It’s still only been four games, but what this chart is getting stretched to high heaven by is that Brodin-Dumba pairing I talked about:

It doesn’t show shot quality, but they’ve been very good defensively in that respect as well.

Conclusion: Writing about the Minnesota Wild, like watching hockey games involving the Minnesota Wild, is an experience.

Nashville Predators (17-8-1):

Kyle Turris has headed to the IR to join Viktor Arvidsson and P.K. Subban. I wrote about the Preds’ forward depth issues last weekend. It’s going to be a slog.

Dan Hamhuis continues to be adequate defensively in Subban’s absence, but the work is piling up in front of Pekka Rinne, who put together an unsightly .884 sv% over what was by far his worst three-game stretch of the year. If Rinne has stopped being otherworldly, the Predators have problems.

Roman Josi (5-13–18) had three points this week, and Austin Watson had a hat trick. With those exceptions, the offense has been scattered. Filip Forsberg (14-8–22) did have two points, but Ryan Johansen (4-17–21) was kept off the scoreboard entirely.

Conclusions: Frédérick Gaudreau and Miikka Salomäki led the team this week in high-danger scoring chances, all situations, with four each. I’m not sure calling up Eeli Tolvanen is enough to solve this.

St. Louis Blues (9-12-3):

The Blues tried to kick the Starting Goalie Jake Allen football again. Allen finished the week with a .887, which included allowing two goals in relief when Chad Johnson (.760) was pulled during a good old-fashioned barnburner against the Jets.

They did end the Avalanche’s win streak, but that was about it for Blues highlights for the week, and the victory may have been costly. Alexander Steen, who had just returned from an injury that’s suspected to be a concussion, took an elbow to the head, left the game, and did not return.

David Perron (8-7–15) scored four points this week, bringing him back over Brayden Schenn (5-9–14) into the Blues’ top three. Ryan O’Reilly (12-15–27) and Vladimir Tarasenko (9-11–20) are still perched atop the leaderboard.

Conclusion: Maybe they should change their name to something a little more upbeat, that suggests a livelier genre of music with fewer bad things happening.

Winnipeg Jets (14-8-2):

The Jets could have their own Who’s Hot/Who’s Not this week.

Who’s hot: Patrik Laine (21-3–24), with an eye-popping, jaw-dropping seven more goals in his last three games, including the game in St. Louis in which he scored five. He had eighteen goals in the month of November. And an assist.

Who’s not: Paul Maurice, who had a really bad take on Dustin Byfuglien being allowed to play with a concussion.

Oh, also, Dustin Byfuglien (2-15–17), who has been the Jets’ best defender this season, is out with a concussion, so that part’s not great either. Andrew Copp joins him on the IR, also with a concussion; and Joe Morrow, who’s been solid after a rough start, is day-to-day.

In better news, Blake Wheeler (4-28–32), Mark Scheifele (13-16–29), and Nikolaj Ehlers (8-7–15) joined Laine in going well over a point per game last week—Ehlers, a newcomer to the points extravaganza, had a plain old three-goal hat trick of his own to help the Jets hold on to a win in a high-scoring adventure in Chicago, as well as some assists.

Connor Hellebuyck only managed a .850 sv% this week, and Laurent Brossoit’s .852 wasn’t any better, but the Jets scored 8, 3, and 6 goals in front of them and won two of three. It was a lively week.

Conclusion: Feeling a lot better about my preseason pick of Laine for Rocket Richard this week than I was at the end of October.

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