Central Division Breakdown: Contenders & Pretenders
Now that a quarter of the season is complete, we have a decent idea how NHL teams are shaping up - and no, their Win/Loss record doesn't tell that story completely. Which teams have a legitimate shot at hoisting a Central Division banner next fall, and which are already looking further down the road?
(stats from NHL.com & ExtraSkater.com below include games through Tuesday, November 19)
|Team||Record||Goals/Gm||GA/Gm||Fenwick Close||5-5 Shoot %||5-5 Save %||PDO||PP%||PK%|
|St. Louis Blues||14-3-3||3.50||2.35||57.20%||8.8||.937||102.5||25.7||83.1|
As expected, the Blackhawks and Blues are off to strong starts which are supported by impressive performance measures that bode well for their championship aspirations. These are two talented teams which dominate the flow of play on most nights, keeping opposing goaltenders under fire and enemy forwards hemmed in their own end of the ice. When you've got that going for you, you don't necessarily need that world-class goalie on your side.
So no surprise with those two, but the Minnesota Wild have kept the pace right alongside, and look likely to hang in the chase for the Central Division crown. Head coach Mike Yeo was looked at as one of the likeliest bench bosses to walk the plank this season, but his squad has taken a significant step forward in terms of total team play; they lead the league with fewest shots on goal allowed in close 5-on-5 situations, a feather any coach would love to put in his cap.
Note that I left the Colorado Avalanche out of the discussion above - like a racehorse that's bolted out of the gate to an early lead, they're due to fall back into the pack. The Avs enjoyed hot goaltending and hot shooting in the opening weeks of the season, but as both those factors inevitably regress to NHL norms (sorry, I don't see a Dominik Hasek or a bunch of Ilya Kovalchuk's on that roster) their mediocre puck-possession numbers will relegate them to roughly .500 hockey the rest of the way.
The Dallas Stars are the most fascinating team to follow in the Central, given the tremendous amount of change they've undergone since bringing in general manager Jim Nill and head coach Lindy Ruff. So far, the dynamic duo of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn have delivered the goods, each with 23 points through 20 games. Much like the Wild, they are also getting solid play up and down the depth chart, and appear to be built to last.
#91 / Center / Dallas Stars
Jan 31, 1992
Maybe Next Year
For the Winnipeg Jets & Nashville Predators, hopes for winning a division title were faint to start with, and there isn't much reason to believe they've brightened during the first quarter of the season. Under the snazzy new uni's, deep-down the Jets are still the Thrashers, an inconsistent bunch that would probably throw a parade if they just made the playoffs, let alone got within hailing distance of the division lead.
The Preds (as we've discussed here repeatedly in recent weeks) are a team in transition, trying to develop that next generation of home-grown leaders like Roman Josi, Colin Wilson and Seth Jones. There's a delicate balancing act there between getting some of the younger guys (Filip Forsberg, Ryan Ellis, Taylor Beck, etc.) the ice time they need, and the desire by the coaching staff to get a reliable (if limited) level of performance from veterans like Matt Hendricks, Nick Spaling and more. On top of that, Pekka Rinne's situation has thrown a giant monkey wrench into the team's plans, as they are relying on unproven NHL talent to get by until their franchise goalie returns.
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