With second half of the season set to begin, the Central Division near the top is getting really interesting. But what is more interesting is that the Chicago Blackhawks are starting to make a push. Chicago will be a spoiler down the stretch for the top teams in the division. With Nashville and Winnipeg fighting for top position, the rest of the division will be making a push towards the playoffs. Time to go inside this week’s NHL Central Division Notebook to see how Chicago is making a push.
NHL Central Division Notebook: Chicago Making a Push
The Winnipeg Jets continue to sit in first place in a tough Central Division. Winnipeg sits one point in front of Nashville for the top spot. Clearly these two teams are the best in the division. Winnipeg is not playing as good as they did in December. The Jets picked up two victories during the week including one in their division over Dallas. However, all things were not positive for the Jets as Nikolaj Ehlers will be sidelined for a few weeks with an upper-body injury. Ehlers is just another player that will be playing for the Jets. He joins Dustin Byfuglien on the sidelines. This will be a true test for the Jets. Though in the past Winnipeg has overcome injuries really well. In order for the Jets to have success deep in playoffs, Connor Hellebuyck must step up his game.
Here come the Nashville Predators. Even with losing six games in a row the Predators were still in good shape in the division. Nashville was able to rebound with three wins in their last four games, picking up seven points. Nashville is getting healthier as well. PK Subban, Viktor Arvidsson, and Filip Forsberg are back in the lineup, which makes things really interesting for the rest of the Central Division. Even with these players out of the lineup, one player was able to maintain his production in the lineup. That player was Ryan Johansen. Johansen picked up his game and has kept playing at a high rate. While Subban and Roman Josi get the recognition, Mattias Ekholm is having a stellar season for Nashville. He truly is the unsung hero for the Predators.
The Colorado Avalanche has fallen on hard times. Colorado took a step back in the Central Division with a six game losing streak. The Avalanche were able to end that losing streak with a dominating win over the Rangers. However, things do not get easier for the Avalanche with a tough road trip coming up. During the six game losing streak, the Avalanche learned a lot about their team. As a matter of fact, the biggest thing Colorado learned is they cannot rely on their top line to do everything. Eventually, teams in the league would figure out a way to stop these top players. If this line does not produce, the Avalanche do not win. One thing going forward for the Avalanche to have success is other players on the team must step up and score.
Best of the Rest:
Dallas Stars – The Dallas Stars find themselves back in a wild card position after picking five of eight points during the week. One of the reasons Dallas is playing so well, is because of Tyler Seguin. Since being called out in the media by the CEO, Seguin has stepped up with five straight games, including four goals. Dallas will have to rely on Seguin even more after Jamie Benn was injured in the game against New Jersey. Benn was hit by Miles Wood and left the game. He has not played since and could be out of the lineup for a period of time with an upper body injury. Even with John Klingberg back in the lineup, Miro Heiskanen has not taken a step back. Heiskanen keeps on showing why he has the skills to be a great NHL defenseman in the league.
Minnesota Wild – The Minnesota Wild are trying to keep their playoff hopes alive as the team has won three of their past four games. Minnesota knows it is do or die time as the second half of the season starts. Two of the Wild’s victories came over Winnipeg and Toronto. Both of those teams are in the playoffs. Devan Dubnyk is playing stellar for the Wild as they continue to make a push up the standings. If the Wild indeed want to make the playoffs for a seventh straight year, Dubnyk will need to keep up this pace. One thing the Wild have going for them is that most of their games in January are at home. Minnesota is a great home team. That could increase their odds of making the playoffs.
Chicago Blackhawks – While the Blackhawks still have a long ways to go to climb up the standings, Chicago is making strides. Over the past nine games, the Blackhawks have picked up points in eight of them, including six wins. Duncan Keith finally scored his first goal of the season in a win over Pittsburgh on Sunday night. Chicago has won their last ten games over the Penguins. That is an amazing stat. Imagine if Chicago played Pittsburgh every game, they might go undefeated. They just have the Penguins number. Patrick Kane remains on pace for at least 100 points. Kane already has 54 points including 23 goals. Kane will represent Chicago at the All-Star Game and is hoping his buddy Jonathan Toews goes to the game as well. Toews is having a much better season than last year. Chicago will play spoiler down the stretch.
St. Louis Blues – Who would have thought the St. Louis Blues would be sitting in last place in not only the Central Division but the entire Western Conference. Over stretches the Blues look like a very good team, while at other times, the Blues look like a minor league team. One of those times was this past week, when St. Louis stepped up their game to knock off the defending champions the Washington Capitals. The Blues top players are not perfuming at a high level. As it stands right now, the Blues season is lost, so rumors will start to swirl about who may or may not be traded. One of the biggest trends the Blues have this season, is that St. Louis lose games they should win, and win games they should lose.