The NHL Central Division continues to live up to the hype. While the Winnipeg and Nashville continue to grab the headlines, three other teams continue to scratch and claw to get into the playoffs. Of those three teams, one of those teams are making headlines for the wrong reasons. With the All-Star break coming shortly, each of these teams will make a push to stay in the playoff race. Time to go inside this week’s Central Division Notebook.
NHL Central Division Notebook: Five Teams in Contention
The Winnipeg Jets have hit the 60 point mark prior to the All-Star break again. The Jets are firing on all cylinders even without Dustin Byfuglien and Nikolaj Ehlers in the lineup. Now the Jets will be without defenseman Tyler Myers, as he deals with an upper body injury. If someone told you Blake Wheeler would have less than 10 goals 45 games into the season, you say no chance. That is exactly what happened. Wheeler has nine goals, but leads the team with 49 assists. This is a player who hasn’t even hit his stride yet. Patrik Laine joined some great company in the victory over Anaheim. Laine becomes the seventh player in NHL history to record 25 goal mark in three seasons before his 21st birthday. The others are Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Carpenter, Ilya Kovalchuk, Brian Bellows, Dale Hawerchuk, and Jimmy Carson.
It was a decent week for the Nashville Predators. Nashville is finally getting back to full strength. Filip Forsberg is back in the lineup and continues to wreak havoc on opposing teams. Forsberg has 18 goals on the season. If he did not miss so much time, Forsberg could be over the 20 goal mark easily. One player that has picked up the slack in the absence of the top players has been Craig Smith. Through 47 games, Smith has 14 goals tied for the second most on the team. The other player that has 14 goals is Viktor Arvidsson. Arvidsson is another player that missed a chunk of time and could easily be over the 20 goal mark. After that the Predators have players around the 10 goal mark. This team is deep and each and every night somebody different might score.
For all the turmoil that is in Dallas, the Stars are sitting in third place in the Central Division. However, after the week the Stars had, the question will be how much longer will the Stars sit in third place with Colorado and Minnesota breathing down their necks? Tyler Seguin continues to be a bright spot for the Stars. Though his point streak ended at seven games, Seguin’s play has been elevated ever since he was called out by his CEO. A new story has come out today where the Stars regret signing Jamie Benn to his long term contract. Now take this story for what it is worth, but that is a pretty big leak from inside the organization. Dallas has every right to be upset at their mediocracy, but that will only change if the Stars can win and make improvements.
Best of the Rest:
Colorado Avalanche – Things have gone from bad to worse for the Colorado Avalanche. Nothing is going right for the Avalanche these days. Despite all their recent struggles, the Avalanche are still in a playoff position in the West. Throughout the season, there is only four games where the top line has been held without a goal. Through 45 games Mikko Rantanen has been held without a point in only one game. It was Saturday night in Montreal. However, regardless of what you think about the depth scoring for Colorado, it has been the shaky play of the goaltenders that has put Colorado in this position. Semyon Varlamov and Philipp Grubauer are just not getting done. Especially Grubauer, whom the team traded for. Something must change in favor of Colorado or else this will be a major collapse.
Minnesota Wild – As it stands right now, Minnesota rounds out the final team in the Western Conference playoff picture. It was a decent week for the Minnesota Wild. Winning two games and losing two games. The Wild would like to put more distance between them and the other teams in the West. That can only happen by playing more consistent which will lead to more wins. Over the last month or so, the Wild tend to win games against better opponents and lose to weaker teams. On any given night, any team can beat any other team, but those teams near the bottom of the standings are the games the Wild should win. Consistency is the name of the game this time of year. If the Wild want to be taken seriously as contenders, win the games are you are suppose to.
St. Louis Blues – It was a good week for the St. Louis Blues as the team won three of four games. In fact, the Blues are looking ahead to their future as Jordan Binnington as recalled from the AHL. All this kid has done for the Blues is win. In his first career game, Binnington got a shutout. He then followed that performance with back to back wins. Confidence breeds confidence and for the Blues confidence in the goaltender position has allowed the other players to be more relaxed and able to play their style. Vladimir Tarasenko is finding his scoring touch again. And while Ryan O’ Reilly wasn’t a bad addition to the Blues, giving up first round picks and young prospects for a team that didn’t make the playoffs the season prior wasn’t ideal. The only logic here is that the Blues thought they were a contender.
Chicago Blackhawks – Well it is getting closer and closer to the trade deadline for the Chicago Blackhawks. Who knew the Blackhawks fall from grace would come so quickly. Chicago could be one of those teams that will be sellers at the deadline. Despite how bad the season has gone, Patrick Kane remains a force to be reckoned with. Kane leads the team with 60 points (27 goals and 36 assists) and continues to make unbelievable plays. Ever since Dylan Strome came over to Chicago, Alex DeBricant’s play has risen. DeBricant always had the talent, but having his good buddy on his line has helped both of them elevate their game to another level. It will definitely be an uphill climb the rest of the season.