All of the sudden the teams that everyone written off are making a charge up the standings. Chicago is four points back of the second wild card spot, while St. Louis is back in a playoff position. All season long, no team in the Western Conference has wanted to take control of the wild card spots. This has allowed the Blues and Blackhawks to climb up the standings and get back into this race. Let’s go inside the NHL Central Division Notebook to see how the Blues and Blackhawks are making noise.
NHL Central Division Notebook: Blues and Blackhawks Making Noise
Winnipeg Jets – In a desperate need of a win, the Winnipeg Jets closed three game road trip with a win. Prior to the win against Buffalo, the Jets lost the previous three games. While Jets did pick up a point in an OT loss, the next two games were un-Jets like. The Jets were outscored 10-4 through those next two games. Paul Maurice was not happy with the way his team was playing. Winnipeg played a hard fought game in Buffalo and got back to basics in the win. Getting Dustin Byfuglien back in the lineup helps. But it will take him some time to be reacquainted to the speed of the game. More concerning continues to be the play of Patrik Laine. The Jets need Laine to score badly.
Nashville Predators – Things started well for the Predators unfortunately, things did not end so well. Instead of sitting in first place, Nashville remains two points behind the Jets. In a division where home ice means everything, Nashville lost a pivotal home and home series to St. Louis. Nashville’s power play is starting to come alive again after being doormat for the better part of a month. With so much skill on the power play for Nashville, it was shocking to see them struggle. One player that would benefit from a better power play is PK Subban. Considering Subban gets most his points on the PP, it would be ideal for Nashville to keep this momentum going. Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg continue to lead the way for Nashville, while Ryan Johansen is stepping up at the right time.
Dallas Stars – For the second straight week, the Dallas Stars remain in third place in the Central Division. Dallas picked up three points earlier in the week, but fell flat in the second game on a five game road trip. Once again, playing on the road is a challenge for the Dallas Stars. Going back to the beginning of the year, if the Stars could pick up wins in half their road schedule they would be in a better position. If the Stars don’t pick up points this week, they could be back down fighting for a wild card spot. Outside the top line and the star defenseman, Dallas has not got much production for the rest of their forwards. Ben Bishop is the x-factor in all of this.
Best of the Rest:
St. Louis Blues – The St. Louis Blues are back in the playoff picture. The Blues currently occupy the first wild card spot in the Western Conference thanks in large part to a six game winning streak. During the win streak, the Blues picked up two wins against Nashville, and one against Tampa Bay. These teams are considered some of the best, and St. Louis has shown they can compete with the best. Jordan Binnington has been masterful in net, and Jake Allen looked sharp in the second win against Nashville. Vladimir Tarasenko is on a tear with points in 10 of the past 12 games. Tarasenko is showing signs of his old self which has allowed the Blues to make this incredible run. As the deadline approaches, the Blues might be more of buyer than a seller.
Minnesota Wild – Minnesota is holding onto the final card spot by a thread. With losses in three of the past four games, the Wild need to pick up points desperately. Things gotten even worse when the news came out that Mikko Koivu would miss the rest of the season because of a torn ACL in his knee. As Bruce Boudreau put it, “this was a kick in the teeth.” Minnesota is one of those teams that has to score by committee. If you look at the roster six players have 10 or more goals. So there is balance, but losing the captain really hurts. He was a great players to have in the lineup and in the locker room especially this time of year. Look for a player like Eric Staal to step up like he did last year when Zach Parise was hurt.
Colorado Avalanche – Here is a team that is Free Falling really quickly to quote the late great Tom Petty. Colorado is in the midst of an eight-game losing streak with no end in sight. The beginning of the year looked so promising as the Avalanche were rolling along and in a playoff position. Now the Avalanche are on the outside looking in. But if Colorado could turn things around, they would be right back in a playoff position. However, Colorado needs to figure out something quickly. The pace of the top line has slowed down and the goaltending has not been there. Neither Semyon Varlamov and Philipp Grubauer are playing great. That is not exactly what Colorado envisioned when they brought Grubauer in.
Chicago Blackhawks – Thanks to a seven game winning streak, the Blackhawks are only four points out of the final wild card spot. It took some time for Chicago to adjust to their new head coach, but they have finally got it together. Not only have the Blackhawks won seven games in a row, but Patrick Kane is in the midst of a 15-game point streak. Imagine if Chicago gets in the playoffs, Kane needs consideration for the Hart Trophy. While the top guys are playing well, it has been the line of Dominik Kahun, Alex DeBrincat, and Dylan Strome that is doing a lot of the work. During this seven game winning streak, Strome is averaging 2 points per game. Strome has eight more points (4 goals, 10 assists) during this winning streak than he did in 20 games with the Coyotes. Talk about a change of scene doing wonders.