Things are heating up in the NHL Central Division. Winnipeg and Nashville continue to duke it out for the top spot. With St. Louis not too far behind. Where things get interesting is in the two wild card spots. It seems every week there is a different combination of teams occupying those spots. This week Dallas and Minnesota hold the final two spots, with Colorado on the outside looking in. Let’s go inside this week’s NHL Central Division Notebook to see which teams are in the playoff picture.
NHL Central Division Notebook: Jets Starting to Take Flight
Winnipeg Jets – Despite all the injuries the Winnipeg Jets are back in first place in a tough Central Division. The month of March has been kind to the Jets over the past few seasons. This is the month the Jets start to take flight as the playoffs are just around the corner. After tough divisional loss to Minnesota, the Jets were able to pick up victories against Nashville and Columbus. Captain Blake Wheeler had a week for himself scoring five goals and three assists during the week. Four of those goals were scored against Columbus on Sunday night. He continues to lead by example. As the Jets embark on a four game road trip, the Jets still have work to do. Winnipeg already has one win but things don’t get easier. As they will face teams in the playoff hunt. Imagine once this team gets healthy what they can do.
Nashville Predators – The Nashville Predators fell to second in the Central after a so-so week. Loses to Central Division opponents St. Louis and Winnipeg didn’t help. If it wasn’t for a Ryan Johansen shootout winner, the Predators might have fallen to a third divisional opponent in Minnesota. Bringing new players is never easy. While it will take a little time before Wayne Simmonds and Mikael Granlund to adjust to the system. However, both players are fitting in nicely with Nashville. Nashville is such a well balanced team offensively. That is how the Predators continue to have success in the NHL. While Filip Forsberg gets all the headlines for his play making ability, the Predators have at least 11 players with 10 or more goals. Talk about well balanced.
St. Louis Blues – After all the success, the Blues had in the month of February, the month of March has not been too kind for the Blues. After defeating the Predators, St. Louis has lost two straight games. One of those games was to a divisional opponent in Dallas. The Blues embark on the California road trip and they desperately need to win those games. St. Louis only sits three points ahead of Dallas and Minnesota for third spot. Coming off that extraordinary winning streak, the Blues have fallen back into bad habits. Jordan Binnington has come back to Earth slightly. On the other hand, Jake Allen that needs to keep raising his level of play. In order for the Blues to have any success it all rests on goaltending.
Best of the Rest:
Dallas Stars – The Dallas Stars are starting to put it together. Even with Mats Zuccarello out of the lineup, the Stars are scoring goals, mainly from the top line. During this time of year, every win matters for Dallas. With all the money invested in Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, the Stars need to make the playoffs. Anton Khudobin played well in the absence of Ben Bishop. With Bishop returning between the pipes, he looks better as he rounds into form. Speaking of Jamie Benn, he returned from his injury and made an immediate impact. Having players like Seguin and Benn producing gives confidence throughout the rest of the lineup. It is so strange has some teams have one line that can score. While others teams have balance through four lines. Dallas will play most of March on home ice. This could help the Stars climb up in the standings.
Minnesota Wild – Entering the week, the Wild started in the second wild card position. The Wild finished the week in the same spot. Even though the Wild did not move up in the standings, the team had a good week. The Wild won two of three games, picking up five of six points. Minnesota had a chance of winning all three games, but fell to Nashville in a shootout. With Mikko Koivu out of the lineup, players like Eric Staal and Jason Zucker are stepping up. Not to mention Ryan Suter has elevated his game over the past few weeks. The team’s new acquisition Ryan Donato is fitting real nicely with this team. There seems to be magic between Jordan Greenway and Donato. Donato is the type of player Bruce Boudreau really likes. To go along those lines, Kevin Fiala has come in and made an impact as well.
Colorado Avalanche – It is now or never for the Colorado Avalanche. After a dismal week, Colorado’s playoff chances are sinking fast. Losing of three of four games will sink the confidence of any team. It appeared the Avalanche had turned things around. Alas that was only a mirage. If Colorado wants to be a playoff team, they cannot lose to teams like Florida and Anaheim. Those are points you can’t give away. What makes matters worse is that teams in front of them continue to win, as the gap continues to grow larger and larger. Colorado sits three points out of the final wild card position. However, the Avalanche will need a winning streak like the Coyotes are on to have a chance at making the playoffs.
Chicago Blackhawks – The Chicago Blackhawks are another team that is falling out of the playoff picture. Winning one game out of three is not helping their cause. Especially since one of those loses came against the woeful Los Angeles Kings. Chicago had been playing better over the past few weeks. If the Blackhawks want to make the playoffs, they will need to go 13-3 down the stretch. That is something sort of miraculous. All season long, Patrick Kane has been putting up numbers for Chicago. This season has been stellar for Kane as he is on pace for another 100 point season. Unless the Blackhawks make the playoffs, Kane will not be nominated for the Hart Trophy. Which is a shame because he is one of the most valued players in the league. Speaking of being valuable, Corey Crawford returned to the lineup for Chicago.