Ever since the divisions got realigned, the Predators and Jets have become fierce rivals. If last season’s playoff series was any indication, these two teams are the best in the Central Division. Many people wished the Jets and Predators did not have to meet so early in the playoffs. With only a month left in the season, the division title will be a battle between Winnipeg and Nashville. Both teams need home ice in the playoffs because of their buildings. With Winnipeg heading in one direction and Nashville going in another it will be interesting which team can rise about the pressure to win the title. Let’s go inside this week’s NHL Central Division Notebook.
NHL Central Division Notebook: Which Team Will win the Division
Winnipeg Jets – The Winnipeg Jets recent road trip was a success. Over the four games, the Jets were able to win two games. Winning half on the road in this league at this team of the season is never a bad thing. Unfortunately, those losses did not allow the Jets to open up a gap in the standings. Winnipeg still remains one point ahead of Nashville for top spot. Since ending his goal drought, Patrik Laine has looked really confident with the puck. But confidence is key when you are goal scoring in the NHL. When things are going well, they are going well. When they are not, boy everything a player does is scrutinized. For Laine, it is about continuing to build confidence towards the playoffs. The Jets might not rely on him as much in the first round, but they sure will in the second.
Nashville Predators – As the Nashville Predators head into California, they wanted to do so on a high note. After back to back shootout wins over Minnesota, the Predators did not play their best against Carolina on Saturday. Juuse Saros got the start for Nashville. Throughout the season, Saros has been sharp for the Predators. On this particular night he was anything but. Overall, the team played a bad game. However, do not be surprised to see Saros more down the stretch, to give Pekka Rinne more of a rest heading into the playoffs. In the past two post seasons, Rinne has been tired and has not been as sharp especially in the loss to Winnipeg last season. Nashville needs him to be better and be like the player he was during the teams trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017.
St. Louis Blues – Things are not as good in Blues land as they were three weeks ago. Though they aren’t as bad as a week ago. The Blues had a really good California road trip winning two of three games and picking up five of six points. The only loss came in overtime to San Jose. Unfortunately not all the news is good. St. Louis will be without Vladimir Tarasenko for a minimum of 7-10 days with an upper body injury. He will be reevaluated after that time period. Tarasenko will miss approximately four games. Over the Blues winning streak, Tarasenko was a major contributor. This is a huge loss. St. Louis got another scare at practice when Patrick Maroon went left practice. Maroon was not able to put any weight on his leg. Head Craig Berube is optimistic that Maroon could play on Tuesday.
Best of the Rest:
Dallas Stars – One team that nobody in the Central will want to play come playoff time is the Dallas Stars. If the Stars get into the playoffs, they will be a tough out. Ben Bishop is the x-factor. Bishop knows what it takes to win in the playoffs, after guiding the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015. With Bishop starting to get find his game, the Stars become a dangerous team to play. Dallas won two of three games. As Dallas tries to build momentum, the team takes a step back with bad losses. Their loss this week was bad especially since it was to Chicago. Those are points Dallas cannot give away. With an injured Mats Zuccarello starting to skate again, he could be the piece that could help Dallas win in the playoffs besides Bishop.
Minnesota Wild – The Wild’s road trip did not go exactly as planned. Good thing for them the other teams behind them could not take advantage of their losses. Arizona and Colorado are nipping on the heels of the Wild. It is do or die for the Wild. Jason Zucker and Ryan Donato are making a difference in the Wild’s lineup. Both players are adding a spark and producing offensively. Even Eric Fehr is getting in on the scoring. Minnesota has a deep team that can produce. If the Wild get into the playoffs, they could play spoiler. When the Wild play the role of underdog, that is when they play their best hockey. Minnesota has a tough stretch playing three divisional opponents in the coming weeks. Good thing for the Wild those games are on home ice.
Colorado Avalanche – If the Colorado Avalanche are going to make the playoffs, they will do it without their captain. Colorado will be without Gabriel Landeskog for four to six weeks with an upper body injury. This is a huge loss for the Avalanche. For a team that desperately needs to win games to make the playoffs losing a player of Landeskog’s caliber will hurt Colorado’s playoff chances. All season long Landeskog played on the top line with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. At times during the season this line was the best in the NHL. Now Colorado must get secondary scoring and better goaltending if they want a chance at the playoffs. Colorado was able to keep things close with wins in two of three games, but things don’t get any easier.
Chicago Blackhawks – Is the gap just too much for the Blackhawks to close? It just might be. Chicago put together a nice run but it was too little too late. Eight points is just too much for the Blackhawks to overcome. Even when Chicago wins, the teams in front of them are winning as well. Chicago would need to jump three teams to just make the playoffs. That just is not going to happen. It will be a true miracle if Chicago were to make the playoffs. Patrick Kane continues to amaze the fans in Chicago. Kane is just three points away from 100 points. If Chicago misses the playoffs, he could be one of a few players in the top 5 in scoring that miss the playoffs.