As the season inches closer to the end, teams in the Central Division continue to jockey for position in the standings. Winnipeg and Nashville have a nice lead for the one and two spots in the division. St. Louis and Dallas are battling to see who will finish in the third spot in the division. Regardless of where both teams finish, they will play a tough team in the first round. Meanwhile, Minnesota just sits one point out of the final wild-card spot. Dare we sleep on Colorado and Chicago making the playoffs. Let’s go inside this week’s NHL Central Division Notebook.
NHL Central Division Notebook: Teams Jockeying for Position
Winnipeg Jets – The Winnipeg Jets only hold a one-point lead over the Nashville Predators for the top spot in the Central. After a tough loss to begin the week, the Jets were able to pick up two big wins over Boston and Calgary. With each passing win, Winnipeg inches closer to clinching a playoff spot. Mark Scheifele continues to play at such a high level playing alongside Blake Wheeler. These two continue to make a dynamic duo for the Jets. Give credit to Kevin Cheveldayoff for what he did at the trade deadline. Adding additional defenseman has given Winnipeg depth. Considering there is no time table for Dustin Byfuglien’s return, having players like Nathan Beaulieu and Bogdan Kiselevich softens the blow. The Jets will need Byfuglien in the lineup if they want to make a deep run in the playoffs.
Nashville Predators – Heading into the week, the Nashville Predators desperately needed to start playing better on the road. Going through California is not the ideal situation to figure things out on the road. However, the Predators were able to pick up two of three wins in California. That was a giant task as the Predators were able to keep pace with the Winnipeg Jets. The Predators win against Los Angeles was their first regulation win in three weeks. Viktor Arvidsson continues to be the straw that stirs the drink. Arvidsson set a Predators franchise record with his 28th even-strength goal of the season. It’s his 30th goal of the season overall, just one away from tying his career high of 31. One shy of his career high of 31. Also, it is the fewest individual games required (49) to hit the 30-goal mark in franchise history.
St. Louis Blues – If you look at the week the St. Louis Blues had you would say it was not up to par. However, considering the Blues were able to pick up three of four points to close out the week, it was better than it started. However, the Blues left a point on the table in Buffalo falling in the shootout. St. Louis started off the week by laying two eggs against Arizona and Ottawa. Considering the Coyotes were playing their second game in two nights, St. Louis looked like the team that had to travel the day before. With teams behind them losing, getting three points allowed the Blues to increase their lead to five points in the standings. St. Louis holds a one-point lead over Dallas for the third spot. David Perron returned to the lineup and had an immediate impact.
Best of the Rest:
Dallas Stars – Just like with Winnipeg and Nashville, Dallas is trying to keep pace with St. Louis. Going into the game against Minnesota, Ben Bishop had recorded three straight shutouts. Bishop was the reason why the Stars were increasing their lead in the standings. Eventually, the streak had to come to an end. Bishop set a new franchise record of 230:53 breaking and surpassing broke Ed Belfour’s franchise shutout streak of 219:26. Unfortunately, Bishop left the game with an injury. Good news was it was only precautionary as Bishop returned to practice on Monday. Dallas picked up seven of eight points during the week. Their seventh point, the Stars rallied from a 2-0 deficit against Vancouver. Going forward, the Stars need to continue to pick up points to hold onto the first wild card position.
Minnesota Wild – On the other hand, the Minnesota Wild are going in the wrong direction. After back to back losses, the Wild were able to pick up three points. The Wild deserved a better fate against the Islanders. Minnesota ended up rallying throughout the entire game, only to fall short in overtime. Over the weekend, Jason Zucker received a scare. During the game against the Rangers, Zucker left the game because of an injury. Luckily for the Wild, he was able to return to the game. Losing a player like Zucker would have sunk the Wild’s playoff chances. Minnesota desperately needs to win hockey games. With Arizona continuing to win, the Wild need every point down the stretch.
Colorado Avalanche – Unlike the teams above, time is running out on the Colorado Avalanche. Going forward Colorado must get goaltending performances like they did last night from Philipp Grubauer. Colorado would not be in the position they are in if the goaltending was better in the middle part of the season. As a matter of fact, Colorado would still be in a playoff spot. Not fighting for their playoff lives. It is unfortunate the Avalanche are in this position considering how well they started. Colorado was one of the best teams in the league early in the season. The Avalanche were rolling because of their top line. That top line is now missing an important part. Gabriel Landeskog remains out of the lineup. Even though the playoffs are not out of the question. The gap might just be too much to overcome.
Chicago Blackhawks – If want to compare teams by conference, the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers are in a similar situation. Both teams fired their head coaches. The Flyers and Blackhawks went on winning streaks to propel them up the standings. With Corey Crawford back in the lineup, Chicago has won five games in a row. Crawford is the backbone of the Blackhawks. Clearly, makes the Blackhawks a better team. While it may be too little too late, the Blackhawks are in striking distance. Sitting five points out with 11 games to play might be a tall order to overcome. If there is a sleeper team in this league it is definitely Chicago. The Blackhawks have the firepower to make the playoffs. Even though their best interest would be to miss.