Breaking down the NHL’s Central Division

Zach Remelius, Courier Staff

The Central Division was predicted to be one of the best divisions in hockey along with the Metro in the Eastern Conference. So far this season, things have been up and down for the division and three teams have really separated themselves from the pack.

In the leadoff spot right now is the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the St. Louis Blues, who sit at 12-3-3 on the season. The Blues have been able to survive the early onslaught without star forward Vladimir Tarasenko. Blues fans should be concerned with how few quality chances they are getting in games and how many are going to overtime. They seem to have been able to grab enough points early to give them enough room to get through any struggles they may experience to stay in a playoff spot. Don’t be surprised if they go out and make a move to bring in a top line forward to ease the loss of Tarasenko. David Perron, Brayden Schenn and Ryan O’Reilly have been able to contribute just enough for the Blues to continue to pile up the wins.

The Colorado Avalanche sit in second right now with a record of 10-5-2. They have dealt with injuries to two players on their top line in Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen. Offseason pickups Andre Burakovsky and Joonas Donskoi have been able to add to the offense and Nazem Kadri has been his normal pesky self. Rookie Cale Makar has been outstanding with 17 points in 17 games, and it appears he will be a top candidate for the Calder. The goaltending has been fine, it hasn’t quite been a hindrance but not a strength for this team. Like the Blues, it will be interesting to see if the Avalanche make a move to stay afloat while two of their stars sit out. Also if you haven’t watched Nathan MacKinnon play, do yourself a favor and give him a watch, he is so much fun.

The Nashville Predators have cooled off after an extremely fast start and sit at 9-5-3. Roman Josi got his new contract and has lived up to it early on by being a point per game player, and Ryan Ellis has been right there with him. Everyone expected Filip Forsberg to be a leading goal scorer, and he has eight in 11 games, but no one expected Nick Bonino to be right there with him with eight in 17 games. The Preds are looking for more out of Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson who have 13 and 12 points respectively in 17 games. Pekka Rinne was unbeatable in the early stretch of the season, but his save percentage has fallen to .912 and his backup Juuse Saros has an .890 and has only won one out of four starts.

The next phase of the Central starts with the Winnipeg Jets with a record of 10-7-1. The Jets have become a complete disaster in their own end. Connor Hellebuyck has been one of the best goalies in the league with his .933 save percentage. The Jets are one of the worst teams in the league at allowing high percentage shots, making Hellebuyck’s start even better. The Jets start defensively is not completely surprising, as they did lose essentially everyone from their right side and added Neal Pionk; not exactly a defensive core to be scared of. Patrik Laine and Mark Scheifele have been scoring to start the season. For Laine, this is good to see because of last season’s struggles, but he only has four goals in 16 games, which only puts him on pace for about 20 goals, which would be wildly disappointing. His playmaking, though, has been surprisingly good as he has 11 assists. Blake Wheeler is now 33 and is starting to show it as he has struggled mightily with only 10 points in 18 games.

The Dallas Stars started off slowly but are finally coming around and have battled back to an 8-8-2 record. Like many teams, they are dealing with injuries to key players. John Klingberg is out for a few weeks and Roope Hintz, who has shown quite the improvement, is also out for a couple weeks. The Stars are 27th, however, in goal scoring and if that trend continues, they will miss the playoffs after a lot was expected of them. The big three of Alexander Radulov, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin have been, to put it simply, terrible. All three have played in all 18 games and have combined for just nine goals and 27 points, which is brutal for the three stars. Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin have been doing all they can, but if the Stars can’t score then obviously they won’t win. Coach Jim Montgomery will be back in the hot seat if the Stars go through another extended losing streak.

The Chicago Blackhawks have finally started to open up their offense a little bit and it has resulted in some success on the scoreboard. They are 6-7-4 on the young season and there are signs they could make a run at a playoff berth. They are still giving up way too many shots at points, giving up almost 60 to the Maple Leafs, but Robin Lehner and his .934 save percentage have been up to the task. Offensively, Patrick Kane has been Patrick Kane with 20 points in 17 games and other guys they need to contribute like Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome and Jonathan Toews have finally started coming around offensively. Kirby Dach has looked fine in spots but for the Blackhawks to have more balance offensively, he needs to do better than four points in 11 games. The Blackhawks are going to have to outscore teams and finally it looks they might be able to in some spots.

Everyone expected the Minnesota Wild to be terrible and guess what, they are! At just 6-10-1 they are in the cellar of the division where they will most likely stay. They are 24th in goals for and 25th in goals against, so they can’t hang their hat on anything. They are a team without really any identity and Bruce Boudreau will probably be let go. Boudreau is a good coach and it isn’t his fault this team is bland with little skill, but a move will be made. Paul Fenton messed things up as GM so much for the Wild that it will take this current leadership group a couple years before the Wild are relevant again. Brad Hunt, who has been waived many times, is currently their third leading scorer with 10 points. The Kevin Fiala and Ryan Donato moves have been disasters for this team and those Ryan Suter and Zach Parise contracts aren’t coming off the books anytime soon.