While the NHL season is still young, the NHL Central Division is starting to show some separation between the playoff-contending teams and those slated for next June’s NHL Entry Draft lottery.
With that, here is a summary of the NHL Central Division for the first four weeks of the season (in order of the current Central Division standings):
Chicago Blackhawks (12-4-3) – The ‘Hawks have certainly rebounded from a rough 0-2-1 stretch by winning four straight games. Moving Marian Hossa on the same line with Viktor Stalberg and Jonathan Toews has paid immediate dividends as that forward line has combined for 20 points on the 21 total Blackhawks’ goals over the four-game period. And their previously struggling power play has responded by scoring six power play goals over this period.
Who’s Hot: Hossa, Toews, Stalberg, Patrick Kane, Steve Montador and well, you get the idea. Any team that outscores its opponents by a combined score of 21 to 8 has a lot of hot players.
Who’s Not: Left Wing (LW) Bryan Bickell has been held scoreless over his last seven games played and has registered a -3 +/- rating over this period.
Key Injuries: Brent Seabrook
Upcoming: The Blackhawks, as part of a brutal seven-game road swing through Northern Canada and the West Coast, travel to face Calgary and Edmonton
Nashville Predators (9-5-3) – The Preds have been steadily rising in the standings, spurred by the elite goaltending of Pekka Rinne, who ranks ninth in Goals Against Average amongst regular goaltenders with a 2.19 GAA and fifth in Save% with a solid .933 Save$. Third-year center Colin Wilson continues to progress by registering five points in his last six games and a +7 +/- rating over that same period of time.
Who’s Hot: Craig Smith – The former collegiate star has emerged as a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate with 14 points over his first seventeen games played. Until a recent two-game scoreless period, Patrick Hornqvist has awakened from his early-season slumber by registering 11 points over a seven-game period.
Who’s Not: Jonathon Blum – Blum has not scored a point during his past five games played, while at the same time struggling through a -6 +/- rating during that same period.
Key Injuries: David Legwand
Upcoming: The Preds finish off the week by hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Detroit Red Wings (9-6-1) – The Red Wings have been a helter skelter team so far this season, having opened the season with a 5-0 mark, only to be followed by a 0-5-1 swoon, then to be followed by a four-game winning streak before it was ended at the hands of the St. Louis Blues. Jimmy Howard appears to have returned to the form of his rookie season of 2009-2010.
Who’s Hot: Jimmy Howard – Howard has been an absolute beast in goal, sporting a stellar Goals Against Average (GAA) of 1.69 and a Save Percentage (Save %) of .935, which ranks third in both categories amongst regular NHL goaltenders.
Who’s Not: Henrik Zetterberg – Zetterberg has only registered six points – three goals and three assists – over the first 16 games this season, quite surprising for a point-a-game stalwart over the prior six seasons.
Key Injuries: Ian White
Upcoming: The Red Wings travel to the Golden State (California) to play the San Jose Sharks, the LA Kings and the Anaheim Ducks.
St. Louis Blues (9-7-1) – Times, they have changed in St. Louis. Future Hall-of-Fame head coach Ken Hitchcock was brought in to restore the grit and accountability of the Blues and the Blues have responded by posting a 3-0-1 record since Hitchcock’s arrival. To say Hitchcock and the Blues were a match made in heaven is an understatement and one only needs to point to their allowing only 3 goals in regulation over those four games.
Who’s Hot: Jaroslav Halak – with ‘Hitchcock Hockey’, goal-scoring is not the emphasis – what is important is employing a defense-first mentality, to the benefit of the goaltender. The previously awful Halak has flourished thus far in this new system by going 1-0-1 with a sizzling 0.96 GAA and a Save% of .961.
Who’s Not: Chris Stewart – Stewart, who is currently serving a three-game suspension for shoving Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall into the boards, has only scored 3 points over his last 14 games, only one point of which was a goal. Stewart’s return to his high-octane form (after serving the suspension) can really help St. Louisgenerate enough goal-scoring to continue their winning ways.
Key Injuries: David Perron, Andy McDonald
Upcoming: The Blues host the Florida Panthers before traveling to the Xcel Energy Centerto face the Minnesota Wild.
Columbus Blue Jackets (3-13-1) – Since the Blue Jackets started the season with a horrid 1-8-1 start, they have gone 2-5-1 which for them almost constitutes cause for celebration. Shoddy defense, substandard goaltending, a lack of communication while on the ice, underachieving marquee players, a fragile team and a directionless identity characterize the Blue Jackets – other than all that, all is well in Ohio’s capital city.
Who’s Hot: Vinny Prospal continues to be one of two glimmers of light for the Blue Jackets. Rookie Ryan Johansen has scored the game-winning goal in each ofColumbus’ three measly victories.
Who’s Not: This is a list too long to mention – however, it can be best explained by the following statistic: Between captain Rick Nash ($7.8 million) Jeff Carter ($5.3 million) and RJ Umberger ($3.75 million) there have been a total of five goals scored, which equates to $3.61 million spent per goal scored. Who said the Blue Jackets haven’t received a return on their investment?
Key Injuries: Kristian Huselius, Radek Martinek
Upcoming: The Blue Jackets travel to the TD Garden Arena to face Boston and then try to erase their winless streak, dating back to 2006, at the Bridgestone Arena inNashville.Follow paulmbanks