Central Division Intelligence: Power Rankings Edition
Who's hot in the Central Division? And who's not? And don't say the Stars! They're not a part of this particular article! We're talking about the rest... of the story.
With the Dallas Stars actually winning a game last week, two even!, the necessity for a panicked leap to an opposing team's bandwagon is less immediate. Allowing us to focus on other things now, like, well, no, actually it's kind of the same thing...
Power Rankings are an absolutely useless feature of the NHL hockey season. Which naturally is why they're so popular. So with the Stars currently on the unpowerful end of the rankings spectrum, we take a look at the rest of the Central Division. But how do we look at them?
Standings order? Irrelevant. Record this week? Slightly less irrelevant, but still irrelevant. For example, the Wild beating the Sabres at home can be discarded as irrelevant information. We're focused on the bigger picture. Scrimmages against AHL teams don't count.
Look at it this way. Say your team, whichever bandwagon team that might happen to be, were to have a Central Division team next on the schedule, which team would you rather it not be? Against which team would you seriously consider not watching the game because, well, you had other plans that you could have changed, but it's probably better if you go ahead with them 'cause you don't want to be that person who's avoiding meeting up with people and staying in to watch hockey instead. And against which team would you go ahead and start celebrating the victory on gameday morning?
How else do people come up with power rankings?
I hate this. I hate that the upstart Predators have finally been chased down, and I hate that the team to do it was the St. Louis Blues. Why not Chicago? Or Minnesota? At least with Chicago I have some grudging respect and admiration, and with Minnesota, well, never mind. Chicago then. I at least enjoy watching them play. St. Louis? Not so much. But the Blues have only lost once in the last like twelfty billion games, so suffice to say, they're pretty hot right now.
A big part of that has been goaltending. After letting Ryan Miller walk in the offseason, primarily because they realized that trading for him had been a huge mistake in the first place, the St. Louis Blues have received phenomenal goaltending from the tandem of Jake Allen and Brian Elliott. How phenomenal? Well, if you filter out Troy Grosenick (who?) and his 45-shot shutout in his only game played this season, then Elliott and Allen are both in the top ten league wide for save percentage and top five for goals against average. And their ability to share the workload, with Elliott having started 11 games and Allen 6, has allowed both goaltenders to play to their full potential. Will their save percentages of .933 and .930 last the entirety of the season? Doubtful. And maybe when the regression monster strikes we'll see the Blues cool off.
Which brings us to another point. Potentially good news though for everyone else out there who hates St. Louis because they have a terrible team name - or whatever reason you have for hating the Blues - their production has been incredibly top heavy, and at near-unsustainable levels. Thus far in the season the Blues have scored 47 goals. Vladimir Tarasenko accounts for 10 of those, and the top line of Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, and Jori Lehtera have combined for 24. To save you having to do the complicated math there, that's more than half the team's goals coming from one forward line.
I mean, imagine if your Dallas Stars had one player who accounted for a quarter of all team goals?
Upcoming: Long homestand wrapped up, they hit the road and face the Bruins, Canadiens, Senators, and Jets this week.
The Minnesota Wild sit 5th in the Central Division, ahead of only the lowly Colorado Avalanche and some other team that's escaping me at the moment. Why then do they sit at 2nd in the Central Division power rankings? Well, because they rank in the top 2 in the league in both Corsi and Fenwick for, and have now won three straight after a four game winless streak. They're streaky, but more on the positive end than the negative end. Nashville are going to regress, St. Louis might very well implode like last season, but Minnesota (and Chicago, the team that shares top 2 status with them in possession metrics) are built to last.
Further to that, the Wild have managed it despite having some of the spottier goaltending in the Central Division. Granted, I can think of one team whose goaltenders' numbers are worse, but we're not talking about them. Darcy Kuemper's play has been hot and cold thus far, but he currently sits about league average. However, Niklas Backstrom's performance has left a lot to be desired.
Is Josh Harding's eventual return going to help the situation? Will league average goaltending be enough for the Wild to make a run? I don't know, but I feel that when they're on their game they might be the toughest team in the Central to play against, and regression is going to strike all of St. Louis, Nashville, and Chicago when it comes to netminding. Whereas the Wild have nowhere to go but up...
I bumped the Wild above the Predators, but not the Blackhawks. Why? Well because Nashville aren't too shabby themselves in possession metrics, and the edge goes to them on goaltending? Actually no, that's not even true. The two starting NHL goaltenders who currently sport identical .929 save percentages? Corey Crawford and Pekka Rinne. So why then? Well because at the end of the day this is a subjective list, not objective.
I just happen to be right.
Maybe it boils down to me not believing that the current 2.0 goals per game allowed by the Hawks will be sustainable. Whereas the Predators would be more likely to sustain that. Of course, if you live in Chicago then it's all roses. How dare anyone suggest the Blackhawks don't have the greatest defense in the NHL?
Upcoming: 3 days off, then the Flames, Oilers, and Canucks in quick succession on the road.
Would you look at that. The Colorado Avalanche won two out of three this past week. And all on the road! Of course, a shootout victory against the Rangers and a one-goal win over the Devils hides the less than impressive 6-0 blanking at the hands of the Islanders.
Is it hopeless in Colorado? Well it's not a good sign when players are talking about the hand the team has been dealt, and essentially saying last year was lucky and this year is, well... not.
Upcoming: Capitals and Hurricanes at home.
Busy week for the Jets, and not a particularly successful one. They beat the team they were supposed to beat in Carolina, but then lost to the teams they were supposed to lose to. Consistency like that is nice, but it's a bit of a problem when you're expected to lose to the majority of teams and only expected to win against a minority. The Jets still sit at 4th in the Central, outside the playoff picture because Calgary?
The Stars are gonna be trending up soon, right? Yes? K, that means the Jets will be trending down. Sorry Winnipeg, but that's the way it has to be.
Upcoming: Long road trip, short homestand. Devils, Red Wings, and Blues.