Central Intelligence: Here Come The Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues
Stars hockey is back! After a 5 day break, Dallas takes the ice tonight in Anaheim ready to sprint to the All Star break. While the Stars were on vacation, what happened to the Central Division?
The push was always going to happen. No one really expected Dallas to win the division by 20 points. But after Chicago's victory over the Montreal Canadiens last night, the Stars' lead in the division has disappeared.
Granted, the Stars still have two games in hand on the Hawks and they are certainly in the driver's seat, but the honeymoon phase is over.
Here they come, the division of death.
Record: 20-21-3, 43 Points
Playoff Position: No
The free fall continues in Winnipeg. The Jets are officially no longer an above 0.500 hockey team. When they aren't struggling to score goals they are struggling to defend. It has gotten messy.
If you go over to the Jets' SB Nation Blog, Arctic Ice Hockey, you will meet some nice folks. Their community is really pleasant, and seems to be a thriving group of intelligent hockey fans. Most of their discussion these days revolves whether the team should tank or not.
Stop me if this sounds familiar: After a recent win, a "fight" broke out between a group of people excited about the win and people disappointed that the tanking was not being done right.
The only remaining drama in Winnipeg this season will be contract negotiations and trades. Nothing to see here.
Record: 19-17-8, 46 Points
Playoff Position: No
Well, that escalated quickly.
The Predators have lost five games in a row and sunk like a rock out of a playoff spot. They are falling fast, and seem to be headed in the opposite direction as the Avalanche. The panic button has not be pushed, but everyone has seen it and made note of its location.
In other news, the Predators made a splash trading Seth Jones to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Ryan Johansen. Nashville has lost all four games in which Johansen has been a Predator, but it has been far from Johansen's fault. He has six points in those four games.
The losing streak has been crippling, but the Preds are far from finished. If Johansen can keep scoring this way, Mike Ribeiro adjusts to his second line mates, and Pekka Rinne regains half of his form from last year, the Predators will make a playoff push.
Record: 22-20-3, 47 Points
Playoff Position: Second Wildcard
The hard-charging Avs have done the unthinkable: gone from zero to hero in the Central Division.
Almost every writer and talking head tried to bury the Avalanche in November, pointing to their poor start and saying, "done no chance kbye." Well, the Avs are back. Obviously their spot is not safe with half of the season to play, but the fact that they have climbed this far is a testament to their #resolve.
The fight is far from over, but the fact that Colorado got off the mat after a putrid start to the season is impressive.
Also, if the season ended right now the Avalanche would have a first round date with the team they have lorded over for a few years: your Dallas Stars.
Record: 22-13-8, 52 Points
Playoff Position: First Wildcard
The Wild are five points clear of the Avalanche and five points behind the Blues for third place in the Central. Minnesota sits in an interesting position of losing touch with the leaders and losing touch with their pursuers. Unless someone gets hot (or the Avs stay hot), when will the Wild play for status quo and accept the position? More importantly, should they?
There is a lot of hockey to be played before you start discussing resting players, but if the patterns hold, the Wild will have to make a decision.
Minnesota has work to do, but nothing has changed with them all year. They aren't great but they are good. They play a style of hockey that could win in the playoffs. If things ended today, they would head over to the Pacific Division bracket to face the Los Angeles Kings.
St. Louis Blues
Record: 25-15-7, 57 Points
Playoff Position: Third in the Central
St. Louis is 3-4-3 in their last 10 games. When you combine their rough patch with what the Chicago Blackhawks have been doing, it isn't good news for the Blues. Chicago has raced past them.
Things feel different in St. Louis that they did two weeks ago. You have to think they are looking hard at the All Star break, because the team needs a mental reset. Perhaps no team in the league will better appreciate the break than the St. Louis Blues.
Vladimir Tarasenko is still killing everything with 24 goals and 20 assists. At times, Tarasenko puts the team on his back offensively and carries them. He is fun to watch.
Record: 29-13-4, 62 Points
Playoff Position: Second in the Central
In case you haven't heard, the Blackhawks won their ninth consecutive game on Thursday night and drew level with the Stars in points. To say they have been on a tear is a gross understatement.
During the winning streak, the Hawks won a game by scoring seven, and won another game by scoring two. The team has given up 18 goals in the nine-game streak, and my elementary math tells me that is a pretty tidy goals against average.
Most people understood that eventually Chicago would put it together, and they have. This success is unsustainable, but it must be troubling to other teams. The Hawks gutted their roster. They have played so much hockey the last few years. How can they still be this good? How did they figure out their new teammates in only half a season?
Joel Quenneville is 30 percent of the answer, Patrick Kane is 30 percent of the answer, and Corey Crawford is 75 percent of the answer. The math checks out. When your goalie is as dominant as Crawford has been this season, the team seems to come together.
Chicago is scary.
Hold onto your butts.