Central Intelligence: New Year's Resolutions
The turning of the calendar represents a milestone in the NHL season. With nearly half of the regular season played, how is the Central Division doing?
It is that time of year where everyone sets goals for themselves to be a better person. Some people get a gym membership, some people swear off of soda, and others train for marathons.
In the NHL, the turning of the calendar is when the grind begins. Teams have settled into their groove. No one is discussing "getting off to a good start". The "start" has come and gone. It is time to grind through the middle third of the season.
History says the playoff teams have all but clinched by January 1st, but there are always a few teams that can upset the apple cart. The Central Division is no different with the hard-charging Avalanche.
Regardless of which side of the statistics you fall on, one thing we know for sure is that things can change quickly with the wrong injury or run of play (hello Habs). Let's take a peak at the Stars rivals in the Central, and find out what kind of New Years Resolutions everyone is making.
Record: 17-17-2, 36 Points
Playoff Position: No
The collapse by the Jets this season has been slow. Winnipeg has not free fallen through the standings in a matter of days, more like weeks. Their slow decent to the bottom has been due to an unfortunate run-in with the injury bug, bad penalties, and a putrid road record (6-12-1).
Winnipeg is without starting net minder Ondrej Pavelec and the team's fourth-leading scorer (for now), Mark Scheifele. The Jets were a league-average offense with Scheifele in the lineup, but his absence seems to have really taken a bite out of their inability to put the puck in the back of the net.
Long term, the future is bright. But contract discussions and injuries seems to have thrown a wet blanket over the season. The Jets have been on the penalty kill more than every team in the league except the Columbus Blue Jackets. Maybe they shouldn't do that, since, you know, they can't score goals?
New Years' Resolution: Be nicer to people.
Record: 18-17-2, 38 Points
Playoff Position: No
The Avalanche have steadied themselves going 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. A five-game winning streak can do wonders for a team's confidence. During the five-game streak, the Avalanche surrendered five goals. Turns out, that is really good.
After a tumultuous start to the season, the Avalanche find themselves five points out of a playoff spot, which they could get by catching the Nashville Predators. With just over half the season remaining, are the Avs up to the task of making a run?
They will likely need at least two more 10-game records like they have enjoyed lately; taking 15 of 20 possible points. Mathematically they are still alive, but history doesn't look too kindly on teams that start the season the way the Avs did this year.
New Years Resolution: Beat the Stars every time they play.
Record: 18-12-7, 43 Points
Playoff Position: 2nd Wildcard
Nashville has grinded away this season, unable to build on success and unwilling to let losing become a habit. There is certainly something to be said for this, but it doesn't look like the Preds have the horses to score enough goals to scare anyone.
Despite their shortcomings offensively, the Preds have the right locker room to be a threat in the playoffs if they can make it. Pekka Rinne could carry just about anyone if he ever figures out how to win on the road again, and the blue line is stacked. This feels like a team that could just as easily miss the playoffs as make it to the conference finals.
The problem with this strategy is you have built your team around a series of dice rolls. Sure, the deck is stacked in your favor with great defense and disciplined hockey, but if they don't get a save out of Rinne, they won't win.
New Years Resolution: Find a new shade of yellow.
Record: 19-10-6, 44 Points
Playoff Position: 1st Wildcard
Overtime was reformatted to make sure that less games go to the shootout. The league wanted to trying something fun that would open up the ice, so they introduced 3-on-3 overtime.
In Minnesota and Nashville, fast paced free-flowing hockey is frowned upon. Therefore, it is no surprise that they have been eaten alive in the 3-on-3 setting this year, going a combined 1-12. To Minnesota's credit, at least they went 1-6.
You can't teach an old dog new tricks, but getting Zach Parise back has helped the Wild's offensive output. Unfortunately, he has been injured again and did not play against the Blues last night.
The team save percentage is creeping up to better than league average. This team doesn't give up much on defense, and they will need that trend to continue if they want to make any noise in the postseason.
New Years Resolution: Play three defensemen in an overtime session at least once.
Record: 21-13-4, 46 Points
Playoff Position: 3rd in Central
Chicago visited a rocking American Airlines Center last week and got slapped around and shut out just for good measure. It was only a regular season game in December, but it had to be a little bit of a wake up call to the champs.
Patrick Kane paces hockey with 53 points (22G 31A), and is on pace for 114 points this year. The next highest scoring Blackhawk is Artemi Panarin with 32 points, 21 behind Kane. How is that mathematically possible? Shouldn't Kane's assists be going to someone?
The Hawks are still in the adjustment phase after huge roster turnover in the offseason, but they seem to be figuring it out.
New Years Resolution: Change nickname to the "Hanks" because it's funny.
St. Louis Blues
Record: 23-12-4, 50 Points
Playoff Position: 2nd in Central
It is very early to be prognosticating on playoff matchups. A million things will happen between now and the second round of the playoffs. But it is pretty hard not to watch the Stars and Blues home and home last week, and not salivate over a possible matchup in the playoffs.
The best parts of hockey were on display in two games. Slashes, fights, goals, overtime, windmill saves, and huge hits were happening on every shift. The Blackhawks and Blues think of themselves as rivals, but Dallas and St. Louis seem to be brewing some bad blood.
A playoff series featuring these two teams would be appointment television. A word to the wise: don't miss a moment.
New Years Resolution: Win a round in the playoffs. Except not against Dallas, please.