Dallas Stars Central Division Intelligence: Nashville Predators Continue Hot Start, Chicago Blackhawks Stumble
Welcome to Central Intelligence, where, unlike the Agency, we tell you exactly what's going on. This week that includes the curious role-reversal of the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks, the Nashville Predators defying all odds and continuing to be good, and the Colorado Avalanche and Winni
I'm disappointed in our Central Division chums. Following this week's play, 4 of the bottom 5 teams in the Western Conference hail from our fair Conference III. Winnipeg can be forgiven for being Winnipeg, but Colorado, St. Louis, and Minnesota should under no circumstances find themselves ranked beneath Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton—small sample size be damned. Really though, it's the fault of the Bettman point. You know only 5 teams in the league have a points percentage of under .500? Gotta love false parity.
But whatever. St. Louis and Minnesota are going to catch up in games played soon and everything will be fine. We'll get to them, though. For now, we start in reverse standings order, because otherwise all you lazy readers out there wouldn't ever get to read about the Peg.
This week: 1-1-0
Overall: 3-5-0, 7th in the Central, 14th in the Western Conference
After a brief foray into worst team in the Central Division territory, the Colorado Avalanche managed to nose their way ahead of the Winnipeg Jets this week. All is once more right with the world. However, the Winnipeg Jets did manage to relieve themselves of the Conference III *cough* poophat *cough* so at least Obscene Alex is happy—or I would assume he is. I actually have no idea what makes Obscene Alex happy [Ed. Note - This does, but it's better when it's Chicago. - OA]. This momentous event occurred in Sunday's afternoon game where the two worst teams in the Central Division played each other to a standstill at the end of regulation and had to end the gripping 1-1 contest with a fluky Winnipeg goal in overtime. Way to go, Jets!
On the flip side of that, the Tampa Bay Lightning won a road game in Winnipeg earlier this week and it sounds like a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde performance from netminder Ondrej Pavelec. To be honest though, I didn't know he was capable of good performances to balance the bad. So... way to go Pavelec?
Upcoming: At Islanders, at Devils, at Rangers, and at Chicago. Expect the Jets to be firmly entrenched in the number 7 spot following this week's brutal road trip.
This week: 1-0-1
Overall: 2-4-3, 6th in the Central, 13th in the Western Conference
Remember how the Stars played terribly and beat the Vancouver Canucks 6-3 last week? Those same poor Canucks then went to Colorado where they got drubbed 7-3. By the Avs. I know, right? Rough. Don't get too excited about the Avalanche turning any corners though, because as you already read above—unless you skip right over the Winnipeg section, which is entirely forgivable—Colorado only managed one goal against human sieve Ondrej Pavelec.
Interestingly, Patrick Roy's head hasn't exploded thus far into the young season. Calm, level-headed, optimism? That's not the Patrick Roy I know...
But hey—Semyon Varlamov is back after missing a few games due to injury, so maybe he's right. I doubt it, but maybe.
Upcoming: 3 of 4 at home this week, but against the Sharks, Islanders, and Ducks. A mid-week respite though as the Avs travel to St. Louis. Hmm... Maybe Winnipeg doesn't have a lock on the 7th spot after this week...
This week: 1-1-0
Overall: 3-3-1, 5th in the Central, 11th in the Western Conference
You know how I talked about those poor Canucks just a bit ago? Well, sandwiched in between their blowout losses to the Stars and Avalanche, they swung through St. Louis and beat the Blues by a tune of 4-1. Don't listen to those whiny St. Louis fans who will claim they only lost because the Los Angeles Kings and/or Anaheim Ducks gave them all the flu. It's probably true, but you should never listen to a St. Louis fan under any circumstances. Trust me on this one.
Upcoming: You all know where the Blues are playing tonight. After that, they host the Ducks and Avs before heading east to take on the Rangers.
This week: 2-1-0
Overall: 4-3-0, 4th in the Central, 10th in the Western Conference
The Wild had a couple of nice home games to start the week, including a 2-0 win over the Arizona Coyotes and a 7-2 deconstruction of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Of course, it helps when the opposing goaltender—in this case backup Evgeni Nabokov—allows 4 goals on 8 shots. And you thought the Stars had problems with backup goaltending! Ben Bishop then came in to stem the tide, only allowing 3 goals on 14 shots. That's right. The Wild scored 7 goals against the Lightning on Saturday... on only 22 shots. I don't even know what to make of that.
The hockey gods did though—or at least it certainly seems there was some redressing of the balance going on—because while the Wild started this week well, they did not end it well. Last night saw them take on the Rangers in New York, and fairly dominantly for the first two periods. A nice 3-0 score entering the third period had them primed to take away a good couple of road points but then the Rangers decided to make an entrance. And cue the fireworks. 4 goals between the teams in the first 8 minutes of the third, leaving the Wild clinging to a 4-3 lead, and then 2 quick goals from the Rangers in the 57th minute for the improbably victory. Darcy Kuemper? 5 goals allowed on 20 shots. Woops.
Upcoming: Second night of a back-to-back tonight, in Boston against the Bruins, followed by the Sharks and Stars at home.
This week: 1-2-0
Overall: 5-2-1, 2nd in the Central, 4th in the Western Conference
The Chicago Blackhawks have a goaltender by the name of Scott Darling. Isn't that just the cutest thing ever? And of course, because he plays for the Blackhawks, Darling won his first career start.
Know what else happened with the Blackhawks? They traveled to Nashville for the great Conference III showdown of undefeated teams... and were defeated. In fact, it's quite possible that defeat became a theme for the Hawks this week. Ok, that's maybe pushing it a bit far, but they did lose to two Central Division teams this week in the Predators and Blues before eking out a 2-1 victory over the Senators in Chicago.
Intriguingly, that supposedly high-powered offense of the Blackhawks only managed 2 goals in each of their games this week and if you were to take away their blowout of Buffalo in the home opener, their goals per game barely comes in over 2. To put it another way, 6 of their 8 games have been decided by a single goal with three of those being 3-2 final scores and three of them being 2-1. Meet the Chicago Blackhawks: this year's Minnesota Wild.
Upcoming: The Hawks host the Ducks, then travel to Ottawa for a rematch with the Sens, then Toronto, and finally host the Jets. Phew.
This week: 1-1-0
Overall: 5-1-2, 1st in the Central, 3rd in the Western Conference
I already mentioned that Conference III showdown this past week, wherein the Predators sent the Blackhawks weeping and wailing into the night. What I didn't mention is that the only Predator to touch the goal column in the 3-2 win was former-Goligoski-trade-bait James Neal. How much has his acquisition benefited the Preds? Well, when a natural hat trick provides the sum total of offense in a win, we can pretty much ink him in for at least one WAR.
Being the only undefeated team didn't last long though as
James Neal the Preds failed to score, capitulating to the Penguins 3-0 at Bridgestone Arena. Two powerplay goals for the Penguins, giving them a coveted 45.4% conversion rate on the road, and a shutout from Marc-Andre Fleury combined to keep Nashville from getting too cocky.
Still though, if this keeps up they're going to lead the division all the way into November!
Upcoming: Western Canada road swing! Taking on the Oilers, Flames, and Canucks. Last year that woulda been a super easy road trip.