Every week, Madhouse Enforcer will take a look around the Central Division and let you know who’s hot and who’s not in our little corner of the hockey world.
1 (Last Week’s Rank: 2): Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks dropped a spot last week thanks to a couple of really bad losses, but they rebounded in a big way this week, wrapping up their annual circus trip on a six-game winning streak that gave them some breathing room in the division.
Bolstering their case for the top spot in the rankings is the play of back-up goaltender Antti Raanta, who may end up starting more often than Nikolai Khabibulin was in the same role. If that’s the case, Corey Crawford should remain nice and rested for the Hawks as they try to win their second consecutive title.
2 (Last Week’s Rank: 1): St. Louis Blues
The Blues had a bit of an up-and-down week this week, with a couple of nice victories against the Wild and Avalanche, but losses to the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings took the wind out of their sails a bit.
St. Louis will have the chance to try to reverse that trend with a mid-week matchup against the New York Islanders, but their weekend battle with the Anaheim Ducks is going to be a great measuring stick for a team that is being highly touted as a serious Cup contender with their play to start the year.
3 (Last Week’s Rank: 3): Colorado Avalanche
Pesky and not willing to drop in the standings, the Avalanche have continued to defy the prognosticators that thought Patrick Roy’s bunch was going to need a while to gel into a quality team. Two victories this week over the Wild boosted their standing in the division and allowed them to keep pace with the red hot Blackhawks.
This week, the Avalanche will head out on a swing through western Canada as they take on the Oilers, Flames, and Canucks.
4 (Last week’s Rank: 4): Minnesota Wild
The Wild were surprised that they got Zach Parise back so soon after he suffered a foot contusion when he was hit with a shot, but despite having their primary scorer in the lineup, they dropped four straight games before shutting out the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday night.
The rest of the week holds some real tests for the Wild, as games against the Blackhawks and Sharks sandwich a road date against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
5 (Last Week’s Rank: 6): Dallas Stars
The Stars had a mixed week, going 1-0-2 with a victory over the Ducks to their credit, but the real loss to the team came against the Hawks on Friday when they lost defenseman Stephane Robidas to a broken leg. They called up Jamie Oleksiak to replace Robidas, but losing a veteran presence like that on the blue line is a real blow to the team.
The NHL schedulemakers may have done the Stars a favor this week, allowing them to follow up a tough road date against the Blackhawks Tuesday with games against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Philadelphia Flyers to wrap up the week.
6 (Last Week’s Rank: 5): Nashville Predators
Speaking of teams that are dealing with injury issues, the Predators got a tremendous scare last week when defenseman Shea Weber took a puck to the face during a game. Fortunately for Nashville, the injury isn’t too serious, and their team captain is just day-to-day.
The Predators will get a couple of Metropolitan Division foes on the docket this week with the Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals, but they will also have a Western Conference foe to contend with as they face-off against the inconsistent Vancouver Canucks.
7 (Last Week’s Rank: 7): Winnipeg Jets
The Jets bring up the rear again, but there are some reasons for optimism for the club. They are currently sitting at 3-1 on their lengthy road trip, with a nice victory over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden serving as the icing on the cake.
They do still have a tough matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning looming this week, but there are also a couple of reasons for concern. They are allowing way too many shots on goal, and their team power play is still really bad, having failed to convert on their last 14 chances on the man-advantage.