It’s been several weeks since we have gone through the Central Division to check out how the competition is doing for the Chicago Blackhawks, but as the Hawks have ascended back to the top of the heap, it’s high time that we resume our look with this week’s edition of the Power Rankings.
1: Chicago Blackhawks
With their recent eight-game winning streak and their run of 12 wins in 14 games, the Blackhawks are arguably not just the best team in the Central Division, but in the entire NHL as well. They are only allowing two goals per game, the second-best total in the NHL, and they are scoring nearly three goals per game. That blend of offensive skill, defensive prowess, and solid goaltending (even without Corey Crawford in net) has vaulted them to the top of the rankings, and with good reason.
2. St. Louis Blues
It was tempting to put the Predators ahead of the Blues due to their victory over St. Louis earlier this season, but that temptation went out the window as they scored 12 goals in two wins over the New York Islanders (a team that beat the Blackhawks on Saturday). The Blues are a complete team on offense and defense, but questions still remain about their goaltending. Can Jake Allen seize the starting job full-time? Can Martin Brodeur come up big if Allen doesn’t?
3. Nashville Predators
The Predators have been up-and-down so far in the month of December, winning three games and losing three after ending November on a four-game winning streak. The one constant over that stretch has been goaltender Pekka Rinne, as he continues to put together a Vezina-caliber season. His 19-6-1 record is impressive enough, but a 1.75 GAA and a .937 save percentage are both absolutely oustanding. He’s been the Predators’ rock this year, and it’s pretty obvious as to what this team was missing in a lost 2013-14 season.
4. Minnesota Wild
If you want to talk about a team with up and down results recently, look no further than the Wild. Since they extended a winning streak to four straight games on November 20, they’ve alternated wins and losses in each of their next 10 games. They have benefitted greatly from Ryan Suter’s return to the lineup after missing time with mumps, but an inconsistent scoring attack hasn’t helped matters in recent weeks.
5. Winnipeg Jets
The Jets were expected to be buried in the basement of the Central Division, but a funny thing happened on the march to mediocrity. They found a solid goaltender in Michael Hutchinson that has helped them to the fifth-best goals against average in the league, and their power play has been steadily improving, scoring six goals in their past four games. Games against Buffalo and Boston loom on the schedule however, and a test against the Blackhawks on December 23 will help prove whether or not they are for real.
6. Dallas Stars
While the Jets have been proving that they were underestimated, the Stars continue to prove that they were vastly overestimated when the year began. They’ve lost five of their last seven games, giving up five goals in each of the games, and their special teams have been far from special. They’re in the bottom 10 in the league in both power play and penalty killing percentage, and they’ve allowed six power play goals in their last six games. Tyler Seguin continues to be the lone bright spot for Dallas, scoring four goals and dishing out two assists in their last three games.
7. Colorado Avalanche
While teams like the Blackhawks and Blues show the value of bringing a balance of offense and defense to the ice on a nightly basis, the Avalanche are showing that a lack of both qualities can be devastating. They rank in the bottom 10 in the NHL in both goals for (21st) and goals against (26th) this season, and they’ve lost five of their last six games as they continue to struggle to find their form that won them a division title last year. Captain Gabriel Landeskog is helping out the offense a bit as they try to turn things around, picking up five assists in his last four games.