Claus Andersen, Getty Images
Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks breaks past Joffrey Lupul #19 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on December 14, 2013 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
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: 1): Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks had a bit of a hiccup on Saturday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but despite that and having to cope without starting goaltender Corey Crawford, Chicago still managed to hold onto the top spot in the division thanks to their great performances against the Stars, Flyers, and Kings in three emphatic victories.
After ending the Kings’ six game winning streak on Sunday, the Hawks will possibly get the chance to end another run on Friday when the Vancouver Canucks, currently on a seven game streak, skate into the United Center. The Hawks will also be looking for revenge Tuesday when they take on the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night, after the Preds thrashed them in a November matchup.
2 (Last Week’s Rank: 2): St. Louis Blues
About the only thing that the Blues are doing wrong right now is that they aren’t playing enough games. They trail the Hawks by six points in the NHL Central, but they have played four fewer games than Chicago. Unfortunately for the Blues, they may be without captain David Backes for a while, as he suffered an upper body injury in a Monday loss to the Ottawa Senators.
The Blues will get a chance to make up a couple of games on the Hawks this week, as they take on the Sharks Tuesday and the Canadiens Thursday in a back-to-back set of really tough matchups. They’ll conclude the week by heading up to Alberta for a two game swing through Edmonton and Calgary.
3 (Last Week’s Rank: 3): Colorado Avalanche
The Avs are still trying to find their footing after some stumbles in recent weeks, and they didn’t quite round back into form last week, falling to the Coyotes and the Wild while grabbing a shootout victory over the Jets in between. They may have finally gotten the ship righted when they throttled the Stars 6-2 Monday night.
Now, Colorado is in the midst of a stretch of five games in eight nights, with two tough road games finishing that run off when they take on the Kings and Sharks in a California swing. That blow is softened a bit by a matchup with the Oilers on home ice before they make that trip.
4 (Last Week’s Rank: 4): Minnesota Wild
The Wild held onto the fourth spot in the rankings by the skin of their teeth after a lackluster road trip, with Minnesota only scoring three goals in three games over that span. They did manage to pull out a victory over the Avalanche in a shootout on Saturday, but losses to the Ducks and Sharks took some of the wind out of their sales.
Unfortunately for the Wild, things aren’t getting any easier in the near future. After a home game with the red hot Canucks on Tuesday, the Wild will return to the road where they will find the Pittsburgh Penguins waiting for them on Thursday.
5 (Last Week’s Rank: 7): Nashville Predators
Moving up two spots in this week’s rankings, the Predators displayed some excellent play on both sides of the puck. Carter Hutton was named one of the NHL’s Three Stars of the week for his magnificent performance in giving up only four goals in three straight Nashville victories, and the team’s power play finally started showing some punch, with Shea Weber leading the way as they scored three power play tallies in two games.
Unfortunately for Nashville, they don’t get much of a reward for their improving play. They will welcome the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks back to town on Tuesday, and after a quick trip to Tampa Thursday, they will play two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference when the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins come through Bridgestone Arena.
6 (Last Week’s Rank: 5): Dallas Stars
The Stars dropped a spot in the rankings this week because of their poor defense in losses to the Blackhawks, Predators, and Avalanche, but they didn’t drop all the way to the basement courtesy of their Tyler Seguin-led offensive explosion against the lowly Jets in a 6-4 triumph on Saturday.
Things are about to get a heck of a lot harder for the Stars this week. After finishing off a home-and-home series with the Avs, they will have a home game against the high-flying Canucks before hitting the road to play the Sharks and Kings in a California two-fer that no team would look forward to. This will be a great test of the team’s mettle, and could either make or break their playoff chances in a tough division.
7 (Last Week’s Rank: 6): Winnipeg Jets
Despite picking up a win against the Blue Jackets Monday, the Jets are making themselves a comfy home in the bottom portion of these rankings. Despite finally getting their power play straightened out thanks to guys like Bryan Wheeler and Michael Frolik, as well as getting Evander Kane from injury, their penalty killing still isn’t very good, surrendering quite a few goals in recent weeks.
The Jets’ schedule does get slightly easier despite becoming road heavy this week, with road tilts against the Sabres, Canucks, and Oilers on the horizon. A welcome visit from their former Southeast Division counterpart Florida Panthers will occur on Wednesday at MTS Centre as well.