Every week (even weeks when we are slightly delayed because of holiday festivities), 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
A tough loss to the Vancouver Canucks notwithstanding, the Blackhawks managed to hold onto the top spot in these rankings going into the Christmas break with convincing victories over the Predators (who had beaten the tar out of the Hawks earlier in the season at Bridgestone Arena) and the Devils. In those games, Chicago scored eight goals and tallied three power play tallies in the victories.
Santa Claus wasn’t kind to the Blackhawks however, giving them a gift of three games in four days against three of the top teams in the league: the Avalanche, Blues, and Kings. Two of the games are at the United Center, but it’s still going to be a tough role to wrap up 2013 for Chicago.
2 (Last Week’s Rank: 2): St. Louis Blues
Speaking of teams that had hiccups last week, the Blues hit a couple of speed bumps with losses to the Sharks and Flames. They did pick up a huge 6-0 victory over the Oilers last Saturday, and they had also blown out the Canadiens 5-1 the game before that.
Despite the losses, the Blues are still outshooting teams by a big margin, and that should come in handy against a series of divisional rivals coming up on the docket, as the Blues will tangle with the Blackhawks, Stars, and Wild in a three-games-in-four-days stretch.
3 (Last Week’s Rank: 3): Colorado Avalanche
The Avalanche have been hitting the skids a bit in recent weeks, and last week was no exception, with road losses to the Stars, Kings, and Sharks overshadowing their lone victory on the slate, a 4-2 triumph over the Edmonton Oilers.
Colorado has gotten some great production out of Matt Duchene lately, and they will need him as they get going out of the Christmas break with a road matchup against the Blackhawks in the Windy City. They will also have a home game against the Jets on Sunday night as they begin a seven game homestand at the Pepsi Center.
4 (Last Week’s Rank: 6): Dallas Stars
Picking up seven of a possible eight points in their last four games before the break, the Stars proved that they could win in a myriad of ways. Using a solid penalty kill against some really tough offensive teams (the Stars went 13-of-14 in the four games), they picked up crucial victories over the Avalanche and Kings, with only a shootout loss to the Sharks ruining their run at a perfect week.
Coming out of the break, the Stars will have a five game homestand in the Lone Star State, starting out with a couple of divisional matchups against the Predators and Blues. The Kings and Habs will make their way to Dallas in coming weeks, so the Stars had better hope that their run of strong play continues.
5 (Last Week’s Rank: 4): Minnesota Wild
With Josh Harding on the shelf after being placed on injured reserve while he got used to new medication to keep his multiple sclerosis in check, the Wild stumbled quite a bit last week, with a shootout win over the Canucks being followed by three consecutive blowout losses in a three game Eastern swing.
Now, the Wild will get a couple of easier games on their docket as they face the struggling Jets and Islanders as they come out of the Christmas break. They will also hope to get Harding back, as he is eligible to come off of IR soon.
6 (Last Week’s Rank: 7): Winnipeg Jets
In a battle for the basement spot in this week’s rankings, the Jets barely came out on top as they were able to squeeze out a victory over the Panthers to go along with three road losses in the week before Christmas. Their power play was much improved despite the negative results, going 4-for-9 in their last three games before the break, but their penalty kill was still suspect, surrendering three goals in losses to the Canucks and Oilers.
Fortunately for the Jets, they do get a couple of easy games out of the break, as they face the Wild and Sabres, with a tougher tilt with the Avalanche squeezed in between. They will need to get more shots on goal if they are going to beat any of those teams though, as the Jets only totaled 42 shots in their most recent two games.
7 (Last Week’s Rank: 5): Nashville Predators
After an impressive run against some tough competition in a three game winning streak, the Predators slammed into a brick wall last week, losing four consecutive games by a combined score of 17-8. Three of those four defeats came on home ice, and neither Carter Hutton nor Marek Mazanec could seem to find the right formula for success in between the pipes.
With Pekka Rinne still a ways off from returning from an infection in his hip, the Predators aren’t going to find life any easier coming up. They will hit the road to play Dallas on Friday, then have home games against the Kings and Red Wings to wrap up the 2013 portion of their schedule.