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
A week ago, the Blackhawks were struggling through a stretch where they lost four out of five games and couldn’t seem to get anything going on either side of the puck. An overtime loss to the Avalanche didn’t help, but two wins over the weekend against the Ducks and Bruins were a great way to steer the ship in the right direction.
On the docket now for the Blackhawks are a couple of tough road matchups, as they head up to Detroit to battle the Red Wings and then to Minnesota to take on the resurgent Wild. The Hawks will wrap up the week a home game against the Jets, their final contest at the United Center until March 4th.
2 (Last Week’s Rank: 1): St. Louis Blues
The Blues and Blackhawks have been battling back and forth for the top spot in these rankings all season long, and the Hawks were able to edge by St. Louis this time. The Blues did win against the Coyotes and Red Wings, but losses to the Ducks and Kings, while understandable given the competition they were facing, knocked them down a peg this week.
There is some good news on the horizon for the Blues, however. They face an easy three-game road trip to the Big Apple this week (taking on the Devils, Rangers, and Islanders), and they also got back Alex Steen, who had been out with a concussion. Those two factors could move them back to the top spot in the rankings if all goes according to plan.
3 (Last Week’s Rank: 3): Colorado Avalanche
There is a reason that the battle between the Hawks and Blues for the top spot in the division is so important. Whichever team ends up second in the division might very well have to face the Avs in the first round of the playoffs, and the way they’re going right now, no team in their right mind would want to do that.
The Avalanche are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games, and their prolific offense and dynamic goaltending are showing no signs of slowing down. Patrick Roy is well on his way to the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year, and with a fairly easy schedule remaining before the Olympic break, the Avs’ stock could end up even higher.
4 (Last Week’s Rank: 4): Minnesota Wild
Just a few weeks ago, many folks were leaving the Wild for dead as they struggled through injuries and poor play. Ever since the calendar flipped to 2014, however, things have been looking up for Mike Yeo and company. They have won seven of nine games in the new year, and goaltender Darcy Kuemper has been a monster in net.
Even without Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu in the lineup, the Wild are still feasting on an easy part of their schedule, but things are about to get a lot tougher. They have to deal with the Blackhawks and Sharks this week, and then next week they have two more critical road tests as they take on the Ducks (who have not lost in regulation on home ice this season) and the Avalanche.
5 (Last Week’s Rank: 6): Nashville Predators
The Predators are a team that has been imbued with grit and determination by head coach Barry Trotz, and they aren’t willing to give up just yet. They won three out of four games last week, including an impressing 4-3 shootout win over the Flyers that was paced by Shea Weber’s goal and two assists.
This week, the Predators will spend a week north of the border as they take a four game wing through Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and Winnipeg in what could be another opportunity to add some fuel to the fire as they try to climb back into the playoff hunt.
6 (Last Week’s Rank: 7): Winnipeg Jets
Under Claude Noel, the Jets were going nowhere fast, but Paul Maurice has changed all of that. Averaging 33 shots per game on offense since his hire, the Jets are now 3-0, and the team is playing with a renewed sense of confidence.
Yes, their power play still needs work (they have two goals in 18 chances in their past three games), and their schedule this week is a tough slog (at Anaheim, at San Jose, vs. Toronto, at Chicago), but at least the team finally has a reason to feel somewhat optimistic after languishing under Noel’s tutelage through a December to never remember.
7 (Last Week’s Rank: 5): Dallas Stars
As kind as the New Year has been to the Wild, the Stars have gone in the opposite direction. They have lost nine out of 10 games since 2014 started, and their offense has completely deserted them. Granted, their defense and goaltending haven’t been much better, and Lindy Ruff’s crew appears to be in a full-fledged meltdown at the moment.
About the only saving grace for the Stars at this point is that they have a five game homestand beginning Tuesday against the Wild. Can home cooking in the Lone Star State cure what ails them? It had better, or else their final four games before the Olympic break (at Anaheim, at Phoenix, at San Jose, vs. Phoenix) could be the death knell for their playoff chances.