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): St. Louis Blues
Last week, the Blues dropped out of their perch atop the rankings, but thanks to a great bounce back after an embarrassing loss to the Devils, as well as three straight losses by the Hawks, the Blues have jumped back ahead in what has been a back-and-forth battle all season long.
The Blues did get a bit of scare this week when Alex Steen, who had missed nearly a month before returning January 18th, left Thursday’s game against the Rangers with an upper body injury. Fortunately for them, he was able to go on Saturday, picking up two assists in a shootout win over the Islanders.
2 (Last Week’s Rank: 1): Chicago Blackhawks
After beating two formidable foes in the Ducks and Bruins the week before, the Blackhawks crashed back to Earth in their ensuing three games, losing all three and only scoring twice in losses to the Wild and Jets to wrap up the week.
As a reward for their losing streak, the Blackhawks will now head out on what will be their toughest road trip of the season. Games against the Canucks, Sharks, Kings, and Ducks all loom on the slate as the Hawks try to right the ship in the final weeks before the Olympic break, and it will be interesting to see how they bounce back after a really rough go of it.
3 (Last Week’s Rank: 3): Colorado Avalanche
After running through a four game winning streak, the Avalanche came back to earth a bit last week, dropping two games to the Maple Leafs and Lightning, but they were able to bounce back with a nice comeback win over the Stars on Monday night.
One of the biggest reasons that the Avalanche haven’t folded like some thought they would has been the recent play of Tyson Barrie. In his last 18 games, Barrie has six goals and seven assists, and the defenseman had a nice game on Saturday, scoring a goal and an assist even as the rest of the team had an off night in a 5-2 loss to the Lightning.
4 (Last Week’s Rank: 4): Minnesota Wild
The good news has been plentiful for the Wild as of late, with Darcy Kuemper playing excellent hockey in relief of Josh Harding and the boost that the team got from welcoming Zach Parise back into the lineup during a Thursday victory over the Blackhawks in the Twin Cities.
The Wild’s run of good times did come to an end after a tough overtime loss to the Sharks in the opening game of a four game road voyage, but things aren’t going to get any easier. Their next game will come against the Ducks, and then they will wrap up the trip with visits to Denver and Calgary to wrap up the week.
5 (Last Week’s Rank: 6): Winnipeg Jets
Despite winning six of seven games during the Paul Maurice era (the lone loss was a 1-0 defeat at San Jose), the Jets are still figuring to be sellers rather than buyers at the trade deadline. That doesn’t change the fact that they have shown some real punch in recent games, including in a brilliant three-goal third period as they came back and beat the Blackhawks on Sunday.
The Jets will get two more home games against the Predators and Canucks this week, but following that they will be on the road for the remainder of the pre-Olympics slate. Games against the Canadiens (an afternoon tilt) and the Blues will sandwich slightly easier games against the Hurricanes and Capitals on that trip, but none of the games will be easy as Winnipeg looks to carry their momentum through to the break.
6 (Last Week’s Rank: 7): Dallas Stars
Much like Bugs Bunny does whenever Elmer Fudd throws a stick of dynamite down his rabbit burrow, the Stars refuse to allow their season to blow up. After losing 9 of 10 games to begin the New Year, the Stars have won three of their last four games in emphatic fashion, outscoring the Wild, Leafs, and Penguins by a score of 14-1.
They did fall to the Avalanche in a 4-3 heartbreaker in the Lone Star State Monday, but Dallas doesn’t have much time to mope. After one more home game against the Devils, the Stars will hit the road to face the Ducks, Coyotes, and Sharks in a murderer’s row of tough home opponents. If they are going to make a run towards a playoff spot, that trip isn’t ideal.
7 (Last Week’s Rank: 5): Nashville Predators
On the positive side of the ledger, wins over the Stars and Canucks helped the Predators rack up a nice little run of four wins in five games. The bad? They followed that up with road losses to the lowly Flames and Oilers, whom they lost to by a score of 5-1.
If there is any solace for the Predators, it’s in the fact that their schedule remains pretty simple through the start of the Olympic break. After games with the Jets and Devils during the week, there is a tough road test against the Blues looming on Saturday. After that, the Predators can rest and get healthy with a five day break before playing their final two games of the pre-Olympic slate.