CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 14: Marian Hossa #81 of the Chicago Blackhawks controls the puck between Tyson Barrie #4 (L) and Ryan Wilson #44 of the Colorado Avalanche at the United Center on January 14, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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): St. Louis Blues
The Blues stumbled a bit on the ice coming out of the Olympic break, dropping back-to-back 1-0 decisions to the Canucks and Ducks, but they rebounded nicely on Sunday with a 4-2 comeback win against the Phoenix Coyotes. They also added goaltender Ryan Miller in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres to bolster their Stanley Cup chances.
Needless to say, the Blues are now firmly among the three or four Western Conference teams (depending on where one ranks the San Jose Sharks) with a realistic chance at hoisting the Cup this June. They will continue that march toward the playoffs with a three game road trip this week, including tough weekend tilts with the Avalanche and Wild.
2 (Last Week’s Rank: 2): Colorado Avalanche
The Avalanche got off to a rough start coming out of the break as they surrendered six goals to the Los Angeles Kings, but they bounced back with back-to-back wins against the Coyotes and Lightning on home ice in Denver. They were boosted by Nick Holden, who has picked up three points in three games since the break.
The Avs’ will have a big task on their hands as March rolls on. A quick two game road trip through Chicago and Detroit takes place this week, and on the four game homestand that follows, Colorado will welcome the Blues, Jets, Hawks, and Ducks to the Pepsi Center. Talk about a murderer’s row of games to try to get on a good trajectory as the playoffs approach.
3 (Last Week’s Rank: 3): Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks finally found their offense on Saturday night, winning a 5-1 game at Soldier Field against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but that outburst came at a price as the Hawks will now be without Marian Hossa for 2-3 weeks.
The Hawks also watched the Blues improve their team with the Miller trade, and the Anaheim Ducks could also be improving via trade as well. Will Stan Bowman make deals to compensate for the moves of his rivals, or is he confident enough in the Hawks to maintain the status quo in the Windy City? The answer to that question will define how the team plays through its final stretch of games over the next month and a half.
4 (Last Week’s Rank: 4): Minnesota Wild
The Wild have been aggressively seeking help in goal, and they finally found a trade partner on Tuesday as they acquired Ilya Bryzgalov from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for a fourth round pick. They also got Mikko Koivu back in their lineup on Monday night against the Calgary Flames, winning a 3-2 contest at Xcel Energy Center.
For now the Wild are taking a five day breather before they resume their schedule with back-to-back games against the Stars and Blues. They’ll need to make some hay in this part of their schedule, as they face a hellacious four game trip late in March with trips to Chicago and St. Louis sandwiching two games out west.
5 (Last Week’s Rank: 5): Dallas Stars
The Stars have won two of their first three games out of the Olympic break, getting some nice performances out of goaltender Kari Lehtonen and their penalty killing unit, which is 8-for-8 so far since the Olympics, but they also are going to be experiencing some challenges over the coming weeks.
In addition to dealing Stephane Robidas to the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday, the Stars will also be playing five games over the next eight days, including two against the Blue Jackets and contests against the Wild and Blues. If they can somehow make it through that stretch relatively unscathed, then they can keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
6 (Last Week’s Rank: 6): Winnipeg Jets
Call us boring if you must, but there really weren’t any moves that any of the teams made this week that really forced us to move them up or down in the rankings. The Jets were close, winning twice against the Coyotes and Predators, but they still have plenty of issues to deal with, giving up 76 shots in two games against fairly weak offenses.
The Jets’ schedule does continue a fairly easy stretch as they welcome the Islanders and Kings to MTS Centre, but starting on Monday against the Avalanche, things get slightly more difficult as the team tries to make a miraculous playoff run to end the season.
7 (Last Week’s Rank: 7): Nashville Predators
The good news for the Predators? They’re finally getting Pekka Rinne back in their lineup after missing the entire season up to this point. The bad news? They are getting ready to play five games in eight days, and the first two games on the docket are against the Penguins and Blues.
Those contests are on home ice, but the challenge still remains the same for Nashville, as they try to figure out how to solidify on the defensive side of the puck while actually trying to score goals. They did score three goals on the power play in a 3-2 win against the Lightning on Thursday, but it’s still a drop in the bucket compared to the issues they’ve had in that area of the game.