Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, left, and defenseman Johnny Oduya, second from right, of Sweden can't stop a goal by the Dallas Stars offense including center Shawn Horcoff (10) and defenseman Trevor Daley (6) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, in Dallas, Texas. (AP Photo/Sharon Ellman)
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
The Hawks take back the top spot in the rankings this week as the Colorado Avalanche stumbled a bit. Chicago has been red hot lately, racking up a 6-0-1 mark since losing 5-3 to the Minnesota Wild back on October 26th, and their resurgence has been due in large part to how well their offense has been playing.
Over that seven game stretch, they have scored 32 goals, and have racked up four consecutive victories against teams in the Central Division. Their schedule is pretty tough in the upcoming week, with home games against two Pacific powerhouses in the Phoenix Coyotes and San Jose Sharks.
2 (Last Week’s Rank: 1): Colorado Avalanche
The Avalanche still have the top spot in the Central (they are tied with the Hawks with 28 points, but have played two fewer games), and they also have the best goal differential in the league thanks to a potent offense and a goaltending tandem in Jean Sebastien Giguere and Semyon Varlamov that has stunned pundits all over the league.
So why did the Avalanche drop a spot in the rankings this week? Giving up six goals to the offensively-challenged Nashville Predators on Wednesday didn’t help matters, and even though they beat the Calgary Flames and Washington Capitals to close out the week on a high note, they gave up 66 shots in the two games, a number that is too high for a team that is putting a lot of pressure on their goaltenders.
3 (Last Week’s Rank: 3): St. Louis Blues
While teams like the Blackhawks started out their season with a ton of games against the Eastern Conference, the Blues have only now seen that pattern emerge in their schedule. Fortunately for them, they have been up to the task, knocking off the Montreal Canadiens and Pittsburgh Penguins last week. They held the Penguins to only 20 shots on goal Saturday night, a remarkably low number for such a potent offense.
This coming week will be a tough one for the Blues, as they take on not only the Coyotes on Tuesday, but also entertain the division-leading Avalanche on Thursday. Add to that a Metropolitan two-fer with the Carolina Hurricanes and Capitals over the weekend, and it’s going to be an interesting week for a team looking to climb up the divisional ladder.
4 (Last Week’s Rank: 4): Minnesota Wild
Ever since the Wild got embarrassed on home ice by the Blackhawks in their final game of October, they have been a much better team. They are 4-0-1 in November, with their only loss coming in a shootout in the nation’s capital on Thursday night. They are feasting on weak opponents as of late too, but that is exactly what a team with playoff aspirations needs to do.
Josh Harding also has continued his stellar play, and might be making a case to be included on Canada’s Olympic roster.
5 (Last Week’s Rank: 6): Dallas Stars
Things were going well for the Stars early last week, as they picked up consecutive road victories over the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings, but they came crashing back to Earth on Saturday with a blowout loss to the Blackhawks on home ice.
Despite that, the Stars seem to have righted the ship a bit thanks to Kari Lehtonen, but there is one area they need to improve in: their power play. In the month of November, they are 1-of-17 on the man-advantage, and went 0-for-6 and looked powerless against the Hawks. Upcoming dates with the defensively deficient Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames should be a good way for them to kick start their power play, however.
6 (Last Week’s Rank: 7): Winnipeg Jets
The Jets finally climb out of the cellar in our rankings thanks to a couple of impressive victories this week. They beat the Red Wings on Monday, and even though they stumbled in a big way against the Blackhawks, they followed that up with wins over the Predators and the San Jose Sharks.
Winnipeg still does have some issues that it will need to address, including their offensive inconsistency (they had 47 shots against the Red Wings and 46 against the Sharks, but only managed a paltry 25 against the Blackhawks) and their anemic power play, on which they have scored once in their last 44 attempts. That is a mind-boggling number, to be sure.
7 (Last Week’s Rank: 5): Nashville Predators
If the Stars came crashing back to Earth with their loss to the Blackhawks after a good start to the week, then the Predators made a crater the size of the Grand Canyon. After consecutive road wins over the Los Angeles Kings and the Avalanche, they have been outscored 10-0 by the Jets and the New Jersey Devils, who aren’t exactly the best offenses in the league.
Part of their struggles can be attributed to the lackluster play of Carter Hutton in those games, but all the Predators could manage against the Devils on Sunday was 15 shots. Making matters worse, they had SIX POWER PLAYS. That is an abysmally terrible day at the office, and their lives get no easier this week. They have road matchups against the Islanders and Penguins, then return home to face the high-flying Blackhawks. Yikes.