Chicago Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger, right, scores a goal past Edmonton Oilers goalie Devan Dubnyk (40) during the third period of an NHL hockey game on Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013, in Chicago. The Chicago Blackhawks won 5-4. (AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles)
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): Chicago Blackhawks
Despite a big push from the Minnesota Wild and an embarrassing loss to the Nashville Predators on Saturday, the Hawks maintain the top spot in our rankings for the second week in a row. They had a hard-fought win against the surprising Phoenix Coyotes last week, and their 5-1 win over the high-flying San Jose Sharks was a masterpiece in just about every area.
This week brings the beginning of the team’s annual circus trip, and tough games against the Colorado Avalanche and Vancouver Canucks both loom on the horizon.
2 (Last Week’s Rank: 3): St. Louis Blues
The Blues had a much better week than their 2-1-1 record would indicate. They lost to the Coyotes in overtime on Tuesday, knocked off the vaunted Avalanche in a blowout victory, and beat the Carolina Hurricanes with ease, and even their 4-1 loss to the Washington Capitals was a bit of an anomaly, since they ended up with 47 shots on goal in the game.
St. Louis has the league’s best power play and one of the best offenses, and if they can get the kind of defense that they were projected to have coming into the season, then they are going to be an incredibly dangerous team come late April.
3 (Last Week’s Rank: 4): Minnesota Wild
Ever since the Wild lost in lackluster fashion against the Blackhawks in late October, the team has come alive. They are sporting a 7-0-1 record in the month of November, and Josh Harding has continued making a strong case to be an Olympian in Sochi with his ridiculous play of late.
Sure, the Wild still have issues they need to address (they only managed 20 shots on goal against a putrid Florida Panthers team, and are averaging only 28.5 shots per game, which puts them 23rd in the league), and their penalty killing unit could use some work, but overall, this is a team that was expected to be a contender for a wild card spot, and their recent run has done nothing but solidify those expectations.
4 (Last Week’s Rank: 2): Colorado Avalanche
Folks who know a heck of a lot more about new-age hockey metrics than we do have been predicting a regression spell for the Avalanche for quite a while now, and their predictions may finally be coming true. The Avs lost three games in a row last week, including getting outscored 6-2 by the Hurricanes and Panthers, who aren’t exactly two of the league’s most dynamic offenses.
Making matters worse, the Avalanche have a tough week ahead, facing the Blackhawks at home before heading on a quick road trip to play the Coyotes (who are 9-0-1 at home) and the Los Angeles Kings. Adding to their misery, they will be without dynamic scorer Matt Duchene for at least a week. Things are looking rough for Colorado, and it will be interesting to see how Patrick Roy handles his first big test.
5 (Last Week’s Rank: 5): Dallas Stars
The Stars went into last week staring right in the face of a Canadian road trip, and they ended up passing the test with flying colors, outscoring their three opponents by a 12-4 margin and winning all three games. The highlight of the trip was offseason acquisition Tyler Seguin scoring four goals in a Thursday win over the Calgary Flames.
A quiet week with only two games is their reward for their Canadian success, but the games are against the New York Rangers (who will be getting Rick Nash back in their lineup) and a road trip to St. Louis to take on the Blues. Some reward, right?
6 (Last Week’s Rank: 7): Nashville Predators
The Predators wrapped up a tough seven game road trip that took them all over the continent last week, finishing up with lackluster losses to the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins. In their first game back at Bridgestone Arena, however, the Predators shocked the world and destroyed the Blackhawks in a 7-2 laugher.
Unfortunately for Nashville, they aren’t quite done with the road yet, as they have to go back out and play the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs in Atlantic Division action, then they come home to face the Rangers on Saturday.
7 (Last Week’s Rank: 6): Winnipeg Jets
The Jets might be the most difficult team in the division to get a handle on. Just when things look like they are starting to turn around (wins over the Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers to begin the week), they go south again, as they did in losses to the Wild and the Flames.
Fortunately for Winnipeg, they will get an opportunity to reverse their losses with a couple of tough games on home ice this week, with the Blackhawks and the Wild both coming to town before the Jets set off on a six game road trip to the East Coast next week.