With less than a month remaining in the regular season, we’ve decided to dust off our Central Division Power Rankings hat (it’s actually a fez) and check out how the Chicago Blackhawks stack up with their divisional rivals.
1. St. Louis Blues
The Blues have the second-best goal differential in the NHL at plus-44. They have allowed fewer goals than any team in the Western Conference not named the Chicago Blackhawks. They have won four of their last five games and are now tied for the lead in the Central Division (with two games in hand over the Nashville Predators). They have allowed just one power play goal in their last 30 penalty killing attempts.
All of those factors make the Blues the class of the division right now. They’ve gone through their fair share of injuries and struggles this season, but with offensive stars like Vladimir Tarasenko and David Backes playing in front of one of the league’s best defenses, they are going to be a tough team to take down when the playoffs get underway.
2. Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks have had some struggles as well, but they seem like they could be turning a corner. They applied continuous offensive pressure and ultimately beat the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night, and then they went north to San Jose and pasted the Sharks in a 6-2 laugher. Patrick Sharp broke out of his goalless drought in a big way with two tallies in the game, and Andrew Shaw, Bryan Bickell, and Brad Richards all broke out of their scoring slumps as well.
This team still isn’t 100 percent with Patrick Kane out of the lineup, but they’re slowly returning to health with guys like Johnny Oduya and Trevor van Riemsdyk rejoining the mix. With two games left against St. Louis and three games in hand against the Predators, the Blackhawks still shockingly control their own destiny in the Central, and they could wind up on top of the heap when all is said and done.
3. Nashville Predators
The Predators have been one of the league’s most surprising stories this season, with Peter LaViolette bringing an offensive mindset to a team that was long renowned for their defense. Mixing that ability to score with the team’s ability to stop the puck, the Predators have mown through the regular season and still find themselves tied with the Blues for the top spot in the Central.
Unfortunately, things aren’t all gravy in the Music City. The Predators are in the bottom 10 in the league in both power play percentage (25th, at 16.4 percent) and penalty killing percentage (21st, at 80.5 percent), and they’ve lost eight of their last 10 games overall. A four game west coast swing helped matters a bit, with wins over the Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings to their credit, but they were shut out by the Sharks on Thursday and had an awful third period against the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday, so they aren’t completely out of the woods when it comes to overcoming their struggles.
4. Minnesota Wild
When the Wild lost 12 out of 14 games in late December and early January, there were questions about whether or not head coach Mike Yeo was on the hot seat. Ever since they acquired goaltender Devan Dubnyk from the Coyotes however, things have taken on a much different tone in the Twin Cities. The team has gone an incredible 20-5-2 since the trade, and they find themselves vaulted right back into the playoff picture thanks to his stellar play.
Minnesota does have to be careful as they only have a four point lead over the Kings in the wild card race, but they have an opportunity to make a statement in the upcoming week. They have games against the Blues and the Predators on the docket, and they will also be visited by former head coach Barry Trotz and the Washington Capitals on Thursday night.
5. Colorado Avalanche
Colorado has been a case study in regression this season, with their penchant for giving up scoring chances and yielding puck possession leaving them outside of the playoff picture for much of the season. Now, thanks to some stellar play from Semyon Varlamov and an improved offensive attack, the team is just five points out of the second wild card spot, though they still have two teams to jump over just to get into position to take on the Winnipeg Jets for the spot.
Looking at the team’s remaining schedule, there are opportunities to gain some ground coming up. They have a trip out to Arizona to take on the Coyotes on Thursday, and they still have two games remaining against the Edmonton Oilers and a contest against the Buffalo Sabres. The big keys will be the games against the teams they’re chasing, as they have games left against the Sharks, Kings, and Jets.
6. Winnipeg Jets
With an injury-riddled defense and a volatile locker room situation that saw Evander Kane shipped out of town, the Jets were supposed to be done for the year. Shockingly, that hasn’t happened, as a win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday moved them back into the second wild card spot with just 13 games to go on their schedule.
Blake Wheeler has been a big boost for their chances in recent games, scoring three times and dishing out three assists in their last five contests, but he’ll need some help if Winnipeg is going to sneak into the playoffs ahead of the charging Kings and the lurking Sharks. The Jets will play those Sharks on Tuesday, and then they will host the Blues and the Capitals to finish off the week, giving them three opportunities to make statements and to gain points in the standings.
7. Dallas Stars
The sexy pick of a lot of writers to make some noise this season, the Stars struggled out of the gate and really haven’t found their footing since. They have played better recently, winning five of their last seven games, but it’s certainly a case of too little, too late.
Despite their struggles, the team does have a few bright spots. Tyler Seguin is back after a spell out of the lineup, and Kari Lehtonen has played better for the team in recent weeks.