Madhouse Enforcer's Central Division Power Rankings: Week 23

Blues hang on to top spot, but Hawks slowly gaining ground

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 week started out really rough for the Central Division leaders, as the Blues dropped games in unimpressive fashion to the Blackhawks and Flyers, but they ended the weekend on a high note as they shutout the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 1-0 on Sunday. Brian Elliott made 33 saves and the penalty killing unit went a perfect 5-for-5 in the game.

Now, with a playoff spot locked up and a six point lead (plus a game in hand) on the Blackhawks, the Blues will conclude their road trip with a stop in Toronto, then head home for a couple of contests against Central Division foes that are fighting for playoff positioning as the Stars and Wild come to town to wrap up the March portion of the Blues’ schedule.

2 (Last Week’s Rank: 3): Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks have gone through their fair share of adversity this week, losing Patrick Kane to an injury and watching both Bryan Bickell and Michal Rozsival miss time as well. They did have some good news though as they clobbered the Blues and stunned the Hurricanes with a late goal, but a Sunday loss to the Predators hurt their momentum a bit.

After a Tuesday date with the Stars though, the Blackhawks’ schedule gets downright diabolical. They head to Boston to take on the red-hot Bruins on Thursday, and then follow that up with a game the next night in Ottawa. They then wrap up the week with a trip to Pittsburgh to battle the Metropolitan-leading Penguins on Sunday.

3 (Last Week’s Rank: 2): Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche are poised to cap off Patrick Roy’s first season behind the bench with a playoff berth, but they aren’t exactly gaining momentum as they head toward the playoffs. They have lost four of their last five games, including a 2-0 loss to the Bruins on Friday at the Pepsi Center. Their power play has been hit or miss in the past three games, going 0-for-7, and their penalty kill has been just as bad, surrendering four power play goals in those losses.

The Avalanche will get a bit of a reprieve to start this week as they take on the Predators and Canucks, but they have to tangle with the high-flying Sharks on Saturday night in a critical showdown in Denver.

4 (Last Week’s Rank: 4): Minnesota Wild

Speaking of teams that are spinning their tires a bit, the Wild can’t seem to keep their momentum moving forward. After an impressive win over the Islanders Tuesday, they lost games to the Devils and Red Wings in the middle of the week, then redeemed themselves a bit with an overtime victory over those Wings on Sunday.

Next week, the schedule gets tough for the Wild as they try to hang on to the top wild card spot in the West. They will welcome the Canucks to town on Wednesday, then they head on the road for three tough games against playoff teams: the Blues on Thursday, the Coyotes (whom they are trying to fend off for the top wild card spot) Saturday, and the Kings on Monday to wrap up March.

5 (Last Week’s Rank: 5): Dallas Stars

The Stars are currently one point out of a playoff spot as their 79 points trails the Coyotes’ 80, but they do have a game in hand on the desert dogs. They also wrap up the season against the Coyotes in what could end up being a winner-take-all game between the two clubs.

Between now and then there are a ton of obstacles to overcome, and the challenges begin this week. The Stars have to travel to Chicago to face the Blackhawks on Tuesday, and then after a home tilt against the Predators Friday they have to hit the road again as they face the Blues in St. Louis. That game will be the first in a five game road trip that will take them up and down the East Coast next week.

6 (Last Week’s Rank: 7): Nashville Predators

It’s been a down season in the Music City, but there have been occasional signs of life. After dropping three straight games, the Predators came roaring back with wins over the Calgary Flames and the Blackhawks to wrap up a four-game road trip. The win against the Hawks came in spite of the fact that they surrendered four power plays to the defending champions, but Pekka Rinne was up to the task as he stopped all 29 shots he faced in the win.

This week will see the Predators bounce between conferences as they take on a couple of teams heading in opposite directions. From the Central, the Preds will face the Avalanche and Stars, and then from the East, they will see the Sabres and Capitals skate into Bridgestone Arena as well.

7 (Last Week’s Rank: 6): Winnipeg Jets

It seems like just yesterday that Paul Maurice took over the Jets and the team took off, but those good feelings have certainly crashed by now. The team has now lost nine of its last 11 games, and they limped through uninspiring losses to the Hurricanes and Stars after knocking off the Avalanche on Wednesday in an overtime triumph.

As if that isn’t bad enough for the Jets, their schedule for the coming week is even more ominous. They head out on a California trip to tangle with the Sharks, Kings, and Ducks, and then wrap up the week by heading to Phoenix to take on a Coyotes team that is scratching and clawing for a playoff spot. Oh, and just two days after that trip ends, they have to face the Penguins at the MTS Centre. Not exactly a recipe for success for Winnipeg.

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