Central Division Wrap-Up

Hey, remember earlier this season when I said I was going to do a weekly column looking at the rest of the NHL? You don't? Good, because I had completely forgotten about it until about a week ago. However, now that the playoff push is in full swing, I thought it might be time to take a look around the division and see what is going on. This will be a fairly regular feature here on WIIM, and this time I mean it (don't mind my fingers crossed behind my back).

When last we left off our look at the Central, the Blues and Blue Jackets were fighting for first in the division while the Blackhawks had struggled out of the gate. The Wings were in the thick of the race, but it looked like Jarsolav Halak was never going to allow more than a goal a game, so a division crown could be hard to achieve for the Wings for the second straight season.

Follow the jump where we'll take a look at how things have progressed over the course of the year for each of the Central teams and where everyone stands right now.

When last we left this feature, the Blues were on fire with their new goalie, the Blackhawks were struggling and the Blue Jackets were surprising the hell out of everyone by starting strong. Let's see what's happened since then.

Nashville Predators:

Overall Record: 31-20-8, 70 Points (2nd Central, 5th West)
The Skinny: Much like that burning sensation you got that one spring break in Miami, the Predators will just not go away. Despite not having a lot of talent on paper, the Preds are once again doing their "we'll work hard and surprise you" thing that at this point is just plain annoying.
Wing fans are certainly aware of how good the Predators are, especially since the Wings have dropped 3 of the 4 meetings this year. This is not a team I'm anxious to see in the playoffs, but with how tight the West is, a slump could see the Preds fall out of the top 8.
You know who is really good without getting a ton of press? Pekka Rinne. If it weren't for Tim Thomas, I think the 6'5" monster would be getting some serious Vezina consideration. He currently sits 2nd in the NHL in GAA (2.10) and SV% (.930), and gives the Preds a chance to win every single night.
To say the Preds are good defensively is to not give them enough credit. It just starts with Rinne, but on the blueline they've got Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Cody Franson and Kevin Klein (who has gotten better this year). This is a team built to succeed in the playoffs.
However, if there is one area where they can be exploited, it's offensively. Their leading scorer is Weber, who has 37 points in 59 games. They do not have a 20 goal scorer currently on the roster. Basically, pop a couple of goals in and you're very likely going to win.
The big news out of Nashville is that Mike Fisher was traded to the team last week, effectively proving who wears the pants in that marriage (although if Carrie Underwood wanted me to move with her to Antarctica, I'd do it in a heart beat).

Chicago Blackhawks:

Overall Record: 30-23-6, 66 Points (3rd Central, 11th West)
The Skinny: The defending Cup champs have been wildly inconsistent this year, going through stretches where they look like the team they were last year and other times looking like they were still led by the ABC line (bonus points for anyone who can name the 3 forwards who made up that unit).
Marty Turco has been supplanted by Corey Crawford as the starter in the Hawks net, leading everyone to remark "maybe Joe Nieuwendyk was on to something". The Hawks seem to be trying to repeat as champs with a rookie in net, forgetting about that last year they had depth up front, and this year Tomas Kopecky is relied upon to score.
Patrick Sharp has had a great year for the Hawks, potting 31 goals, including 6 game-winners. He was also the ASG MVP, allowing Team WIIM to score a glorious victory over Team TPL. That doesn't have anything to do with the Hawks, but I just wanted to bring it up again.
Patrick Kane is off his scoring pace of the past couple of years, as he only has 19 goals and 49 points. However, he does lead the league in "games missed due to being a drunken douchebag". Someone needs to tell 20 Cent that just because people said the team had a Stanley Cup hangover does not mean he should try to drink it away.
I would like to personally thank Duncan Keith for keeping Nicklas Lidstrom's Norris Trophy warm. I can say with 100% certainty that there will be no repeat winner of that award this year.
The Hawks currently sit outside the playoff picture, although the West is so close they could easily go on a run and get into position (see: 2010, Detroit Red Wings). However, should the Hawks miss the playoffs, they would be the first defending champion do to since the 2007 Carolina Hurricanes.
Joel Quenneville checked into the hospital with an ulcer, joining all 3 million fans who have to watch this team battle through their inconsistency every single night.

Columbus Blue Jackets:

Overall Record: 29-23-6, 64 Points (4th Central, 12th West)
The Skinny: Going into a home-and-home series with the Red Wings around Thanksgiving, the Blue Jackets sat 4 points behind the Wings and had a chance to pull into a tie in the Central Division. They lost both games and once again, the Wings may have effectively killed any chance of the BJs making the playoffs.
Despite the overall lack of talent, the Jackets haven't been that bad this year. They are still in the thick of the playoff race, sitting 4 points out of 8th.
Rick Nash is still a stud, leading the team in scoring for the 17th straight season. I have one request for the BJs management: either build a team around him, or trade him to the Wings so he can experience some team success. Nash is too good to be wasted on a perennially bad team.
Steve Mason still has not found that Calder-winning groove, but he's been better lately. His numbers are pretty pedestrian (3.05 GAA, .903 SV%), but he gets a bit of a break considering Mike Commodore is one of the defensemen who plays in front of him.
I still don't think this is a playoff team, but there at least seems to be some cohesiveness (that's for J.J.) in where the team is headed. Because the BJs have been so bad, I haven't developed a real hate for the team or their fans.

St. Louis Blues:

Overall Record: 27-21-9, 63 Points (5th Central, 13th West)
The Skinny: Remember when the Blues were on fire and it looked like Jaroslav Halak would never give up more than a goal a game? Yea, I remember October, too. Unfortunately for the Blues, the NHL determined the rest of the season would have to be played, and they've been pretty bad ever since then.
Speaking of Halak, after that awesome start, he really came down to Earth, and he is now on the IR with an injured hand. He has a GAA of 2.63 and a SV% of .907, neither of which are great. I guess he wasn't the great saviour Blues fans thought he was going to be.
To be completely fair, the Blues have been absolutely decimated by injuries this year. At one time they had David Perron, Andy McDonald and TJ Oshie all out of the lineup at the same time, and in terms of importance to the team, this would be like the Wings losing Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Filppula all at the same time.
The Blues have already been active on the trade market, trading away their captain, Eric Brewer, to the Lightning. It's always weird to trade away the guy that is the visual leader of the team, but I know from reading some Blues blogs and MSM that he was never seen as a great player. In a very surprising move, the Blues traded away former #1 overall pick (and golf-cart enthusiast) Erik Johnson and Mr Selke Jay McClement to the Avalanche for Kevin Shattenkirk and Chris Stewart. As I look at this trade from the outside, I really think the Blues got the better end of this deal; Stewart has the potential to be a solid power-forward who can score between 20-30 goals, and Shattenkirk could turn out to be a decent defenseman who won't need to be "the guy" in St. Louis. In a trade between the Avs and Blues, all I can really hope for as a Wings fan is that neither team benefits from the deal.

So that's a look at the teams. I truly promise to keep this up for the rest of the season, because as we approach the stretch drive, it's interesting to see where everyone fits in the playoff race. Comments/questions/concerns are always welcome.

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