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Central Division Weekly: Nashville on the rise

The Central has their fair share of teams that are riding hot at the moment, but also some teams that have been very underwhelming, and that pattern continued this past week.

Nashville Predators Goalie Juuse Saros (74) and Nashville Predators Goalie Connor Ingram (39) celebrate their teams 3-2 overtime win after an NHL game where the Calgary Flames hosted the Nashville Predators on November 2, 2021, at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, AB. Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The start to this season has been pretty weird, including the Central Division, as we see teams like the St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets among the top, while teams like the Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks, who had high expectations coming into the season, have struggled.

It is still early in the season, but we’ve seen enough hockey to start assessing where each team is at, and this week really set it out for all of us to see. Here’s how each team in the division has fared.

Arizona Coyotes (0-9-1)

Yeah, that isn’t a typo. The Coyotes have seriously lost ten straight games to start the season. They went 0-4-0 this past week, all of which were on the road, and were outscored 12-2. They got blown out by the Tampa Bay Lightning by a score of 5-1, before holding on in close games between the Washington Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers, where they allowed three or fewer goals in each game, but weren’t able to produce offensively.

Rookie goaltender Karel Vejmelka has been the lone bright spot for the Coyotes so far this season. On the season he holds a .922 save percentage (SV%) and 0.33 goals saved above expectation (GSAx), tremendous statistics for a bottom-feeding team in Arizona. This past week he was also great, saving 98 of 103 shots, a .951 SV%. If he continues playing like this, he’s bound to eventually steal a win, right?

On the injury front, it doesn’t look good for the Coyotes. Goaltender Carter Hutton is currently facing a 2-4 week absence due to a lower-body injury, and forward Ryan Dzingel will miss about a week or two with an upper-body injury as well. Nick Schmaltz, a key part of the team's top-six, is also out for 3-4 weeks with an upper-body injury, and defenseman Conor Timmins is out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury.

Chicago Blackhawks (1-8-2)

Personally, I never bought into the off-season hype in Chicago, but I never thought they’d be held to just one win through 11 games to start the season. The team finally earned their first win of the new campaign this week, but they still went 1-3-0 and didn’t play their best hockey.

They started off with back-to-back losses, starting with a 6-3 loss to the Hurricanes before being shut-out by the Blues, despite a valiant effort by Marc-Andre Fleury. The Blackhawks then headed home and finally got their first win in a dominating game over the Ottawa Senators. To finish the week, they lost again to the Hurricanes, this time 4-3, despite leading the game 3-1 at one point.

Speaking of Fleury, his troubling play has raised some questions as to whether he should continue on as a starter as the season moves along. He holds a 1-6-0 record on the season along with a .886 SV%. His play most definitely improved this week, but still, it’s something to think about.

Forward Brandon Hagel had a good week as well, with 3 goals over four games. He’s been one of the few Blackhawks who continue to come in with tons of energy every game.

As of right now, the Blackhawks aren’t too strapped with injuries. Caleb Jones and Wyatt Kalynuk are still rehabbing preseason injuries, while Tyler Johnson and Isaak Phillips were recently placed on the NHL’s COVID-19 Protocol.

Colorado Avalanche (4-4-1)

The Avalanche could classify as a disappointing team this season, as they’re currently below .500. In their defense, they have dealt with injury issues and have slightly improved this past week with a 2-0-1 record.

The Avalanche took down the Blues by a score of 4-3, and then 4-1 over the Wild two days later. They managed to claw back from a 4-2 deficit in the final four minutes against the Columbus Blue Jackets to force overtime, but ended up losing due to a Jake Bean goal.

Goaltending seems to be a reoccurring problem for the Avalanche this season. Trading for Darcy Kuemper was thought to be the fix, but the veteran netminder holds just a .904 SV% and his inconsistency has shown.

You may be thinking that Nathan MacKinnon has had a rough season based on the lack of coverage, but he’s actually put up the quietest point-per-game performance you have ever seen, with 10 points through seven games, including 4 points in the three games this week.

The Avalanche recently lost forward Valeri Nichushkin and defender Cale Makar to upper-body injuries, and have been without Devon Toews, Pavel Francouz and Stefan Matteau all season.

Dallas Stars (4-4-2)

The Stars didn’t have the greatest week, going 1-1-1, as they were riding a four-game losing streak until last night’s win. They took a loss to the Senators on Thursday, as Filip Gustavsson stood on his head. On Tuesday, they lost to the Jets in a shootout after coming back from down 3-1 to force extra time. Dallas finally managed to win, tamping down the Flames for a 4-3 overtime win.

Defenseman Miro Heiskanen has been important for the team and continues to log big minutes consistently, helping in every part of the game. He has posted 10 points (2 goals, 8 assists) over the first 10 games. In last night’s victory, he notched 3 assists.

It’s worth noting that the Stars have played 10 games and have yet to win one in regulation. This is a problem they’ve struggled with for the last couple seasons, and they need to get it fixed sooner rather than later if they want to stay competitive in the Central.

Minnesota Wild (6-3-0)

While the Wild have had themselves a great season, this past week wasn’t great. They went 1-2-0, and their lone win was very sloppy. They suffered back-to-back 4-1 losses to the Seattle Kraken and Colorado Avalanche on the road. They managed to get a win over the Senators, but not before allowing three consecutive goals and having to claw their way to force overtime before Kirill Kaprizov called the game.

Marcus Foligno has been the Wild’s best forward, arguably. He is the scoring leader in Minnesota, with 8 points (4 goals, 4 assists), scoring 4 points (2 goals, 2 assists) over the three games this week. He’s taken on more of a leadership role with Minnesota this season.

The Wild lost forward Jordan Greenway to a lower-body injury against the Kraken and he was placed on injured reserve. They are also without Mats Zuccarello and Rem Pitlick, who are currently on the COVID-19 Protocol.

Nashville Predators (5-5-0)

The Predators had a week to be proud of. After a tough start to the season, they’ve made a name for themselves and went 2-1-0 on the week. Nashville took down the Islanders in a shootout, and then the Flames in overtime thanks to a goal from Matt Duchene, before falling to the Edmonton Oilers, 5-2. No shame in that, especially when the only team you lost to in the week was led by Connor McDavid.

Defender Roman Josi has been putting up Norris-like numbers this season, with 11 points over 10 games. He’s averaging 25:13 minutes a night, and also scored 2 points this week. Duchene is also finding a new step in his game. After struggling last season, he has rebounded with 9 points (4 goals, 5 assists) on the season and 4 points over the week.

The Predators will be without Filip Forsberg, who is dealing with an upper-body injury for the next couple of weeks. Mark Borowiecki, who is also dealing with an upper-body injury, is currently day-to-day.

St. Louis Blues (7-1-1)

The Blues had a respectable week, going 2-1-1, grabbing five of a possible eight points. They started off with a 4-3 loss to the Avalanche, but quickly turned it around with a shutout win over the Blackhawks. St. Louis mounted a last-second comeback effort against the Los Angeles Kings, but fell 3-2 in a shootout, and just last night took down the Sharks 5-3, earning rookie goaltender Joel Hofer the first win of his career.

Coming off of some injury trouble last season, Vladimir Tarasenko has been a game-changer for the Blues this season, with 11 points (4 goals, 7 assists in nine games. He has come in with new energy and is showing flashes of his vintage self, which is vital to the Blues’ success.

Kyle Clifford, Ryan O’Reilly and Ville Husso have all landed on the Blues’ COVID Protocol. The team also lost Brayden Schenn last night in the first period and he is day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

Winnipeg Jets (5-2-2)

The Jets had a quiet week and didn’t play much, wrapping up their California road trip and travelling back home. They took down the Kings 3-2, lost an overtime heartbreaker against the Sharks, shutdown by goaltender James Reimer, and then took down the Stars in a shootout, in what was the first of a seven-game homestand.

Forward Kyle Connor has been among the most explosive players in the NHL this season. He has 14 points (7 goals, 7 assists) through nine games, good for fourth in league scoring. This week alone, he netted 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists). When he’s hot, so are the Jets.

Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck is the only Jets player currently out, as he is day-to-day with an illness. It’s unknown when he will return, as the team is still waiting to receive the results from his COVID test.