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Central Division Weekly: Newbies make All-Star team

And the Coyotes, Blackhawks pull off surprise wins.

Dec 10, 2021; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Winnipeg Jets forward Kyle Connor (81) celebrates a goal scored by forward Mark Scheifele (55) against the Vancouver Canucks in the second period at Rogers Arena. Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL All-Stars were announced last night. Here’s how it looks for the Central Division.

Colorado Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar will helm the coaching staff. His star forward, Nathan MacKinnon will be the team’s captain. It will be MacKinnon’s fourth time as an All-Star. He’ll be joined by teammate Cale Makar, the only defenseman to make the cut in the Central Division. This is Makar’s first all-star appearance.

It will also be the first appearance for a majority of the Central Division team. Kyle Connor (Winnipeg Jets), Alex DeBrincat (Chicago Blackhawks), Kirill Kaprizov (Minnesota Wild), Jordan Kyrou (St. Louis Blues), Juuse Saros (Nashville Predators) and Cam Talbot (Minnesota Wild) are all first-timers.

Clayton Keller will be the representative from the Arizona Coyotes. This is Keller’s second All-Star appearance. Captain America, Joe Pavelski, will make his fourth appearance at the All-Star Game, representing the Dallas Stars.

The fans have a chance to vote in one more player for the Central Division. Here’s who made the short list: Phil Kessel (Arizona), Seth Jones (Chicago), Nazem Kadri (Colorado), Jason Robertson (Dallas), Ryan Hartman (Minnesota), Roman Josi (Nashville), Robert Thomas (St. Louis), Mark Scheifele (Winnipeg).

The NHL All-Star Game will be on Feb. 5 in Las Vegas.

Arizona Coyotes (8-23-3)

The Coyotes are still one of the worst teams in the league, but on a good night, the Desert Dogs can hang with the Central’s big dogs.

Ryan Dzingel scored two goals, as the Coyotes beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1 on Wednesday night. Auston Matthews scored the lone goal for the Leafs in his return to his hometown.

The Coyotes also lost to the Predators 4-2 on Jan. 8, but we’ll choose to focus on the win.

There’s a bit of COVID issue rippling through Arizona. Kyle Capobianco, Cam Dineen, Scott Wedgewood and Anton Stralman are all on the league’s COVID Protocol.

Chicago Blackhawks (14-18-5)

This was a very good week for the Blackhawks. Chicago beat the Vegas Golden Knights 2-1 on Saturday. Riley Stillman scored the game-winner, marking his first goal of the year. Not a bad time to get the first one!

Then on Tuesday, the Blackhawks beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-2. Alex DeBrincat scored two goals in the game, his 22nd and 23rd of the season.

Chicago followed up that win with a 3-2 overtime win against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday. Philipp Kurashev scored the game-winner after the Canadiens player bowled into his own goaltender.

The Blackhawks are also dealing with some COVID issues. Seth Jones and Jake McCabe were added to COVID Protocol on Jan. 10. They joined Brandon Hagel and Sam Lafferty.

Colorado Avalanche (22-8-3)

The Avalanche beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime on Saturday. Devon Toews scored the game winner with helpers from Nazem Kadri and Mikko Rantanen. Rantanen assisted on four of the team’s five goals.

Colorado pushed its win streak to five games on Monday, when the Avs beat the Seattle Kraken 4-3. Nicolas Aube-Kubel scored two goals in the win.

The streak was snapped on Wednesday night, when Colorado lost to the top team in the Central Division, the Nashville Predators. The Preds won 5-4 in overtime. Cale Makar netted another highlight reel goal in the loss.

Rantanen leads the team with 16 goals and Kadri is tops with 48 points.

Captain Gabriel Landeskog is out on COVID Protocol, while defender Bowen Byram is away from the team for personal reasons.

Dallas Stars (17-13-2)

The Stars continue that upward battle in the Central Division standings. While Dallas currently sits outside of the playoff picture, the team claimed four of a possible six points this week. It started when the team beat Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 on Saturday.

Dallas was on the losing end of a tight game and controversial game in St. Louis. Jason Robertson scored the lone goal for the Stars, who took a 1-0 lead into the final minute of play. That’s when questionable officiating gave the Blues not one, but two power plays. The Blues scored two goals in the final minute of play and St. Louis won 2-1 in regulation.

Dallas ended the week with a 5-2 win over the Kraken. Joe Pavelski put up a five-point night, scoring two goals and adding three assists. Pavelski is tied for the team lead with Robertson. Each have 30 points on the season.

Goaltender Braden Holtby and forward Denis Gurianov are both on COVID Protocol.

Minnesota Wild (21-10-2)

The Wild had a slow week thanks to COVID. The team’s only game this week was a 3-2 shootout win over the Washington Capitals on Saturday. Marcus Foligno and Mats Zuccarello scored for the Wild, while netminder Kaapo Kahkonen made 31 saves for the win.

Folino’s goal was a strange one since it happened on a delayed penalty against the Wild.

Minnesota’s game against the Winnipeg Jets (Jan. 10) and Edmonton Oilers (Jan. 12) were postponed.

Alex Golioski is on COVID Protocol and Jonas Brodin is injured. Kirill Kaprizov was on injured reserve, but Hockey Wilderness says he should be back for tonight’s game against the Ducks.

The Wild re-signed defenseman Jon Merrill this week to a three-year, $3.6 million extension. Minnesota lost winger Rem Pitlick after the Canadiens claimed him off of waivers.

Nashville Predators (24-12-2)

Be honest, who had Nashville leading the Central Division nearly halfway through the season?

Nashville is the first team in the division to hit 50 points, thanks to a 4-2 win over the Coyotes on Saturday and a 5-4 overtime win over the Avalanche on Tuesday. Matt Duchene scored two goals including the game-winner in that showdown of Central Division contenders.

But the Preds didn’t come to play on Thursday. The team lost to the Buffalo Sabres 4-1 with newly named All-Star goaltender Juuse Saros allowing 3 goals on 23 shots.

Filip Forsberg leads the team with 18 goals and Roman Josi is tops with 38 points.

Forsberg and Yakov Trenin are both on COVID Protocol. Defenseman Mark Borowiecki is injured.

St. Louis Blues (22-10-5)

The Blues are making a push for the top spot in the Central Division. St. Louis beat the Capitals 5-1 on Friday. Pavel Buchnevich scored two goals and added an assist. Ville Husso made 27 saves for the win.

The controversial 2-1 win in Dallas fell in the Blues’ favor. Ryan O’Reilly and Jordan Kyrou scored in the final minute of play. Jordan Binnington made 27 saves. It was Husso’s turn in net on Thursday. He made 32 saves in the 2-1 win over the Kraken. Robert Thomas and Buchnevich scored for the Blues.

Instead of highlights, check out the standing “O” that Vince Dunn received in his return to St. Louis. Dunn, you may recall, was the player drafted by the Kraken in the Expansion Draft.

The Blues also have some COVID issues to deal with, as David Perron was added to the list on Jan. 10. He joined Brayden Schenn, Colton Parayko, Vladimir Tarasenko and Scott Perunovich.

Winnipeg Jets (17-12-5)

The Jets aren’t getting much playing time in as of late. All home games are postponed for the time being. Saturday’s game against Seattle and Monday’s game against Minnesota will both be played at a later date.

The only game Winnipeg played was a Thursday bout with the Detroit Red Wings. Winnipeg came out ready. Connor Hellebuyck made 33 saves for the 3-0 shutout win. Kyle Connor netted a goal and an assist. The goal was Connor’s 20th of the season.

The Jets’ next game is Jan. 18 in Washington. That’s good news, because the injury/COVID list is getting pretty long. Nathan Beaulieu, Kristian Reichel and Ville Heinola were added to COVID Protocol on Jan. 10. Also on that list are Nikolaj Ehlers, Logan Stanley, Dylan DeMelo and Jansen Harkins. Paul Stastny is day-to-day with a lower-body injury.

The injuries led the way for these two guys to get their first taste of the big show.