Central Division Weekly: Blues, Wild Start off Hot

The Avalanche’s poor start has led to some surprises in the Central.

It’s the first full season we’ll see in the NHL since 2018-19, and it could not have started more surprisingly.

The St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild currently sit atop the Central Division, while their competitors have struggled. The race to the postseason may be more exciting than we expected.

Here’s how the Central has looked so far:

Arizona Coyotes (0-3-1)

Well, did anyone really expect differently from the Coyotes this season? This was meant to be a rebuilding season for the team, and that’s exactly what it has been. They opened up their campaign with an 8-2 loss in Columbus against the Blue Jackets and then lost a much closer game against the Buffalo Sabres in a heartbreaking 2-1 shootout. They gave the St. Louis Blues a 7-4 victory, in which Jordan Kyrou posted four points, and also took a 5-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers, just letting Connor McDavid play around with them. So far all they’ve really been is a free game for other team’s top players to pad their stats.

Shayne Gostisbehere, one of the bad contracts they picked up in the off-season, currently leads the team in points with four through four games played. Starting goaltender Carter Hutton has started the year off with an 0-2-0 record, good for a league-worst .702 SV% and -10.25 GSAx. He may very likely lose his starting role to backup Karel Vejmelka, who hasn’t been amazing, but still miles better than Hutton. Jakob Chychrun has started off disappointing, with no points in his first four games. Fans had high expectations for a Norris-level season for the defender, but it hasn’t started off that way.

We’ll likely see the team sell off pieces as the season progresses, as it looks like Phil Kessel and perhaps a player like Nick Schmaltz could find themselves being shipped off for more draft picks eventually.

Ahead of the season, Alex Galchenyuk and Kyle Capobianco were placed on Injured Reserve, and have yet to make their season debuts.

Chicago Blackhawks (0-4-1)

Now, this is the complete opposite of the Coyotes, as Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman decided to fast-track the team rebuild and made various moves like the acquisition and long-term extension of Seth Jones, and trade to acquire future hall-of-fame goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. It hasn’t worked out in the slightest.

They dropped their season opener to the Colorado Avalanche 4-2, allowing a highlight-reel goal from Jack Johnson to open the game. They then lost to the New Jersey Devils in overtime, thanks to Jack Hughes, who followed the game-winning goal with an unforgettable celebration. That was followed by Fleury’s return to Pittsburgh being spoiled by the Penguins, as they lost 5-2. The Blackhawks gave up two more losses to both the New York Islanders and Vancouver Canucks, both ending 4-1.

Patrick Kane leads the team in points with five through five games, while Marc-Andre Fleury ranks second-worst in GSAx among the NHL with a -5.9. Jonathan Toews has started the season with zero points through five games, though he’s returning after not playing hockey for over a year, you can’t really blame him. The team likely won’t make the playoffs, and without a first-round pick, that could certainly be a problem in this stacked draft class.

Defenders Caleb Jones (wrist) and Wyatt Kalynuk (ankle) are currently on LTIR. Forward Mike Hardman is out with a head laceration and has entered concussion protocol after taking a hit from Matt Martin on Tuesday.

Colorado Avalanche (1-3-0)

For a team that many pegged to be the top in the NHL ahead of the season, they have really disappointed, but how much of that is really their fault? Their star forward Nathan MacKinnon missed the first few games of the season after testing positive for COVID-19, and they were also without their captain Gabriel Landeskog for a couple of games due to a suspension. The Avalanche are just now getting the core of their team back together.

The team start off promising by beating the Blackhawks with four goals, but then dropped three straight, losing 5-3 to the Blues, 6-3 to the Washington Capitals and 4-1 to the Florida Panthers, not getting goaltending support in any of the games.

The team has a three-way tie for the team scoring leader: J.T. Compher, Nazem Kadri and Mikko Rantanen all having four through four games. Their starting goaltender, Darcy Kuemper, has struggled heavily, holding an .890 SV% and -3.48 GSAx, ahead of just Fleury and Hutton. Yup, goaltending has been bad in the Central Division. Cale Makar has been held to just one point through his first four games of the season, which has hurt the Avalanche as well.

The Avalanche placed forward Stefan Matteau (leg) and goaltender Pavel Francouz (ankle) on LTIR, while Valeri Nichushkin (upper-body) and Devon Toews (undisclosed) are on IR.

Dallas Stars (2-2-0)

After a disappointing campaign last season, missing the playoffs after making the Stanley Cup Final the year prior, the Dallas Stars have started this season with a respectable 2-2-0 record, despite earning both wins outside of regulation. They took an overtime win over the Rangers to open up their season before dropping both games of a back-to-back last weekend, taking 3-1 and 3-2 losses to the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators. On Tuesday they got back in the win column, taking down the Penguins in a shootout, 2-1.

Radek Faksa currently leads the team in scoring, with four points through four games. Braden Holtby has been a pleasant surprise for the Stars, with a .947 SV% and 1.68 GSAx. He was the backup for a poor Vancouver Canucks team last season, and nobody was really sure where he’d fit in, but he has really gotten his career back on the right track to start the season. Tyler Seguin has yet to record a point, and Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov both have just one point through four games as well. The team will need more from their superstars going forward.

The Stars placed Ben Bishop (knee) on LTIR before the season. He hasn’t played since the 2020 postseason, and he’s currently out indefinitely. They also have forward Blake Comeau (upper-body) on IR, who hasn’t played since the preseason. Jason Robertson (upper-body) and John Klingberg (lower-body) are day-to-day.

Minnesota Wild (3-0-0)

The Minnesota Wild have started off the season great, and have silenced a lot of haters who thought that they over-achieved during the COVID-shortened season, currently topping the Central Division. They started off with a win over the Anaheim Ducks, scoring the game-winning goal with just seconds remaining in the match. Ducks goaltender Anthony Stolarz almost stole the show before Marcus Foligno erased his efforts. The Wild then took down the Los Angeles Kings in another close game, 3-2. They finished the week with a crazy win in overtime, mounting a comeback in the game’s final minute against the Winnipeg Jets before Joel Eriksson Ek got his third goal of the night to end it in the extra frame. They have just been very consistent to start the season.

Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello are tied for the team scoring with five points through three games. Cam Talbot has started all three games thus far, posting a .911 SV% and -0.67 GSAx, relatively average.

The Wild are fairly healthy, though Matthew Boldy is struggling with an ankle injury suffered in the preseason.

Nashville Predators (1-3-0)

The Nashville Predators have started the season how most fans expected: pretty average. They’re down to a 1-3-0 record, and there hasn’t been much talk around them, but expect that to change if they keep losing, as we could see players like Filip Forsberg dangled as trade bait. They gave the Seattle Kraken their first win in franchise history, taking a 4-3 loss, and following it up with a 3-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. They got in the win column with a 2-1 win over the Kings, but went right back to their losing ways with a 3-1 loss to the Rangers.

Mikael Granlund leads the team in points with four through four games played. Juuse Saros has been very consistent with a .928 SV% and -0.95 GSAx. They haven't had to resort to their backup goaltending yet.

Speaking of their backup goaltending, the only missing player at the moment is their backup, David Rittich, who is currently under COVID Protocol, leaving Connor Ingram in his spot for the time being.

St. Louis Blues (3-0-0)

The Blues have come out full throttle to start the season, posting a 3-0-0 record to sit atop the Central Division with the Wild. Their games have been high-paced and high-intensity and they look like a much different team from last year. They took down the Avalanche in their season opener 5-3, and then dominated the Coyotes 7-4.  They also defeated the Vegas Golden Knights in a close 3-1 game, where Vladimir Tarasenko, who was the subject of trade rumors during the off-season, scored his first goal of the season.

Jordan Kyrou currently leads the team in points, with an outstanding seven through just three games. Jordan Binnington has been stellar in net, with a .921 SV% and 1.25 GSAx. He’s on track to have a good season, which is a necessity for the Blues. Justin Faulk has also started the season with a valiant effort, recording four points through three games.

Brandon Saad is on the COVID Protocol list, while Oskar Sundqvist is on LTIR with a knee injury. Pavel Buchnevich has served one of his two games of his suspension from headbutting Lawson Crouse against the Coyotes.

Winnipeg Jets (1-2-1)

The Jets have been extremely sloppy to start the season, with defensive lapses and poor goaltending costing them along the way. They earned their first win last night, but they’ll need to be better going forward. They started off getting upset in California, getting stonewalled by the Ducks and John Gibson by a score of 4-1, and again getting four scored on them in a loss to the San Jose Sharks. The aforementioned overtime collapse saw them lose to the Wild. The Jets finally got their first win on Thursday, taking down the Ducks 5-1 in a rematch.

Kyle Connor currently leads the team scoring with five goals and seven points through four games played, being the pure source of offensive for this Jets team. Connor Hellebuyck has been poor in net, with an .890 SV% and -3.32 GSAx. This isn't the goaltender we all know and I expect him to get better at the season goes on. Nikolaj Ehlers has started the season freezing cold, held off of the score sheet through the first four games.

Dylan Samberg is on IR with an ankle injury, while star forwards Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler are both on COVID Protocol.