Central

Burning Questions for Each NHL Central Team

Burning Questions for Each NHL Central Team
Mark Harris

The 2014-15 NHL season is coming to a close. Five of the seven teams in the Central Division currently sit in a playoff spot with a combined 34 games between the squads left on the slate. That’s roughly five games left for each club. Some teams have their sights set on the postseason while others are ready to head into Spring with no worries in the world. Regardless, each team has at least one question surrounding them with their seasons coming to a close.

 

Chicago Blackhawks

Will the penalty kill get back to one of the best in the league, or will the recent struggles hurt their chances at a season crown and perhaps even a run at a Cup?

Over the last 10 games the league’s fifth-ranked penalty kill has gone 14 of 20 (70%), far worse than their season average of 84.8%. During that particular stretch, Chicago put together a record of 7-3-0 thanks to scoring 3-plus goals in six of those 10 games. The absence of Patrick Kane can’t be blamed as he doesn’t kill penalties. The ‘Hawks sit three points behind the division leading Nashville Predators with one game in hand but the penalty kill certainly needs to improve to form with five games remaining.

 

Colorado Avalanche

Which Avs skater is going to be the team’s leading scorer?

Colorado’s realistic playoff chances flew out of the window a while ago, and pretty much all the Avalanche have to play for at this point is catching the Dallas Stars in hopes to not finish in the basement of the division.

Somewhat surprisingly, with five games left on the slate 37-year-old Jarome Iginla is tied with Gabriel Landeskog atop the team’s scoring chart with 55 points. The veteran has found the back of the net 26 times, four more than Landeskog. With Nathan MacKinnon out with injury, the team’s scoring race has come down to the vet, the young captain, and Ryan O’Reilly (53 pts).

 

Dallas Stars

With a 0.1% chance to make the postseason, how can this team sneak past a team they’re chasing in the wild card?

The Stars have an extremely tough five game schedule remaining. They begin their final stretch on home ice against the St. Louis Blues then head on a three game road trip starting in Nashville, to San Jose, to Anaheim.

They then close out the regular season against the Predators at home. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are going to have to be even better than they have been and Kari Lehtonen will have to get out of his mini slump with a save percentage a touch better than .854. The Stars need to run the table and get help from the Los Angeles Kings, Winnipeg Jets, and Calgary Flames if they want to make it two years straight in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Dallas is currently six points behind the final wild card spot holding Kings.

 

Minnesota Wild

Does Devan Dubnyk have enough gas in the tank for a Stanley Cup run?

The Minnesota Wild go as Dubnyk goes, and he’s been going at a torrid pace since being traded to the Wild earlier this season. He’s started 34 straight games putting together a record of 26-7-1, pushing the Wild into the top wild card spot in the Western Conference. The Wild have a 99.7% chance of making the postseason, but it’s safe to assume Minnesota will go with no one else but Dubnyk until a playoff spot is clinched.

Thirty four games and counting will take a toll on anyone both physically and mentally. The 28-year-old hasn’t faltered yet, but regression has to happen sometime soon. Regression couldn’t happen at a worse time with the playoffs just around the corner. He’ll have to continue to be the working horse for the Wild, but perhaps Minnesota needs to rest Dubnyk. It’s a touchy subject however, given his stellar play he’s shown all season in the red and green.

 

Nashville Predators

Can the Predators hold off St. Louis and Chicago and raise their first banner in franchise history as Central Division champs?

Yes they can.

The biggest surprise team in the division, maybe even of the league, sit atop the division standings with 103 points and clinched a playoff spot on March 28 with a win over the Washington Capitals. They have dropped their last two games, but they may have the easiest remaining schedule of all the teams in the Central.

They’ve received some much-needed rest this week with a three-day break and have the Stars in town April 4, go to Colorado April 7, follow that up with the Wild at home on the 9th and end the regular season on the 11th in Dallas. Three of those four teams have virtually ‘nothing’ to play for and with a two-point lead over the division as of April 3 the Nashville faithful may see the first banner ever risen in Bridgestone Arena.

 

St. Louis Blues

Do the Blues even think about going with Jake Allen in net down the stretch or is Brian Elliott set in stone?

Brian Elliott has been the number one puck stopper in St. Louis this season and has had a good year with a 24-14-3 record and .919 save percentage. However, he has dropped five of his last six starts while stopping just 87.2% of the shots he has faced.

Jake Allen is 20-6-4 on the season and has a a save percentage .907. He’s produced a great record and has been in the crease in three of the last five games for St. Louis, going 2-0-1. Elliott looks to be the go-to guy, but it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to give Allen the majority of the starts in the final five games of the season to see what he can bring to the table.

The road is tough as well with two games against Chicago and one contest with Minnesota standing out. The final five games will be huge for the Blues’ netminders to get some confidence going.

 

Winnipeg Jets

This team will crash to Earth with Dustin Byfuglien being handed a four game suspension with five games left on the slate, right?

The Jets will be without their top two-way defenseman and fifth leading scorer for the majority of the rest of the regular season. Winnipeg has also dropped three of their last four and have fallen out of the final wild card spot in the West. Things are going against the Jets, but as we’ve seen all season you can’t count this team out.

Byfuglien has notched five points in his last seven games played while the team has gone 3-3-1, for what it’s worth. The biggest hole his suspension will show is on the power play which ranks 11th in the NHL. He is second on the team in power play scoring with 17 points and is the quarterback on the blue line on the first pairing.

Central
Mark Harris
@MCHtalksHockey

Mark covers the Central Division here at Today’s Slapshot. He is also the editor of predlines.com, the Nashville Predators blog part of the FanSided network. He is a credentialed member of the media with the Predators with Predlines.

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