It's no surprise the six-time defending Central Division champion Detroit Red Wings are back in first place. Somewhat unexpected, though, is the rest of the division not being far behind.
The Red Wings continue a difficult stretch against Central opponents on Wednesday when they host the surging St. Louis Blues, who are trying to win five straight games for the first time in nearly four years.
Detroit (14-5-1) has won 10 of 13 division titles since the Central was formed in the 1992-93 season, finishing no lower than second in that span. Once again, the Red Wings are atop the Central with 29 points.
Despite having the best record in the West and the biggest division lead in the conference, Detroit can hardly afford to slip. Chicago is in second place with 23 points, while St. Louis (11-7-0), Nashville and Columbus are all tied at 22.
It's the only division in the league in which every team has at least 20 points.
Detroit has only been able to split the first six games in a stretch of nine straight against division opponents.
"What you see in our division is we're all the same, it's unbelievable," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "The league is very close and I think you're in a playoff game every night."
Detroit beat the Blue Jackets 5-4 in a shootout on Sunday to snap a three-game losing streak.
Johan Franzen scored the winning shootout goal in the fifth round, and goaltender Chris Osgood made 36 saves to continue his impressive start.
Osgood, who is Dominik Hasek's backup, is 9-1-0 with a 1.80 goals-against average, and has yielded two goals or less in nine of 11 games he's played this season.
Hasek, meanwhile, has allowed four goals in losing each of his last two games and is just 5-4-1 with a 2.89 GAA on the season.
In the Wings' only meeting of the season with St. Louis, a 4-3 loss on Nov. 13, Hasek was pulled in the second period after allowing four goals on 12 shots. Osgood came on to stop all four shots he faced.
Hasek is 12-6-2 with four ties and a 2.51 GAA lifetime versus the Blues, while Osgood is 14-9-1 with six ties and a 2.46 GAA against them.
Detroit has lost three in a row to St. Louis dating back to last season, and has not lost four straight to the Blues since Dec. 7, 1990-Jan. 26, 1991.
St. Louis' win over the Wings last week was the first victory of its current four-game winning streak - all over division foes. The Blues have not won five straight games since a six-game run from Dec. 6-18, 2003.
"We haven't put a full 60 (minute game) together, but even when we're not playing bad we're not playing terrible," St. Louis goaltender Manny Legace said. "If we can get 60 in we can be a different hockey club."
Legace made 24 saves on Monday in a 2-1 victory over Nashville, and is 3-0-0 with a 2.00 GAA during the winning streak. Legace, who played for Detroit from 1999-2006, stopped 27 shots in the win over the Red Wings last week and is 4-3-0 with a 2.71 GAA all-time against his former team.
St. Louis right wing Brad Boyes scored for the third straight game Monday and leads the team with 12 goals.