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Central Division capsules

by Dan Rosen /
  VIDEO: Blackhawks make a comeback
Record: 13-5-2, 28 points (1st in Central Division, 3rd in Western Conference)

Leading scorers: Patrick Kane 8-13-21, Patrick Sharp 6-12-18, Duncan Keith 5-13-18.

The skinny: Through 20 games the Blackhawks are right where a lot of people expected they would be -- atop the division. But there is a "just you wait" sense around this team because an extremely important piece of their puzzle still hasn't played in a game. Marian Hossa is skating and close to returning from his offseason shoulder surgery, but he hasn't yet so the team wants everyone to reserve judgment on them. What we already know is goalie Cristobal Huet has strung together some solid efforts to give Chicago fans a sense of comfort. We know Kane is delivering at a point-per-game pace and that the top three defenseman (Keith, Brent Seabrook and Brian Campbell) effectively are handling big minutes. The Hawks' defense as a whole has been better than their offense, which is a good sign because Hossa will help in both areas. Jonathan Toews isn't off to the greatest start offensively, but he's still getting over lingering effects of a concussion. He'll be fine and so will the Hawks.

The next 20: Chicago started its annual "circus" trip with a 7-1 win Thursday in Calgary. It will play five more on the road (Edmonton, Vancouver, San Jose, Anaheim and L.A.) before returning home to play 10 of their next 15 games at United Center. They play the Red Wings twice in December; they haven't played their arch-rival since Oct. 8, a 3-2 Detroit victory.

  VIDEO: Rick Nash shootout winner

Record: 12-6-2, 26 points (2nd in Central, 6th in West)

Leading scorers: Rick Nash 14-11-25, Kristian Huselius 8-7-15, Antoine Vermette 4-11-15.


G-A-P: 14-11-25
+/-: -7 | PIM: 14 | PP: 3

The skinny: Surprisingly for a Ken Hitchcock-coached team, the Blue Jackets are among the League's worst defensive teams yet are in the upper tier of offensive teams. Part of the problem (OK, maybe more than just part) has been the inconsistent play in net from second-year goalie Steve Mason, who is starting to lose some time to backup Mathieu Garon. Mason has a 3.49 goals-against average and .884 save percentage. Columbus' penalty kill, decent last season, has been below average. It didn't help that their top defense pair, Mike Commodore and Jan Hejda, missed extended time. Commodore still is trying to get back into shape. However, the Jackets are winning largely because their power play has been clicking after finishing last in the League last season. Nash has been excellent, but he's still a minus-7. Raffi Torres surprisingly has 9 goals, Vermette is starting to produce more and Jakub Voracek has been an all-round threat.

The next 20: The Jackets played won in Dallas on Thursday to start a five-game road trip that also takes them to Nashville, the N.Y. Rangers, Montreal and Ottawa. They return home to play eight of their next 11 games at Nationwide Arena before hitting the road again for four straight, in Colorado, Phoenix, Dallas and Detroit. Twelve of their next 20 are against teams currently out of playoff position.

  VIDEO: Zetterberg hat trick

10-6-4, 24 points (3rd in Central, 8th in West)

Leading scorers: Henrik Zetterberg 9-15-24, Pavel Datsyuk 5-12-17, Niklas Kronwall 5-8-13.

The skinny: It's time to give credit where it's due, and the Red Wings deserve a lot of it. Injuries to Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula, Jason Williams and Darren Helm could have de-railed this team, but they just keep going. After slow starts, Zetterberg and Datsyuk have come on and the Wings are 5-2-1 in November after going 5-4-3 in October, including 0-2 in Sweden against St. Louis to open the season. Dan Cleary, who struggled in October, has picked up his pace with 6 points in the last six games. Even though they say they have to win differently because they don't have the same horses, the Wings remain among the top five teams in goals and shots per game this season. The goaltending hasn't been anything special, but Chris Osgood and Jimmy Howard have been good enough. The best part, though, is that kids like Helm, Jonathan Ericsson and Justin Abdelkader are gaining experience and Detroit still is winning.

The next 20: The second quarter begins Saturday in Montreal. The Wings then go to Nashville for a game Monday, but play 11 of their next 18 at home. Eight of their next 20 games are against divisional opponents as they play each team twice.

  VIDEO: Colin Wilson on life in Nashville

11-8-1, 23 points (4th in Central, 11th in West)

Leading scorers:
J.P. Dumont 3-12-15, Shea Weber 5-6-11, Patric Hornqvist 5-5-10, Ryan Suter 2-8-10.


G-A-P: 3-12-15
+/-: 3 | PIM: 6 | PP: 0

The skinny: With so little in the way of offense (League-low 2.20 goals per game), the Predators are doing all they can to keep the puck out of their own net. It's finally working because they are getting consistent goaltending from Pekka Rinne, who again is establishing himself as the team's No. 1 ahead of Dan Ellis. But this team likely won't do much damage unless they start putting more pucks in the net. They are at least showing some signs of life. After scoring only 17 goals in their first 10 games and going 3-6-1, Nashville has 27 in its last 10 and they are 8-2-0. They still need production out of Jason Arnott, whose 2 goals Thursday were his first scores since Oct. 12. They need more from David Legwand, who had 20 goals last season, but just 2 goals this season. They especially need more out of Steve Sullivan, who is starting to come around. 

The next 20:
The Predators, who are three games into a five-game homestand, can continue to climb the standings because they play 10 of their next 14 at Sommet Center before hitting the road for a three-game swing through Western Canada. They play a home-and-home with Chicago Dec. 26-27.

  VIDEO: David Backes on NHL Live!

7-8-4, 18 points (5th in Central, 13th in West)

Leading scorers: Erik Johnson 2-11-13, Andy McDonald 6-6-12, David Perron 7-4-11, Brad Boyes 4-7-11, Keith Tkachuk 4-7-11.

The skinny:
If only the Blues could play all their games at Ericsson Globe in Stockholm. They are 2-0 there but only 5-8-4 in North American arenas, including 4-7-1 in their own building, Scottrade Center. It just hasn't been good for St. Louis since returning from Sweden and now there is talk of coach Andy Murray being on the hot seat. The Blues were supposed to be a team on the rise after their torrid finish last season resulted in a playoff berth. Instead, they are a bottom dweller because they can't find consistent offense anywhere in the lineup. Boyes is on pace for about 17 goals after averaging 38 over the last two seasons. Keith Tkachuk went 14 games without a goal before scoring Thursday. Paul Kariya hasn't scored in 12 games and has been taken off the power play. T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund, rookie stars last season, have combined for 11 points. And David Backes, who had 31 goals last season, has just 1 goal this season.

The next 20:
It might be good that St. Louis plays 11 of its next 17 games on the road considering they haven't been very good at home. But the games hardly are easy (what game is when you're looking up at most teams). Four of the Blues' eight road games in December will be played in San Jose, Detroit, L.A. and Chicago.
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