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Central Division Update

by Nashville Predators / Nashville Predators

One month since Opening Night, the Nashville Predators sit atop the Central Division: a collection of seven teams regarded by many to be the best group in the National Hockey League. By that same line of thinking, winning the Central will be an impressive accomplishment and the first four weeks of the season have already shown signs of that fact.

Below is an in-depth update on the Preds six fellow competitors in the Central, including a look at each team's main storyline and updates on their most important statistics.

St. Louis Blues:

Overall Record:
14 GP: 9-4-1; 2nd in the Central; 0-1-0 against the Preds

Leading Scorer:
Vladimir Tarasenko with 17 points (9g, 8a))

T.J. Oshie (Concussion, Indefinite)

Much like the Preds, St. Louis has been rattling off wins to begin the season. The Blues are currently second in the Central Division with 19 points, although, they saw their seven-game win-streak come to an end on Saturday night against Nashville.

The Blues leading goal-scorer and point-getter has been leading the charge, and hasn’t been doing so quietly. Vladimir Tarasenko has already solidified his spot on the seasons-end highlight reels with recent goals against New York and New Jersey. The 22-year-old Russian currently sits tied for third in the League with nine tallies to his credit, and if he keeps pulling out moves like those that he’s already showcased, there are plenty of reasons to believe that he’ll continue to find the twine.

Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk is tied for third on the team in scoring with 11 points (1g-10a), one point less than forward Jaden Schwartz, who has tallied six goals and six helpers. The goaltending duo of Brian Elliott and Jake Allen continue to stop pucks night after night for St. Louis. Elliott has five wins to Allen’s four, and both own commendable numbers in the goals-against-average and save percentage categories, including Allen’s League-leading 1.40 GAA.

Nashville will skate against the Blues away from home again on Nov. 13 after meeting in St. Louis on Saturday. The Predators will then have three more chances to steal points from the Blues, twice during the month of December in Nashville, and then one final time in the regular season on Jan. 29 at Scottrade Center.

Winnipeg Jets:

Overall Record:
15 GP: 8-5-2; 3rd in the Central; 1-1-0 against the Preds

Leading Scorer:
Bryan Little with 11 points (5g, 6a)

Anthony Peluso (Upper-body)

The Predators have already made two trips to the MTS Centre in Winnipeg on the young season, spoiling the Jets home-opener back on Oct. 17 with a 2-0 win, while falling to the home team during the most recent visit by a 3-1 final. The Jets currently land third in the division, despite having been outscored on the campaign 28-31.

Bryan Little leads the club in points with 11 (5g-6a), while Captain Andrew Ladd has potted six of Winnipeg’s 30 tallies. The Jets may have a bit of trouble finding the net, but they’ve certainly found ways to keep the puck out of their own cage, sitting sixth in the League in team goals-against-per-game with an even 2.00 mark. Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec has plenty to do with that number, as he sports a 1.98 goals-against-average mark, as well as a .928 save percentage and one shutout. Jets forwards Dustin Byfuglien and Blake Wheeler are both in the top-nine in the NHL when it comes to penalty minute leaders.

The Jets and Preds faceoff three more times this season, all in Music City, including a contest on Nov. 15. Winnipeg has yet to reach the postseason since relocating from Atlanta in 2010; even with as tight as the Central is early on, don’t write off the Jets probability of remaining in the hunt come springtime.

Chicago Blackhawks:

Overall Record: 15 GP: 8-6-1; 4th in the Central; 1-1-0 against the Preds

Leading Scorer: Jonathan Toews with 10 points (5g, 5a)

Injuries: Patrick Sharp (Lower body, 3-4 weeks), Daniel Carcillo (Lower body, day-to-day)  

The class of the Western Conference for the last handful of seasons, the Chicago Blackhawks made few changes to their roster this offseason. The Hawks signed Brad Richards to a one-year deal in July hoping to boost offensive production from the club’s middle lines, but currently the center is skating on the fourth line with six points to his credit. The lack of production from Richards has been particularly detrimental to Chicago who lost playmaker Patrick Sharp last week for “at least a month to a right leg injury” according to the Chicago Tribune.

To date, lacking offensive finish has been the key storyline for the Hawks 15 games into the 2014-15 season. Currently, the team ranks 17th in goals per game (2.60) a stark difference compared to the 3.18 (2nd in NHL) and 3.10 (2nd in NHL) rate the Blackhawks finished with the previous two seasons. It’s unlikely that this slow start to the season will remain for Chicago, but how the club will bust out of their “slump” remains to be seen.

With two games played against the Hawks, Nashville is already halfway through its season set with the division rival. In an interesting scheduling twist, the two clubs will play all of their contests against each other in 2014 and not meet again over the remaining four months of the regular season. The Preds have picked up at least a point in each meeting so far with a 1-0-1 record against the Hawks. Forward James Neal led Nashville to victory in the team’s most recent clash with his natural hat trick on Oct. 23. The two teams will next meet in Nashville on Dec. 6 before concluding their regular season series in the Windy City on Dec. 29.

Minnesota Wild:

Overall Record: 13 GP: 7-6-0; 5th in the Central; 0-0-0 against the Preds

Leading Scorer: Zach Parise with 10 points (4g, 6a)

Injuries: Zach Parise (Upper Body, indefinite), Keith Ballard (Illness, day-to-day), Jared Spurgeon (Upper body, indefinite), Matt Cooke (Lower-body, indefinite)  

The Minnesota Wild took one of the two Western Conference Wild Card spots in 2013-14, finishing 10 points ahead of Nashville - a fact that will not soon be forgotten. The last two seasons have featured tight battles between the two clubs due to both squads featuring a defense-first mentality, but the Preds shakeup at forward and installation of a new head coach likely means that trend will come to an end.

Currently on a three-game skid, the Wild took an even harder blow last week when they lost their Captain and leading-scorer, Zach Parise. The first-line center has been the offensive jolt the club was lacking prior to Parise signing a 13-year deal in 2012. Out indefinitely with a concussion, it’s possible the Wild may see a dip in production from their club that currently sits in the top 10 in the League in scoring.

The other major question mark attached to Minnesota remains one that has followed them the past couple seasons: goaltending. Twenty-four-year-old Darcy Kuemper has been given 10 starts to date with veteran Niklas Backstrom claiming the other three contests and Josh Harding on injured reserve. For a squad that prides itself in shutting down its opponent, the continued emergence of Kuemper (6-4-0 record) will be crucial for the Wild.

Nashville and Minnesota have not faced each other in 2014-15, but have five future dates still on the horizon. The first matchup will come a few days before Christmas on Dec. 20 in St. Paul.

Colorado Avalanche:

Overall Record: 16 GP: 4-7-5; 5th in the Central; 0-0-0 against the Preds

Leading Scorer: Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon and Tyson Barrie tied with 10 points

Injuries: Brad Stuart (Hamstring, weeks), Patrick Bordeleau (Back surgery, weeks)  

The surprise winner of the Central last season, the Colorado Avalanche have not raced off to a fast start like they did a year prior. In fact, the Avs were crushed in their first pair of games this season, being beaten by a combined score of 8-0 by the Wild. Outside of their season opening series with Minnesota, the peculiar campaign has continued for Colorado across their 16 games played. For example, the Avs have already visited overtime in six contests - winning just one - for a 1-5 record after 60 minutes.

A high-flying offense propelled Colorado to the divisional crown last season, but consistently lighting the lamp has troubled the club so far this campaign. The Avs have notched goal totals of seven and five in two different games, but have also been held to two or less goals nine times (including being shutout twice). Getting production from the two veteran forwards the team added this offseason will go along way in creating the results expected by the Avs; Danny Briere and Jarome Iginla have just two goals each this season.

Sophomore forward Nathan MacKinnon has continued to take the NHL by storm with 10 points to date and has shown no signs of a post-rookie-breakout slump. The 19-year-old winger was involved in an incident unrelated to point production on Saturday, however, when he was given a major penalty for boarding Flyer defenseman Luke Schenn. It appears no further discipline will be handed down to MacKinnon (according to NBC Sports).

Like the Wild, Colorado is still awaiting their first game with Nashville. The teams will clash in just under a month on Dec. 9 in Denver.

Dallas Stars:

Overall Record: 14 GP: 4-6-4; 7th in the Central; 0-2-0 against the Preds

Leading Scorer: Tyler Seguin with 19 points (10g, 9a)

Injuries: Patrik Nemeth (Arm), Rich Peverley (Heart Issues), Cody Eakin (Upper-body, day-to-day), Valeri Nichushkin (Groin, day-to-day)

Thanks to a slower-than-expected start, including two regulation losses to the Predators, Dallas sits at the bottom of the division (12 points), albeit just one point below sixth-place Colorado. Offseason acquisition Jason Spezza has 13 points in 14 games but that hasn’t been enough to help the Stars recover from some shaky goaltending to start the season.

Tyler Seguin leads the club in points with 19 (10g-9a), while Spezza, captain Jamie Benn and defenseman Trevor Daley all follow up with 13, 12 and 10 points, respectively. The Stars are in a rut though, losing most recently to the Preds on Thursday night and then to San Jose on Saturday. The defeat to the Sharks was the fourth-consecutive regulation loss for Dallas, seventh in a row if overtime losses are taken into play. In fact, the Stars haven’t won in regulation since they did so on Oct. 21 against the Canucks.

Nashville defeated Dallas back on Oct. 11 by a 4-1 final, while the Nov. 6 get together went 3-2 in the Preds favor. The two will meet up three more times before the season is out, including two of Nashville’s final four games of the campaign. Don’t be surprised if those games carry playoff implications once the calendar flips to April.

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