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Skate Around The Central

by Brooks Bratten / Nashville Predators

The calendar has flipped to 2015, and the Nashville Predators continue to hover near the top of the Central Division. So do the Blackhawks and Blues. Here's a look at how the competition is faring through Jan. 1...




Chicago Blackhawks:

Overall Record: 25-11-2, 52 Points; 1st in the Central; 3-1-0 vs. Nashville

Leading Scorer: Patrick Kane, 41 Points (18g-23a)

Injuries: Kris Versteeg (upper-body), Trevor van Riemsdyk (lower-body, injured reserve)

Currently just one point ahead of the Predators for the division lead, the Blackhawks continue to sit atop the Central, but their advantage is minimal. Teams like Nashville and St. Louis continue to keep up with the Hawks through the New Year, leaving the race tight. If it weren’t for Chicago’s shootout victory over the Preds on Monday, the two clubs would easily have switched positions.

Goaltender Corey Crawford has returned to the Chicago net after missing some time with a lower-body injury. That’s good news for the Hawks. With the team dealing with minimal injury issues this season, the most important players, like Crawford, forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, and defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook continue to play the leading roles in securing triumphs for the Blackhawks. In fact, only one other team, the New York Islanders, have rattled off a League-leading 25 wins along with the Hawks.

Nashville’s shootout loss to Chicago on Dec. 29 was the final meeting between the two this season…unless they get together again come springtime.

 

St. Louis Blues:

Overall Record: 22-12-3, 47 Points; 3rd in the Central; 1-3-0 vs. Nashville

Leading Scorer: Vladimir Tarasenko, 39 Points (22g-17a)

Injuries: Carl Gunnarsson (upper-body, injured reserve), Jaden Schwartz (right foot, injured reserve), Chris Porter (leg, injured reserve)

The Blues haven’t done well against the Preds in four outings this season, but that hasn’t stopped them from slotting third in the division, just four points behind Nashville for second place. St. Louis is 5-4-1 in their last 10 games, but goaltender Brian Elliott recently returned from injury, and that should spell good news for the Blues as the second half of the season approaches. St. Louis is currently carrying three netminders on their roster, including Elliott, future Hall-of-Famer, Martin Brodeur and Jake Allen. If the Blues elect to keep the entire trio in the NHL for the remainder of the campaign, goaltending depth shouldn’t be an issue.

Vladimir Tarasenko has slowed on his pace a bit from the beginning of the season, but the third-year winger continues to lead the club in goals and points. His 22 goals are good for third in the NHL in the category. Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk has racked up 24 assists in 37 games from the blue line thus far.

Like Chicago, St. Louis has seen plenty of the Preds already in 2014-15, and will face Nashville just once more during the regular season, a Jan. 29 meeting at Scottrade Center.

Winnipeg Jets:

Overall Record: 19-12-7, 45 Points; 4th in Central; 1-2-0 vs. Nashville

Leading Scorer: Andrew Ladd, 29 Points (14g-15a)

Injuries: Toby Enstrom (lower-body, injured reserve), Zach Bogosian (lower-body, injured reserve), Jacob Trouba (upper-body, injured reserve), Mark Stuart (lower-body, injured reserve), Evander Kane (lower-body, day-to-day)

Despite multiple injuries on the backend to key players, the Jets are still finding ways to hang in the Central. They’re just two points behind the Blues and six ahead of the closest challenger. Andrew Ladd leads the team with 29 points, but forwards Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little are right behind the Winnipeg captain in the category.

Quality goaltending has also been there more often than not for the Jets. Ondrej Pavelec has seen a majority of the action, going 10-9-5 in 25 starts, and backup Michael Hutchinson has performed admirably when called upon, posting a 9-3-2 record to go along with a 1.87 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage.

Having already faced the Preds three times, the Jets see Nashville on two more occasions this season, once in February and once in March, both at Bridgestone Arena.

Dallas Stars:

Overall Record: 17-14-5, 39 Points; 5th in Central; 0-2-0 vs. Nashville

Leading Scorer: Tyler Seguin, 44 Points (25g-19a)

Injuries: Rich Peverley (heart issues, injured reserve), Patrik Nemeth (arm, injured reserve), Valeri Nichushkin (groin, injured reserve), Patrick Eaves (lower-body, injured reserve), Shawn Horcoff (illness, day-to-day)

During our last Central Division update in early December, the Stars were struggling to make it out of the bottom. Since then, Lindy Ruff’s hockey club has done their best to do so, going 8-2-0 in their last 10 games and putting together a current three-game win-streak. Dallas hasn’t quite caught up with the Jets or Blues yet, but the Stars have shown lately that they can’t be taken lightly.

Tyler Seguin leads the Stars in points with 44, a mark that’s also good for second in the NHL. Plus, his 25 goals pace every skater in the League. Fellow forwards Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza are dishing out the assists, having 21 and 20, respectively. Fourteen skaters have hit double digits in points for the Stars.  

Nashville has defeated Dallas twice this season and will have three more opportunities to do so before the campaign is out. Two of those meetings come in the month of April, including a contest in Dallas on April 11, the final day of the regular season.

Minnesota Wild:

Overall Record: 17-14-4, 38 Points; 6th in Central; 0-0-1 vs. Nashville

Leading Scorer: Zach Parise, 29 Points (14g-15a)

Injuries: Matt Cooke (lower-body, injured reserve), Keith Ballard (concussion, facial fractures, day-to-day)

Minnesota and Nashville finally got together for the first time this season in what turned out to be one of the Preds most entertaining games of the campaign thus far. The Predators came away with a 6-5 overtime victory thanks to Mattias Ekholm, setting quite the stage for the remainder of this season’s matchups.

Captain Zach Parise continues to lead the club in points with 29, while he and Nino Niederreiter share the team lead with 14 goals apiece. While the offensive production is right in the middle of the pack throughout the NHL, the team’s goals-against per game currently sits 22nd out of 30 teams. Goaltending hasn’t been outstanding for the Wild, with Darcy Kuemper going 12-11-0 this season. However, the team does still carry a winning record in a tough division.

The Wild and Preds will get together four more times before the season is out, including an April 9 matchup in Nashville, the regular season home finale for the Predators.

Colorado Avalanche:

Overall Record: 14-15-8, 36 Points; 7th in Central; 0-1-0 vs. Nashville

Leading Scorer: Alex Tanguay, 25 Points (12g-13a)

Injuries: Patrick Bordeleau (fractured kneecap, injured reserve), Jesse Winchester (concussion, injured reserve), Ryan Wilson (shoulder, injured reserve), Jamie McGinn (back, injured reserve), Ben Street (hand, injured reserve)

The only team in the Central with a losing record, the Avalanche continue to struggle to reach their success of last season. Although they’re only two points out of sixth and three out of fifth, Colorado finds themselves at the bottom of the division. The Avs give up an average of just under three goals per game, a mark good for 24th in the NHL.

Veterans Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla lead the club in scoring with 25 and 24 points, respectively, but there’s no doubt that more was expected from players like Gabriel Landeskog (23 points) and Nathan MacKinnon (22 points).

Goaltending has also been a question, with Calvin Pickard having to play more than was forecasted with Semyon Varlamov dealing with injury issues on more than one occasion.

Nashville defeated Colorado 3-0 in their only outing so far and will see the Avalanche four more times before the season is out, including a home-and-home series on Jan. 27 and 30.

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