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Skate Around the Central

by Brooks Bratten / Nashville Predators

The Nashville Predators sit atop the Central Division at the NHL All-Star Break, but the Blues, Blackhawks and Jets aren't far behind. Here's a look at how the rest of the divisional foes are faring as the League breaks for All-Star Weekend.

St. Louis Blues:

Overall Record: 29-13-4, 62 Points; 2nd in the Central; 1-3-0 vs. Nashville

Leading Scorer: Vladimir Tarasenko, 47 Points (24g-23a)

Injuries: Chris Porter (leg, injured reserve)

As expected, the Central Division is tight. At the 2015 NHL All-Star Break, the St. Louis Blues have just enough points to sit in second behind the first place Nashville Predators. One of the hottest teams in the League, going 7-2-1 in their last 10 outings, the Blues are almost completely healthy, a factor that will play into their potential success down the stretch. They’ve been putting the puck in the net too. In fact, since the Blues 3-2 loss to the Predators on Dec. 30, they’ve outscored their opponents 40-18 over nine games.

Continuing to lead the way in the offensive output is 23-year-old winger Vladimir Tarasenko. The young Russian has cooled a bit since his impressive, early-season, goal-scoring output, but he still averages over a point-per-game, recording 47 points through 46 contests thus far. Forward Alex Steen (40 points) and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (39 points) follow Tarasenko in the team’s scoring race. The Blues average 3.13 goals-per-game, third in the NHL. St. Louis also boasts the League’s best power play, clicking at 25.5 percent.

After signing the NHL’s all-time winningest netminder in Martin Brodeur to help deal with an injury to Brian Elliott, St. Louis’ starting goaltender is back, and Jake Allen is no slouch between the pipes either. Both Elliott and Allen sport identical 13-5-2 records, with Elliott posting a stellar 1.86 goals-against average, good enough to lead all NHL goalies, and a .930 save percentage.

The Blues and the Preds get together just once more in the regular season in what will be Nashville’s first road contest after the All-Star Break, a Jan. 29 matchup in St. Louis. The Predators have gotten the best of the Bluenotes this season, posting a 3-1-0 record against St. Louis in their four previous meetings.

Chicago Blackhawks:

Overall Record: 30-15-2, 62 Points; 3rd in the Central; 3-1-0 vs. Nashville

Leading Scorer: Patrick Kane, 51 Points (22g-29a)

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

The only reason Chicago currently slots third in the Central Division is due to the Blues holding a game in hand over the Hawks. Both the Blackhawks and St. Louis are tied with 62 points, just three behind the Preds. Although they’re an even 5-5-0 in their past 10 games, there’s no reason to think that Chicago won’t be contending for the division title until the final moments of the regular season.

As per usual, forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews continue to pace the Blackhawks in scoring, with Kane leading the club in goals (22), assists (29) and points (51), a point total good enough to tie for third in the NHL. Chicago’s captain has tallied 14 goals and 42 points for the team through 47 games. Scoring depth is one of the strengths of the Blackhawks, with 10 players having posted at least 21 points at the All-Star Break. No other team in the Central can say that.

Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have recorded 27 and 25 points, respectively, from the blue line already, and goaltender Corey Crawford is back in net after missing time in December with a lower-body injury. The Hawks are stingy on defense, averaging 2.28 goals-against per-game, second in the League to Nashville’s leading 2.24. Chicago’s penalty kill is tops in the NHL with an 88.4 percent kill rate.

Chicago has proven to be the toughest challenge for the Predators this season, with the Preds going 1-1-2 through four games against the Blackhawks. Nashville’s shootout loss to Chicago on Dec. 29 was the final meeting between the two this season…unless they get together come springtime.

Winnipeg Jets:

Overall Record: 26-14-8, 60 Points; 4th in Central; 1-2-0 vs. Nashville

Leading Scorer: Andrew Ladd, 40 Points (17g-23a)

Injuries: Grant Clitsome (upper-body, injured reserve), Mathieu Perreault (upper-body, injured reserve), Mark Stuart (lower-body, day-to-day)

The Winnipeg Jets find themselves just five points out of first place in the Central at the All-Star Break, thanks in part to a current five-game win streak. The Jets are also one of the League’s hottest clubs, going 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. Winnipeg is also the NHL’s best road team, posting a 14-5-5 record away from the MTS Centre this season.

Jets Captain Andrew Ladd is the leading point-getter in Winnipeg, posting 17 goals and 23 assists through 48 games, with forwards Bryan Little (38 points) and Blake Wheeler (36 points) not far behind.

Winnipeg only gives up 2.35 goals-per-game, a mark that is fifth in the League. Jets goaltenders Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson have plenty to do with that number. Although the 12-10-6 Pavelec has gotten more starts, it’s been the rookie Hutchinson with the better record, going 14-4-2 and winning his last four nods. Hutchinson’s 1.90 goals-against average and .935 save percentage both place him second among NHL goaltenders in those categories.

The Jets make two more trips to Nashville before the season is out, once on Feb. 12, the other on March 7.

Colorado Avalanche:

Overall Record: 20-18-10, 50 Points; 5th in Central; 0-1-0 vs. Nashville

Leading Scorer: Alex Tanguay, 32 Points (13g-19a)

Injuries: Patrick Bordeleau (fractured kneecap, injured reserve), Jesse Winchester (concussion, injured reserve), Ryan Wilson (shoulder, injured reserve), Jamie McGinn (back, injured reserve), Borna Rendulic (broken leg, injured reserve)

Sitting at the bottom of the Central during our last division update at the beginning of the month, the Avalanche have made up some ground over the past few weeks. Colorado never got off to the start they were hoping for in 2014-15 after last season’s success, but they haven’t counted themselves out yet, recording at least one point in eight of their last 11 games to start the calendar year.

Veteran forwards Alex Tanguay (32 points) and Jarome Iginla (31 points) lead the offensive charge for the Avs, with young talents Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon not far behind. Colorado could have used more offense to this point, however, as they sit in the bottom third of the League in goals-per-game.

In and out of the net at times this season, Semyon Varlamov sees a majority of the starts for Colorado, going 12-10-6, but it’s backup netminder Calvin Pickard that owns a League-leading .936 save percentage.

The Avs will get a test right away after the break, playing a home-and-home with Nashville that starts at Bridgestone Arena on Jan. 27, then shifts to Colorado on the 30th. The two clubs will then get together again twice more, with one meeting in February, the other in April.

Dallas Stars:

Overall Record: 21-18-7, 49 Points; 6th in Central; 0-2-1 vs. Nashville

Leading Scorer: Tyler Seguin, 52 Points (28g-24a)

Injuries: Rich Peverley (heart issues, injured reserve), Patrik Nemeth (arm, injured reserve), Valeri Nichushkin (groin, injured reserve), Patrick Eaves (lower-body, injured reserve), Brett Ritchie (undisclosed injury, injured reserve), Trevor Daley (undisclosed injury, day-to-day)

After a stretch that saw them go 8-2-0 in December, the Stars have cooled a bit, settling back into sixth in the division. Dallas is just 4-4-2 in their last 10 games, after winning eight of 12 in December.

The NHL’s leading goal-scorer, Tyler Seguin resides in Dallas, posting 28 goals and 52 points this season, placing him second in the League in points. The Stars have 15 skaters with at least 10 points, including Jamie Benn (40 points) and Jason Spezza (34 points).

While Dallas is fourth in the League in goals-per-game with an average of 3.09, their 3.26 goals-against per-game is the opposite, fourth from the bottom of the NHL. Starting netminder Kari Lehtonen carries a 19-10-7 record, but backup Anders Lindback is 2-7-0 on the season with a 3.79 goals-against average.

Dallas has yet to beat the Preds in three meetings this season, but the two get together twice in April in games that could mean a lot to both parties when the time comes.

Minnesota Wild:

Overall Record: 20-20-6, 46 Points; 7th in Central; 0-0-1 vs. Nashville

Leading Scorer: Jason Pominville, 38 Points (9g-29a)

Injuries: Keith Ballard (facial fractures, injured reserve), Mikael Granlund (wrist, injured reserve), Justin Faulk (upper-body, injured reserve)

The Wild continue to struggle as of late, going just 2-6-2 in their last 10 games, getting outscored 38-25 during that stretch. Going back even further, the Wild have won just five of their last 20, a span that includes a regulation and overtime loss to the Predators.

Jason Pominville paces the club with 38 points, just two ahead of Minnesota’s leading goal-scorer, Zach Parise. Jason Zucker (16 goals) and Nino Niederreiter (14 goals) have also put the puck in the net for the Wild.

Goaltending has been an issue for the team from the State of Hockey, however, as the Wild have utilized four goaltenders already this season. Darcy Kuemper has started 27 games, going 13-12-2, but has missed time due to injury.

Minnesota shouldn’t be counted out quite yet though, as they’re only seven points out of a Wild Card spot in the Western Conference as of now. Of the four NHL teams at the bottom of their respective divisions, Minnesota is the only one without a losing record. The Wild and Predators meet three more times this season, once in February, once in March and finishing with Nashville’s final home game of the regular season in April.

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