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Skate Around the Central

by Brooks Bratten / Nashville Predators

With 20 games to go, the Nashville Predators remain atop the Central Division, but the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks aren't likely to go quietly down the stretch. While the slotting at the top has remained consistent over the last month, clubs near the bottom of the division have done some switching. Here's a look at how the Preds division rivals stack up with the month of March on the horizon.

St. Louis Blues:

Overall Record: 39-18-4, 82 Points; 2nd in the Central; 2-3-0 vs. Nashville

Leading Scorer: Vladimir Tarasenko, 60 Points (31g-29a)

Injuries: Kevin Shattenkirk (abdominal surgery, injured reserve)

As March approaches, the Blues continue to be Nashville’s closest competitor for the Central Division title. St. Louis remains in second among the divisional foes, having rattled off 39 victories as of Feb. 27. The Blues have evened out a bit lately, going 5-5-0 over their last 10 games, but they still hold a three-point lead over third-place Chicago and trail the Preds by seven points.

There’s been no change in the offensive leader for the Blues, as Vladimir Tarasenko continues to lead his club in goals (31) and points (60), just one of six players to tally at least 30 goals to this point in the season. Jaden Schwartz and David Backes are 20-goal scorers for St. Louis, while Alex Steen leads the team in assists with 32. Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk also has 32 helpers on the season, but is recovering from abdominal surgery, currently the only major injury for Blues.

After filling in while netminder Brian Elliott was sidelined, goaltender Martin Brodeur announced his retirement with the Blues at the end of January and immediately joined the St. Louis front office. With that, Elliott and Jake Allen continue to share duties in the crease, with Elliott a 19-9-2 record and Allen possessing a 17-6-2 mark.

The Preds and Blues are done facing each other this season…but that rivalry could be renewed once more come springtime. The Blues finished 2-3-0 against Nashville this season, including a thrilling 5-4 shootout win over the Preds in St. Louis on Jan. 29.

Chicago Blackhawks:

Overall Record: 37-20-5, 79 Points; 3rd in the Central; 3-1-0 vs. Nashville

Leading Scorer: Patrick Kane, 64 Points (27g-37a)

Injuries: Trevor van Riemsdyk (lower-body, injured reserve), Johnny Oduya (upper-body),
Patrick Kane (clavicle fracture, out up to 12 weeks)

The Blackhawks aren’t far off from contesting for the Central Division crown, but they were dealt a major blow earlier in the week when NHL leading-scorer Patrick Kane suffered a broken clavicle and is expected to miss up to 12 weeks. The injury leaves an obvious hole in the Chicago lineup, and while Kane’s absence is likely to be felt over the coming weeks, the Blackhawks still have plenty of skaters who can put the puck in the net.

Captain Jonathan Toews has 19 goals and 50 points so far, while Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad can also put the puck in the net. Hossa has 46 points, Saad’s got 42 and 36 more have come from blueliner Duncan Keith. Brad Richards, Patrick Sharp and Kris Versteeg round out the 30-point-getters for the Hawks through Feb. 27.

The Preds and Hawks are also done playing each other this season, with Chicago being the only team in the Central to have a winning record against the Predators this season.

Winnipeg Jets:

Overall Record: 31-20-12, 74 Points; 4th in Central; 1-3-0 vs. Nashville

Leading Scorer: Andrew Ladd, 50 Points (20g-30a)

Injuries: Grant Clitsome (upper-body, injured reserve), Matt Halischuk (undisclosed injury, injured reserve), Mathieu Perreault (lower-body, injured reserve), Ben Chiarot (broken hand, injured reserve), Blake Wheeler (knee, injured reserve)

The Jets are currently holding onto the first Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, earning 31 victories and 74 points thus far. Winnipeg made one of the major moves in recent days leading up to the March 1 Trade Deadline, shipping winger Evander Kane and defenseman Zach Bogosian to Buffalo in exchange for forward Drew Stafford and defenseman Tyler Myers, among other pieces. Kane, who has already had season-ending surgery, became a distraction to the team over the course of the season, thus the appetite to move him out of Winnipeg. The Jets are 5-2-3 in their last 10 and 3-2-1 since the swap.

Jets Captain Andrew Ladd has an even 20 goals and 50 points through 63 games to lead the club in offensive numbers. Bryan Little also has 50 points on the season to go along with a team-leading 24 goals. The recent injury to Blake Wheeler won’t help the Jets in any way, however, as Wheeler is third on the team in points with 44. Dustin Byfuglien, who has moved back to a defenseman role, has 41 points to go along with 107 penalty minutes thus far.

Rookie goaltender Michael Hutchinson has been in net more often than not as of late for the Jets, having earned at least a point in each of his last seven decisions. Hutchinson is 18-7-5 on the season with a 2.29 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage, ranking 11th and 12th in those categories, respectively.

Winnipeg travels to Nashville once more this season for a contest on March 7. The Jets have had some trouble with the Preds, going just 1-3-0 against them on the campaign.

Minnesota Wild:

Overall Record: 32-22-7, 71 Points; 5th in Central; 1-1-1 vs. Nashville

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

Injuries: Keith Ballard (facial fractures, injured reserve), Matt Cooke (sports hernia, injured reserve), Jason Zucker (broken clavicle, injured reserve), Ryan Carter (upper-body, injured reserve), Jared Spurgeon (upper-body, injured reserve)

When we last took a skate around the Central back in January, the Wild were seven points out of a Wild Card spot. Not anymore. Minnesota currently holds the No. 2 spot, going 7-2-1 in their last 10 games, including a 4-2 win over the Preds on Thursday in Nashville. The Wild now have 71 points, just three points away from Winnipeg for the fourth spot in the division.

Zach Parise leads the club with 25 goals and 46 points, with Nino Niederreiter also hitting the 20-goal mark (21 to be exact) for the Wild. Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek and Mikko Koivu also contribute regularly on the scoresheet for Minnesota.

Perhaps most impressive in Minnesota’s current run are the numbers of former Preds goaltender Devan Dubnyk. The Wild acquired Dubnyk from Arizona on Jan. 14 in exchange for a third-round pick in 2015 to address their goaltending needs. Since arriving in Minnesota, Dubnyk is 14-3-1 with a 1.68 goals-against average, .934 save percentage and five shutouts, a key reason as to why the Wild are right back in the postseason hunt.

The Wild and Predators meet two more times this season, once in March and then finishing with Nashville’s final home game of the regular season in April.

Dallas Stars:

Overall Record: 27-25-9, 63 Points; 6th in Central; 0-2-1 vs. Nashville

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

Injuries: Rich Peverley (heart issues, injured reserve), Valeri Nichushkin (groin, injured reserve), Patrick Eaves (concussion, injured reserve), Tyler Seguin (MCL tear, injured reserve), Travis Moen (upper-body, injured reserve), Erik Cole (upper-body, day-to-day)

Similar to Patrick Kane in Chicago, the Stars are also dealing with an injury to one of their leading scorers. Tyler Seguin has begun working out, but is still on the shelf after suffering a knee injury on Feb. 13. A timely return from Seguin will likely carry great importance to Dallas’ playoff hopes down the stretch.

Jamie Benn has since taken over the team lead in points with 60, including 23 goals. Jason Spezza follows Benn and Seguin (59 points) with 51 of his own, but the drop down to Erik Cole and John Klingberg, each with 32 points, is noticeable. It should be noted, however, that the Stars have 17 players on their roster with at least 13 points on the season, but in the ultra-competitive Central, those numbers have only been good for 27 wins thus far.

Kari Lehtonen has 25 wins in net for Dallas, with Jhonas Enroth serving as his new backup after he was acquired in a trade in exchange for former Preds goaltender Anders Lindback. Lehtonen is the only goaltender on the Stars roster with a win in a Dallas uniform this season.
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.

Colorado Avalanche:

Overall Record: 26-24-11, 63 Points; 7th in Central; 1-2-1 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), Erik Johnson (knee, injured reserve)

A winning record of 26-24-11 to this point in the season hasn’t been enough to lift the Avalanche out of the bottom of the division. Colorado is 4-6-0 in their last 10, including a 5-2 loss to the Preds on Tuesday in Nashville, and haven’t been able to put together more than two wins in a row in the month of February.

Jarome Iginla leads the club with 41 points, followed closely (super closely) by Alex Tanguay (40 points), Matt Duchene (39 points), Gabriel Landeskog (38 points), Nathan MacKinnon (37 points), Tyson Barrie (36 points) and Ryan O’Reilly (35 points). That balanced scoring hasn’t been quite enough to put the Avs over the top of their competition on a consistent basis.

The Avs host the Preds once more this season, an April 7 contest in Denver.

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