The Central Division is living up to its reputation as one of the toughest divisions in the NHL in the early part of the season. Some surprising names have popped up near the top and others are just as surprising at the bottom.
The St. Louis Blues were one of the surprising teams for those that don’t reside in the area or follow the team day in and out. Unfortunately, the Blues needed to get off to a hot start just to keep pace within their own division.
Even more surprising was the fact that it is not only Chicago that the Blues have had to keep on par with. The division has been a little topsy turvy other than St. Louis and Chicago.
Early in the year – two weeks in to be exact – the Blues, Blackhawks and Colorado Avalanche, of all teams, are all jockeying atop the Central Division. Each team has held the top spot or been tied for it at some point.
As of writing, the Blackhawks hold a slim lead with nine points and the Blues are tied with Colorado with eight.
Everyone expected Chicago to be good, simply because they are Chicago. The Avs are the early season surprise.
From a national perspective, the Avs remain somewhat of a mystery. They have knocked off teams like the Rangers, Ducks and the Bruins (twice). However they lost to Dallas and New Jersey.
The Devils have started hot but that win over Colorado was one of only two for the Stars. That has been another early season surprise.
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Clearly things are not going to be so simple as adding a goaltender and Hall of Fame worthy coach for the Stars. They have done a better job of limiting goals than last season, but suddenly the scoring has dried up. In five games they only have 11 goals, which is the fewest in the entire Central Division.
In the middle of the pack, the Winnipeg Jets are going to be a tough team again this season. Consistency will be the name of the game for them, though it remains elusive.
The Jets opened the season with two straight losses. They turned that around with three straight wins. Defending and goaltending remain an issue for the only Canadian team from the division. Their 18 goals allowed in five games is the most in the division.
Perhaps most intriguing out of the Central has been the struggles of Nashville and Minnesota out of the gate. Both took the division by storm last season in different times.
Minnesota rushed out of the gate and seemed to have the division sewed up in 2016-17. They fell off the pace in the second half and allowed Chicago to take the division and then lost in the opening round of the playoffs. They seem to have opened the season on that pace instead of the torrid one they began last year with.
In four games, the Wild are 1-1-2. It is not as though they are a bad team, but they are not getting the production from any position that they need to really put their stamp on the Central again.
The Predators might be having a post-Final hangover. Hockey is one of the rare sports where teams that lose the big one don’t always have bad years the next.
The Preds have the talent to return to the big stage even with some key departures. That said, they have opened the year much like they did last season.
It is taking Nashville awhile to gel for whatever reason. A couple key injuries along the blue line are not helping them out, but the Blues are not going to have any sympathy for their mid-western neighbors at all.
Offense has been the problem for Nashville in the overall sense. In five games, their 14 goals is second to last in the division.
Overall, we all know none of these trends will continue the entire year. Colorado came out of nowhere in 2015 to win the division, but a similar run this season seems extremely unlikely.
It seems hard to imagine teams like Nashville, Minnesota or Dallas staying near the bottom of the division. It might take longer than most had anticipated, but they are going to right the ship.
Chicago, as mentioned, is Chicago. That is what has made the good start for the Blues even more important.
St. Louis has to pick up as many early season points as possible. The Blues are better than many give them credit for, but they are still one of those teams where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
They are going to have to grind out results and just chip away at this division. The Blues might have speed on the mind with how they play, but they need the tortoise’s mentality in terms of the division race. Slow and steady might win it all.