On the docket tomorrow... time spent eating copious amounts of turkey, sweet potatoes, and stuffing with family. A monumental reason to be thankful.
The theme of this week's BSN Central Division Power Rankings is recognizing what each team in the division can be thankful for, as we head into the holiday season.
Current Record: 17-5-0 (34 points)
Previous Rank: 1
The Dallas Stars are clearly the turkey of this division, the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal. Hand me a drumstick, because I'm going to bang their drum for a moment here.
An offensive juggernaut is what the Stars are, leading the NHL with 3.55 goals per game. That offense has been supplemented by an improved defensive game and goaltending from last year's squad, which is why the Stars are off to their best start in franchise history. Also impressive... all 17 of the Stars' wins have come in regulation. Nothing cheap about this start.
Thanks shall be given to Jamie Benn for leading the charge on offense. Benn is tied for the NHL lead in points with 32, and stands alone in goals scored, with 16. Benn isn't the only one eating big this season. Tyler Seguin trails Benn in points by one, and John Klingberg leads the NHL with 20 assists. Klingberg is a defenseman, by the way, and he has 24 points through 22 games this season. Yowza, that's a lot of offense coming from a relatively unheralded blueliner.
Looking ahead, Dallas starts to see a bit more action within their division, with 7 intra-divisional games from now until the new year. Currently, the Stars sport a 2-1-0 record against Central Division foes, but that mark was a disappointing 8-14-7 last year. If the Stars are serious about raising a division champions banner, they better be gravy against the Central this year.
Current Record: 14-6-2 (30 points)
Previous Rank: 2
St. Louis has opened up a bit of a gap between themselves and those chasing them, and are the mashed potatoes of our menu today. Much like mashed potatoes are a staple of the Thanksgiving menu for most families, the Blues have become a staple of consistency in the Central Division. Over the past few years, they are always at or near the top of the standings.
Given the destruction of their lineup due to injuries at certain points this season, the Blues should be thankful to be in the position they are. Organizational depth has shined, and the musically adept franchise is hitting a high note at the moment, with Paul Stastny returning to the lineup this week. Getting Stastny back should cue former Avalanche (and current Blues) play-by-play guy John Kelley to say, "thank you... thank you... thank you!"
The Blues feature a middle of the road NHL offense, but an above average defensive game -- ranking 4th in penalty killing at 85.5% and 7th in goals allowed per game at 2.41. Getting Stastny back should certainly help that offense.
Another interesting storyline in St. Louis has been the split play of the goaltenders. Jake Allen has taken the lion's share of the workload, thanks to his 0.932 save percentage. Brian Elliott, who at times in his career has been very solid for the Blues, isn't on top of his game. If Elliott's 0.898 save percentage doesn't go up significantly, he will need to stock up on quarters, because he will be riding the bench often.
Current Record: 14-6-2 (30 points)
Previous Rank: 4
The Wild take over the number three spot in the power rankings, somewhat by default. The Central Division as a whole has cooled off (by its own standards), after the torrid pace it maintained over the first month-and-a-half of the season.
Minnesota is 5-3-2 over their past 10 games, but Nashville is struggling at the moment, and Chicago hasn't done enough to overtake the Minnesotans.
The Wild can be thankful for their upcoming Stadium Series contest against their division rival Blackhawks. The sweaters the Wild will be wearing for that contest were revealed yesterday. My impressions on the jersey are lukewarm. I like the simplistic style, but overall it feels safe and somewhat boring. However, they can be thankful that they didn't go down this North Stars inspired route for their SS jerseys.
The Wild are the green beens of the Thanksgiving meal. The color of a green bean matches perfectly with their kit, parents have to force their children to enjoy Wild hockey (just like green beens), and much like green vegetables are always creating a fuss as to their importance in your diet... the Wild are the self-proclaimed "State of Hockey." Perhaps dousing the Wild in Ranch dressing would improve their palatability.
Current Record: 11-8-2 (24 points)
Previous Rank: 5
Duh duh-da-dah dah-da-duh duh-da-dah...
Now that you have that little jingle bouncing around in your head, I'd like to inform everyone that the Blackhawks' trajectory appears to be favorable. They have matched Minnesota's 5-3-2 mark over their past 10, and while they sit 5th in the division, they are a measly point away from 3rd place.
Offensive depth is a major concern, which isn't all that surprising considering Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp are both playing elsewhere this season, and Marian Hossa, while still a very good hockey player, can't be relied on to consistently fill the scoresheet at his age.
Tuevo Teravainen is a key x-factor for the 'Hawks. If he can start emerging as a reliable option behind Patrick Kane and the surprising Artemi Panarin, Chicago's offense should be able to start dominating games like those in the Windy City are accustomed to seeing.
For now, Chicago can be thankful for Joel Quenneville behind the bench. He has always seemed to push the right buttons with this club, and finds a way to get them playing their best hockey when it matters most. Chicago doesn't appear to be a powerhouse this year, but they still look poised to be right in the thick of the playoff race... and that makes them dangerous. They are the pumpkin pie of Thanksgiving... so dangerously good... and they always get you in the end.
Current Record: 11-6-3 (25 points)
Previous Rank: 3
With Pekka Rinne between the pipes, and the defensive core the Predators can run out on the ice every night, I expected this team to be top-five in goals-allowed per game. Instead, they are middle of the pack, at 2.50 lamp lighters allowed per contest.
While allowing 2.50 goals-per-game isn't a huge concern for many NHL teams, it is for Nashville, whose offensive game leaves something to be desired. Nashville has been shutout in three straight games, and after a nice start to the season offensively, have slid to 18th in scoring at 2.55 goals per game.
This isn't the recipe for a division champion contender, as Nashville appeared to be over the first six weeks of the season. Fortunately, they still have time on their side, and the inertia of a slump can be quickly changed in the game of hockey.
Last year's darling, Filip Forsberg, needs to get going for Nashville to get going. Forsberg is stuck on two goals for the season, and only has 11 points in 20 games played. In a roundabout way, they can be thankful to still have a respectable record, despite a key player in their lineup not having an impactful first quarter of the season. They can also be thankful the NHL doesn't limit how many times a goaltender can start during a season. Pekka Rinne is on pace for 74 starts this season, the definition of a work-horse goaltender.
The Preds are the butter of your feast tomorrow, for no other reason than those yellow jerseys. Also, because I expect butter from this team going forward. Be thankful you only have to read that pun once.
Current Record: 8-12-1 (17 points)
Previous Rank: 7
Rejoice, Avalanche fans, for the Avs have escaped last place in the power rankings after spending more than a month in the cellar. While they were down there, they had some time to peruse a selection of wines, which is what the Avalanche are in our Thanksgiving meal metaphor. The Avs are a team that in theory should hit their prime within another year or two of aging and maturation... and if paired with the right circumstances, could become a top flight team in the NHL.
A season-long seven-game road trip has finally been completed, and Colorado managed a respectable 4-3 record away from altitude. It wasn't always pretty on the road-trip, but you'll take an above .500 trip any day of the week... no ifs, ands, or buts.
Also encouraging, is the Avalanche's improved shot-attempt ratio in the month of November, which is 47.6% over 11 games played. While not a sterling mark, it is much improved over the historically bad 38% shot-attempt ratio the Avalanche had over the first couple weeks of the season.
Matt Duchene is the Avs' reason to be thankful. What a month of November the centerman has had. Duchene has 10 goals and 17 points through 11 games to bring the November rain, and collected an NHL first-star of the week honor for his efforts.
The Avs have a pair of home games, before heading right back on the road for four more. After that, their density of home games picks up considerably through December and January. It is critical the Avs improve on their 2-5-1 mark on home ice, if they wish to remain within shouting distance of the playoffs.
Current Record: 10-10-2 (22 points)
Previous Rank: 6
Simply put, the Jets are no longer soaring through the air, but are grounded on the struggle bus. A 3-6-1 stretch over their last 10 games has dropped them to sixth in the division, and the Avalanche are closing in.
Despite the recent struggles, Blake Wheeler is worth the price of admission, and a massive reason for the Manitoba faithful to give thanks. Wheeler has been a point-per-game player thus far, and is the type of RW the Avalanche would undoubtedly love to get their hands on.
As I take a gander at the spread, the Jets appear to be the stuffing. When they are on their game, it's quite tantalizing... unfortunately, when they are off, it's a bit soggy and leaves something to be desired.
Ondrej Pavelec recently suffered an injury, and is expected to miss a decent chunk of time. I've been tooting Michael Hutchinson's horn in these rankings all season, and this is his chance to take over the controls, and pilot this team back into relevance in the division.
That's all for this week. Enjoy the holiday weekend, folks.
*Stats and standings current prior to Wednesday night's games*
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