Detroit Red Wings v Ottawa Senators

Central Division Watch (February 2nd)

With the All-Star break over, it’s time for the NHL playoff races to intensify. Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division’s outlook. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder.

Central Division outlook (Wednesday, February 2nd – Tuesday, February 8th)

1. Detroit Red Wings (31-13-6 for 68 pts; 50 GP)

Current streak: Two wins.

Week ahead: Win vs. Ottawa, vs. Columbus (Friday), @ Nashville (Saturday), home vs. Rangers (Monday).

Thoughts: Nashville’s slippage ends yet another here-today gone-tomorrow threat to the Red Wings’ top spot in the division. They’ll face the two most recent contenders/pretenders to the throne in a back-to-back this weekend.

2. Nashville Predators (27-17-7 for 61 pts; 51 GP)

Current streak: Three losses in a row.

Week ahead: @ Philadelphia (Thurs), home vs. Detroit (Sat), home vs. Edmonton (Monday).

Thoughts: There’s not much room for slumps in the bitterly competitive West. Nashville is now threatened by just about every Pacific Division team outside of Dallas and their own division foes from Chicago. If they go into lull mode this week, the scrappy bunch could see their cushion disappear completely.

3. Chicago Blackhawks (27-20-4 for 58 pts; 51 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Two road games – one against Vancouver (Fri), one against Calgary (Mon)

Thoughts: The Canucks and Red Wings are the only two teams with better goal differentials than the Blackhawks’ +21, yet Chicago is in a far more tenuous playoff situation. The Hawks begin a five game road trip (and a tough February with eight of their next 11 games away from home) this week. Perhaps having a ton of all-star representatives will inspire them to, you know, actually make the postseason.

4. St. Louis Blues (22-20-7 for 51 pts; 49 GP)

Current streak: Four game losing streak.

Week ahead: home vs. Edmonton (Fri), @ Tampa Bay (Sun), @ Florida (Tues).

Thoughts: The Blues aren’t totally out of contention, but they’re fading fast. It won’t be an easy February overall (especially after the next two weeks), so they might want to consider going into “sell mode” if they don’t at least earn two wins.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets (23-22-5 for 51 pts; 50 GP)

Current streak: Two losses in a row.

Week ahead: @ Detroit (Fri), vs. Edmonton (Sat), @ Pittsburgh (Tues)

Thoughts: The next week might do the Blue Jackets in, especially when you consider the fact that they’ll face the suddenly hot San Jose Sharks on Wednesday the 9th. Not sure how many players on the Columbus roster are trade deadline material (the team is largely comprised of young and/or overpriced players), although I’m sure there might be some people interested in defensive center Samuel Pahlsson.

Capitals shine glaring light on Blues’ goalie woes

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 23:  Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues makes a save during the first period against the San Jose Sharks in Game Five of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 23, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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If you’re reaction to the headline “Something is off about the St. Louis Blues” was “Yeah, their goaltending,” then Thursday only emboldened that opinion.

It wasn’t just that the Washington Capitals bombarded the Blues by a score of 7-3. It’s that they really didn’t need to fire a whole lot of shots on goal to get to seven.

Here’s a harsh rule of thumb: when both of your goalies play in a game and each one barely makes more saves than goals allowed, that’s an awful night. Take a look at what Jake Allen and Carter Hutton went through:

Allen: six saves, four goals allowed in 25:11 time on ice
Hutton: five saves, three goals allowed in 35:49

Allen got pulled from the contest twice, by the way. He’s been pulled from four games since Dec. 30. Woof.

Even before these horrendous performances, the Blues goalies have been shaky. Hutton came into tonight with an ugly .898 save percentage; Allen wasn’t much better with a .900 mark.

Those are the type of numbers that would make Dallas Stars fans cringe, or at least experience some uncomfortable familiarity.

Now, is it all on Hutton and Allen? Much like with the Stars’ embattled goalies, much of the struggles probably come down to a team struggling in front of them.

Even so, if you assign more of the blame to Allen and Hutton, nights like this Capitals thrashing definitely strengthen your argument. Yikes.

Rangers overwhelm Leafs, make life pretty easy for Lundqvist in win

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 19:  Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers faces a shot in the warm-up prior to play against the Toronto Maple Leafs in an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on January 19, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Heading into Thursday, many were wondering how the New York Rangers will handle Henrik Lundqvist‘s struggles. Instead, the focus shifted to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ difficulties, perhaps specifically in dealing with Morgan Rielly‘s absence.

The Rangers handily won this one 5-2, at least giving Lundqvist the win. He wasn’t especially busy, stopping 23 out of 25 shots, so you can probably file his story under “To be continued.”

Lundqvist wasn’t oblivious to his team’s impressive overall play.

Really, it was all about the waves of attackers the Rangers can send at opponents and the trouble that caused for the Maple Leafs. It wasn’t the easiest night for Frank Corrado, in particular, who took a couple costly penalties.

The Rangers’ next two games come in a road contest vs. the Red Wings on Sunday and a home game against the Kings on Monday. Perhaps those matches will serve as a better barometer for where Lundqvist’s really at, as he passed tonight’s test … but it wasn’t a particularly difficult one.

So, is Mike Condon actually really good? He certainly was against Columbus

OTTAWA, ON - JANUARY 8: Mike Condon #1 of the Ottawa Senators stands at the bench during a break in a game against the Edmonton Oilers at Canadian Tire Centre on January 8, 2017 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
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Considering their numbers heading in, many were perplexed when the Ottawa Senators essentially replaced Andrew Hammond with Mike Condon. Now many are perplexed by just how strong Condon’s often been for Ottawa.

Thursday might stand as the prime example that this guy could be better than many expected.

The Columbus Blue Jackets dominated much of the play, generating a 42-28 shots on goal advantage, but Ottawa ended up winning 2-0 tonight.

Condon already came into tonight with a solid save percentage (.915 before this shutout), and he’s now won four of his last five games. Three of his four career shutouts have come this season.

Ignoring his one relief appearance with Pittsburgh this season for the sake of simplicity, just consider his tough times with Montreal last season. He went 21-25-6 with a shaky .903 save percentage.

This marks just his 21st start and 23rd appearance of this season, so it’s not a guaranteee for future results. Still … it’s another example that goalies are as just about as unpredictable as they are crucial to a team’s fate.

More and more, it seems like Condon might just be a difference-maker, and in the positive sense this time around.

Greiss blanks Stars as Isles win in first game of post-Capuano era

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 19:  Doug Weight of the New York Islanders handles his first game as head coach against the Dallas Stars at the Barclays Center on January 19, 2017 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The New York Islanders began the Doug Weight era in the same way Jack Capuano’s ended: with a shutout.

Yeah, it’s easy to forget that the Islanders actually won their last game under Capuano, consider all that’s happened since.

They blanked the Boston Bruins 4-0 on Monday and generated a 3-0 shutout against the Dallas Stars on Thursday. It’s quite a feather in the cap of goalie Thomas Greiss, who owns these back-to-back shutouts.

(It’s worth mentioning that, for all the Bruins’ and Stars’ flaws, they can be very explosive on offense …)

That Monday shutout wasn’t enough for Capuano to save his job, and the Isles still have a long way to go after this encouraging outcome. The East’s second wild card spot still seems like a long shot for Weight & Co.

Even so, the Islanders will take it. They play their next five games at home and seven of eight in Brooklyn, so if there’s ever a time for movement, it would logically come now.

If nothing else, maybe life will be a bit better for John Tavares. He scored another goal on Thursday to add to his beautiful 1-0 tally.

Baby steps, right?