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.

Fights, hits and a blown kiss: Stars and Blues get nasty

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Things were getting out of hand between the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues on the scoreboard in an eventual 6-1 Blues win.

They were also getting a little raucous on the ice when it was clear that the Stars weren’t going to stage a comeback.

Jamie Benn was whistled for cross-checking Alex Pietrangelo, but it was Stephen Johns‘ hit from behind on Pietrangelo really revved up the violence.

Watch that hit and then the scrum that ensued in the video above, which included a scary display of an angry Ryan Reaves … who got creative at the end.

You may also want the kiss alone, so here it is:

Memo: rough stuff might not work so well against the Blues.

Read about that blowout here.

Blues bombard Stars, go up 2-1 in series

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Sometimes a final score is misleading. In the case of the St. Louis Blues’ 6-1 thrashing of the Dallas Stars, it might just be the start of the story.

Honestly, the most positive thing the Stars can say is “Well, at least it was just one game.”

It was one ugly game, however, and now the Blues hold a 2-1 series lead with a chance to really take control if they can win Game 4 at home.

The Blues dominated just about every category on Tuesday, firing more shots on goal, enjoying better special teams play and throwing more hits. They even blocked a higher number of shots, which often isn’t the case for the squad that carries play.

This leaves the Stars picking up the pieces, especially when it comes to their work in their own end.

Do you put greater blame on struggling goalies Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi or is this more about the Stars’ lax defensive coverage? The scary answer may be “Both,” and the Stars likely know that they need to find answers quickly.

On the bright side for Dallas, it is just one game … and the Blues were searching for answers of their own after Game 1.

We saw the Blues turn things around with these two straight wins, so now the Stars must show that they can gather themselves and play the attacking, out-score-your-mistakes style that got them here.

Granted, they may have to keep an eye out for supplemental discipline after some rough stuff toward the end of the game.

Predators smash Sharks to get back in series

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After a dispiriting 1-0 goal allowed by Pekka Rinne, things were looking bleak for the Nashville Predators for a moment there.

Nashville’s developed into a resilient group, however, and they stormed back for a commanding 4-1 win to shrink San Jose’s series advantage to 2-1.

The Predators saw some of their big names come up huge as the series shifted from San Jose to Nashville.

Pekka Rinne looked sharp following that first goal (and didn’t allow another). Their goals came from James Neal, Colin Wilson, Filip Forsberg and captain Shea Weber.

Weber’s tally was the game-winner, and it was downright thunderous:

Another promising sign: after a struggling to a 2-for-31 clip in previous playoff games, the Predators’ power play went 2-for-5 in Game 3.

Overall, the Predators really couldn’t ask for much more from this win, especially if Colton Sissons is indeed OK after a scary crash into the Sharks’ net.

Things could get really interesting if Nashville manages to “hold serve” with another home win on Thursday.

Stars’ goalie carousel goes around again: Lehtonen replaces Niemi

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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It’s pretty tough not to make jokes about the Dallas Stars spending $10.4 million on their goalies at times like these, even if Dallas’ defense should shoulder plenty of blame.

After Kari Lehtonen was pulled from a Game 2 loss, the St. Louis Blues chased Antti Niemi early in the second period of Game 3 after Niemi allowed three goals on 12 shots.

Troy Brouwer‘s 3-1 goal was enough for Lindy Ruff to give Niemi the hook:

Unfortunately for the Stars, Lehtonen got off to a slow start as well, allowing an immediate Vladimir Tarasenko goal.

The Blues are now 4-1 and the Stars are searching for answers … and probably wishing Tyler Seguin was around to help them out-score their problems.