Central Division Watch (March 8)

Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder.

Central Division outlook (March 8 -March 14th)

1. Detroit Red Wings (39-19-8 for 86 pts; 66 Games Played)

Current streak: Three losses in a row.

Week ahead: Home vs. Los Angeles (Wednesday), home vs. Edmonton (Friday) and @ St. Louis (Saturday).

Thoughts: For any Red Wings fans who might fear the concept of the Blackhawks taking the Central Division against high odds, look on the bright side: Detroit’s been better on the road this season. The veteran squad currently has a 22-9-4 record in away games, probably aided in some way by the fact that the team tends to draw their own fans during most – if not all – road games.

2. Chicago Blackhawks (37-23-6 for 80 pts; 66 GP)

Current streak: Eight wins in a row.

Week ahead: Three road games – vs. Florida (Tues), Tampa Bay (Wed) and Washington (Sun) plus one home game against San Jose (Mon).

Thoughts: So, could the Blackhawks actually take the Central? Probably not, but they do have one big thing going for them: three more games against the Red Wings this season. If they could pull off the unlikely feat of beating Detroit those three times in regulation, that would bridge the six point gap between the two teams in a vacuum. Again, it’s tough to imagine that happening, but it’s possible.

3. Nashville Predators (33-24-9 for 75 pts; 66 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: Away vs. San Jose (Tues), home vs. Minnesota (Thurs), home vs. Colorado (Sat).

Thoughts: The Predators are stumbling badly right now, going 2-5-1 in their last eight games. They are still in the chase for a lower seed spot though, but every loss is going to hurt (especially if they fall in regulation). Thursday’s game against the Wild is the biggest of the week, but every game is big for Barry Trotz’s gang going forward.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets (31-26-8 for 70 pts; 65 GP)

Current streak: Five straight losses.

Week ahead: Home vs. St. Louis (Wed), home vs. Los Angeles (Fri) and @ Carolina (Sat).

Thoughts: While the Predators still have an excellent chance to make the playoffs, the Blue Jackets are fading quickly. They’ve lost five games in a row after an impressive 8-1-1 run. There are going to be some disappointed teams once the West bubble bursts and it’s looking more and more like the Jackets will be one of them.

5. St. Louis Blues (29-28-9 for 67 pts; 66 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Away vs. Columbus (Wed), home vs. Montreal (Thurs) and home vs. Detroit (Sat).

Thoughts: With all the quality teams in front of them, it’s almost certain that the Blues should be thinking about the draft more than the playoffs right now. Sure, a comeback might be mathematically possible, but it’s hard to imagine them even getting in the top 10 (let alone the playoff eight).

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins at Ottawa Senators – Game 6

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Last night, the Nashville Predators demoralized the Ducks and advanced to their first-ever Stanley Cup Final. Will we learn their opponent tonight or on Thursday?

That’s up to how the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators perform in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Will Sidney Crosby and the Penguins follow that 7-0 rout with a close-out performance, or will Erik Karlsson and the Senators avenge that embarrassing loss to send this series to a decisive Game 7?

Find out on NBCSN at tonight. You can also watch the game online and via the NBC Sports App.

Here’s what you need to know:

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Ottawa Senators (Pens lead 3-2)

Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream online here)

Check out the highlights from Pittsburgh’s 7-0 win in Game 5

Related:

Pens redefining defense by committee

Four things the Pens need to do to eliminate the Sens

Swedish League champ sees another sign in NHL

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It’s an offseason of change for SHL champion HV71.

In the days following the league title, HV71 saw No. 1 goalie Linus Soderstrom sign his ELC with the Isles and d-man Andreas Borgman — the league’s rookie of the year — ink with the Leafs.

Earlier today, HV71 winger Filip Sandberg signed a two-year deal with San Jose. Shortly after that, Columbus announced it inked Sandberg’s running mate up front, Kevin Stenlund, to a three-year, entry-level deal.

Stenlund, 20, was the Blue Jackets’ second-round pick (58th overall) at the 2015 draft. He’s coming off a good year, setting career highs in goals, assists, points and games played during the regular season, then adding 10 points in 16 playoff appearances.

And he might have a chance to build on that campaign.

Per the Dispatch, the Blue Jackets expect Stenlund to play next year in Sweden, rather than try to make the move overseas. It’s possible the Isles could make the same decision with Soderstrom — meaning it’s not all bad for HV71.

 

Oilers re-sign Pakarinen for one year

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The Edmonton Oilers have given winger Iiro Pakarinen a one-year contract extension.

From the release:

Pakarinen just finished his third season with the Oilers organization, appearing in 14 regular season games in 2016-17, posting four points (2 goals, 2 assists).  The 25 year old forward missed 53 games due to an injury suffered during the pre-season. He appeared in one playoff game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Oilers brought Pakarinen over from Finland in 2014. Since then, he’s split his North American career between the AHL and NHL while drawing praise for his versatility and hard-nosed style.

Per CapFriendly, Pakarinen’s cap hit will be $750,000 in 2017-18. It’s a one-way deal.

Market heating up for prized Czech d-man Rutta

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Coming off an impressive performance for the Czech Republic at the World Hockey Championship, Jan Rutta is now being courted by a number of NHL clubs.

Per The Athletic, the Blackhawks are in contention for securing Rutta’s services. That comes on the heels of earlier reports from TSN’s Darren Dreger, who said there are “multiple” offers for the 26-year-old, including ones from Edmonton and Calgary.

“He’s a steady defenseman with size, and he had a strong finish of the season,” an NHL scout told The Athletic. “He was very good in the playoffs and played his best at the Worlds.”

Rutta, who was never drafted by an NHL club, has spent his professional career with Czech League outfit Pirati Chomutov. He’s blossomed into a talented offensive defenseman — finishing second among Czech League d-men with 32 points in 46 games this year — and, as mentioned above, has good size at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds.

Last week, Rutta’s agent — longtime Octagon Hockey representative Allan Walsh — tweeted that his client would make a decision on NHL offers soon.