When I made my predictions for the regular season, I decide to go out on a limb and chose four Central Division teams to make the playoffs, meaning that the division would represent half of the Western Conference’s postseason squads. I actually might have been too conservative with my Central Division praise, though, being that each team would make the playoffs if they started today.
(John Manasso of NHL.com pointed this fact out on Sunday.)
For a quick look at where they rank in the top eight in the West, here’s a screen shot from NBC’s team standings. Click here for the full standings if you want to get a comprehensive look at the situation.
Let’s take a cursory glance at how each Central team is doing so far.
The Blackhawks might not rank so high in the West much longer since they’re actually quite average (7-6-1). Their 14 games played is three more than any other team except for the wholly awful Anaheim Ducks (12 GP), so quite a few teams should leapfrog them.
The Jaroslav Halak experiment is passing with flying colors right now. The Blues are currently on a four-game winning streak, allowing only 17 goals in nine games played so far this season.
The Red Wings have been dealing with injury problems so far, as Brian Rafalski, Johan Franzen and now both their goalies are dealing with bumps and bruises. Yet a resurgent Nicklas Lidstrom (11 points in nine games) and a talented, experienced group has this team starting strong.
It really says a lot about this division that three of its teams make up the 4-5-6 spots. The Predators are sliding a little bit, as they’ve dropped two games and allowed two more goals than they produced, but they’re a scrappy bunch who should be in the playoff picture this season.
The Blue Jackets are, by my estimation, the biggest surprise (and the most likely to flounder). They’ve allowed five more goals than they produced and are only 3-3 at home, yet who would have thought they’d be in front of Vancouver and San Jose so far this season?
Chances are pretty strong that at least one – if not two – of these teams will fall out of the picture. I’d venture that the Blue Jackets are the most likely to plummet out of the playoffs while the Predators need to keep fighting to stick around.
Either way, the division is probably the best in the NHL right now. The last three Western Conference champions have come from this division, so maybe it shouldn’t be that big of a surprise.