Yep, the Central Division looks formidable again


If you’re looking at nightly schedule, and your favorite team is facing someone from the Central Division, are you really ever comfortable?

OK, the Winnipeg Jets are dealing with some issues finishing chances and stopping pucks. And, yes, the Colorado Avalanche are struggling with growing points post-Patrick-Roy.

Still, there’s not really a soft team in this division, a point that Thursday really hammered home.

Hossa and Crawford hoss up

On paper, a 4-0 Blackhawks win against the Avalanche follows the script you would expect, even if the Blackhawks enjoyed the added wrinkle of Marian Hossa continuing to enjoy a small-sample-size resurgence (two goals on Thursday, four goals and one assist for five points in his past four games).

Even with score effects almost certainly factoring in, it must be noted that Colorado didn’t necessarily roll over here, though; the Avs generated a 38-21 shot differential. They just couldn’t solve Corey Crawford on Thursday.

The Blackhawks are on a five-game winning streak and have won five of six (5-0-1) and seven of nine (7-1-1).

Stars build momentum

It’s true that both St. Louis (5-4-2) and Dallas (4-4-2) did not expect such modest records to begin 2016-17. Still, both teams are showing flashes of the brilliance they are capable of, with Dallas breaking a troubling three-game losing streak and a trend of losing five of its last six.

The Stars stand as an interesting barometer for the division in the short term: their next two games involve a back-to-back set against the Blackhawks and then a road game against the Winnipeg Jets.

(They also face a tough five-game road trip after Saturday’s home game against Chicago … so Dallas would earn some plaudits if they don’t hit the wall too hard through mid-November.)

Predators make progress

The Arizona Coyotes beat the Nashville Predators 3-2 via a shootout on Thursday. Louis Domingue is a story in his own right as the main factor in Arizona’s streak of winning three of four.

Still, you have to tip your cap to the Predators to some extent. They’ve generated three of four points in the last two games to somewhat salvage a debilitating five-game road trip (1-2-2).

They now get to enjoy four games in a row in Nashville and seven of their next 10 at home after boosting their confidence a bit these past couple nights.

Does it mean that they’ve justified their status as a chic Stanley Cup pick? Maybe not, but they’d probably settle for another step toward respectability.

From the look of things, in this Central Division, you might not be able to afford too many dry spells.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

caufield surgery
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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

matty beniers
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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.