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Central Division Weekly Roundup: New Faces and New Places

The central division was not able to get out of week one without a COVID outbreak that could affect four teams.

Carolina Hurricanes v Nashville Predators Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images

This year the weekly recap will feature the Discover NHL Central Division Presented by New Amsterdam Vodka.

1. Florida Panthers: 4 Points (2-0-0)

The Florida Panthers had the best start they could have hoped for. After not having their opening series against the Stars, they were able to start their season with back-to-back wins over the Blackhawks to pull level with the Lightning with four points, tied for the lead in the Central Division. While it is going to be hard to benchmark their future success based on two games against Chicago, what is interesting is that Chris Driedger has had a better start to the season than Sergei Bobrovsky after one game.

The biggest story coming out of the Panthers' camp was the fate of Keith Yandle. Yandle was an alternate captain last season, but at a certain point, he fell out of favor with the management team. There were doubts that he would even be at camp or make the starting roster that would have cost him his ironman streak of 865 games going into the season. Eventually, he was given the chance to start the game, has kept his “A,” AND scored a goal in the first game. You could tell the team was excited for him, and it will be interesting to see if this will rally the Panthers and unite them this season.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning: 4 Points (2-0-0)

Getting a read on the Tampa Bay Lightning so far has been tough. They have had a slower paced start than other teams in the Central Division after having two of their games against the Dallas Stars postponed. In their only two games, they have had convincing wins against the Chicago Blackhawks, who are certainly looking like a top candidate for the first overall pick this season. They still have 10 goals in two games and a fully healthy Steven Stamkos. Stamkos, who has struggled with injuries recently, has two goals and three assists and looks to be back to his All-Star level of play.

The Lightning did have to go without Tyler Johnson in their first game due to cap reasons. This season we have already seen tons of roster shuffling over the first week when it comes to the taxi squad. Every team will be managing their cap with daily transactions and keeping Johnson’s salary off for even one game was enough to get the Lightning cap compliant.

3. Nashville Predators: 4 Points (2-1-0)

The Nashville Predators will be on high COVID alert after the Canes placing four new players on the NHL’s COVID protocol list not even 12 hours after they played a game. Let’s hope it isn’t serious but if it is, we could be looking at some real interesting scheduling cases coming down the stretch for the Central. This will also be tough for a Nashville team that actually made multiple acquisitions this offseason. These include ex Carolina Hurricane Erik Haula and Luke Kunin.

Any possible postponed games would help in one area, it prevents Mikael Granlund from missing additional games. The Finish forward has yet to practice with the team after re-signing with the Preds on Dec. 22, 2020. He was first held up with some immigration issues leaving Finland and since returning to Tennessee on Saturday, he has been in the COVID protocol before he can join the team. Granlund led the Predators forwards in ice time with 17:48 TOI/GP and ranked fourth on the team with a 13.1% shooting last year.

4. Carolina Hurricanes: 4 Points (2-1-0)

The Carolina Hurricanes have had a very up and down start to the season that has now been abruptly paused due to COVID. The Canes added Teuvo Teravainen, Jaccob Slavin, Warren Foegele, and Jordan Martinook to the COVID list, joining Jordan Staal. The players on this list cannot travel back with the team and will be quarantined alone for 10 days.

The timing of this depending on how long they have to postpone their games could have been worse. The Canes really felt the absence of Jordan Staal, now they could be getting him back with the rest of the team. This is also two days after Rod Brind’Amour mentioned that the Canes had a lot of banged-up players just two games into the year. Teuvo Teravainen also missed the third period on Monday’s game with an injury. Now he may be able to come back and not miss a full game.

The Canes have been led this season by Andrei Svechnikov, who has been single-handedly creating his own goals and set up Sebastian Aho with a beautiful goal on Monday. The Canes have also gotten early contributions from two big question marks, Nino Niederreiter and Vincent Trocheck, who both have multiple goals in the first three games. Both have high ceilings, and the Canes are hoping to have major contributions from both. If both are really clicking it creates huge matchup problems for opposing teams who will not be able to just simply focus on the top line.

5. Detroit Red Wings: 4 Points (2-2-0)

The Detroit Red Wings came into the season with a new captain in Dylan Larkin but were still expected to be in the bottom of the league. However, they have played better than most have expected. They split their opening two series against the Canes and the Blue Jackets. They have gotten contributions from new addition Bobby Ryan, who has four goals in three games. Ryan stated one reason he came to Detroit when he signed in the offseason, Steve Yzerman. The hire of Yzerman will really speed up the development of the Wings and he navigated the rebuild brilliantly in Tampa Bay.

After playing the Carolina Hurricanes, the Red Wings had to place Robby Fabbri and Adam Earne in COVID protocol. Now everyone will have to wait and see if the problem will be bigger for the Wings.

6. Columbus Blue Jackets: 3 Points (1-2-1)

The Columbus Blue Jackets came into the season with a personnel issue of their own. Their start center, Pierre-Luc Dubois was a late RFA signing and snuck in just under the deadline to make it to camp and start the season on time. There have been rumors that he has also asked for a trade, wants a bigger stage to play on and wants to go to a large market, or Canada. Columbus is hoping that in a new division the team can rise above the ranks to get to the playoffs and help convince him to stay.

However, that isn’t going so well at the moment with just a 1-2-1 record and three points in the standings. Their game is messy all around. They have given up three or more goals in each of their games while only scoring two per game. So far their only win has come in the same game that Dubois has scored and that was against Detroit, a team they have to be able to beat regularly to make it to the playoffs.

7. Chicago Blackhawks: 1 Point (0-3-1)

The Chicago Blackhawks earned their first point with an overtime loss to the Florida Panthers last night. The Blackhawks were always in for a rough season, but with the last-second losses of Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach, the Hawks went from a bottom-10 team to a bottom-three team in the league.

They also do not have any stability in the crease, as they are going with a trio of goaltenders in Collin Delia, Kevin Lankinen, and Malcolm Subban…none of which have a win yet. Delia leads the team in starts with two and save percentage at .855%. With all three goalies having over a 5.00 GAA the Blackhawks may be looking to the waiver wire to get some better depth goaltending.

8. Dallas Stars: 0 Points (0-0-0)

The Dallas Stars have yet to play a game but heading into Thursday, they were not in last place in the division. That belonged to the Chicago Blackhawks who were able to climb to seventh place when they earned their first point in four tries. The Stars schedule has been updated with the games that were postponed due to COVID. The Stars are set to begin their schedule on Friday Jan. 22 against the Nashville Predators at home.