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Central Division Weekly Roundup: Every Team Has Played a Game!

We haven’t had all teams playing at the same time yet, but at least every team has returned to action for the 2021 season.

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

1. Columbus Blue Jackets: 7 Points (2-2-3)

The Blue Jackets completed the first blockbuster trade of the season when they traded Pierre-Luc Dubois and a 2022 third-round draft pick to the Winnipeg Jets for Jack Roslovic and Patrik Laine. The players will have to quarantine for 14 days and miss seven games. The biggest question mark is Laine who is on the last year of his current deal and is a pending restricted free agent. The trade can only be judged after that contract is figured out and he re-signs.

While they did give up their top center, they get back a second or third-line center in Roslovic, who is also a Columbus native. Roslovic can mean a lot for the team and the relationship with the area. Having a homegrown player can also help show the success of hockey in the area for other players looking to move to Columbus. Roslovic also signed a new two-year, $3.8-million contract, and will be a restricted free agent when the contract ends. The Blue Jackets had previously inquired about both players and were able to snag both in one deal.

2. Dallas Stars: 6 Points (3-0-0)

The Dallas Stars have wasted no time after their delayed start and picked up right where they left off last. The Stars have won their first three games by a combined score of 12-3. The Stars have been led by Joe Pavelski who has been shot out of a cannon with eight points in three games, seven of which have come on the man advantage. The Stars have five players that are averaging a point-per-game pace in Pavelski, John Klingberg, Roope Hintz, Denis Gurianov and Alexander Radulov.

With just a one goal against per game pace, you would think that Ben Bishop has gotten off to a hot start, but he is still out with the same knee injury that forced him out last season. That means that playoff hero and former Carolina Hurricane Anton Khudobin has been tearing it up between the pipes. Khudobin has a .958 sv%, which ranks second in the league and the lowest GAA of .99. In just three games he has already registered a shutout and an assist. For the stat of the year, after last night’s game he has 69 saves on the year.

3. Florida Panthers: 6 Points (3-0-0)

The Florida Panthers may have had to wait to get their season started, but they have also started strong out of the gates. They have three wins in their first three games and pulled even with the Lightning last night with a shootout win against the Blue Jackets. The Panthers’ leading scorer is Patric Hornqvist, who has four points and three goals in three games. Hornqvist was acquired by the Panthers this offseason in the deal that sent Mike Matheson to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Panthers were also able to benefit from starting their season with their first two games coming against Chicago. They have 13 goals combined in their first three games which leads the league in goals per game (yes I know it’s a small sample size). The Panthers will still need to get Sergei Bobrovsky going. He has two starts this season and his best performance was a .889 sv% in a game where he let up four goals on 36 shots. They will not be able to win sustainably without their goaltending performing at an average level.

4. Tampa Bay Lightning: 6 Points (3-1-0)

Breaking down the standings all season will be a little tough with every team playing a different amount of games. Since last week, the Lightning have played just two games since the midway point of January. It is going to be tough to get a full feel on Tampa until they play a good stretch of games in a row. They had their third and fourth games postponed to later dates and then had to deal with the Canes’ outbreak.

In their four games played they still have six points and are in great shape in the division. The Lightning did have a little bit of a problem with the Blue Jackets. They were taken to overtime by the Blue Jackets. In their second game, they were beaten by the full-strength Columbus roster without Dubois. With their first two wins coming against Chicago, we still don’t know how this team will stand up to competition night in and night out this season.

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

Coming into the season, the Predators certainly expected to be in the top four of the division to go into the playoffs. So far they are one of three teams in the central that are below .500 in the standings. The Preds struggled in their series last week against the Dallas Stars, losing by a combined score of 10-2. The good news is that they did get Mikael Granlund, who missed their first two games quarantining, back in their lineup. Granlund has three points in his first three games and is a welcome addition to the lineup.

More good news for Nashville is that Roman Josi shows no signs of slowing down. He is leading the team both offensively and defensively. The top pairing is averaging over 24 minutes of ice team, most often against the opposition’s best lines. The Swiss defender also leads the team in shots with 26 this season. Last night he recorded the overtime game-winner against the Blackhawks in a much-needed win to right the ship.

6. Chicago Blackhawks: 6 Points (2-3-2)

The Blackhawks will have to be happy that they are currently in fourth place, but that is also largely due to playing more games than three teams that they are ahead of in the standings. Their only two regulation wins have come against the last-place team, the Detroit Red Wings, who were also dealing with multiple player absences due to COVID. Chicago is one of the bottom teams in the league when it comes to even-strength scoring; the Hawks have just 10 goals at even strength in seven games.

The Blackhawks do excel on the power play where they rank second in the league with nine power-play tallies. This breakdown between even-strength goals and power-play goals magnifies the issues with their roster. They do have some high-end talent offensive talent with Patrick Kane, Dylan Strome, and Dominik Kubalik they just don’t have any depth to compete up and down the roster. This is like what happened with the New York Rangers last year, who led the league with their power play.

7. Detroit Red Wings: 5 Points (2-4-1)

The Red Wings are one of three teams in the Central Division that have played their entire season schedule as planned. This fact is even more surprising when you look at the fact that they also have five players on the COVID list which is tied with the Hurricanes for most in the NHL but have had to continue playing their games. The absence of these four forwards and a defenseman have hurt the Wings, who had started strong but have not played well as of late.

Detroit was swept in its first mini-series against the Chicago Blackhawks, the only team that the Red Wings can look at and say that they are better than on paper. They lost those games by a combined score of 10-3 and extended their losing streak to three games. Neither Thomas Greiss nor Jonathan Bernier were able to post at least a .900 sv% in those games. The Wings are better than these last two games and will be more competitive when they have their full roster. It just makes it a tougher start for Dylan Larkin’s first season as a captain and a roster that desperately needs some confidence.

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

Not too much has changed from last week for the Carolina Hurricanes, except we now have a complete COVID picture for the Canes. The Canes ended up having six players on the NHL’s COVID protocol list, the only new case in the past week is Jesper Fast. Fast was added to the COVID list on Saturday. With no new names coming since Saturday, the Canes were able to return to a full practice Tuesday and should be able to resume against the Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday.

The Canes have been finding interesting ways to keep active while the team facilities have been closed. Strength and conditioning coach Bill Burniston has been busy. Once the team made it back home, he was distributing exercise equipment to different players. Last weekend he also found an instructor to lead a remote workout for the players.

Looking to returning to the ice, it will be a challenge for the Canes to play with a depleted roster Thursday. However, they are already looking at playing 53 games in 100 days. That is going to take a toll on the team, so if they are able to play any games now, even with every taxi squad player active on the roster, that prevents them from canceling more games and forcing them to play 54 or 55 games in that same 100-day span. This will be an intense end to the season with several back-to-back sets.