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Central Division Weekly Roundup: Podium Sweep for the Southeast Division

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Old South East Division foes currently occupy the top three three positions of the Central Division.

Columbus Blue Jackets v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images

A quick note, I reorganized standings by points percentage this week and will be going forward.

1. Florida Panthers: 20 Points (9-2-2) .769 P%

Before last week the Panthers had only played the bottom of the division and it was hard to get a read on how successful they actually were. In the past seven days, that they only played the Lightning and won two of those three games has started making believers out of doubters. In these three games, 10 different players have recorded a goal and five players have scored three points. This includes former Carolina Hurricane Eetu Luostarinen, who was sent to Florida last year for Vincent Trocheck.

They didn’t beat the Lighting with the top of their lineup, but they have beat them the same way the Canes have, with depth. Florida also beat Tampa despite having bad special teams. They rank 18th on the power play and 20th on the penalty kill, and this is with almost a full division of teams not playing due to Covid. At even strength, the Panthers won the possession battle with a 51.1% Corsi and a 52.9% goals for through the three-game set. Looking to the upcoming week, they have a three-game road trip, including their first of the season against the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday.

2. Carolina Hurricanes: 20 Points (10-3-0) .769 P%

The Carolina Hurricanes saw their new addition in Cedric Paquette pay off well on Monday. Even after driving down the entire east coast Sunday to play Monday, he brought so much energy. In a VERY small sample size, it certainly seems like he’s a guy who will fit into the team’s system well. He keeps constant energy and brings the hits. He had a large hit on Seth Jones and had a couple of dust-ups after the whistle on multiple occasions.

This is the kind of guy the Canes have not had in years and it is refreshing to see. Both Warren Foegele and Brock McGinn have some hitting abilities but still play with more finesse than Paquette. He also brings more strength up the middle and will be an upgrade over Morgan Geekie, who was the fourth-line center.

The Canes also played Jake Bean over Haydn Fleury on Monday, which saw some mixed reactions from fans. I really like Jake Bean and it is nice to see him come in and get his first two NHL points, one from an assist and one from a shot that he made and was re-directed by Brock McGinn. They had to get Bean some playing time and discussed having him take an AHL stint to see game time, but this was a much better solution. He did have a couple of defensive mistakes, including one that led to a breakaway for the Blue Jackets.

3. Tampa Bay Lightning: 21 Points (10-3-1) .750 P%

After two losses to the Florida Panthers, the Lighting have now dropped to second in the division for the first time since the season got underway. Last week, the Lightning were without Steven Stamkos, who was on the Covid list, but they got him back for Monday’s loss to Florida. Last Thursday, the Lightning also lost Anthony Cirelli to an upper-body injury and he is considered week-to-week moving forward. Cirelli was off to a great start offensively with four goals and six assists in 12 games, which ranks fourth on the team in point production.

Cirelli is the second center that Tampa has lost to longer-term injuries as they lost fourth-liner Mitchel Stephens last month. The Lightning have had to cobble together some new lines while the forwards have been out. This has also included bringing in prospect Alexander Volkov. Volkov has only 18 career NHL games but has been coming into his own as of late. He has three goals in his last two games while playing on the fourth line with Gemel Smith and Patrick Maroon.

4. Chicago Blackhawks: 20 Points (8-5-4) .588 P%

The Hawks are already playing well, even without some of these big players. Their best player in the young season has been goaltender Kevin Lankinen. The emergence of Lankinen has pushed young goaltender Collin Delia. Delia was expected to take a big step forward in the Blackhawks’ organization the last two seasons, but has been in the back seat due to the signings of Robin Lehner last season and now the emergence of Lankinen. It will be an interesting story to track to see if he will maintain patience or if he gets fed up and asks for a trade at some point.

He has played 20 games with a 7-7-3 record and a .902 save percentage, with 16 of those games coming last season. His slow start this year with two losses and a .863 save percentage is the reason why they went to Lankinen this season. Now Lankinen is tied for 11th with a .925 save percentage and with a 6-2-3 record. This is the Finn’s first season in the NHL at the age of 25 and he is quickly becoming one of the biggest breakout players this season.

5. Dallas Stars: 14 Points (5-3-4) .583 P%

The Dallas Stars had to have two more games postponed, this time due to weather and not Covid. This could be a good reset for the Stars, who have lost their last five games and seven of their last eight. This dip has taken them from second in the standings down to fifth. The issue in this division format; the Stars have lost four games to Carolina and one to the Blue Jackets, two teams they are fighting with for a playoff position. The Stars are still playing well analytically. For the month of February, they are ranked second with a 56% Corsi.

The Stars have been undone by their goaltending. Anton Khudobin was scheduled to be in net on Monday but has only played two games this month. In those games, he has just a .857 save percentage. The Stars heavily relied on Khudobin in the playoffs last season and needed him to be the same guy this season. They have now been relying on Jake Oettinger, who has started four games with a .910 save percentage. The lack of consistent goaltending has been hurting them which we saw in the series against the Hurricanes.

6. Columbus Blue Jackets: 18 Points (7-6-4) .529 P%

The Blue Jackets have been a very confusing team to watch this season. Normally a John Tortorella team doesn’t get outworked, but they have against the Canes multiple times this season. The second offside challenge from Torts just seemed like waving the white flag to the players. Monday also marked the third game in their last six where they have let up six goals, which also seems hard to believe.

The only players that seem to be playing is the top line of Patrik Laine, Jack Roslovic, and Cam Atkinson. Atkinson and Roslovic are tied for sixth in the league for February point with nine in seven games played. Outside of that, they have struggled. Their lack of depth up the middle has really reared its ugly head. They rank third to last in the dot with a 43.2% win rate this month. They are starting most plays off going backward and that’s not going to help win games.

7. Nashville Predators: 12 Points (6-9-0) .400 P%

The Nashville Predators have had their last two games against the Dallas Stars postponed due to the winter weather in Texas. This could be coming at the best time as they have lost four of their last five games including splitting a home series against the Detroit Red Wings. The Predators have just struggled to get any kind of sustained offense going this season and gotten worse in recent weeks. In February, the Predators have scored three or more goals twice in seven games. Throughout the whole season, they have the third-worst goal scoring with 2.33 goals for per game throughout the season.

While their playoff hopes are likely over and the window of this current core looks closed, they do have their next six games against the two worst teams in the division by points percentage other than themselves, with four against the Columbus Blue Jackets and two more against the Detroit Red Wings. They need to get a winning streak together through these next six games if they want to have any chance to plant themselves among the Chicago Blackhawks or Dallas Stars for the final playoff spot in the Central.

8. Detroit Red Wings: 11 Points (4-10-3) .324 P%

Danny Dekeyser has been waived and assigned to the taxi squad for the Red Wings. Dekeyser is still trying to recover from a back injury that occurred in 2019, he most recently had back surgery in December. The surgery can take up to two full years to recover from. While he has been on the active roster, playing 10 games this season and averaging around 15 minutes of ice time per game, this was his first action in over 14 months of treatment and he had just eight games in the 2019-20 season.

This move allows the Red Wings to keep the defenseman practicing with the team and continue his recovery process. The Red Wings are hoping that he can get back to his 2018-2019 form before his injury. He averaged over 22 minutes of ice time per game before his injury. He turns 31 next month and is signed through the 2021-22 season with a $5-million cap hit. While it may be a long shot for him to get back to full strength, it would be great to see him get back to a top-four role on a nightly basis.