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Central Division Weekly Roundup: The Canes Rise to the Top

After getting back into action the Carolina Hurricanes have won five straight games to rocket up to first place in the division.

Carolina Hurricanes v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

1. Carolina Hurricanes: 12 Points (6-1-0)

There have been a lot of changes for the Canes from last week. First, the Canes returned to the ice with 80% of their team with success. Last night the Hurricanes also got four of their players back from the COVID list. This is a lot of turmoil and uncertainty in the lineup just not with players, but with their conditioning levels. The main thing that has been clear in all of this ... Vincent Trocheck has arrived.

Trocheck has five goals in this young season and has looked dominant in the offensive zone. He has been scoring in different ways. He is not just using his shot on rushes but finding his way to the net to finish off rebounds. Against Dallas, he had a two-goal game and technically the game-winning goal in each. In the second game, he scored the shootout goal that proved to be the one to seal the game.

The way that he has been playing this season is exactly why Don Waddell went out and trade for him last season. He is really settling in to be the best second-line center the Canes have seen in years.

The unfortunate news in the re-start is the injury to Petr Mrazek. In three games played, Mrazek had recorded two shutouts and a league-leading .955 save percentage with a .99 GAA. Mrazek will be out an undetermined length of time after undergoing surgery on his right thumb.

The Canes are still in good hands with James Reimer, who has yet to lose a game this season. The big question in net is who will be the new backup, with the answer likely Alex Nedelkjovic. Long considered the future of the Canes between the pipes, he will have an extended opportunity to prove what he can do in the NHL. We could see him as soon as Sunday with the Canes facing a back-to-back against the Blue Jackets.

2. Florida Panthers: 11 Points (5-0-1)

After the Dallas Stars losing to the Carolina Hurricanes this weekend, the Panthers are the last team in the Central Division that has yet to lose in regulation. The Panthers have been led by Carter Verhaeghe and Patric Hornqvist, who both have five goals and two assists in six games. They are both tied for second in the league for goals per game played. Two more players, Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau also have seven points. Huberdeau leads the team in assists with six.

The Panthers have been playing well, but their record could also be due to their schedule. Out of their six games, four were against Detroit and Chicago, who are two of the bottom three teams. They are set to face the Predators next, who are second to last in the division. The good thing for Florida is that they have won the games that they are expected to win, but they also have yet to face a real challenge.

3. Dallas Stars: 11 Points (5-1-1)

Joe Pavelski is having a great season, and it is completely under the radar. With two goals and two assists last night, Pavelski now has 14 points in seven games played. That mark ties Dino Ciccarelli for the second-most points scored in the first seven games in North Stars/Stars franchise history. Ciccarelli also has the record of 15 points in the same time span. The 36-year-old winger is in his second season with the Stars. His five goals are already over one-third of his production from last season.

With a 6-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Dallas Stars only two losses have come against the Hurricanes. In the most recent game against the Hurricanes, Jamie Benn returned to action for the first time since Jan. 22nd. In just two games back, he has recorded two goals and three assists. Seeing his impact on the Stars’ line up, it is incredible that they were able to only lose one game without him on the ice.

4. Tampa Bay Lightning: 11 Points (5-1-1)

After losing two straight games, the Lightning have turned it around with back-to-back wins against the Nashville Predators. Highly touted rookie Cal Foote scored his first NHL goal on Saturday in a 4-3 win. Foote spent the last two years in the American Hockey League with the Syracuse Crunch but cracked the lineup out of camp as the seventh defenseman. His entry-level deal allows the Lightning to add him to the lineup to save salary when needed.

The fact that he was able to also produce in just his fourth NHL game just seems very Tampa Bay as of late. They just cannot seem to miss on prospects. Foote is getting eased into the big leagues. In four games played, he is averaging over 10 minutes a game but has started 69.5% of his shifts in the offensive zone.

Even with this, he has a 47.1% Corsi, which is fourth to last on the team. We know that it is tougher for rookie defensemen to get used to the speed of the game, so he will continue to improve. But for now, he can say that he has his first NHL goal and will make it harder for the team to keep him in the press box.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets: 11 Points (4-4-3)

Last night marked the first game for the new acquisitions of Jack Roslovic and Patrick Laine. However, their first game did not go to plan as the Blue Jackets lost by 6-2. There is a silver lining in the loss, Roslovic recorded his first point, an assist, as a Blue Jacket. This is impressive after the pair from Winnipeg had to quarantine for two weeks before being able to play with their new team, which makes it much harder for acquisitions to jump into the lineup and make an immediate impact, but Roslovic was able to.

The Blue Jackets have also been disappointed in their defensive play. Zack Weresnki and Seth Jones have largely played with each other the last three seasons but were split up earlier this season. They have tried to shuffle their top four, but what remains clear is that Jones is struggling. His 44.2% Corsi ranks 165th of the 1889 defensemen that have played five or more games. He also ranks near the bottom in goals for. His 30.77% GF ranks 457 out of 518 players who have played 60 minutes of ice time. The Blue Jackets will have to get more out of their best defenseman if they expect to win games and make the playoffs.

6. Chicago Blackhawks: 10 Points (3-4-4)

The Blackhawks are going to be the annoying team that sticks around in the standings because of the loser point. With four overtime losses, Chicago has been able to get points in seven of their 11 games played. What really seems odd about their record is they have yet to win a game in overtime or the shootout. Normally these times of the game can equalize teams’ talent because you don’t need a ton of players when you are just rolling out three at a time. With Patrick Kane on the ice, you would think that they would be able to finish in overtime or the shootout, but they haven’t been able to.

After the loss to the Hurricanes at home last night, the Blackhawks are now just one of three teams that are getting less than one point per game in the standings. One team, the Nashville Predators, will be over that mark if they can win or receive an overtime loss tomorrow. While they are still poised to take over seventh place in the division, last night proved that they are no easy out.

7. Nashville Predators: 8 Points (4-5-0)

The Predators' start to the season has been as bad as they could have expected. They have played more games than half of the division, but have just eight points and sit second to last. Part of the struggle has come between the pipes. Jusse Saros has been their starter, playing five games with Pekka Rinne playing four. The two are ranked 19th and 56th, respectively, in save percentage. There are only three goalies worse than Rinne who have started four or more games. In their nine games played they have let up four or more goals five times.

This season also seems like a pivotal season for the franchise. They aren’t that far removed from having Stanley Cup aspirations and the last two offseasons they made moves to try to get that feeling back. Half of their roster was acquired from 2019 to now with some of those including Matt Duchene, Mikael Grandlund and Erik Haula. They also fired longtime coach Peter Laviolette and hired John Hynes. Hynes wasn’t impressive in New Jersey and was fired in his fifth season after his best finish came in 2017-2018 when they finished fifth in the Metro. Last year he went 16-11-1 before losing in the Qualifying Round.

8. Detroit Red Wings: 6 Points (2-6-2)

You cannot win a season in the first month, but you can certainly lose the season in the first month. This scenario is all too familiar with the Hurricanes and thinking back to the 2010s, but that is certainly the case for the Red Wings this season. The Wings have not won a game since Jan. 19 and made plenty of waves after beating the Hurricanes and Blue Jackets in the first four games, but have now lost six games straight. The good news is they are expecting to get four players back for their next game. Robby Fabbri, Adam Erne, Sam Gagner and Jon Merrill are all returning from the COVID-19 list.

Detroit’s five-on-five numbers don’t look incredible, but they also don’t look like they should be second-to-last in the league. Their 46.51 xGF% still ranks 25th and is better than the Washington Capitals, who have yet to lose a game in regulation. Their problem is the offense. They have the second-worst even-strength offense with a 1.51 GF/60 which is better than the Hurricanes 1.32. The main difference, is that the Canes’ power play is running at 26.9% where the Wings score just 11.5% of the time. When you aren’t scoring with the man advantage, you can’t afford any mistakes at even strength.