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Central Division Weekly Roundup: Canes and Lighting go Streaking

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The Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lighting are the top two teams in the Central and have active winning streaks.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

1. Tampa Bay Lightning: .775 P% (15-4-1) 31 Points

Tampa Bay was largely untested in the schedule heading into last week but now the Lightning have shown just how good they are. In their last four games, they have recorded three shutouts, all from Andrei Vasileskiy. Since Feb. 20, the Lighting rank first in goals against with seven, which is just 1.17 allowed per game. Vasileskiy has emerged as an early favorite for the Vezina Trophy with a .942 save percentage, 1.65 GAA, four shutouts and 14 wins all ranked first in the NHL.

Mikhail Sergavhev is having a breakout year even while playing on the third pairing with Cal Foote. Sergachev is playing over 21:00 minutes a night and ranks fifth on the team in points with 15 and second on the team in assists with 14. While he does have a 58.9 OZ% the coaches have been giving him more responsibility. He has also been playing on both the power play and penalty kill more than he has in any other season. He’s responded well to the added time and increased time on ice and has 74% Goals For this season.

2. Carolina Hurricanes: .705 P% (15-6-1) 31 Points

After losing three straight to the Lightning, the Hurricanes bounced back with three-straight wins. Alex Nedeljkovic played well after earning his first career shutout a little over a week ago. He is starting to look like he can be an NHL regular. This could mean that he takes the backup role when Petr Mrazek is back. With both “Ned” and James Reimer on one-way contracts, the Canes will have to make a tough decision on who to waive to the taxi squad. If it is Reimer, he is more likely to be claimed but the Canes would get additional cap space with the $3.125 million not counting while on the taxi squad.

Pierre Lebrun has reported that talks between the Carolina Hurricanes and Dougie Hamilton have stalled. Hamilton is asking for $8.5 million or more while the Canes are closer to a $6.5-million contract. This will come down to how much Hamilton wants to stay because it just doesn’t make sense for the Canes to go up to $8.5 million with the team having nine other free agents this season and five more coming next offseason that are currently on the active roster.

Both Hamilton’s offensive and defensive play have lagged a bit this season even though the shooting percentage will increase. The price isn’t even taking into account the term of the deal. Hamilton is 27 so he does have good years remaining, but the Canes cannot buy high without the ability to sell down the line if they are looking for a seven or eight-year contract. Jake Bean and Haydn Fleury have proven that they can be everyday NHL defensemen, which allows the Canes to take a harder stance on the contract.

3. Florida Panthers: .714 P% (13-4-4) 30 Points

The Florida Panthers are 13-4-4 this season and three of their four overtime losses have come against the Hurricanes. While it's never ideal to have three-point games in the division, the Canes have made up three points in three games against the Panthers, who have looked like one of the strongest teams in the division this year. Despite those results, the Panthers still maintain 30 points in the standings and sit third in the Central

In the past few days, there have been a couple of trade bait lists that have come out that have listed Chris Driedger as a top asset. It seems insane that the Florida Panthers, who are looking to be in Stanley Cup contention, would trade their current starting goaltender. Yes, they are stuck with this and eight more seasons of Sergei Bobrovsky and have Spencer Knight in the pipeline. But in no world would a team trade their starting goaltender while competing for a championship.

4. Chicago Blackhawks: .609 P% (12-7-4) 28 Points

The Chicago Blackhawks have had a strong start to the season, but March marks their toughest challenge of the season. In the coming month, they have five games against the Tampa Bay Lightning. They also have nine of their 14 games this month against the top three teams in the division. While they have been doing well this season, they have yet to be put to the real test. While they are nine points clear of the Blue Jackets, this could see the Dallas Stars back into playoff contention after this month.

The Blackhawks as of recent have been able to lean on backup goaltender Maclom Subban more than they have in the past. Kevin Lankinen has been handling the lion's share of the games this season, but recently Subban started two straight games. Last month Subban went 3-1-0 with a .932 sv%. He has been able to give Lankinen a much-needed break in an extremely condensed schedule. Rest is going to end up being the most important factor going into the end of the season and the playoffs.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets: .479 P% (9-10-5) 23 Points

The last 10 days for the Columbus Blue Jackets have been terrible. They had five straight losses that included three to the second-to-last place Predators. The other two came against the team they are fighting for fourth place with, the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blue Jackets were finally able to right the ship against the Detroit Red Wings last night, which should quell the hot seat talk for John Tortorella. While it is unlikely for them to make a coaching change in season with the COVID restrictions, if they don’t go on a run here it may force their hand.

With Chicago having such a tough schedule, this could be the month where they make up ground. They are just five points behind the Blackhawks with one more game played. With half of their games coming against the struggling Dallas Stars and the Detroit Red Wings, the Blue Jackets still very much have a chance to catch Chicago. One thing to keep an eye on is their goaltending. Elvis Merzlikins had an upper-body injury early in February but returned on the Feb. 18. Joonas Korpisalo played all but two games last month and went 3-6-2. It could be time to make a change when it comes to the tougher teams like Florida and Carolina this month.

6. Dallas Stars: .471 P% (6-7-4) 16 Points

The Stars did not fare well against the Lightning, scoring zero goals in their two games losing by a combined score of 5-0. Since returning from their second mini-break of the season, the Stars are just 1-3-1 with their only win coming against the Florida Panthers. The Stars are now entering a phase in their schedule where they play 40 games in 70 days, which averages out to four games every six days. They will now no longer have consecutive days off for the rest of the season.

The Stars have already been struggling with injuries. Roope Hintz has been a game-time decision the last few weeks and Alexander Radulov has been out since the beginning of February. These are on top of the early injuries like Jamie Benn who started the season late. Now with little to no recovery time, the Stars will likely see their injury list continue to grow. Anton Khudobin has had to sit more games in favor of Jake Oettinger to try to keep him fresh. Ben Bishop is slated to return this month and the earlier the better to keep fresh netminders every night.

7. Nashville Predators: .455 P% (20-12-0) 20 Points

The Nashville Predators have been one of the most surprising teams this season, but for every wrong reason. Every week it seems like there are more rumors about the Predators selling off and prepping for a rebuild. But what is behind the poor play? They are a positive possession team and rank fourth in the league with a 52.5% Corsi which is better than both the Florida Panthers and the Carolina Hurricanes. They also rank sixth in shots per game with 31.9 while also allowing 29.1 shots against per game.

The Predators just have not been able to score. They have just 2.29 goals per game, which ranks 28th. They have the league’s second-worst even-strength shooting percentage of just 5.6%, only ahead of the Buffalo Sabres. To no surprise, this also leads to Nashville having a bottom three PDO with a 978. Normally this would mean that we would expect the Predators to regress back to the mean and have a better shooting percentage for the team. However, in a shortened and condensed season, it will be too little too late. What this all does show is that they aren’t as far gone as it appears for the core of the team even if the season is likely far gone.

8. Detroit Red Wings: .340 P% (7-15-3) 17 Points

Thursday night could mark the first time that the Svechnikov brothers could meet in the NHL. Evgeny Svechnikov is four years older than Hurricane Andrei Svechnikov. Despite the added four years, the elder brother has just 21 games of NHL experience. He missed significant time due to a leg injury and spent all of last season in the AHL as a “conditioning stint.” The on-ice meeting has looked questionable at times lately as well with Evgeny shuffling back and forth on the taxi squad but looks like he is on track to play Thursday against his little brother.

Another Red Wing who has made quite a comeback is Bobby Ryan. Ryan signed a one-year, $1-million contract this offseason with the Red Wings. After five seasons with the Ottawa Senators that saw him go through many different challenges, he signed in Detroit citing Steve Yzerman being the GM and seeing that Detroit was a place to get right. Now he has scored six goals and 12 points in 23 games and could be a bargain at the deadline for a team. It just depends on how Yzerman will handle Ryan. While there isn’t a NMC on the contract, Yzerman could still do right by Ryan and let him play out his contract in Detroit if that’s what he wants.