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Central Division Weekly Roundup: Jockeying for Position at the Top

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Despite only losing two games in regulation in March, the Canes only make up one point on the Panthers and Lightning.

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

1. Carolina Hurricanes: 721 P% (23-8-3) 49 Points

The Canes were unable to take advantage of the Lightning’s loss to get to first in the Central last night. On the bright side, the Canes did get center Vincent Trocheck back from injury. Just take it with a grain of salt that it might take a little bit for the lines to re-gel.

In Elliotte Friedman’s 31 thoughts, he mentioned that the Hurricanes had inquired about Travis Harmonic from the Vancouver Canucks. The move is somewhat confusing to me as the Canes already have one more defenseman on the roster than there are positions on the ice. While Harmonic does play with an edge and is a right-hand shot, with the way that Jake Bean and Haydn Fleury have been paying it doesn’t seem like it's worth giving up pieces to add a depth defenseman.

With a fully healthy lineup, the Canes have a dangerous team with three great scoring lines. Granted, Teuvo Teravainen hasn’t shown anything that would point to him returning soon which could lead the Canes to look for a winger. At this point, it doesn’t do the Canes a ton of good to trade prospects for a rental when they already have a complete roster. Around the deadline, no news could be the best news for the Canes.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning: .714 P% (24-9-2) 50 Points

Not to make too much out of a situation, but Victor Hedman missed some time in last night’s loss against the Columbus Blue Jackets. He was able to return but it will be interesting to see if anything comes out in the coming days about the injury. It might be mild, but it could always be a Vincent Trocheck issue where it comes up after the game. Hedman has been the league’s best defender this season and it would be a shame to lose him for any amount of time. Just something to keep an eye on.

For the first time this season, the Lightning have an official losing streak which has reached three games. Though they don’t have anything to worry about, the Panthers and Canes have kept the pressure on Tampa which has left them tied with the Panthers and just one point ahead of the Canes in third. This streak also marks the first time this season that Andrei Vasilevskiy has lost two games in a row.

3. Florida Panthers: .694 P% (23-9-4) 50 Points

After struggling last week, the Florida Panthers have turned it around for three straight wins to re-take second place in the division. They swept the Dallas Stars and were able to win their first game against the Detroit Red Wings. Say what you want about the Red Wings; we are seeing teams lose against them in crucial moments of the season and the Panthers have been able to keep it going despite one of the most catastrophic injuries to their best player, Aaron Ekblad.

Ekblad has a broken leg that will keep him out for 12 weeks and in the grand scheme of things, it could have been much worse. Ekblad’s injury is very similar to Dougie Hamilton’s last season. He was in the middle of a career year with 11 goals and 11 assists. Last night the Panthers also lost Anthony Duclair for seven to ten days with an upper-body injury. Duclair has also had a resurgent year playing in the top six. The Panthers may have to be more aggressive than they were originally planning at the trade deadline.

4. Nashville Predators: .527 P% (29-17-1) 39 Points

Goaltender Juuse Sarros was named the NHL’s third star of the week. He saved 80 of the 82 shots faced with a 3-0-0 record and a .976 sv%. His four wins since the start of last weekend is a big reason that the Predators are part of the playoff conversation again. The Predators went from around a 7% chance to make the playoffs to a 30% chance to make the playoffs in the last week alone. While the Predators were banking on a rebuild, this could be the impetus to show they were right that their roster has the right composition.

Now the Predators and GM David Poile have a tough decision to make looking at the future of both the Predators and the Central Division. They can continue the strategy of make the playoffs and anything can happen, but they do need to look at the future. Next year when the old divisions are reunited the Predators still must deal with the Colorado Avalanche, Winnipeg Jets, St Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild. Are they going to be able to compete with that group with their current roster?

5. Chicago Blackhawks: .527 P% (17-15-5) 39 Points

The Chicago Blackhawks were thrown a playoff lifeline by beating the Carolina Hurricanes last night. Their toughest stretch of the season has seen them go just 5-8-1 and drop from fourth place to fifth in the division and open up the fourth spot to the struggling Dallas Stars. In the next month, they play four games against the Nashville Predators, who are in fourth and still have four games against both the Canes and Stars.

The best thing for the Blackhawks is to just maintain the status quo at the trade deadline. They might not get to the fourth-best team in this division but they need to be looking through this year. You can look at a team like the Philadelphia Flyers who just waived one of their best defensemen to possibly make a move to get in the top four of this year’s division without thinking about the future. Sometimes inactivity is the smartest activity.

6. Columbus Blue Jackets: .486 P% (14-15-8) 36 Points

While in the midst of a now three-way playoff race, the Columbus Blue Jackets’ win against the Tampa Bay Lightning seems big. However, it might have come too late. Columbus’s two losses in a row to Detroit may have doomed their season at a critical point. With the Dallas Stars and the Nashville Predators surging, the Blue Jackets have dropped to just 2% odds to make the playoffs, according to Money Puck.

It certainly doesn’t seem like Jarmo Kekalainen is happy with his current team. The GM was quoted “Especially to think that we played some of our best hockey just before that (vs. Carolina). To go to Detroit and play like that, get beaten like that twice in a row, is not good.” It looks increasingly like the Blue Jackets will move on from John Tortorella at the end of the season when his contract runs out. There is no need to fire him and implement an interim if they don’t have anyone they believe in at the moment.

7. Dallas Stars: .485 P% (11-12-10) 32 Points

With the North Division causing the schedule to run past May 10 to May 11, pushing the original start date of the playoffs back a day, it would be interesting to see if the NHL would move any of the Stars’ schedule around. They have an infamous schedule with their two breaks, maybe the league could move a game or two around and push the start date of the playoffs back another day or two. With the initial date already being breached, what is the harm in pushing it back again and preserving the health of a team that is in the running to make the postseason?

The last week was not kind to the Stars. With just one win they have dropped to second to last in the division. While the Predators are maintaining the final playoff spot at the moment, if the Stars were to win all of the games they have in hand they would still make the playoffs, and it is important to keep that and the fact that they have had the most impactful injuries in the division in mind. They are bound to sneak up on the division and get that fourth spot.

8. Detroit Red Wings: .378 P% (12-21-) 28 Points

Detroit had its first two-game sweep of the season last week against the Blue Jackets. The last week two weeks have been their best two-week stretch of their season with a 4-3-0 record. While the Red Wings struggled against the Florida Panthers, they are generally showing that they still can compete. The biggest issue with the makeup is their defensive core. They should be looking at pieces like Shayne Gostisbehre and even someone like Jake Gardiner to help their defense in the next couple of years when they are making their trade deadline trades.

Evgeny Svechnikov has finally seemed to break into the lineup. He has now played three-straight games just for the second time this season. On Sunday he finally broke 10 minutes of ice time for the first time since March 4. In the nine games he has played he has recorded three goals and two assists, including a game-winning goal. He seems like a player that should end up getting a larger role after the trade deadline could see players like Bobby Ryan leave the team.