NHL Central Division: Week in Review

As the Columbus Blue Jackets are positioning themselves in 242 days for either top amateur prospects Nail Kabulov or Filip Forsberg in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, and as I primarily cover the Blue Jackets, I am left with little to write about in a positive manner.

Therefore, as part of a continuing series, here is a summary of the NHL Central Division for the first two weeks of the season (in order of the current Central Division standings):

Chicago Blackhawks (5-1-2) – The ‘Hawks spent the off-season trying to restore the sandpaper that the prior season’s purge diminished them of by acquiring gritty performers Steve Montador, Jamal Mayers and Dan Carcillo who recently returned from an indefinite suspension from the prior season.  The ‘Hawks top three forward lines create numerous match-up and defensive problems for all of their opponents and Corey Crawford has been solid in net.

Who’s Hot:  The usual suspects:  Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and shutdown center Dave Bolland, but it’s been emerging star Nick Leddy who has helped the Blackhawks faithful forget the departure of Brian Campbell who was traded to the Florida Panthers in exchange for Rostislav Olesz.

Who’s Not:  No one has struggled so far this season but the Blackhawks hope that young, talented Michael Frolik can begin to adjust to their system, after being acquired at last season’s trade deadline, thus providing an additional weapon and secondary scoring depth.

Key Injuries:  None

Upcoming:  The Blackhawks host the Columbus Blue Jackets and then travel to face the Carolina Hurricanes.

Detroit Red Wings (5-2-0) – The Red Wings appeared to have re-asserted themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the Central Division as well as the entire NHL by storming out of the gate, going 5-0-0.  Since then, the Red Wings were pounded 7-1 by the Washington Capitals and were soundly beaten by the previously winless Blue Jackets, 4-1 with backup netminder Ty Conklin in goal, due to the birth of Jimmy Howard’s first child.

Who’s Hot:  Jimmy Howard – Howard has eased any concerns over his sub-par sophomore season – the great ones usually do rebound.  Howard has been stellar in the Red Wings net, posting a Goals Against Average (GAA) of 1.72 and a Save Percentage (Save %) of .933.  Niklas Lidstrom continues to defy Father Time and Ian White has proven to be a solid defensive pairing partner in replacing Brian Rafalski.

Who’s Not:  Ty Conklin – Conklin struggled mightily against the Caps, surrendering 7 goals on 25 shots, then surrendered 3 goals against the struggling Blue Jackets, many of which were the questionable variety, shots that Howard would have surely stopped.

Key Injuries:  None

Upcoming:  The Red Wings host the San Jose Sharks and travel to face the Minnesota Wild.

St. Louis Blues (5-4-0) – To the Blues credit, given the struggles of Jaroslav Halak, standing just above the .500 mark is quite admirable.  Halak’s struggles have forced coach Davis Payne to go with Brian Elliot until Halak can somehow regain his mojo.

Who’s Hot:  Jason Arnott is providing some offensive punch in addition to his veteran leadership and Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo have formed one of the top defensive pairings in the NHL.  Elliot’s play has salvaged what would have otherwise been a disastrous start to the season.

Who’s Not:  Obviously, Halak has been horrific but Chris Stewart’s return to his usual offensive self could really pay dividends to a team who generally doesn’t rely on scoring goals to win games.

Key Injuries:  David Perron, Andy McDonald

Upcoming:  The Blues, having opened the week with an impressive 3-0 victory against the Vancouver Canucks, complete their Northwestern Canada road trip by playing in Calgary and Edmonton.

Nashville Predators (3-4-1) – The Preds have been a bit disappointing coming out of the gate, primarily due to their inability to generate shots and offense – they rank 30th in shots taken, while giving up an inordinate amount of shots – the Preds rank 30th in shots against – that has plagued them, so far.  Pekka Rinne is only so good.

Who’s Hot:  The goaltending, led by Rinne, which shows you why playoff-qualifying and playoff team’s fortunes start in net.  Otherwise, David Legwand and Sergei Kostitsyn have provided what little offense the Preds have generated so far.

Who’s Not:  Patrick Hornqvist has really struggled out of the gate, so far, while Jonathon Blum’s struggles is cause for concern should Shea Weber and Ryan Suter opt to leave the Preds at the end of this season to Free Agency.

Key Injuries:  Mike Fisher, Martin Erat

Upcoming:  The Preds, coming off of a loss to the San Jose Sharks, try to rebound as they host Tampa Bay and Anaheim.

Columbus Blue Jackets (1-8-1) – The Blue Jackets, who spent the off-season revamping their lineup to the tune of having the NHL’s 4th highest payroll, have been an abject failure, the result of injuries, a suspension to key Free Agent acquisition James Wisniewski, sub-par goaltending and a lack of defensive and offensive support for goaltender Steve Mason.

Who’s Hot:  When you’re 1-8-1, it’s tough to figure on a player who’s hot, but one dim light to an otherwise embarrassing start has been the play of veteran winger Vinny Prospal.  Prospal has provided offensive punch and a veteran presence to a locker room that has seriously needed an injection of grit and character.

Who’s Not:  Where to start – in addition to the issues mentioned above, the Blue Jackets have had disappointing starts by veteran forward stalwarts RJ Umberger and Antoine Vermette.  Umberger registered his first goal against the Red Wings, making it only the second goal that their second forward line registered through the season’s first 10 games.

Key Injuries:  Jeff Carter, Kristian Huselius, Radek Martinek, Marc Methot

Upcoming:  The Blue Jackets travel to the United Center on Saturday night to face the Blackhawks then return to Nationwide Arena to host the Anaheim Ducks on the following evening.

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