Last year, the Central Division was quite possibly the best in the National Hockey League. Three teams – the Colorado Avalanche, St. Louis Blues, and 2013 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks each cracked 100 points and were considered some of the best teams in the league.
Second-to-last in the Central Division, with 88 points (good for 19th in the league), were the Nashville Predators.
Fast forward to now, almost a full month into the season, and Nashville leads the Central Division with 16 points and 7 wins in 11 games. Four teams have played as many or more games, and the closest of those in the standings are the Winnipeg Jets, with 13 points and 6 wins.
The full standings see Nashville in first, followed by St. Louis with 15 points, Minnesota with 14, Winnipeg and Chicago with 13, Dallas with 12, and Colorado with 11. This was a division most people thought would be a fight between the same top three as last year, maybe with Dallas making a run for a top-three spot as well.
So, what’s going on in the Central Division?
First, in favor of the Predators taking the number one spot, a healthy Pekka Rinne makes all the difference. The 32-year-old goaltender, who played only 24 games last year, currently boasts a .931 save percentage. His 1.88 goals against average is good enough for sixth in the league, and the best among goalies who have played at least 10 games. A healthy Rinne between the pipes is dangerous for any of Nashville’s opponents.
Predators captain Shea Weber is still a solid blue-line presence, leading all team defensemen with four goals. Filip Forsberg is showing why he deserves a permanent role on the team, with 11 points in as many games. The additions of James Neal (7G, 2A), Mike Ribeiro (3G, 6A), and the penalty-killing presence of Anton Volchenkov have proven successful for Nashville so far this season. If all these guys continue playing at 100%, the Predators are going to be a very strong contender.
On the flip side, the Colorado Avalanche are suffering a major downfall after last year’s successes. Calder Trophy winner Nathan Mackinnon took the hockey world by storm and led his team to a great season, winning the division before being eliminated by Minnesota in the first round of the playoffs. Head coach Patrick Roy shocked analysts and fans with an unconventional coaching style, but it paid off in the regular season.
It’s hard to point out exactly what’s wrong with Colorado. They’re scoring goals, but they’re also being scored against a lot – 38 against to 31 for, through 13 games. It seems their biggest issue is they just can’t finish what they start – they’ve only won three games. One more than Carolina, and the same amount as Buffalo. They’ve held a lead at some point in regulation, though, in nine games this season. Their win percentage when they lead at some point in a game is a shockingly low 33%. This is a team that just can’t finish, and until they learn to do that, they’re in for 69 more long games.