The NHL season is rolling along full steam ahead; teams have now played past the season’s quarter mark. Some teams had played just as expected when the puck dropped for the new season. However, other teams have been surprising by either overachieving or underachieving through the league’s first quarter. Today we look at the performance and storylines of the teams in the NHL Central Division.
NHL First Quarter Analysis: Central Division
3rd Place with 28 Points 13-9-2
Minnesota Wild’s season has had its share of ups and downs in the first quarter. The Wild played .500 hockey up until their current four-game winning streak. However, Minnesota is heating up as the season progresses, as they have won six of their last seven. The stretch includes crucial wins over NHL Central Division rivals Winnipeg Jets and the Dallas Stars.
While Minnesota has no huge weaknesses in their game, they also have no areas where they are super strong either. The Wild are quite simply mediocre in every aspect of their game. They rank 17th, scoring an average of 3.13 goals per game, and their 31.6 shots on goal per game rank 16th. A shooting percentage of 9.9% also ranks 16th in the league. The most vital point of Minnesota’s game is their powerplay which is the 10th best in the league cashing in at a 25.6% rate.
On the defensive side of the puck, Minnesota is slightly better, ranking 12th while allowing 3.04 goals per game. The Wild penalty kill is ranked 7th in the NHL, killing off 80.8% of opposition powerplays. Minnesota takes a league-high 13.2 penalty minutes per game, giving their opponents plenty of looks on the powerplay.
As Minnesota’s team stats imply, the Wild look like they will continue a path of mediocrity. Expect them to battle with their divisional rivals, the Nashville Predators, for one of the wildcard spots in this year’s playoffs.
5th Place with 26 Points 12-9-2
The Nashville Predators began the season overseas, winning both games in the NHL Global Series over the San Jose Sharks. After returning to North America to resume their season, the Predators went on a five-game losing skid. However, Nashville turned it around following the lengthy losing streak and has been 10-5-1 since. The recent stretch of play has the Predators right in the thick of what is sure to be a tight playoff race in the Central.
Predators Struggling To Score
Despite ranking 12th overall in league scoring last season, the Predators are currently ranked 29th regarding goals scored. Nashville has scored 63 goals at this point, led by newcomer Nino Niederreiter who has nine. However, Nashville would benefit significantly if Filip Forsberg and Matt Duchene could return to last season’s scoring form. Duchene led Nashville with 43 goals last season and scored only six times through 23 games this year. Forsberg lit the lamp 42 times last season and has only potted eight goals this year. Nashville’s offensive struggles also carry onto their powerplay, which ranks 28th at 17.9%.
The Predators need to turn their possession metrics around, as most of their roster has a Corsi For % under 50%. This is a telling stat, meaning opponents consistently get more shot attempts. If Nashville can’t improve their possession, look for the Predators to come up short in the battle for a playoff spot.
St Louis Blues
6th Place with 22 Points 11-13-0
The St Louis Blues have been an extremely streaky team this season. Beginning with three straight wins to start the season, St Louis then lost eight straight. Then, St Louis busted out of the lengthy losing streak by going on a seven-game winning streak. However, over their most recent stretch, the Blues are 1-5, further showcasing the Blues’ inconsistencies.
Blues Lacking Consistency All Over the Ice
St Louis goaltender Jordan Binnington has been in the headlines several times this season, and it’s not for stellar play. Instead, his in-game antics and cheap plays garner attention from his coach Craig Berube. The head coach said in an interview, ” It’s got to stop. It doesn’t help anything, Just play goal, stop the puck” after Binnington caught Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jason Zucker with his glove behind the net. Aside from Binnington’s antics, he hasn’t played well, posting a 3.27 GAA and a .895 SV%. Blues backup Thomas Greiss hasn’t fared any better, with a 3.57 GAA and a .907 SV%.
The Blues aren’t an offensively imposing team, averaging 2.83 goals per game. Robert Thomas leads the team with 21 points in 23 games. Jordan Kyrou took a step back after a strong breakout performance last season. Captain Ryan O’Reilly is arguably having the worst season of his career, with only 11 points in 24 games and a -16 rating.
Looking ahead to the rest of the season, the Blues will fall out of the NHL Central Division playoff race early. St Louis’ roster is far off from the 2019 squad that was crowned Stanley Cup Champions. However, expect the Blues to shake things up if they continue losing.
2nd Place with 31 Points 15-7-1
The Winnipeg Jets made a coaching change over the offseason, bringing in veteran NHL head coach Rick Bowness. After his arrival, Bowness and his staff decided to take the Jets’ captaincy away from Blake Wheeler. With all the uncertainty surrounding the team, the Jets played a solid first quarter and find themselves battling the Dallas Stars for the top spot in the Central.
Connor Hellebuyck Regains Vezina Form
After an off year by Connor Hellebuyck standards, he has regained his Vezina calibre game this season. Hellebuyck has been an absolute workhorse for the Jets playing in 18 of their 23 games. The Jets MVP, Hellebuyck, has a 12-5-1 record and leads the NHL with three shutouts. He has a 2.27 GAA and a .931 SV% on the season. With his stellar play, Winnipeg has a chance to win every night. Should he continue the workhorse pace and provide similar numbers for the rest of the season, Hellebuyck will be a lock as a Vezina trophy finalist. In addition, he could garner some talks as a Hart Trophy candidate based on his team finishing the season nicely.
Winnipeg’s offence is spread out throughout their lineup. Defenceman, Josh Morrissey, is enjoying a breakout campaign and leads the Jets with 26 points in 23 games. Kyle Connor has 23 points, followed by Pierre Luc Dubois and Blake Wheelers, who have 22 points each. Mark Scheifele leads the Jets in goals with 13 through the first quarter. Cole Perfetti has also shown progression in his development, with 16 points on the season.
Winnipeg needs to stop their sluggish starts, as head coach Rick Bowness reiterated after Winnipeg gave up two early goals to the Anaheim Ducks in a recent game. “Good or bad, I don’t look at it that way. It’s just not right to start a game like that,” said Bowness following the game. Should Winnipeg come up with better first-period performances and continue to get stellar goaltending, they will challenge the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche for the NHL Central Division title. Expect Winnipeg to return to the playoffs after missing out last year.