While the division groups and names will be extraordinary, one of the divisions will remain. The Central Division, even with various groups in the overlay, is one of the hardest NHL divisions. The division contains many good teams including the two Stanley cup finalist teams, The Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Dallas Stars. Other Teams Include the Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Detriot Redwings, Nashville Predators, and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
As the season is in its back half, I overviewed the team’s expectations for the rest of the season. This year, the top 4 teams in each of the 4 divisions will make the playoffs. How does the 2021 NHL Central Division look? Who will make the Playoffs?
Number 8: Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings are one of the most hard-working teams in the NHL. The Problem with the Red Wings is they can not find a way to win. The current Record for the Red Wings is 13-22-6 as of April 7th, 2021. Thomas Greiss, Adam Erne, and Dylan Larkin are the only positive light on the tunnel for this team. Every Team in the Central Division does not want to play the Red Wings; they work hard, and will not quit. They simply do not have the talent to compete with the big dogs in the division, that’s why they are ranked number 8 on my list.
Number 7: Columbus Blue Jackets
On the most recent road trip, the Jackets saw an average of 1.5 goals per game. That is simply not good enough to win games on a consistent basis in the NHL. Their current record is 15-8-8. This team needs a massive offensive boost if they want to make any noise. Patrik Laine continues to struggle as well as he is now pointless in his last six games. If the Blue Jackets are going to close the gap to the last playoff spot, they need to get hot offensively.
Number 6: Dallas Stars
The Dallas Stars have struggled all season in close games. They have a poor 13-14-10 record. Don’t get me wrong, many of the issues have happened during the first three periods which puts them in these overtime positions, but their performance in the extra period and the skills competition has to improve and fast. If the Stars found a way to win just half of these losses, they would be in a playoff spot right now. The Stars have been missing many key players throughout this season. Tyler Seguin and Ben Bishop have missed the entire season, Alexander Radulov has only played in 12 games. The Stars need to finish the season strong unless this season will be a disappointment.
Number 5: Chicago Blackhawks
The Hawks now have an 18-17-5 record for 41 standing points through the first 40 of the year. They trail the Nashville Predators by two so they must keep winning to stay in the race. With 16 games left to go, it will surely be interesting to see how they play and how they manage their assets. Patrick Kane has been lighting it up this season. With 14 Goals, 37 assists, and with 51 points, Kane is in the conversation for league MVP. The reason why I have the Blackhawks just missing the playoffs because the team is too inconsistent. The Blackhawks are in the middle of the pack.
Number 4: Nashville Predators
The Nashville Predators continue to lose key players to injury, but continue to hold onto the final playoff spot in the Central Division. The Predators are now 21-18-1, holding onto the last playoff spot. Maybe the main factor in the Preds’ new run, where they’ve won 10 of their last 12 games, has been their goaltending. Juuse Saros has a .960 save percentage in his last 12 games, including two shutouts. The Preds have only 16 games remaining on the schedule. Unfortunately, because of the altered division-only scheduling, mostly every one of those is against teams competing for the same playoff spot that the Preds have right now. The Nashville Predators have a hard task, but I believe they can get it done.
Number 3: Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning have lost five out of their last seven games played, their worst seven-game stretch of the season. Defensemen, Victor Hedman, who leads the team in scoring per game has also only registered 1 goal and 2 assists in these seven games. The Lighting are notoriously deep, but have not been able to overcome their top players’ slump. The defending Stanley Cup Champions can turn it around though. The lighting have lots of depth, but with recent struggles from top players, they have to turn it around quick.
Number 2: Florida Panthers
The Florida Panthers’ six-game dominate win streak ended the previous evening in their loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. There were a lot of questions about how they were going to be able to play after the loss of Aaron Ekblad, but the Panthers have responded well. Aleksander Barkov has been fantastic this season has been fantastic this season, with 16 goals, 26 assists, and 42 points. Last summer, the Panthers picked up Center Carter Verhaeghe from the Lighting. Carter has been a huge surprise in south Florida, racking up 17 goals and 18 assist. The goaltending for the Panthers has been something to watch. Sergei Bobrovsky and Chris Driedger have been on fire lately, and it does not matter who is in net for Florida.
Number 1: Carolina Hurricanes
The Carolina Hurricanes have been on a roll this season. The Hurricanes currently have a 28-9-3 record, with a win over Top team Florida last night. Coming back from injury, Vincent Trocheck might have been Carolina’s best forward in the first half of the season, and he picked up right where he left off. The Canes have been re-energized by the return of Petr Mrazek, who has now won both games since returning. He still ranks as the best goalie in the league in both save percentage and goals-against average. The Hurricanes are dangerous, so watch out for them in the future.