Do's & Don'ts: The Central's Guide to Glory & Ruin

We only have a handful of games left in the season and for those of you who root for teams who don’t hail from Dallas & Chicago, congratulations! You’re still playing meaningful hockey. The Central is stacked and five teams are currently angling to make it through the last week of play unscathed. For the teams that do make it through, they’ll not only receive a shiny new patch on their chest but renewed hopes of Stanley Cup glory. Each team has a path that can get them to the promised land. Each team has demons within that can spell disaster for their season. Let's take a look at what has to go right, and what can go very, very wrong for these contenders if they make it to the season's after-party. 

 

Nashville

Why They've Got A Shot.

 The Associated Press

The Associated Press

This postseason will be a memorable one for the Preds as long as they keep on keepin’ on. Yeah, that sounds like a cop out, but this is a team that might have 4 legitimate scoring lines and might have 2 legitimate Norris Trophy finalists. Oh, and their starting netminder is probably going to win the Vezina. Nashville’s style of play is suffocating and now they have the confidence of a team who is aware and prepared for what lies ahead. Nashville seems to be the heir apparent to the Western Conference crown, if they keep everything the way it is, except for…

My God, What Went Wrong??

The penalties, dear lord, the penalties. Nashville ranks 30th in penalty minutes, averaging almost 4 minors worth of time per game. “Well Mason,” you’re no doubt saying now, “That hasn’t seemed to slow down those magnificent mustard-cats so far!” You’re right, dear reader, but here’s why a lack of discipline matters.

The only way the Preds look like anything less than the juggernaut they are is if they get their feathers ruffled enough to throw them out of their game. Take a look at who Nashville’s first two rounds might be against. At the time of publication, round one would see the hated Anaheim Ducks roll into town. The Ducks are truly the antithesis of the Predators when it comes to style of play. They play a cynical, brutal game and come postseason time, they try to bring opposing teams under their will. Every year that we get this Preds-Ducks series, it seems to be a toss-up when it should be Preds in five. If the Predators make it through that matchup, next up would likely be the Jets. Winnipeg has taken a page from the Ducks book recently when it comes to “gooning” Nashville, except the Jets, are actually... you know, good at hockey. And if the Preds make out of those matchups and eventually win the West, they could be facing the fluster-ers in chief, Pittsburgh. (I can feel y’all shiver.)

 

Winnipeg

Why They've Got A Shot.

If you ignore the ass-whoopin' that Scott Foster gave this team, they have the capability to pick apart any defense in the league when given 60 minutes to do so. Winnipeg is 3rd in goals per game, 4th in powerplay percentage (23%) and 5th in faceoffs. If this team is allowed to control pace and puck possession, they are lethal. The Jets’ young defensive core has taken huge steps over the course of this season as well. They not only produce a lot of offensive opportunities, (Myers & Armia have combined for 62 points alone) but they also have the potential to shut teams down in their zone. Throw in a phenomenal Connor Hellebuyck and good luck putting up points consistently on this side. And I haven’t even mentioned this guy.

My God, What went wrong?? 

The fans in the True North better hope they’ve truly expelled the remnants of the Thrashers from this franchise. Well, except Byfuglien. He’s the man.

Seriously though, this wonderful team will be completely derailed if they get one too many injuries, especially on defense. Kulikov is out after back surgery. Trouba is just coming back from a concussion and Enstrom has no concrete timetable for a return this season. Winnipeg’s starting netminder has played more minutes this season than he ever has in his life and has never started a game in the NHL playoffs. Their wunderkind (not Connor, the goat-man) is a Finnish goal factory and this coaching staff is having him play games on a hobbled ankle & are actively letting him BLOCK SHOTS!!! Ugh, if there was a team that would blow a sure thing in the Central, it would be the Winnipeg Jets.

 

St. Louis

Why The Have A Shot

Jaden Schwartz is back and is looking like an absolute monster. Taresenko is heating up, and the Blues are playing with no fear as they to extend a season I thought was over at the trade deadline. The Blues have seven players with at least 30 points on the season. The team is hot, but no one can be hotter than Jake Allen. If he continues to play at the level he’s been at since Carter Hutton was injured, the sky really is the limit for the team, as they get a little healthier each and every day.  Dance with the ones that brought you, as they say. 

My God, What Happened?? 

 AP Photo/John Locher

AP Photo/John Locher

The same thing that happened earlier this season, injuries. It feels like a cop out to be bringing up the injury bug so often, but the Blues are a prime example of what can happen to your season if one or two key players aren't available. Also, with #StarterHutton unavailable for an extended period, Jake Allen must be great. There is no plan B for this squad. As Allen goes, so does this franchise. Here's another concern. St. Louis doesn’t spread the wealth much on offense. Only 3 players have more than 20 goals (Tarasenko, Schenn & Schwartz) which makes it easy for opposing teams to scheme against potential mismatches. The Blues aren’t deep enough to have multiple things go wrong this postseason. They’ll have to be near perfect just to reach the WCF.

 

Minnesota

Why They've Got A Shot.

Look, Zack and I make no bones about how annoying we find the Wild and their regular season success. We find them so annoying because of the complete lack of postseason success that always follows. Despite that, the Wild have plenty of reasons to be bullish. Thirty-three-year-old Eric Stall apparently stolen that Wakandan super-herb and now has 40 goals this season. Mikael Granlund has been mister clutch with over 60 points so far this year. Jason Zucker has obliterated his old season bests with 31 goals & 30 assists. Don’t forget about Devan Dubnyk, who has won 33 games this year and has found his classic late-season form.

 My God, What Happened??

Any of the normal things that we are used to seeing from this franchise. Dubnyk suddenly gets cold. The offense gets cold. They realize that they are skating way too fast through the neutral zone and slow down for safety. But really, the biggest thing to worry about when it comes to this team is their scoring. Eric Stall has 40 goals. Zucker has 30. You know what the 3rd highest total is? It's 20 goals. They only have 3 players who have reached the 20 goal mark this season. For crying out loud, the Blackhawks have five!  Facing off against the likes of Winnipeg, Vegas & Nashville, someone (or more accurately, someones) will have to step up and be an offensive presence for the Wild to rock any boats.

 

Colorado

Why They've Got A Shot.

Our Lord & Savior Nathan MacKinnon. This Twenty-two year-old is a force of nature, who can and has, put an entire city on his back and has done it with style. Central Divided's unanimous pick for the Hart, (come at us, we will destroy you) MacKinnion could single-handedly wreck some Stanley Cup hopes this year. Throw in two netminders who have gotten white hot at times this year and a small cast on the side that includes the likes of Mikko Rantanen (82 points!) and Gabriel Landeskog (58 points) and you’ve got to take these kids seriously. The Avs have been fighting for their playoff lives since Christmas, so momentum is with them. This is a fun team who could go much farther than anyone would have dreamed back in October. 

My God, What Happened?? 

 Nate MacKinnon isn't enough. The playoffs aren't a sure thing yet in Denver. As of this article's publishing, they are 1 point behind the Ducks for the last playoff spot in the West. Even if the Avs do get in, without the support of his teammates, all opposing teams will have to do to move on is effectively shut down one man. Looking past Colorado’s ace in the hole, the Avs have plenty of negative holes. Those netminders I mentioned? They're pretty average when they aren't playing out of their minds. The defense in front of them has improved this season but is nowhere close to a playoff-caliber unit. Despite the insane turnaround we've seen this year, the Colorado Avalanche have plenty of problems that just can't be solved by anything but time. You can only play out of your mind for so long before you lose it. 

What do you guys think? Let us know in the comments below!