Feb 3, 2011, 1:34 AM EST
With the All-Star break over, it’s time for the NHL playoff races to intensify. Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division’s outlook. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.
Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder.
Central Division outlook (Wednesday, February 2nd – Tuesday, February 8th)
1. Detroit Red Wings (31-13-6 for 68 pts; 50 GP)
Current streak: Two wins.
Week ahead: Win vs. Ottawa, vs. Columbus (Friday), @ Nashville (Saturday), home vs. Rangers (Monday).
Thoughts: Nashville’s slippage ends yet another here-today gone-tomorrow threat to the Red Wings’ top spot in the division. They’ll face the two most recent contenders/pretenders to the throne in a back-to-back this weekend.
2. Nashville Predators (27-17-7 for 61 pts; 51 GP)
Current streak: Three losses in a row.
Week ahead: @ Philadelphia (Thurs), home vs. Detroit (Sat), home vs. Edmonton (Monday).
Thoughts: There’s not much room for slumps in the bitterly competitive West. Nashville is now threatened by just about every Pacific Division team outside of Dallas and their own division foes from Chicago. If they go into lull mode this week, the scrappy bunch could see their cushion disappear completely.
3. Chicago Blackhawks (27-20-4 for 58 pts; 51 GP)
Current streak: One win.
Week ahead: Two road games – one against Vancouver (Fri), one against Calgary (Mon)
Thoughts: The Canucks and Red Wings are the only two teams with better goal differentials than the Blackhawks’ +21, yet Chicago is in a far more tenuous playoff situation. The Hawks begin a five game road trip (and a tough February with eight of their next 11 games away from home) this week. Perhaps having a ton of all-star representatives will inspire them to, you know, actually make the postseason.
4. St. Louis Blues (22-20-7 for 51 pts; 49 GP)
Current streak: Four game losing streak.
Week ahead: home vs. Edmonton (Fri), @ Tampa Bay (Sun), @ Florida (Tues).
Thoughts: The Blues aren’t totally out of contention, but they’re fading fast. It won’t be an easy February overall (especially after the next two weeks), so they might want to consider going into “sell mode” if they don’t at least earn two wins.
5. Columbus Blue Jackets (23-22-5 for 51 pts; 50 GP)
Current streak: Two losses in a row.
Week ahead: @ Detroit (Fri), vs. Edmonton (Sat), @ Pittsburgh (Tues)
Thoughts: The next week might do the Blue Jackets in, especially when you consider the fact that they’ll face the suddenly hot San Jose Sharks on Wednesday the 9th. Not sure how many players on the Columbus roster are trade deadline material (the team is largely comprised of young and/or overpriced players), although I’m sure there might be some people interested in defensive center Samuel Pahlsson.
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