Sunday, January 29, 2012

Which Central Division team has the advantage going forward?

Now that the All-Star weekend has come and gone, the push for the Central Division title will crank into high gear for Nashville and the other contenders in the division. Detroit, St. Louis, Nashville and Chicago are all within three points of each other coming out of the All-Star break.

The race for the Central Division title is sure to be tightly contested for the remainder of the regular season. The eventual winner of the Central Division has a very legitimate shot of winning the President's Trophy for the best regular season record in the NHL.

The Red Wings are the leader of the pack right now with 67 points on the year. However, with the division being as tight as it is, who has the advantage going forward?

Coming out of the All-Star break, the Red Wings have posted an incredible 20-2-1 record on home ice. However, their road record hasn't been anywhere near as stellar. The Red Wings are just 13-14-0 on the road this season. They have three games remaining against Nashville, three against Chicago and one more game against St. Louis. The key for Detroit is going to be to try and maintain their home dominance while winning more games on the road. If they are able to do that, they will have a great shot at winning the division and the President's Trophy.

Much like Detroit, the Blues have posted a fantastic record at home so far this year but haven't been effective on the road. They are 21-3-4 within the confines of Scottrade Center this year, but are only 8-10-3 on the road. That road record will have to drastically improve if the Blues want to win the Central Division. St. Louis will be on the road for 20 of their final 33 games. The Blues have four games remaining against Chicago, three against Nashville and one against Detroit.

One of the biggest strengths for the Predators going down the stretch is that they have been the most balanced team in the Central Division. They have a respectable 16-7-3 at home so far this year and have gone 14-9-1 on the road. Nashville will have to continue to build on their home record and continue their success on the road. The Predators have three games remaining against Detroit, Chicago and St. Louis this year. Those nine games will be crucial in determining how the Central Division will shake out. The key stretch will be from March 25-31 when Nashville travels to Chicago, St. Louis and Detroit, and then will return home for another game against Chicago on that Saturday night.

The Blackhawks have a ton of firepower when healthy. Chicago has posted a 19-6-4 record on home ice so far this season and have gone 10-9-2 on the road so far. Chicago has a key stretch coming up. The Hawks will begin a nine-game roadtrip on Tuesday night. The Blackhawks have four games remaining against St. Louis, three against Nashville and three against Detroit.

Barring a major collapse, it looks like the top four teams in the Central Division have a great shot of making the playoffs. But which team has the edge moving forward as far as winning the Central Division? There are three keys that will determine who comes out on top in the Central Division.

The first key is stamina and health. Which team will be able to stay healthy enough to win the necessary amount of games? The team that is able to stay the healthiest may be the team that has the inside track to winning the division.

Secondly, what kind of moves will be made by the trading deadline? A key addition to one of these teams could be the difference in winning the division. If Nashville is able to add a scoring forward that makes their offense consistently reliable, will that put them over the top?

Finally, which team will be able to post the best record against the other three teams? The games against other Central Division opponents will determine who wins the division.

It's hard to pinpoint which team has the edge going forward. If the Predators add a big offensive threat, one could argue that they become the best team in the division. Detroit is one of the most skilled teams in the NHL, but will they be able to stay healthy going down the stretch? Can Chicago survive the nine-game roadtrip they are about to go on and still be in contention for the Central Division? Will St. Louis be able to start performing better on the road?

There are so many questions that are left unanswered, which is why the stretch run toward the end of the regular season should be very exciting for these teams. As the playoffs draw closer, the answers to these questions will come into focus. The Central Division has been a dog fight all year long, and there is no reason to think that will stop anytime soon.

(Photo Credit: Leanne Charles)

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