Central Division roundup: Stars shine bright in October


Central Division roundup: Stars shine bright in October

The first month of the season is in the books, and it already looks like there will be no breathing room in the Central Division. Let's review how October went for each of the seven teams in the NHL's toughest division.

Chicago: The Blackhawks talked about the importance of getting off to a hot start, especially coming of a short offseason, and a 6-5-0 record isn't a bad one. But in the Central, it's not good enough as they close out October in second-to-last place. The good news is, the Blackhawks started off 6-4-1 in their first 11 games last season and they obviously turned out just fine. The bad news is, 11 of their 13 opponents in November are Western Conference teams and they'll likely have to play all of them without Duncan Keith.

[MORE: Revamped Blackhawks definitely have work to do]

Colorado: The Avalanche picked up right where they left off last season, which is the last thing they wanted to do. Their poor possession numbers haven't changed, even with the addition of puck-moving defenseman Francois Beauchemin. If something doesn't change soon, Patrick Roy's seat could be getting hot. Losing ground may be worse than gaining it in this division.

Dallas: There isn't a hotter team than the Stars, who wrapped up October by winning eight of their last nine games. Ex-Blackhawks Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya are fitting in nicely on their new teams, and even Antti Niemi, who's provided stability in goal. But it's the "stars" Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin leading the way, both of whom hold the top two spots in the NHL's scoring race.

Minnesota: The Wild are getting average goaltending from Devan Dubnyk and Darcy Kuemper, but it's not holding them back the way it did last season. At least not yet. That's because they're averaging 3.18 goals per game, a significant leap from the 2.77 they averaged last season. Can they keep up that pace?

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Nashville: If you're looking for a better defensive team than the Predators through the first month, you won't find it. They've picked up at least a point in nine of their first 10 games, and are allowing just 28.1 shots per game, which is a notch better than last year's average. The problem has never been on defense, though; it's getting consistent secondary scoring. So far, so good.

St. Louis: The Blues have been decimated with injuries early on: Paul Stastny is recovering from a broken foot, Kevin Shattenkirk continues to be nagged by a groin injury, Jaden Schwartz will miss the next three months with a fractured ankle and Patrik Berglund has yet to appear in a game after undergoing shoulder surgery in August. But the Blues have done a fantastic job at trying to overcome them, and find themselves battling for the top seed in the West, due in large part to the emergence of Vladimir Tarasenko as an elite player.

Winnipeg: Are the Jets contenders or pretenders? It may take a while before we know the real answer, but wins over the Rangers, Wild and Blackhawks in October is a great start. Blake Wheeler is on fire, and has helped the Jets raise their goals per game average from 2.72 last season to 3.18 through the first month of this season. They're right in the thick of things in the Central. The real question is, can they stay there?

Blackhawks release statement following incident that happened during game vs. Capitals


Blackhawks release statement following incident that happened during game vs. Capitals

Four fans at the United Center were thrown out of Saturday's Blackhawks game for taunting Washington Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly with racist remarks.

Midway through the third period, Smith-Pelly, who is black, was in the penalty box when fans shouted "basketball, basketball, basketball" at him, the Washington Post reported.

Here is a GIF of Smith-Pelly's interaction with the fans:

After the game, the Blackhawks released this statement:

Capitals head coach Barry Trotz also had this to say about the incident:

Cue Chelsea Dagger: Blackhawks blow out Capitals to snap eight-game losing streak


Cue Chelsea Dagger: Blackhawks blow out Capitals to snap eight-game losing streak

Win one game.

That was Joel Quenneville’s message during the Blackhawks’ eight-game losing streak, which finally came to an end on Saturday night.

How about a 7-1 victory over the Washington Capitals on home ice for a streak-breaker? Now that’s more like it.

Prior to Saturday, the Blackhawks hadn’t recorded a win in February — or a win at the United Center since Jan. 12. 

Though the Blackhawks will likely miss the playoffs for the first time since Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were rookies, a blowout win over the leaders of the Metropolitan Division Capitals had to have felt great.

"It’s a nice way to get over the hump," Toews said. "Sometimes you might just win a 2-1 game or just kind of grind it out, but it was nice for us to fill the net the way we did tonight."

Added Joel Quenneville, "Certainly feels 100 times better than coming in and trying to explain how we had a lead and were unable to sustain it. The complete 60 minutes, three periods the right way, more consistency in our game, way more pace than we’ve seen recently, composure with the puck, shooting around the net. It was fun but that’s one. Let’s see how we respond to this because there’s a lot of hockey left."

The Blackhawks are 25-26-8 with 58 points, and are 11 points out the final wild card spot, currently held by the Minnesota Wild.

Among the highlights:

— Seven different Blackhawks scored: Toews, Kane, Alex DeBrincat, Brandon Saad, Artem Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz, Ryan Hartman

— The Blackhawks are 74-6-4 in the regular season in which Kane and Toews both record a goal — and 41-0-0 in their last 41 games, according to NBC Sports Chicago stats guru Chris Kamka.

— Kane registered career assist No. 500, becoming the sixth Blackhawk with 500 or more. Kane is also the seventh U.S.-born player with 300-plus goals and 500-plus assists, joining Mike Modano, Keith Tkachuk, Jeremy Roenick, Pat LaFontaine, Joe Mullen and Phil Housley, according to Kamka.

"You think about the amount of great Americans that have played the game, how many players actually play hockey in the United States... Growing up all I wanted to do was play hockey," Kane said. "That means a lot, especially when you talk about American-born players."

— DeBrincat's 22nd goal of the season has him tied for the rookie-lead with Tampa Bay Lightning's Yanni Gourde. DeBrincat and Kane also lead the Blackhawks with 22 goals.