The standings in the Central Division haven't changed much over the last month, but a lot could change going forward because of what happened in December. Let's recap it.
Chicago: The Blackhawks entered December sitting in third place of the Central Division and exited in the same spot, despite going 9-5-1 in 15 games during the month. Patrick Kane's historic point streak was snapped at 26 games, which set a franchise record and was the longest point streak in the NHL since 1992-93. Corey Crawford also registered three shutouts in one week, increasing his total to a league-leading five, good enough to be named the NHL's No. 1 star for the week ending Dec. 13.
Colorado: The Avalanche lost ground from the get-go after struggling mightily out of the gates, which is why their 9-3-2 record in December still wasn't good enough to vault into a playoff position by the end of the calendar year. Entering Friday, the Avs sit four points out of the final wild card spot in the Western Conference. Nearly half (six of their 14) of their games in January will be against division opponents, a chance to pull themselves closer to the playoff pack.
[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]
Dallas: The Stars are showing no signs of slowing down, and don't expect them to any time soon. Lindy Ruff has his club playing aggressive, two-way hockey, and they proved they can consistently hang with the toughest competition when they beat Montreal and Minnesota by a combined seven goals, then followed that up with shutout wins over Chicago (4-0) and St. Louis (3-0), and a 5-1 victory over Nashville in a span of 13 days. The only team that can prevent the Stars from not winning the Central is themselves.
Minnesota: Like Colorado, the Wild finished with an identical 9-3-2 record in December and leapfrogged Nashville for fourth in the division. But unlike Colorado, the Wild gained significant ground. They're two points behind Chicago for third, but have three games in hand and are also four points away from St. Louis for second with four games in hand. Realistically, they could easily be second once the games catch up. Credit that to Minnesota's vastly improved defense statistically, which ranks sixth in goals against average (2.36) after entering December ranked in the bottom 10 at 2.77.
Nashville: The Predators went 6-6-3 in December, and keep sliding in a division that's difficult to climb back up in (see Colorado). Despite their position in the standings, the Predators own strong possession numbers, controlling 54.0 percent of shot attempts at even strength, which ranks No. 2 in the league. On top of that, seven of their nine losses were decided by one goal, indicating they've hung in till the end. A couple bounces their way and it could be a different story. Eight of Nashville's next 13 games are against division opponents, which could have a big impact which direction they go in.
St. Louis: The Blues pumped the brakes a bit, finishing December with a mediocre 8-7-1 record and a minus-2 goal differential, yet still find themselves in second place in the division. But not comfortably. The Blackhawks and Wild are right on their tails, and they likely will be all season. St. Louis did, however, close out the calendar year strong, winning six of their last nine games after have just two wins in their first seven games of the month. Every team faces adversity throughout an 82-game grinding season, and to the Blues' credit, they didn't let a slow beginning to the month affect them mentally.
Winnipeg: In our November roundup (see below), we believed December would be an important month for the Jets, whose start to the season raised eyebrows and had general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff weighing his early options on whether to become buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. Entering the new year, Winnipeg is 12 points out of third place in the Central and seven points back from the final wild card spot in the West after going 6-6-0 in December. At this point, signs are pointing towards the Jets selling at the deadline. Now the bigger question is, will that include Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien, both of whom are unrestricted free agents at the end of the year?