The standings in the Central Division took a major turn of events in January after the Blackhawks surged to the top while the Stars mightily cooled off. Let's review the month.
Chicago: The Blackhawks kicked off the new year by winning 10 straight games, which was a continuation of, what turned out to be, a franchise-record 12-game winning streak that began in late December. They closed out the month with a 1-3-0 record, but ultimately gained control of the Central Division for the first time this season, sitting three points above the Stars. Corey Crawford added two more shutouts in January, increasing his total to a league-leading seven.
Colorado: In our December roundup, we hinted that January could be an opportunity for the Avalanche to climb into a playoff spot with six divisional opponents on the schedule. They did exactly that, taking 10 of a possible 12 points against their Central Division foes, and have ascended into the first wild card spot in the Western Conference. A majority of the credit should go to Semyon Varlamov, who finished the month by allowing just four goals in his last four starts, all of which resulted in wins. During that span, he registered a .971 save percentage. February will be a month for the Avalanche to prove they're here to stay.
[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]
Dallas: "The Stars are showing no signs of slowing down, and don't expect them to any time soon" is what we wrote in last month's roundup regarding Dallas' season so far. Apparently not. But we also wrote: "The only team that can prevent the Stars from not winning the Central is themselves." While they certainly built a large cushion, the Stars became victims of taking their foot off the gas pedal, going 3-6-2 in January and have seen the Blackhawks take over the No. 1 seed in not just the Central Division, but the Western Conference as well. The good news is, the Stars still control their own destiny right now, trailing Chicago by three points with three games in hand. But the race is just beginning.
Minnesota: After finishing December with a 9-3-2 record, the Wild did a 180 in January, where they went 3-7-3. They sit one point out of the final wild card spot, which isn't bad, but it's not good considering they held a seven-point cushion entering the month. Expect general manager Chuck Fletcher to acquire a top-six forward, ideally a No. 1 center they've desperately been looking for, at the trade deadline, as the Wild have scored just 23 goals in their last 13 games (an average of 1.77 per game).
Nashville: The Predators pulled the trigger on the biggest blockbuster trade of the season, trading 2013 fourth overall pick Seth Jones to Columbus for Ryan Johansen. That's the price you have to pay for a franchise centerman, and so far, it's been a perfect deal for both sides. But the Predators are benefiting from it the quickest. While they struggled out of the gates since the trade, Nashville has won four consecutive games, including five of their last six, as Johansen and linemate James Neal are controlling 58.7 percent of even-strength shot attempts. The results are starting to come.
St. Louis: The Blues picked up at least a point in nine of their 12 games in January, and did most of it without starting netminder Jake Allen, who suffered a knee injury on Jan. 8 and has been sidelined since. They're still very much in the thick of the Central Division race, and haven't lost any ground, which is crucial in the league's most competitive division. Most importantly, the Blues are expecting to receive a big boost on offense when Jaden Schwartz, who's missed more than three months with an ankle injury, returns to the lineup this month. Four of their first seven games in February will be against Central Division opponents, a chance to collect some important points.
Winnipeg: For the Jets, January essentially proved that they will become sellers at the trade deadline after slipping to the basement of the division. Or did it? It's been reported that general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff would prefer to re-sign both Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd, both of whom are unrestricted free agents at the end of the season, but if the Jets believe an extension isn't feasible for both sides, they may look to deal one or both. This will be an interesting storyline to follow, and we'll have the answers on Feb. 29.