Any way you look at it, the Chicago Blackhawks have had a great season so far. With every team in the NHL prepared to have their best game against the defending Stanley Cup Champions and with injuries to both the starting and backup goaltenders, their record of 29-8-9 is pretty impressive. There are a handful of teams that are breathing down their necks, though, and one of them is their neighbor in the Central Division. The other top Central Division opponent isn’t far behind.
The St. Louis Blues have a record of 30-7-5 with 65 points. That’s 2 points behind the Blackhawks with 4 fewer games played. Since their last regulation loss on December 17, they dropped only one point in their next 9 contests. Their one loss came in a shootout against the Calgary Flames on December 23. They outscored their opponents 42-16 during that span, and are rapidly gaining ground on the Blackhawks without seeming to close the games-played gap. The Blackhawks have lost to the Blues 3 out of 3 times (twice in a shootout). At the halfway mark of the season, the St. Louis Blues are the Blackhawks’ biggest Central Division rival – make that the league!
The Colorado Avalanche had a fantastic start to the season, but have since tapered off a bit. And by a bit, I mean their record is 27-12-4 with 58 points in 43 contests. They are third in the Central Division, fifth in the Western Conference, and seventh in the League. Since their 3-2 loss in back-to-back games against the Dallas Stars, they have gone 5-2-3 and managed to distance themselves from the struggling Minnesota Wild. The Blackhawks and Avalanche have faced off twice in the first half of the season with each team sweeping the other (Avs 5-1, Hawks 7-2). The Avalanche would have to step up their game to gain ground on the Blackhawks anytime soon, but they still have half a season to work on it.
The top three teams in the Central Division are separated from their closest division rival by 7 points at the least and 16 at the most. Five of the Blackhawks’ 8 losses belong to their Central Division rivals and two of their shootout losses belong to the St. Louis Blues. If the Blackhawks hope to make it deep into the playoffs this season, they need to find a way to get past adversity, and their Central Division rivals are the best practice.
Which team in the Central Division do you think is the most challenging to the Blackhawks?