The Central Division – Yellow Brick Road or Highway to Hell?

by Ed Neely

The Central Division is TOUGH

We all know, in the abstract sense, that the Central Division is the toughest division in the NHL right now, but we can only know how tough it is by examining the stats at more than just the surface level.

As a surface illustration, there is only one team, Chicago Blackhawks, that has a losing record versus any other division in the NHL, and the others aren’t even close.  The Blackhawks (24-23-8, 56 points) are 5-6-3 against the Pacific division, but hold a winning record against both divisions in the Eastern Conference. By contrast, there are only 10 teams in the rest of the league that hold a winning record against Central Division teams and no other division has more than half of their teams with a winning record against the Central.

Goals and More Goals

Every team in the Central has a positive goal differential, meaning that every team in the Central has scored more goals this season than they have had scored against them.  Even Chicago has a +2 differential.  No other division has more than 3 teams with a positive goal differential.

Faceoffs are Kind of Important

Three of the top five faceoff teams in the NHL are in the Central Division as well.  Dallas is the #1 faceoff team in the league at 53.3%, while Nashville is fourth at 52.7% and Winnipeg is fifth at 52.4%.  Winning more draws tends to equal more possession time and that means more opportunities to score.

Special Teams

Special teams play is a bit more of a mixed bag.  Winnipeg (4th – 23.6%), Nashville (5th – 23.1%) and Minnesota (7th – 2%) are all in the top 10 of the league in Power Play percentage.  All but two Central Division teams are in the top 11 in the NHL for Penalty Kill percentage Colorado (4th – 83.5%), Winnipeg (7th – 82.7%) Nashville (8th – 82.7%)Chicago (9th – 82.6%), and Dallas (11th – 82.2%).

The Preds have the following PP and PK percentages against Central Division teams so far this season Winnipeg (50% PP and 77.5%), St Louis (0% PP and 100% PK), Dallas (40% PP and 77.5% PK), Colorado (33.3% PP and 92.3% PK), Minnesota (18.1% PP and 76.9% PK) and Chicago (20% PP and 100% PK).  These numbers are, save for a couple of exceptions, worse than their averages against the league as a whole, but still bode well for the Preds, especially when you consider that the Preds have been far more disciplined as of late.  The Predators committed a league high 4.21 penalties per game before the New Year and have committed only 2.3 per game since.  Not coincidentally, the number of penalties per game dropped significantly with the return of Ryan Ellis.  This is a good indication that he is a stabilizing and calming force for the entire team.

Remaining Schedule

I will grant that this next part falls somewhere in between an educated guess and wild speculation.  Either way it is fun to think about and should help generate some hearty discussion.

The Preds have 10 of 28 games remaining against Central division foes.  Since they have a 62.5% win and 69% point percentage against the Central, this can project out to 6.25 wins and 13.8 more points against the Central.

They have 8 games remaining against the Atlantic Division and a 60% win and 70% point percentage against Atlantic opponents, this translates to 6.6 wins and 15.4 points against the Atlantic.

The Preds stats against the Metropolitan Division is by far the worst of every division, with 61.5% wins and 65% of possible points captured, but since the Preds only have three games remaining against the Metro, they will be just fine and project to capture 1.84 wins and 3.9 points.

The Preds have 10 games remaining against the Pacific Division and have a 62.5% win and 69% point percentage against the Pacific.  This translates to 6.25 wins and 13.8 points out west.

Now I know that it is impossible to capture less than a full point or win, but these numbers are indicative of the kind of success the Preds have had and when we consider the fact that only two of these games have come when the Preds had no injured or suspended players, the remainder of the season looks pretty good.  When you consider that we have Filip Forsberg (remember how dominant the Preds looked with both Ellis and Forsberg on the ice) and Mike Fisher back in a few weeks as a stabilizing leader in the locker room, not to mention if David Poile pulls off a trade deadline deal, the last couple of months will be CRAZY.  Buckle up people!

What are your thoughts?  Hit us up in the comments to sound off!

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