NHL Central Division Misery Index: It’s not a rivalry until you start talking cat urine

Detroit Free Press

Ryan Ford
| Detroit Free Press

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We’re only two weeks into this newfangled NHL Central Division and already, the rivalries are heating up.

There’s the rivalry we expected, of course: The just-now-rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks hosting the rebuilding-for-a-few-years-now-thanks Detroit Red Wings for a pair. The two franchises entered this season with 739 regular-season games against each other since joining the NHL for the 1926-27 season. (The two-worded “Black Hawks” won 19 of 44 games that season, and Detroit’s “Cougars” won 12 of 44, so, y’know, the more things change…)

The Wings had 369 wins in the Original Six rivalry, the Blackhawks 286 … sorry, got dialed in on an NBC broadcast there for a second … anyway, count this weekend’s return to the rivalry as a win for the ’Hawks, who put up 10 goals, led for 101:56 of the 120 minutes, never trailed and had everyone asking, “Is Pius Suter related to Ryan Suter?” (He is not.)

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Then there’s the rivalry we should have expected: Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella vs. star center Pierre-Luc Dubois, whose two-year, $10 million deal signed hours before camp opened in December was apparently papering over a few problems. Dubois’ perceived loafing led to his benching at key moments in Week 1’s pair of OT losses to the Nashville Predators, which led to Tortorella delivering his “You’ll know when I bench someone” denial-but-not-really Monday ahead of a pair of games in Detroit.

In Thursday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Dubois saw the ice for just 3:55, and not at all after the first period. By Saturday’s rematch, Dubois was gone, shipped to Winnipeg for the player taken one pick before him in 2016, Patrik Laine. We’ll give Torts the W in this one — nobody wants to go to Manitoba, even more so than Ohio — while we hold our breath for his first days with the occasionally defense-challenged Laine.

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And then there’s the one we didn’t see coming: Dallas Stars broadcaster Daryl “Razor” Reaugh vs. the Predators’ … shade of yellow? The Stars and Preds have gotten a bit chippy since Dallas’ physical 4-2 win in the Winter Classic. Nashville answered with two shutout wins in March 2020, and the Stars answered that with SEVEN goals in Friday night’s season opener, including five on the power play. Sunday brought more of the same, with the Stars scoring all three goals on the power play. The second, by Roope Hintz, brought out a sharp description from Reaugh, noting the puck “bore its way through the cat-urine colored pads and gloves” of Juuse Saros.

Perhaps the only person more shocked by that statement is my poor editor, who has to decide where to put the hyphen in “cat-urine colored.” But while he’s pondering that, let’s see how the division fared in Week 2, from the least miserable to the most:

8. Stars

This week’s record, goal differential: 2-0-0, +8.

Last week’s ranking: 4.

We’ll call that a “fashionably late” arrival for the Stars, even if Game 2 was their first without both Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin in the lineup since March 14, 2013. (That’s 584 regular-season games together.) Anton Khudobin had himself a start, too, holding the Preds scoreless for 94:55 and picking up an assist before Nashville had a goal. Oh, and the Stars scored eight power-play goals in the series, tied for the most in a team’s first two games with the 1942-43 Red Wings and the 1995-96 Penguins. Any time Sid Abel, Syd Howe, Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr pop up near your milestone, you’re doing something right.

7. Blue Jackets

This week’s record, goal differential: 2-0-2, +2.

Last week’s ranking: 3.

One more shoutout to Dubois: Most folks who spend four seasons in Columbus have to lose to Nick Saban at least once before they get to leave Ohio.

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6. Blackhawks

This week’s record, goal differential: 2-0-1, +6.

Last week’s ranking: 1.

The Blackhawks are really going with this goalie-by-committee thing, eh? The “veteran,” Malcolm Subban, got the start on opening night — and gave up five goals. Colin Delia started each of the next two — and gave up five goals in each. (One L in each of his names, two L’s in a week.) Game 4 was Finnish rookie Kevin Lankinen’s turn — and he gave up five goals … but only four in regulation. Progress! This apparently earned Lankinen the start in both games against the Red Wings, in which he gave up three goals combined.  He’s the starter, right, coach Jeremy Colliton? “He’s the guy for today,” Colliton told the Chicago Tribune. OK, then. (Hey, we wouldn’t put a lot of stock in stopping the Red Wings’ offense either, considering their COVID issues this year and their goal-scoring issues last season.)

5. Lightning

This week’s record, goal differential: 1-1-0, -2.

Last week’s ranking: 7.

The last time Tampa Bay fans were drawn into a fight between a guy known for wearing blue and his boss, they ended up with a trip to the Super Bowl. (Obligatory Tom Brady/Michigan joke: Check.)

4. Panthers

This week’s record, goal differential: 1-0-0, +1.

Last week’s ranking: 6.

One game last week, due to the Stars’ COVID-19 issues. One game this week, due to the Hurricanes’ COVID-19 issues. We’re no math experts, but it could take a while to get to 56 games at this rate. Then again, the Panthers are one of two undefeated teams (along with the Stars) so they must be doing something right. (Namely, playing the Blackhawks.)

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3. Hurricanes

This week’s record, goal differential: 1-0-0, +2.

Last week’s ranking: 2.

The Canes had three games postponed this week due to five players in COVID-19 protocol; they added a sixth player on Saturday. How are the Canes dealing with their time in COVID limbo? “I told the guys as we just got off a Zoom meeting, we’re business as usual as far as today we had a practice but it was on Zoom,” coach Rod Brind’Amour said at Thursday’s media availability. “We got that done, and now they’ve got to figure out a way to stay in shape on their own. Bill Burniston’s been out traveling around dropping bikes off.” Which means we’re just a couple more postponed games from the Canes’ season becoming a giant Peloton ad.

2. Red Wings

This week’s record, goal differential: 1-3-0, -7.

Last week’s ranking: 5.

Speaking of rivalries, Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin went from leaving tickets for the parents of Zach Werenski — his roommate at Michigan and a lifelong friend and teammate before that — to dropping gloves with him a few hours later, which is pretty much the most hockey thing ever.

1. Predators

This week’s record, goal differential: 0-3-0, -10.

Last week’s ranking: 8.

The Preds had a game canceled, gave up 14 goals in the three they did play and had a pee joke dropped on ‘em to finish the week … and they still had a better seven days than the University of Tennessee, we think.

Contact Ryan Ford at rford@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford.

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