NHL Central Division Misery Index: Roses are Red (Wings), Jackets are Blue

Detroit Free Press

Ryan Ford | Detroit Free Press

Sunday was Valentine’s Day, and for a gift, the NHL gave the entire Central Division the day off.

That’s also a gift to you, dear reader, sparing you from a bevy of Valentine’s puns featuring the Stars’ Landon Bow, the Blackhawks’ Madison Bowey and, uh, <checks thesaurus> the Lightning’s Pat Maroon…

OK, maybe it was just a gift to Misery Index writers. (It’s not roses or chocolates, but, hey, we’re dealing with Gary Bettman here.)

But a lack of games doesn’t mean a lack of love for some newcomers to the division.

Such as the Blue Jackets’ Jack Roslovic, a Columbus, Ohio, native (who attended Miami of Ohio) who has nine points — including three goals last week — in nine games since joining the Jackets in the Patrik Laine deal. Just watch his goal against the Hurricanes on Monday — folks in Columbus usually only see defenders split that bad when Jim Harbaugh comes to town.

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Or Kevin Lankinen, who sandwiched two gems in net for the Blackhawks (66 saves on 69 shots) around a stinker against the Blue Jackets on Thursday. Still, Lankinen is a standout if only for his first name: Of 232 NHL’ers born in Finland, among the many Mikko’s (13, including Mikko Koivu) and nine pro Antti’s — he is the only “Kevin.” And with a sparkling .925 save percentage, he could end up the second Finnish Calder Trophy winner (after Teemu Selanne, of course).

And, of course, Curtis McElhinney, who only feels like a newcomer; his win in net for the Lightning this week was his first appearance in exactly 11 months, since a loss to the Detroit Red Wings on March 8, 2020. Monday’s 23-save effort by the 37-year-old was also his first win since Feb. 17, 2020.

But while he rests up for the next 35 games or so, let’s run through the Central Division’s Misery Index in Week 5, from the least miserable to the most:

8. Lightning

This week’s record, goal differential: 3-0-1, +10.

Last week’s ranking: 8.

That plus-10 goal differential this week includes a three-goal loss Thursday to the Panthers in which the Bolts were without captain Steven Stamkos, who joined the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols before the game. (He says it’s a false positive.) They also lost Anthony Cirelli (who finished fourth in Selke voting last season) to an upper-body injury (and not the lung kind) in that game. So, of course, two nights later, the Lightning delivered a 6-1 blowout of the Panthers. We said it in Week 1, but the Lightning are giving off serious Crimson Tide vibes with their ability to win without their most skilled players. But don’t take our word for it: They have seven wins this season by at least three goals — no other team in the league has more than four.

7. Blue Jackets

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

Last week’s ranking: 1.

Laine started the week in coach John Tortorella’s doghouse — which at this point should show up on “MTV Cribs” any day now — with a “not-benched-but-yeah-benched” 11-minute game Monday, and finished it with a goal in Saturday’s OT loss. Laine also had a fight in that game — though not a good one — which, hey, why pay for therapy when you can transfer your feelings out on the ice, eh?

6. Hurricanes

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

Last week’s ranking: 7.

The Canes were busy on the trade front, picking up a seventh-round pick from Columbus for the rights to a top Swiss player (because those guys never work out, right Chicago?), and adding Alex Galchenyuk and Cedric Paquette. Galchenyuk has 136 goals and 185 assists over nine seasons, and Paquette has 48 and 38 in eight seasons. Guess which guy the Canes are excited to get? Of course, there are always intangibles, as Jake Gardiner mentioned when asked whether he liked Paquette: “Usually, I don’t. I’m not a big fan of Cedric Paquette, playing against him, so it’s usually a good sign for a teammate.” Because if there’s one thing we’re used to seeing in Carolina in February and March, it’s a gritty 198-pounder infuriating everyone who’s not his teammate.

5. Blackhawks

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

Last week’s ranking: 6.

Patrick Kane had five points in three games and is quietly third in the NHL in points with 22, and rookie Philipp Kurashev shattered a panel with a shot during the Blackhawks’ practice in Texas on Monday. (He did not have to pay to replace it, despite the teasing from his teammates.) Which, yes, means the Blackhawks had a pane in the glass AND a pain in the [redacted]


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4. Panthers

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

Last week’s ranking: 2.

$10-million goalie Sergei Bobrovsky picked up two wins this week — allowing three goals combined to the Red Wings and Lightning — but gave up all six goals against the Bolts in Saturday’s rematch. He’s 5-1-1 on the year while nursing an .884 save percentage and 3.33 goals-against average. A rarity, indeed: Usually the guys who stop working in south Florida stay far away from the Panthers’ arena.

3. Red Wings

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

Last week’s ranking: 4.

Forward Luke Glendening picked up his first career three-point game — a goal, his first since Jan. 5, 2020, and two assists — on Saturday in career game No. 514. Only nine players from Glendening’s 2013-14 rookie class — in order of games played: Brock Nelson, Sean Monahan, Seth Jones, Elias Lindholm, Nathan MacKinnon, Tom Wilson, Morgan Rielly, Hampus Lindholm and Nikita Kucherov — have played more NHL games. It’s a talented list, with eight first-round picks and one second-rounder (Kucherov, taken in the second round at No. 58 overall by Steve Yzerman when he was in Tampa). Glendening was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Michigan in 2013. It’s not Tom Brady going from No. 199 in 2000 to seven Super Bowl rings, but it’s a nice milestone, y’know?

(Those other nine from the Class of 2013-14, by the way, have combined for 154 games with at least three points, in case you were wondering,)

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2. Predators

This week’s record, goal differential: 1-3-0, -9.

Last week’s ranking: 3.

On Saturday, defenseman Roman Josi became at least the fourth Pred to become a dad in the past four months, joining center Matt Duchene (Nov. 9), goalie Pekka Rinne (Dec. 4) and defenseman Mattias Ekholm (Tuesday). The Predators are averaging 2.33 goals a game this season, but at least we know they were scoring during the league’s COVID-19 pause last year.

1. Stars

This week’s record, goal differential: 0-1-2, -4.

Last week’s ranking: 5.

We try to keep things on a week-to-week basis here, but the Stars’ skid since opening the season 4-0 begs for attention. They scored 19 goals in those first four wins; since then, they have 21 combined while turning in a record — 1-3-4 — that looks more like a double-play notation in a baseball scorebook (pitcher to first base to second base, for those who haven’t caught a Detroit Tigers game in a while) than a performance by a defending conference champ. That record would have been “pitcher to second to first” if not for a stellar play by 21-year-old defenseman Miro Heiskanen leading to a late goal by 21+15-year-old Joe Pavelski.

Still, medicine is on the way, as the Preds come to Dallas for games on Monday and Tuesday; we all remember how their last visit to Texas went, right?

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

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