Central Division feast
Today’s slate of five games in the NHL will be dominated by the Central Division, which accounts for three of the five games in total on the docket. And there will be plenty to keep an eye on in a division which has been absolutely ravaged by COVID-19 so far.
The Dallas Stars, the Carolina Hurricanes and the Florida Panthers have all had their schedules disrupted by the Pandemic, and you can throw the Tampa Bay Lightning in there who have had some games moved too. Therefore, the Central is a hard division to read with a lot of teams playing catch up, which means that the Playoff race will go down to the wire.
Focussing on today for now, though, and there will be some fascinating matchups to keep an eye on throughout the afternoon. I mean, the Florida Panthers have carved out a pretty impressive start to the season with a 6-0-2 record, while they have yet to lose in regulation. They have been powered by forward Carter Verhaeghe, who has six goals in eight games, while the usual suspects in Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau are also off to hot starts with 12 and 11 points respectively. They should be able to feast off the Detroit Red Wings today, who are currently ranked 26th in Goals Against Per Game (3.58) and are 2-8-2 on the year.
Then we have the Carolina Hurricanes against the Columbus Blue Jackets, which should be a pretty mouthwatering matchup at Nationwide Arena. After all, the Hurricanes have a star young forward in Sebastian Aho who has eight points (2 G, 6 A) in eight games with the Canes 6-2-0 on the year so far. On the flip side, the Blue Jackets are still getting used to life with one of the purest goalscorers in the entire NHL in Patrik Laine, who was acquired as part of the blockbuster trade that sent Pierre-Luc Dubois to the Winnipeg Jets. Laine is still settling in with Columbus but he has one goal in two games and he will look to put on a statement game today in order to help his new team improve to 6-4-3 on the year.
Finally, we have a matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Dallas Stars to look forward to, with the big story in this game being the Stars’ decision to bench goalie Anton Khudobin due to a discipline issue. Khudobin is 3-2-1 this year with a 2.51 Goals Against Average and a .908 Save Percentage, but Jake Oettinger will instead start with Landon Bow as his backup. The Stars will start an eight-game homestand tonight and they are 4-0-0 on home ice so far in 2020-21, while the Blackhawks are 0-3-3 on the road so it isn’t a good omen for Chicago who are currently 4-4-4 on the year.