The NHL In The Midwest

Since the Notebook’s college football focus today was the Mid-American Conference and the NFL feature was the NFC North, I thought we’d keep the geographic theme going into a little NHL talk and check on the state of hockey in the Midwest. Here’s a look at four teams: Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota and Columbus, all in the Western Conference.

Chicago: The 2010 Stanley Cup champs are playing well this season, running 2nd in the Western Conference overall right now and doing it primarily on the strength of their offense. The first three lines are solid at the center position, led up by Patrick Kane who’s served up 11 assists. The scoring comes on the left wing from Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp. What’s most impressive is that the Blackhawks do it through solid play in a straight up 5-on-5 situations. If their power play ever gets into gear, they’ll be an offensive machine. Chicago still needs some improved goaltending from Corey Crawford if they’re going to stay in the league’s elite.

Detroit: The proud franchise of the West is struggling a bit out of the gate, primarily due to problems generating offense. When a defenseman, Nicklas Lidstrom is your leading scorer, that’s a good indicator of a concern—kind of like the free safety being a football defense’s leading tackler. On a directly related point, there’s no one consistently generating assists, so without seeing this team on a day-to-day basis it’s tough to determine if the problem is a lack of created opportunities or an inability to finish off a goal.

Minnesota: The Wild went to the last day of the season in the hunt for a playoff spot last year before a loss to Dallas meant that Chicago got in for the 8th spot. The Wild are sitting at 5th coming into Tuesday’s games. Defense is the calling card and they rank 2nd in preventing goals. This is an area that might even get better, if Josh Hardin and his 97% save rate gets more starts in goal. Minnesota has a couple decent centers in Mikko Koivu and Pierre Marc-Broushard, but is in need of some scoring threats on the wings.

Columbus: A disaster of a start has them last in the conference standings and calls for the head of coach Scott Arniel. The Blue Jackets do nothing well, but we’ll single out this stat—in a league where the 30 starting goalies generally range from 90-97 percent in terms of save %, Columbus’ Steve Mason is at 87 percent. You will beat no one allowing goals at that rate.