The Central Division has become the ‘proving grounds’ of the NHL

Jan 15, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche goaltender Jonathan Bernier (45) and center Nathan MacKinnon (29) celebrate a victory over the Anaheim Ducks at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

As the NHL heads into the second portion of the season, the entirety of the Central Division remains extremely close in the points race.

With five Central Division teams currently qualifying for the playoffs, and the remaining teams on the outside looking in — the division continues to hold the reputation as the toughest division in the NHL.

The five Central Division teams qualifying for the playoffs right now

Winnipeg Jets – 66 points

The Jets are leading the Central with a combination of experienced players, as well as a few young players in the mix who are able to amplify their offensive output. With the combination of Blake Wheeler, Brian Little, and Mark Scheifele the Jets have been able to lead a young team to the top spot of the Central Division.

Following a successful rookie season last year, Jets forward Patrick Laine has continued to be a major difference maker with 39 points in 50 games played.

Another reason the Jets have been able to make their way to the top of the Central Division is the emergence of Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyuck. Starting in 39 games this season for the Jets, Hellebuyuck has been able to come up with an impressive record with 26 wins, and only six regulation losses, while holding a career-best save percentage of .924 on the season.

Nashville Predators – 65 points

After making it to the Stanley Cup Finals last season, the Nashville Predators still appear to have enough manpower to make a serious run in the postseason.

Improving the offensive side of their game has been a focal point for Nashville’s front office. They believe that they may have found the right piece in Kyle Turris, who came over to the Predators as a part of the deal that sent Matt Duchene to the Ottawa Senators. In 32 games played for Nashville this season, Turris has contributed five goals and 15 assists for the Preds.

St. Louis Blues – 63 points

After years of coming up short in the playoffs, the St. Louis Blues will once again be aiming for a long run this time around — only time will tell if they will be able to raise the Cup.

The Blues continue to have a strong defense, while also being able to bolster an offense that can strike at will. One of the stand out players for the Blues this season has been Brayden Schenn, who has 50 points in 51 games played.

On the back end, a surprise for the Blues has been goaltender Carter Hutton. Currently, Hutton holds a league-best save percentage of .943 on the season.

(Video courtesy of SPORTSNET)

Dallas Stars – 60 points

Another team that has been a popular pick to win the Stanley Cup for the past few seasons, is the Dallas Stars. After missing the playoffs last season, the Stars made it a goal of theirs to improve their overall offense, as well as gain stability on the backend.

As for the offense, the Stars went out and signed Alexander Radulov. During his time with the Stars, Radulov has been able to build a solid chemistry with Jamie Benn, and Tyler Seguin — a line that has combined for 138 points this season.

On the backend, the Stars are receiving help from John Klingberg — who sits on top of the NHL with most points as a defenseman with 48 points on the season.

Colorado Avalanche – 57 points

After a season that was a pure disaster last year, the Avalanche have been able to find an identity this season — and are on a mission to prove people wrong.

Everything has been different for the Avalanche this season. The team is one of the youngest in the league, but they have a mix of veteran leaders who have been able to pave the way for the younger talent that they have in Samuel Girard, Alexander Kerfoot, Tyson Jost and JT Compher.

Another reason the Avalanche have been able to keep up with the competitive Central Division is the success that Nathan MacKinnon has had this season, as the Avalanche all-star has 60 points in 48 games played.

(Video courtesy of SPORTSNET)

Avalanche focusing on bettering road record

After having plenty of games at Pepsi Center this past month, and building a strong home record, the Avalanche will look to replicate their success on the road for the month of February.

At Pepsi Center, the Avalanche have a record of 18-7-1, which has catapulted them into the second wild-card spot. However, they have struggled on the road, as they currently hold a losing road record of 9-11-2.

Following a well-earned break during the All-Star weekend, the Avalanche will look to continue covering ground in the divisional standings and will play a consistent schedule until the end of the regular season in April.