1. Dallas Stars (26-7-2, last week No. 1) – Dallas goes into the holiday break on a serious high: they blanked Chicago 4-0 on Tuesday behind a goal and assist from former Blackhawk Patrick Sharp. The Stars have the most points (54) in the NHL, the best goal-differential (+36) and they have scored the most goals (124). They are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games and have won their last three in a row.
2. Washington Capitals (25-6-2, last week No. 2) – Washington is the only club with a resume that legitimately measures up to Dallas’. The Capitals have two less points (52) than the Stars but they have played two fewer games. Washington’s goal-differential is +34 and they currently ride the longest win-streak in the NHL (6 games).
3. St. Louis Blues (21-11-4, last week No. 8) – After a shocking 4-3 loss in Philly on Monday (where they blew a 3-0 lead), St. Louis bounced back with a solid 2-0 win at Boston on Tuesday. Goaltender Jake Allen made 32 saves against the Bruins for his fifth shutout of the season (tied with Corey Crawford for the NHL lead). Right wing Vladimir Tarasenko scored his 22nd goal of the season, tying him with Dallas’ Jamie Benn for most in the league.
4. New York Rangers (20-12-4, last week No. 5) – There are no must-wins in December but the Rangers desperately needed to beat Anaheim on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden and they got the job done with a 3-2 overtime victory. Right wing Mats Zuccarello has been New York’s best player so far this season so it was no surprise that he had the overtime tally. Even with the two points, New York is 3-6-1 in its last 10 games and eight points behind Washington in the Metropolitan Division.
5. Chicago Blackhawks (20-12-4, last week No. 9) – Aside from the beating in Dallas, Chicago has been playing very well lately (7-3-0 in last 10 games). The Blackhawks are in third-place in the Central Division but also third-place in the Western Conference. They are 14-4-1 at the United Center this season.
6. New York Islanders (19-11-5, last week No. 6) – Like the Blackhawks, the Islanders are in third in their division (Metropolitan) but also third in their conference (Eastern). New York is 6-3-1 in its last 10 games and they came into the break with a 5-2 win over Anaheim on Monday. They return to a home-and-home set with the Maple Leafs, on Sunday in Brooklyn and Tuesday in Toronto.
7. Boston Bruins (19-10-4, last week No. 12) – It’s doubtful that any team has enjoyed Montreal’s struggles more than their main rival - Boston. The Bruins are just one point behind the Canadiens with a whopping three games in hand. Boston has a goal-differential of +19 and they are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games.
8. Minnesota Wild (18-9-6, last week No. 7) – Minnesota held on for a 2-1 win over Montreal on Tuesday that simultaneously boosted the Wild and sent the Canadiens further on their downward spiral. Minnesota is 6-2-2 in its last 10 games and they are 13-4-1 at Xcel Energy Center. Their .500 record on the road (5-5-5) still leaves something to be desired.
9. Montreal Canadiens (20-13-3, last week No. 3) – They should probably be lower than this but you have to realize that Montreal can’t possibly be this bad. The Canadiens have the longest current losing-streak in the NHL (5 games) and they are 1-9-0 in their last 10. No team needed a break more than them but the bad news is that they still have five games (Capitals, Lightning, Panthers, Bruins and Flyers) left on their season-long eight-game road trip.
10. Los Angeles Kings (20-11-2, last week No. 4) – The Kings were on fire but they’ve dropped their last two games including a disappointing 5-3 setback to the Sharks on Tuesday at Staples Center. Still, they are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games and six points in front of San Jose. LA is basically a sure thing to capture the Pacific Division, barring massive injuries.
11. Florida Panthers (19-12-4, last week No. 15) – It might be a rough Christmas for icon Jaromir Jagr (10 goals, 15 assists)-who is now the fourth-leading goal-scorer in NHL history-after he lost four of his front teeth in Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Ottawa. The Panthers have won five games in a row though and they are in sixth-place in the tightly-packed Eastern Conference. Florida has a goal-differential of +14 and they are 7-3-0 in their last 10.
12. Nashville Predators (17-11-6, last week No. 13) – Nashville was sinking into the abyss of the Central Division but they’ve won their last two games including a 5-1 blowout of Montreal on Monday. The teams in front of them are certainly daunting but they are only four points behind Chicago and two points behind Minnesota. It would help if they could get over .500 on the road (6-7-3) this season.
13. Detroit Red Wings (17-10-7, last week No. 10) – Boston and Florida have both passed Detroit in the Atlantic Division as they cling to seventh-place in the Eastern Conference, only a point ahead of Ottawa. Goaltender Jimmy Howard (7-4-4, .916 save percentage, 2.49 goals against average) lost his starting job last season and it doesn’t look like he’ll be getting it back anytime soon after he was pulled in Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to New Jersey. The Red Wings’ goal-differential is zero which tells you almost all that you need to know about them.
14. Ottawa Senators (17-12-6, last week No. 11) – The loss to Florida was costly since a regulation win would have allowed Ottawa to leapfrog them in the standings. The Senators are 4-5-1 in their last 10 games as they hold into the last playoff spot in the East. Ottawa is only one point ahead of New Jersey and three points ahead of Tampa Bay and Philadelphia.
15. New Jersey Devils (17-13-5, last week No. 16) – Cory Schneider (15-9-5, .925 save percentage, 2.14 goals against average, 2 shutouts) is one of the best goaltenders in the NHL so you wonder why the Devils don’t seem to make more of an effort to help him out in terms of roster building. New Jersey has scored the sixth fewest goals in the league (83) and their goal-differential is -4. He will keep them in most games but unless they trade for more talent, it’s hard to see New Jersey making the playoffs this season.
16. Tampa Bay Lightning (17-15-3, last week No. 14) – Tampa Bay is in sixth-place in the Atlantic Division but things aren’t as grim as they seemed earlier this campaign. They head into the break 6-4-0 in their last 10 games coming off a frustrating 2-1 loss to Vancouver on Tuesday. The constant rumors about Steven Stamkos (14 goals, 11 assists) have a chance to be a real distraction to a team that should no doubt still make the postseason.
17. Philadelphia Flyers (15-12-7, last week No. 20) – Other than Dallas, no team had a better result before the break than the Flyers with their improbable comeback against the Blues. Philadelphia is 6-2-2 in its last 10 games as they continue to hang around the Eastern Conference playoff picture. They return to a three-game trip in California which isn’t nearly as intimidating as it usually is since the Ducks and Sharks are so down from their typical level.
18. San Jose Sharks (17-15-2, last week No. 18) – I still can’t figure out the Sharks, just when you think they are completely hopeless, they pull out a huge win in LA. If they were in any other division but the Pacific, San Jose would be going nowhere fast. Instead, the club with the worst home record in the NHL (4-9-0) is in second-place.
19. Colorado Avalanche (17-17-1, last week No. 19) – Not that they’ll dwell on it too much but it would be perfectly understandable if the Avalanche wanted to whine about how some things in life just aren’t fair. Colorado is in sixth-place in the Central Division (out of 7 teams) but they are in eighth-place in the West (however the Top 3 clubs in the Pacific Division would get in the playoffs before them). They are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games after Monday’s 7-4 loss to Toronto.
20. Calgary Flames (16-16-2, last week No. 17) – Calgary tied a franchise record with its 10th straight win at Scotiabank Saddledome, 4-1 vs. Winnipeg on Tuesday. Budding star left wing Johnny Gaudreau (15 goals, 22 assists) scored his second hat trick this month (and 3rd of his young career). If they keep this up, the Flames should expect a return to the playoffs this spring.
21. Arizona Coyotes (16-15-2, last week No. 23) – The Coyotes were falling apart but they recovered to win their last two games, including a 3-2 triumph over Toronto, heading into the break. Thanks to the weakness of the Pacific Division, Arizona should be in the playoff mix the rest of the way. Tie Domi had to be proud of his son Max who got into a fight against his former team-the Maple Leafs.
22. Pittsburgh Penguins (16-14-3, last week No. 21) – Pittsburgh snapped a five-game losing streak with its 5-2 win against Columbus on Monday. Superstar center Sidney Crosby (6 goals, 16 assists) missed that contest with a lower-body injury. The Penguins return to action with a back-to-back in Minnesota on Saturday and Winnipeg on Sunday.
23. Vancouver Canucks (13-14-9, last week No. 26) – That win against the Lightning was very important for the Canucks who are 4-5-1 in their last 10 games but only one point behind San Jose. Vancouver has a tantalizing seven-game homestand waiting for them after Christmas, through January 11. It is not hyperbole to say that their fate could very well be determined by that stretch.
24. Edmonton Oilers (15-18-2, last week No. 22) – Merry Christmas Edmonton, your team isn’t all that bad (well at least for them). The Oilers are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games after Monday’s 3-1 win vs. hapless Winnipeg. They are in good position to make a playoff push considering the mediocrity surrounding them in the Pacific Division.
25. Buffalo Sabres (14-16-4, last week No. 27) – Just like every other year this century (think about that), the Bills are going to miss the playoffs so sports fans in Upstate NY turn their lonely eyes to the Sabres. It is highly unlikely that they will make the postseason in 2015-16 but at least they appear to be building something positive. In their last game, hometown hero Patrick Kane scored the tying goal and game-winner as Chicago escaped 3-2 with a shootout win in Buffalo on Saturday.
26. Winnipeg Jets (15-17-2, last week No. 24) – Things are bleaker than usual in Winnipeg as the Jets have lost their last two games to drop to last-place in the Central Division. Winnipeg is 4-6-0 in its last 10 games and they sport a brutal road record (6-12-1) this season. Expect them to be a seller before the trade deadline in February.
27. Toronto Maple Leafs (12-14-7, last week No. 29) – The Maple Leafs are in last-place in the Atlantic Division but that’s no surprise in year one of the Mike Babcock rebuilding plan. Toronto is 5-3-2 in its last 10 games. They are also over .500 at Air Canada Centre (6-5-5) this season.
28. Carolina Hurricanes (13-16-5, last week No. 28) – The only nice thing that I can say about the Hurricanes is at least they aren’t the Blue Jackets. Carolina is two points ahead of Columbus with two games in hand. Center Auston (yes that’s how it’s spelled) Matthews who could be the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft is on Team USA in the World Junior Championships which start this weekend, you can bet that Hurricane scouts and their front office will be paying attention to that tournament.
29. Anaheim Ducks (12-15-6, last week No. 25) – Something tells me that it won’t be a Merry Christmas at Bruce Boudreau’s house since the Ducks head coach remains squarely on the hot seat. I’m not saying that his team’s terrible performance is all his fault but what else can Anaheim do? There are too many good players on their roster to completely blow it all up, at least in my opinion.
30. Columbus Blue Jackets (13-20-3, last week No. 30) – Columbus players probably wish that the season was over now and they didn’t have to come back after the break. They might as well takes the Sixers’ preferred route and just tank from here on out. I’m being realistic here, what is a better option for the Blue Jackets than that?