1. Montreal Canadiens (19-4-3, two weeks ago No. 3) – The Canadiens are back on top although their franchise goaltender Carey Price is back on the shelf for six weeks with a lower-body injury. Still, even his absence hasn’t slowed down Montreal who is 6-2-2 in their last 10 games. Their goal-differential of +33 is by far the best in the NHL.
2. Dallas Stars (19-5-1, two weeks ago No. 2) – The playoffs will be the real test but at least in the regular season, is anyone still doubting the Stars’ staying power? They have the second most points (39) in the league and they are six points ahead of the second-place club in the mighty Western Conference (St. Louis). They have the best road record (10-2-1) and they are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games.
3. New York Rangers (17-6-2, two weeks ago No. 1) – The Rangers did not have the best Thanksgiving so stop asking, alright? They coughed up two leads in a stunning 4-3 loss to the Bruins on Black Friday, sparking a wonderfully entertaining war of words between old rivals head coach Alain Vigneault and Boston head coach Claude Julien. Their showdown at the Islanders on Wednesday would be a good time to bounce back.
4. Washington Capitals (17-5-1, two weeks ago No. 7) – I feel like they have been under-the-radar all season but the Capitals have been great. Washington has won its last five games in a row (7-2-1 in last 10 games) and they are only one point behind the Rangers for first-place in the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference. Their goal-differential (+24) is the second-best in the NHL.
5. Los Angeles Kings (15-8-1, two weeks ago No. 5) – After the Stars, there are a bunch of good to very good teams in the West. The Kings are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games (including a thrilling 2-1 overtime win against the Canucks on Tuesday) and they have the second-best goal-differential in the West (+9). They have a back-to-back this weekend against Eastern Conference foes at Staples Center: vs. Pittsburgh on Saturday and Tampa Bay on Sunday.
6. St. Louis Blues (15-7-3, two weeks ago No. 6) – The Blues are currently in a bit of a tailspin: 4-4-2 in their last 10 games and goaltender Jake Allen was pulled in Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to the Panthers. All hope is not lost though, they still have the second most points in the West (33). After they go to the Islanders on Friday, they return to Scottrade Center (where they are 7-3-2) for a five-game homestand.
7. Nashville Predators (13-7-4, two weeks ago No. 4) – The Predators are another quality team from the West that has been sputtering lately (4-4-2 in last 10 games). Tuesday’s 5-2 win over Arizona was promising since Nashville closed it out with a dominant third period (outscoring the Coyotes 4-0). They simply have to improve on the road (5-5-2), .500 isn’t going to get it done if they want to be elite.
8. New York Islanders (13-8-4, two weeks ago No. 9) – The Islanders are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games heading into the meeting with the Rangers. They are 8-4-2 at Barclays Center and have another big game there on Friday against the Blues. Their goal-differential is +10 so they must be doing something right.
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9. Pittsburgh Penguins (14-8-2, two weeks ago No. 10) – Pittsburgh kicked off its California trip the right way, with a 5-1 beating of the Sharks on Tuesday. They don’t play again until a back-to-back this weekend: at LA on Saturday then at Anaheim on Sunday. That leaves plenty of time for Sidney Crosby & Co. to see the sights and sounds of the Golden State.
10. Chicago Blackhawks (13-9-3, two weeks ago No. 11) – The Blackhawks suffered a 2-1 loss to the Wild on Tuesday in a tight contest that felt like a playoff game. Superstar right wing Patrick Kane had the lone goal for Chicago, extending his incredible point-streak (12 goals, 20 assists) to 20 games (the most ever by an American). He is one game behind Blackhawks legend Bobby Hull for the most in club history.
11. Detroit Red Wings (13-8-4, two weeks ago No. 17) – Very quietly, the Red Wings have picked up points in their last eight games (5-0-3) which includes seven games that have gone past regulation. The unlikely run has propelled them to second-place in the Atlantic Division. Granted they still aren’t within shouting distance of the Canadiens (11 points behind them).
12. Minnesota Wild (12-7-4, two weeks ago No. 8) – Given the fact that Chicago has knocked them out of the playoffs the last three seasons, Tuesday’s victory at the United Center had to feel a little more special than a typical regular season game. Minnesota will hope to build some momentum off of that since they have slipped to fifth-place in the Central Division. Defenseman Ryan Suter (4 goals, 17 assists) scored the game-winning goal against the Blackhawks and he continues to be a machine that leads the NHL in time on ice per game (28:05).
13. San Jose Sharks (14-10-0, two weeks ago No. 13) – The Sharks had been playing really well (7-3-0 in last 10 games) until they got blown out on their home ice by the Penguins. Regardless, they have climbed up to second-place in the lowly Pacific Division. That loss dropped them to an awful 4-7-0 at SAP Center this season.
14. Ottawa Senators (12-7-5, two weeks ago No. 14) – Ottawa had been on a hot streak as well until they dropped their last two games. They are in third-place in the Atlantic Division but only one point behind Detroit and two points ahead of Boston. The Senators have their work cut out for them with three tough games in four days: vs. Blackhawks on Thursday, vs. Islanders on Saturday and at Rangers on Sunday.
15. Boston Bruins (13-8-1, two weeks ago No. 18) – Left for dead multiple times this season already, the Bruins have won their last five games. They have a very winnable three-game trip in Western Canada this week: at Oilers, Flames and Canucks. Boston’s power play continues to be No. 1 in the NHL (32.4%) by a wide margin.
16. Florida Panthers (11-9-4, two weeks ago No. 69) – The Panthers don’t have the best record but they are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games and have won three in a row following an impressive 3-1 win in St. Louis. Florida has three games left on their road trip: at Predators, Blue Jackets and Devils. They are only four points behind Detroit so anything up to second-place in the Atlantic Division is within reason.
17. Arizona Coyotes (13-10-1, two weeks ago No. 19) – One of the most anonymous teams in professional sports continues to exceed expectations. If the playoffs started today, Arizona would be in while Vancouver and Anaheim would not. The Coyotes don’t play another game at home until December 11 as their next four are on the road (Red Wings, Sabres, Hurricanes and Blues).
18. New Jersey Devils (12-10-2, two weeks ago No. 12) – After playing over their heads for weeks, you knew that this market correction was coming in regards to the Devils. They are 4-5-1 in their last 10 games after Tuesday’s disappointing 2-1 loss to Colorado. New Jersey is closer to last-place in the Metropolitan Division (6 points ahead of Columbus) than they are to first-place (10 points behind Rangers), I’m just saying.
19. Philadelphia Flyers (10-10-5, two weeks ago No. 28) – After going on life support, the Flyers have turned it around in a hurry. Philadelphia has won its last three games (including a 4-2 road win at Ottawa on Tuesday) and they are 5-3-2 in their last 10. They are at New Jersey on Friday and host Columbus on Saturday, two chances to improve their record and fix that ugly goal-differential (-18, 2nd worst in the East).
20. Tampa Bay Lightning (11-11-3, two weeks ago No. 20) – I haven’t jumped off the Lightning bandwagon yet but let’s just say that my feet are staying to lean over the edge. Tampa Bay is 4-5-1 in its last 10 games and they’ve dropped their last two. Their upcoming three-game trip to California could be pivotal for how the rest of this troubled season will proceed.
21. Vancouver Canucks (9-9-8, two weeks ago No. 15) – The Canucks are falling apart (2-5-3 in last 10 games) which in the Pacific Division only translates to five points outside of first-place. Still, Vancouver is going nowhere fast by playing this poorly. They kick off a huge four-game homestand (they are 3-4-3 at Rogers Arena) on Thursday against the Stars.
22. Anaheim Ducks (9-11-5, two weeks ago No. 22) – The Ducks aren’t exactly on fire (4-4-2 in last 10 games) but they seemed to have stabilized things. The truth is that they’ll have to play much better to get back into playoff contention this season. Goaltender John Gibson is getting another shot at starting and he picked up a shutout in Anaheim’s 3-0 win against Vancouver on Monday.
23. Buffalo Sabres (10-12-3, two weeks ago No. 21) – The Sabres have predictably fallen back after a nice stretch, call it the Buffalo sports effect (ie. why they can’t have nice things). They are 3-4-3 in their last 10 games after a 5-4 overtime loss in Detroit on Monday. They host Arizona on Friday before a three-game trip to Western Canada (Oilers, Canucks and Flames).
24. Winnipeg Jets (11-12-2, two weeks ago No. 23) – The Jets are a complete mess and you should count on something big happening soon (head coach Paul Maurice getting fired or key players getting traded) if things don’t change before Christmas. Winnipeg is 3-7-0 in its last 10 games and their goal-differential is -13 since they have given up 80 goals (2nd most in the NHL). Needless to say, Wednesday’s game with Toronto is a must-win.
25. Colorado Avalanche (10-14-1, two weeks ago No. 24) – The Avalanche continue to baffle us: they show the ability to beat good teams in one game, then the next time out they fall flat on their face. They are 18 points behind Dallas so they might as well start planning for next season. Seriously though, trade good guy Jarome Iginla (8 goals, 8 assists) to a contender.
26. Toronto Maple Leafs (8-11-5, two weeks ago No. 25) – Not that it really matters but the Maple Leafs are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games. Last time out, they beat Edmonton 3-0 as rookie goaltender Garret Sparks blanked the Oilers in his first career start. It was a great moment in yet another forgettable season for Toronto.
27. Columbus Blue Jackets (10-16-0, two weeks ago No. 26) – It’s hard to believe that there are four teams are worse than Columbus but here we are. The Blue Jackets had been 8-2-0 in their last 10 games before they dropped two in a row. It is the holiday season so we are long overdue for a classic John Tortorella post-game rant.
28. Calgary Flames (9-14-2, two weeks ago No. 27) – In an 82-game campaign, I find it hard to believe that one game can almost ever turn a season but Calgary has to hope that Tuesday’s 4-3 shootout win against Dallas is the outlier. The Flames entered the third period down 3-0 and rallied for an epic two points. Calgary’s next four games are at Scotiabank Saddledome: Bruins, Sharks, Sabres and Rangers.
29. Edmonton Oilers (8-15-2, two weeks ago No. 30) – In the spirit of the season, I am in a giving mood and I don’t feel like putting Edmonton at the bottom like always. Sure, their goal-differential is -15 and they are 3-5-2 in the last 10 games. However, they are in line for another No. 1 draft pick so there is that.
30. Carolina Hurricanes (8-12-4, two weeks ago No. 29) – The first step to make this team relevant again is to move them out of North Carolina. Next, they need to put something resembling an NHL team on the ice for every game. The Hurricanes are awful and irrelevant, pretty much the worst combination that you can think of.