1. Montreal Canadiens (9-1-0, last week No. 1) – All good things must come to an end and Montreal’s dream start to a season finally ended on Tuesday in Vancouver with a one-sided, 5-1 loss to the Canucks. The Canadiens had to settle for the third-best start in league history which is extremely impressive. They are still unquestionably the best team in the NHL and they should recover quickly with games at Edmonton on Thursday and Calgary on Friday.
2. Dallas Stars (7-2-0, last week No. 2) – Dallas’ charmed start to the season continued with an improbable 4-3 comeback victory over the hapless Ducks on Tuesday. Left wing Jamie Benn (8 goals, 7 assists)-the leading scorer in the NHL last season-took over the lead with three assists in that win. The Stars have two more home games (Canucks, Sharks) before they head to the East Coast for four games.
3. Nashville Predators (6-1-1, last week No. 3) – The Predators have only played eight games but they have also only lost once in regulation. Nashville made an interesting move on Monday, signing defenseman Mattias Ekholm (1 goal, 2 assists, +3) to a six-year extension worth $22.5 million. He’s 25 and at in the start of his third NHL season so the shrewd Predators front office is banking on him becoming a star in the next few years.
4. New York Rangers (6-2-2, last week No. 5) – The same top teams in the Eastern Conference last season look like the main contenders this year as well. The Rangers have the second-most points in the East and they are tied with Dallas for the second most in the league. They figure to beat up on the Maple Leafs on Friday but Tuesday’s showdown with the Capitals is the game they have to be looking ahead to.
5. Washington Capitals (6-1-0, last week No. 8) – Quietly, since they’ve played the fewest games (7) in the NHL, the Capitals are off to a fantastic start. They have won their last five contests and been off since Friday’s 7-4 win at Edmonton. They host the Penguins on Wednesday in what is typically a great rivalry.
6. New York Islanders (6-2-1, last week No. 4) – The Barclays Center doesn’t seem like a great environment for hockey but so far, the Islanders are 4-1-1 at their new home. They are coming off a 4-0 shutout of the Flames on Monday and they are in the middle of about as easy a stretch as you’ll ever find in the current NHL. They host Carolina on Thursday before going to New Jersey on Saturday and hosting the Sabres on Sunday and Devils on Tuesday.
7. Los Angeles Kings (6-3-0, last week No. 19) – The Kings’ abrupt turnaround has been remarkable but then again, I guess it shouldn’t be with their championship pedigree that remains on that roster. LA is the hottest team in the NHL, having won their last six games including a 4-1 win at Winnipeg on Tuesday. It doesn’t get much harder than their next three contests: vs. Nashville, at Chicago and at St. Louis.
8. St. Louis Blues (6-2-1, last week No. 7) – Speaking of the Blues, they continue to play well coming off of a 2-0 shutout of the Lighting on Tuesday. Did you know that center Scott Gomez is still in the NHL? Indeed, he made St. Louis on a professional tryout and scored his first goal for them against Tampa Bay.
9. Minnesota Wild (6-2-1, last week No. 12) – The Wild have earned this spot but it’ll be tough to remain here with their upcoming schedule these next few weeks. They kick off the first of five straight games against playoff teams from last season with a back-to-back against Chicago on Friday then in St. Louis on Saturday. Three points separate the top team in the Central Division from the sixth-place squad.
10. Chicago Blackhawks (6-3-0, last week No. 17) – I hate cross-sports analogies but the Blackhawks really are the Patriots of the NHL. In a league that breeds parity, they are the outlier that is excellent year after year. Chicago is coming off a 1-0 overtime win over Anaheim on Monday, Jonathan Toews had the game-winner because of course he did.
11. Tampa Bay Lightning (5-3-2, last week No. 6) – I’m pretty sure that Tampa Bay is better than this but their goal-differential is only +1. Granted, seven of their first 10 games this season have been on the road (3-2-2) which is brutal for any club. They host the Hurricanes on Thursday and Bruins on Halloween at Amalie Arena before heading out on a four-game road trip.
12. Florida Panthers (5-3-1, last week No. 13) – Believe it or not, Florida has the second best goal-differential in the East (+12)? The Panthers beat the Avalanche 4-1 on Tuesday but they hope that it didn’t come at a cost. Jaromir Jagr left with a lower-body injury but head coach Gerard Gallant has termed him “day-to-day” and aren’t we all?
13. Winnipeg Jets (5-3-1, last week No. 9) – The Jets haven’t seen their play drop off that much, it’s just that many teams around them are simultaneously rolling. They have gone 2-2-1 on their homestand and close it on Thursday vs. Chicago. Then they depart for four games on the road beginning on Halloween in Columbus.
14. Vancouver Canucks (4-2-3, last week No. 11) – In an 82-game regular season, many wins don’t mean all that much however you have to give Vancouver credit for being the first team to knock off the mighty Canadiens. We should know shortly if it was a fluke or not since the Canucks visit the Stars on Thursday. Vancouver is tied for second in the West in terms of fewest goals allowed (18) and goal-differential (+7) both of which are usually good statistical indicators of a team’s quality.
15. Boston Bruins (4-3-1, last week No. 20) – After failing in their first four attempts this season, Boston finally won its first game at TD Garden on Tuesday (6-0 blowout of Arizona). The Bruins have picked up nine out of a possible 10 points in their last five games. They are entering a brutal stretch though, beginning with a back-to-back in Florida this weekend. They then return to Boston to host Tyler Seguin and Dallas on Tuesday.
16. San Jose Sharks (5-3-0, last week No. 10) – The Sharks have fallen back a bit due to LA’s resurgence. There is no reason why they can’t be second in the Pacific behind the Kings and ahead of the Canucks, Coyotes, Flames and Ducks. They host Nashville on Wednesday, who almost always pose a challenge.
17. Philadelphia Flyers (4-2-2, last week No. 21) –Steve Mason (2-2-2, .899 save percentage, 3.43 goals against average) giveth and he taketh away. Perhaps more than any other goaltender in the NHL, he can look great one night then awful the next time out. For better or worse, Philly is stuck with him so there will be games like the 4-3 loss in overtime to the Sabres on Tuesday that make you bang your head against a wall.
18. Arizona Coyotes (5-4-1, last week No. 15) – Playing their fifth road game in a row (in the span of a week), the Coyotes understandably flatlined in Boston on Tuesday. Still, 2-2-1 on the trip with such a young team is not so bad. Their next three games are at Jobing.com Arena (yes, it’s really called that), starting with Vancouver on Friday but then they are off until the following Thursday.
19. Detroit Red Wings (4-4-1, last week No. 16) – So maybe the Red Wings just aren’t that good anymore? Their streak of 24 straight seasons reaching the playoffs (which is insane) could be in serious jeopardy this spring. Stay tuned on that, what else can you say after a 3-1 loss to the Hurricanes at home?
20. Pittsburgh Penguins (4-4-0, last week No. 18) – We’re also waiting for the Penguins to get in gear although their last time out (2-1 win at Nashville on Saturday) was impressive. They host Buffalo on Thursday then go to Buffalo for Halloween. I doubt they’ll be in sixth-place in the Metropolitan Division all season long.
21. Ottawa Senators (3-3-2, last week No. 14) – Ottawa is another team that’s expected to be better than this, right? They are still winless at Canadian Tire Centre (0-2-2) but 3-1-0 on the road so something has to give. They host Calgary on Wednesday which is a perfect opportunity to get that first home win out of the way.
22.New Jersey Devils (4-4-1, last week No. 25) – The Devils had a nice little stretch going before they lost 3-1 to the Blue Jackets on Tuesday. New Jersey is 3-1-0 on the road this season which will be put to the test in the next few games. They are at Philadelphia on Thursday and the Islanders on Tuesday (after hosting New York on Halloween).
23. Colorado Avalanche (2-5-1, last week No. 23) – Believe me, it is really difficult to differentiate these awful teams at the bottom of the league. For some reason, I still have a tiny bit of hope that the Avalanche could be good again. That’s based on nothing since they were bad last season and have looked like a mess to begin this campaign.
24. Buffalo Sabres (3-6-0, last week No. 29) – If you are going to be awful, at least be somewhat entertaining. That’s all we can ask for, enter the Sabres. Oft-injured winger Evander Kane is out four-to-six weeks with a knee injury, will he ever reach his potential?
25. Carolina Hurricanes (3-6-0, last week No. 28) – Winning 3-1 in Detroit used to mean something more than it does now. Still, for the Hurricanes that’s a great victory. They have three games in the next four days: at Islanders (Thursday), vs. Colorado (Friday) and vs. Tampa Bay (Sunday).
26. Edmonton Oilers (3-7-0, last week No. 26) – Edmonton has dropped their last three games but they remain here since I felt like the Flames and Ducks deserved to be No. 29 and 30 respectively. Defenseman Darnell Nurse, their first round pick in 2013 (7th overall) scored his first NHL goal in Tuesday’s 4-3 loss at Minnesota. They host Montreal on Thursday, good luck with that as the Canadiens are coming off of their first loss.
27. Columbus Blue Jackets (2-8-0,, last week No. 30) – Columbus still has a long way to go to get back to relevance but at least they’ve shown signs of life under new head coach John Tortorella. The Blue Jackets have won their last two games including a 3-1 win at New Jersey on Tuesday (they are only 2-4-0 on the road). Star Ryan Johansen’s mysterious illness is especially scary given his heart issues that sprang up over the summer.
28. Toronto Maple Leafs (1-5-2, last week No. 27) – There are few certainties in the NHL but one of them is that it will be another long, fruitless season for the Leafs. Toronto looks like the worst team in the East and if Calgary and Anaheim get their act together at some point, they very well could be the worst in the league. What’s the over/under on when head coach Mike Babcock will publicly lash out at his sorry team and/or the annoying Toronto media?
29. Calgary Flames (2-7-0, last week No. 24) – Is Calgary this season’s version of Colorado from last season? A surprise playoff team that suddenly crumbles under the weight of modest expectations. The Flames have allowed the most goals in the Western Conference (35) and they are tied with Columbus for the worst goal-differential in the NHL (-19).
30. Anaheim Ducks (1-6-2, last week No. 22) – Head coach Bruce Boudreau might want to start booking vacation plans because he could be out of a job any day now. Anaheim’s shockingly bad start hit a new low on Tuesday when they blew a 3-0 lead at Dallas in an eventual 4-3 loss. Even worse, center Ryan Getzlaf is out with appendicitis.