1. Montreal Canadiens (11-2-1, last week No. 1) – Montreal is finally facing a little adversity as it has lost a few games and Carey Price is out at least this week with a lower-body injury. Rookie goaltender Mike Condon (4-0-1, .941 save percentage, 1.60 goals against average) was a complete unknown coming into this season but now he’ll start with Price sidelined. The Canadiens have the most points in the league (23), they’ve scored the most goals (51) and they possess the best goal-differential (plus-25).
2. New York Rangers (8-2-2, last week No. 4) – The Rangers are rolling: they’ve won their last three games and along with Montreal, they look like the class of the Eastern Conference. New York is 6-1-1 this season at Madison Square Garden and they dispatched the Capitals 5-2 on Tuesday in what usually is a fierce rivalry. The Rangers have only played four road games (2-1-1) thus far so they are in Colorado on Friday and at Arizona on Saturday.
3. Dallas Stars (10-3-0, last week No. 2) – Dallas will never be a hockey town but the Stars certainly deserve more attention this season than the hapless Cowboys. These are fun times for the Stars since they have the most points in the Western Conference (20) while Jamie Benn (10 goals, 10 assists) and Tyler Seguin (8 goals, 12 assists) are tied for the NHL points lead. Seguin’s seventh career hat trick couldn’t have come at a better time than in his latest return to Boston, a 5-3 Dallas victory on Tuesday.
4. Los Angeles Kings (8-4-0, last week No. 7) – Along with Dallas, LA is the hottest team in the NHL (8-2-0 in their last 10 games). Tuesday’s 3-0 shutout at St. Louis was very impressive since the Blues are a really good team and backup goaltender Jhonas Enroth (24 saves) was in net for the Kings. Center Anze Kopitar (4 goals, +6) left that game with an upper-body injury and didn’t return, something to monitor as Los Angeles returns home for the next five contests.
5. Washington Capitals (8-3-0, last week No. 5) – The Capitals had been playing well (7-3-0 in last 10 games) before running into the Rangers. That was Washington’s first loss on the road this season. They host Boston on Thursday and Toronto on Saturday at Verizon Center where they are 4-2-0 this season.
6. St. Louis Blues (8-3-1, last week No. 8) – It might not last much longer but the Blues have the second most points in the West. They are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. St. Louis faces a brutal road trip though: at Chicago, at Nashville, at New Jersey and at Rangers.
7. Nashville Predators (7-2-2, last week No. 3) – Last time out, Nashville lost 4-2 at Anaheim on Sunday. Still, the Predators are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games and their goal-differential is +7. They are in Minnesota on Thursday before returning to Bridgestone Arena for a five-game homestand.
8. Minnesota Wild (7-2-2, last week No. 9) – It’s hard to differentiate much between the Predators and Wild, they are basically in a dead heat. Minnesota is the last unbeaten team in the NHL at home (5-0-0) but they are .500 on the road (2-2-2). They have a three-game homestand coming up at Xcel Energy Center: vs. Nashville, vs. Tampa Bay and vs. Winnipeg.
9. New York Islanders (7-3-3, last week No. 6) – The Islanders are only a point behind the Rangers but also one point ahead of the Capitals and three points ahead of the Penguins in the jumbled Metropolitan Division. They have only played four road games this season (2-1-1) so four of their next five are away from Brooklyn. On Thursday, they visit arguably the toughest place to win in the NHL for road teams: the Bell Centre in Montreal.
10. Vancouver Canucks (6-2-4, last week No. 14) – It’s hard to figure out the Canucks. They are 2-2-3 at home but 4-0-1 on the road. They host the Penguins on Wednesday before heading out on a seven-game road trip (lasting 2 weeks) which has to be one of the longest in the league this season.
11. Chicago Blackhawks (7-5-0, last week No. 10) – The Blackhawks are off to a predictably middling start but you know that if they stay healthy, they are sure to pick it up as the season goes along. They are currently in sixth-place (out of 7 teams) in the Central Division but I’m betting that won’t last. They are 1-4-0 on the road which is the second-worst mark in the Western Conference.
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12. Pittsburgh Penguins (7-4-0, last week No. 20) – Quietly, the Penguins have found their footing with four straight wins. They have three more games in Canada (Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary) left on their current road trip. Somehow, they have allowed the fewest goals (20) in the NHL.
13. Winnipeg Jets (7-4-1, last week No. 13) – The Jets have hit a rough patch (5-4-1 in their last 10 games) which in the Central Division can prove to be fatal. They got rocked 5-1 in Montreal on Sunday. With a few days to get over that bitter loss, Winnipeg should bounce back on Wednesday in Toronto.
14. Boston Bruins (6-4-1, last week No. 15) – Boston had picked up points in its previous seven games (6-0-1) before they were humbled by the Stars. They are the lone unbeaten team on the road (5-0-0) left in the NHL which figures to change this week: at Capitals, at Canadiens and at Islanders. Underrated center Chris Kelly is out with a broken leg for possibly the rest of the season, that could be a sneaky big loss in terms of leadership and veteran presence.
15. Ottawa Senators (6-4-2, last week No. 21) – Ottawa had been sputtering but their 2-1 win in overtime at Montreal on Tuesday was certainly impressive. By default with Tampa Bay’s struggles, the Senators have slid into second-place in the Atlantic Division. Their home/road splits are also bizarre: 1-3-2 at Canadian Tire Centre and 5-1-0 on the road.
16. Tampa Bay Lightning (6-6-2, last week No. 11) – There’s no way to avoid this: the Lightning for whatever reason are in free-fall mode. Tampa Bay is 3-5-2 in their last 10 games. With no major injuries to key players, I feel like this is only temporary since they should be one of the top teams in the East.
17. Detroit Red Wings (6-5-1, last week No. 19) –This is where it gets tricky because most of the teams hovering around .500 are indistinguishable. The Lightning might be a mess but a 2-1 win over them (which Detroit had on Tuesday) still means something. Anything other than first-place in the Atlantic Division seems to be in play since Montreal is already up nine points on Ottawa and Tampa Bay then 10 points on Boston and Detroit.
18. New Jersey Devils (6-5-1, last week No. 22) – I really don’t know how the Devils have been this successful (smoke and mirrors?) but they are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games. They have their work cut out for them since their next five games are all against quality teams: vs. Chicago, vs. Vancouver, vs. St. Louis, at Chicago and vs. Pittsburgh. The Devils are only 2-3-1 at Prudential Center this season.
19. Florida Panthers (5-4-2, last week No. 12) – The Panthers have come crashing back to Earth (4-4-2 in their last 10 games). They have been off since a 2-1 overtime loss on Halloween to Washington. Next, they have three games in four nights in California: at Anaheim, at San Jose and at Los Angeles.
20. San Jose Sharks (6-6-0, last week No. 16) – It doesn’t get much lower than losing by multiple goals at home to Columbus, which is what happened to San Jose on Tuesday (5-2). The Sharks are 4-6-0 in their last 10 games and their goal-differential is zero. Their next three games are at the SAP Center (where they are 2-3-0 this season): Panthers, Ducks and Islanders.
21. Arizona Coyotes (5-5-1, last week No. 18) – The Coyotes are plummeting in the rankings after a promising start to what’ll probably be another rebuilding campaign. They dropped their last two games but haven’t played since October 30 vs. Vancouver (4-3 loss). That extended break should do them some good as they host Colorado on Thursday.
22. Buffalo Sabres (5-7-0, last week No. 24) Buckle up as now we’ve reached the teams that are all under .500 in the NHL. Buffalo has won its last two games including a sound 2-1 win at Islanders on Sunday. Two of the next three games are a home-and-home with Tampa Bay, this is the time that you want to see the Lightning on your schedule.
23. Edmonton Oilers (5-8-0, last week No. 26) – The Oilers have moved up but it came at a severe cost since prized rookie Connor McDavid (5 goals, 7 assists) broke his collarbone in Tuesday’s 4-2 win over Philadelphia. McDavid was the Rookie of the Month for October and he was starting to come into his own already at age 18. For hockey’s sake, let’s hope that he returns soon (he’s expected to be out for a few months).
24. Carolina Hurricanes (5-7-0, last week No. 25) – The Hurricanes don’t have any hope this season yet they are ahead of two other teams in their own division: Flyers and Blue Jackets. Carolina is 5-5-0 in their last 10 games and 4-4-0 on the road. When the Hurricanes were good, PNC Arena used to be rocking but now they typically draw under 10,000 people which is dreadful.
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. Philadelphia Flyers (4-6-2, last week No. 17) – The Flyers are currently riding the longest losing streak (4 games) in the league. They are 1-4-1 on the road and their next two games are at Calgary and at Winnipeg. Their -13 goal-differential is the second-worst in the East.
27. Colorado Avalanche (4-7-1,, last week No. 23) – The Avalanche are another team that’s going nowhere this season. One of the safest bets you can find (if anyone would take it) is that Colorado will finish last in the loaded Central Division. Hey, at least they aren’t the Flames (who they rolled 6-3 on Tuesday)!
28. Anaheim Ducks (2-7-2, last week No. 30) – The Ducks still have a mountain to climb just to get back to .500 but at least they have shown a pulse lately. Their 4-2 win over Nashville on Sunday was a glimpse of what everyone thinks that they can be this season. They are the only team in the NHL that has yet to win on the road (0-5-1).
29. Toronto Maple Leafs (2-7-2, last week No. 28) – Mike Babcock will be the head coach of Team Canada at the World Cup next year and why not? He’ll have plenty of free time once it is April. For the rest of the season, they will have a hard time topping their 4-1 win over Dallas on Monday.
30. Calgary Flames (3-9-1, last week No. 29) – Honestly, what the hell has happened to the Flames? They are an NHL-worst 2-7-1 in their last 10 games and even more troubling, their goal-differential is -26. Head coach Bob Hartley must be having trouble sleeping because it’s hard to see him staying employed there much longer if this continues.