1. Washington Capitals (29-7-3, two weeks ago No. 2) – It’s a new year, halfway through the 2015-16 regular season and the Capitals are unquestionably the top team in the NHL. Washington has the most points (61), the best goal-differential (+39) and the fewest regulation losses (7). Right now, Braden Holtby (25-4-2, .932 save%, 1.93 GAA & 2 shutouts) is the best goaltender in the league.
2. Dallas Stars (28-10-4, two weeks ago No.1) – There is no shame in being second to the Capitals, especially since the Stars are the only other team anywhere close to their level at this juncture. Dallas has one fewer point than Washington although the Stars have played three more games than the Capitals. Dallas has dropped its last two games including a 6-2 blowout against the Rangers on Tuesday where both of its superstars Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin were benched.
3. Florida Panthers (24-12-4, two weeks ago No. 11) – Yes, that record is correct. Florida is on a franchise-best 10-game winning streak and as such, they are undoubtedly the hottest club in the NHL. Their goal-differential is +25 and they are five points ahead of second-place Detroit and Montreal in the Atlantic Division.
4. Chicago Blackhawks (24-13-4, two weeks ago No. 5) – As usual in the Windy City, things are going quite well for the league’s latest model franchise. Chicago is 7-3-0 in its last 10 games and they have won four in a row thanks to rookie Artemi Panarin’s overtime goal in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. The Blackhawks are still eight points behind the Stars in the loaded Central Division but they have pulled into second-place, one point ahead of St. Louis and three points in front of Minnesota.
5. Los Angeles Kings (25-12-2, two weeks ago No. 10) – As I’ve maintained all season, the Pacific Division stinks but don’t blame that on the Kings-the one quality team in that quagmire. Los Angeles has a goal-differential of +18 and they have allowed the three fewest goals in the NHL (87). Goaltender Jonathan Quick (22-9-1, .923 save%, 2.12 goals against average, 3 shutouts) was named the first star of the week in the league.
6. St. Louis Blues (23-14-5, two weeks ago No. 3) – The Blues are a bit of an enigma since their point total (51) impresses you but their goal-differential (0) does not. St. Louis is 5-4-1 in its last 10 games to drop into third-place in the Central Division. They have three road games (Avalanche, Ducks and Kings) in four nights starting on Wednesday in Colorado.
7. Minnesota Wild 21-11-7, two weeks ago No. 8) – It seems slightly crazy but I believe four of the top seven teams in the NHL right now reside in the Central Division. The Wild would be in second-place if they were in any of the other three respective divisions. Minnesota’s goal-differential is +13 and left wing Zach Parise netted his second hat trick of the season in Tuesday’s 4-2 win at Columbus.
8. New York Islanders (22-13-5, two weeks ago No. 6) – New York got goaltender Jaroslav Halak back from IR but they had to put defenseman Johnny Boychuk on it with an upper-body injury (he’s expected to miss 4-6 weeks). The Islanders are in second-place in the Metropolitan Division which sounds loftier than it really is since they trail the Capitals by a whopping 12 points. They can chip away on that major deficit as they host the Capitals on Thursday in Brooklyn.
9. New York Rangers (22-14-4, two weeks ago No. 4) – Speaking of New York, the Rangers had been a mess (4-5-1 in last 10 games) until that unexpected blowout win over the Stars. The Rangers have a goal-differential of +13 but they are two games under .500 on the road (7-9-3). They host Washington on Saturday in what has sneaky become one of the NHL’s best rivalries.
10. Detroit Red Wings (20-13-7, two weeks ago No. 13) – I don’t really think that the Red Wings deserve to be here but then again, tell me who is more worthy. Detroit is in second-place in the Atlantic Division and most recently they picked up a 1-0 win at New Jersey on Monday. Rookie center Dylan Larkin (14 goals, 13 assists) had the game-winning goal in that contest and he is tied for the NHL lead with a plus/minus of +22.
11. Montreal Canadiens (22-16-3, two weeks ago No. 9) – So much for the Winter Classic (5-1 win over Boston) being a turning point since Montreal followed that up with a 4-3 loss in Philadelphia on Tuesday. Underrated right wing Brendan Gallagher (11 goals, 11 assists) has scored goals in both games since his return from two broken fingers. The Canadiens are 2-8-0 in their last 10 games, the worst mark in the NHL.
12. Nashville Predators (19-14-7, two weeks ago No. 12) – Nashville is a good team (I think) that is struggling a bit at the moment (4-4-2 in last 10 games). The Predators have a goal-differential of -2 and they are just 7-8-4 on the road this season. Losing 4-1 to the Jets on Tuesday probably isn’t the way they wanted to depart ahead of a four-game road trip (Avalanche, Coyotes, Blackhawks and Jets) starting Friday in Denver.
13. New Jersey Devils (20-15-5, two weeks ago No. 15) – The Devils continue to float but they are benefiting here from most teams around them falling apart. If the playoffs started today, they would be the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference. Goal-scoring is still a major issue for New Jersey because they are tied for the fourth fewest goals scored (93) in the league.
14. Boston Bruins (20-14-4, two weeks ago No. 7) – Things appeared to be on the upswing for the Bruins but then they got embarrassed by the Canadiens on New Year’s Day in the Winter Classic and now they are trying to survive a rash of injuries (David Krejci and Adam McQuaid). Left wing Brad Marchand (15 goals, 11 assists) will return from his three-game suspension on Saturday at Ottawa. Right wing David Pastrnak is in Providence and he could be recalled any day now for a team that really needs more offensive skill in its lineup.
15. Ottawa Senators (19-15-6, two weeks ago No. 14) – If the Senators are going to make a move up in the standings, this is the time with Montreal, Detroit and Boston all sputtering. Ottawa is 4-5-1 in its last 10 games but they are coming off a solid 3-2 win at St. Louis on Monday. The Senators have an ugly goal-differential of -6 since they have allowed 120 goals (2nd most in the East).
16. Pittsburgh Penguins (19-15-5, two weeks ago No. 22) – The soap opera that is the 2015-16 Penguins continues to play out in mysterious ways. Pittsburgh is in fifth-place in the Metropolitan Division and 10th-place in the Eastern Conference, needless to say not where they want to be. They complete an ultra rare home-and-home in two nights against the Blackhawks with a game in Chicago on Wednesday.
17. Arizona Coyotes (19-16-4, two weeks ago No. 21) – The Coyotes are in second-place in the not ready for prime time Pacific Division which still amazes me. Arizona is 5-2-3 in its last 10 games after Monday’s 3-2 win at Vancouver. Veteran right wing Shane Doan (15 goals, 6 assists) became the leading goal-scorer in franchise history and he has seven goals in his last three games (earning the No. 2 star of the week).
18. Tampa Bay Lightning (19-17-4, two weeks ago No. 16) – Besides Anaheim, Tampa Bay has been perhaps the biggest disappointment in the NHL so far this season. The Lightning are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games but they are only two points behind Boston and Ottawa. They have three very winnable games left on their road trip (Oilers, Canucks and Avalanche).
19. Colorado Avalanche (19-18-3, two weeks ago No. 19) – After burying themselves (pun kind of intended), the Avalanche have played well (6-2-2 in last 10 games). Right wing Jarome Iginla (11 goals, 10 assists) scored his 600th career goal in Monday’s 4-1 win vs. Los Angeles, is that good? Colorado’s next three games are against divisional foes: vs. St. Louis, vs. Nashville and at Chicago.
20. Calgary Flames (19-18-2, two weeks ago No. 20) – Calgary is another team that has seemingly risen from the dead (6-4-0 in last 10 games). Pint-sized left wing Johnny Gaudreau (17 goals, 22 assists, 5 game-winning goals) continues to take the league by storm as he was named the No. 1 star of December (when he scored 12 goals). I’m not saying that the teams are great by any means but the race for second and third-place (and the automatic playoff spots) in the Pacific Division promises to be very entertaining.
21. Anaheim Ducks (16-15-7, two weeks ago No. 29) – I have made fun of them all season but Anaheim is finally looking like the team that we all thought that they could be. They are 5-3-2 in their last 10 games after Sunday’s 4-1 win over Winnipeg. Things set up nicely for the Ducks with their next seven games all at Honda Center (where they are 10-5-4).
22. Winnipeg Jets (19-19-2, two weeks ago No. 26) – It is very likely that the Central Division will get five playoff teams so you can think of the Jets as five points outside of the postseason as things stand right now. Predictably for a last-place team, Winnipeg is good at home (11-5-1) and shaky on the road (8-14-1). They are at Dallas on Thursday so any point earned there would be a minor miracle.
23. Philadelphia Flyers (16-15-7, two weeks ago No. 17) – The Flyers needed that win against Montreal, now they go to Minnesota on Thursday then they host the Islanders in a big game on Saturday. Philadelphia is 5-4-1 in its last 10 games and they trail New Jersey by six points. Truth be told, it would be a surprise if they reached the playoffs this spring.
24. San Jose Sharks (18-17-2, two weeks ago No. 18) – As the Sharks prove, it is really hard to be under .500 in today’s NHL. San Jose is in sixth-place in the Pacific Division but only four points behind Arizona. They have the strangest home (5-11-0) and road (13-6-2) records in the league.
25. Toronto Maple Leafs (15-15-7, two weeks ago No. 27) – They are in seventh-place in the Atlantic Division but believe me when I tell you that Toronto isn’t that bad (6-2-2 in last 10 games). They beat the Blues 4-1 on Saturday before heading out on a California trip (Ducks, Kings and Sharks). The Maple Leafs’ goal-differential is only -4.
26. Vancouver Canucks (15-16-9, two weeks ago No. 23) – The Canucks are clearly in rebuilding mode but the funny thing is that the weakness of the Pacific Division allows them to be in the playoff race as well. Vancouver is only three points behind Arizona but also two points ahead of last-place Edmonton. The Canucks’ goal-differential is -16.
27. Carolina Hurricanes (16-17-7, two weeks ago No. 27) – The Hurricanes have the same amount of points (39) as the Flyers but they have played two more games. Carolina has lost its last two games, both in overtime (gotta love that point!). They are 4-3-3 in their last 10 games so things could be much worse.
28. Edmonton Oilers (17-21-3, two weeks ago No. 24) – The Oilers were back to being a disaster before they won their last two games (3-6-1 in last 10). Even though they are in last-place in the Pacific Division, technically they are only three points outside of the playoff picture which is crazy talk. They have the worst road record (5-14-2) in the NHL so that’ll need to improve immediately if they want to go anywhere.
29. Columbus Blue Jackets (15-23-3, two weeks ago No. 30) – The lost season in Columbus continues as their top two goaltenders (Sergei Bobrovsky and Curtis McElhinney) are both on IR. The Blue Jackets have the worst goal-differential (-26) in the NHL and they have allowed the most goals (131). They have a home-and-home series with Carolina this weekend which could go far in terms of determining draft positions in June.
30. Buffalo Sabres (15-21-4, two weeks ago No. 25) – A season that at least has shown some promise at times, has unraveled in Buffalo. The Sabres have lost five straight games to tumble into last-place in the Atlantic Division. It was a snap-shot of two teams going in opposite directions on Tuesday when Florida blasted them 5-1.