1. Washington Capitals (35-8-3, last week No. 1) – It’s hard to picture a team having a better first half than the Capitals did. Alex Ovechkin has the second most goals in the NHL, with 28 in just 45 games. The Capitals have the most points in the NHL (73) and the best goal-differential (plus-55). They've been a mainstay at the top of these rankings.
2. Chicago Blackhawks (33-16-4, last week No. 2) – Chicago has certainly benefited from playing the most games in the league but it is still the No. 2 team. The Blackhawks have the most points (70) in the Western Conference and a stellar record (21-5-1) at the United Center. It is nearly impossible to repeat as Stanley Cup champion but if their top players stay healthy, the Blackhawks figure to make it very interesting in the postseason.
3. Dallas Stars (31-14-5, last week No. 4) – The Stars stumbled (3-6-1 in last 10 games) into the All-Star break but at least they ended it on a high note with a 2-1 win over Calgary on Monday. Through it all, The Stars have the best goal-differential in the West (plus-29). They are only three points behind Chicago with three games in hand and two of their next five games are against the Blackhawks.
4. Florida Panthers (29-15-5, last week No. 6) – The Panthers are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games and they have won three in a row. Florida is the No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference and they opened up a five-point lead on second-place Detroit in the Atlantic Division. The Panthers continue to smartly lock up their talented young players as they signed center Aleksander Barkov (13 goals, 18 assists, plus-12) to a six-year deal worth $35.4 million.
5. Los Angeles Kings (30-15-3, last week No. 3) – The Kings continue to lead the Pacific Division and they lead the second-place San Jose by nine points. Stingy LA has allowed the fewest goals in the Western Conference (109). Much like Chicago, it’ll be hard to bet against the Kings when the playoffs roll around.
6. St. Louis Blues (28-16-8, last week No. 5) – The Blues have more points than both the Panthers and Kings but in the Central Division, 64 points is only good enough for third-place. St. Louis is 5-2-3 in its last 10 games but its last contest was a 2-0 shutout loss in Chicago on Sunday. Their mediocre goal-differential (plus-1) is definitely a cause for concern.
7. New York Rangers (27-17-5, last week No. 7) – The Rangers have seemingly figured some things out as they are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games. They have no shot at the Metropolitan Division crown since they trail Washington by 14 points (!) and the Capitals even have three games in hand. Still, New York should have a good chance to grab the No. 3 or 4 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs if it plays up to its capabilities.
8. San Jose Sharks (26-18-4, last week No. 14) – I for one did not see this great run (8-0-2 in last 10 games) coming by the Sharks during this season. San Jose has vaulted into second-place in the Pacific Division and its goal-differential is a solid plus-13. Call them the Bruins of the Western Conference since their overall, home and road records are all eerily similar.
9. Detroit Red Wings (25-16-8, last week No. 11) – Very quietly, Detroit has put together a nice season. The Red Wings are in second-place in the Atlantic Division and fourth-place in the Eastern Conference. However, their sub-par goal differential (minus-2) and home record (11-10-5) make you pause. They will have a chance to close in on the Panthers because two of their first four games after the break are against Florida.
10. Tampa Bay Lightning (26-18-4, last week No. 8) – Tampa Bay fell flat in a showdown at Florida on Saturday (5-2 loss). The Lightning are currently in fourth-place in the Atlantic Division and seventh-place in the East. Tampa Bay is 8-2-0 in its last 10 games.
11. Boston Bruins (26-18-5, last week No. 10) – The Ducks blew out the Bruins 6-2 at TD Garden on Tuesday as Boston still hasn’t found a way to reach the .500 mark at home (11-13-2) this season. Somehow the B’s are only one point behind the Red Wings for second-place in the Atlantic Division. They will have a great chance to pick up points to start the second half as the first three games are: vs. Toronto, at Buffalo and vs. Buffalo.
12. New York Islanders (25-16-6, last week No. 9) – The Islanders have fallen three points behind the Rangers but they have two games in hand over their neighbors. In fact, if the playoffs started today those two teams would meet in the first round. New York has apparently taken a liking to its new home as is is 15-8-3 in its inaugural season at Barclays Center.
13. Pittsburgh Penguins (24-17-7, last week No. 18) – Here come the Penguins! Ok not really but Pittsburgh is playing better as they have won three games in a row (5-2-3 in last 10). They are in eighth-place in the East which is akin to being a No. 16 seed in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, nobody wants to play Washington.
14. Minnesota Wild (23-17-9, last week No. 12) – Other than Montreal, no supposed playoff contender needs some extended time off more than Minnesota. The Wild limped into the break 2-6-2 in their last 10 games. Colorado has as many points as them (55) and they are only one point ahead of Nashville in the powerhouse Central Division.
15. Colorado Avalanche (26-22-3, last week No. 17) – The Avalanche had been playing well (6-4-0) before they got curb-stomped in San Jose on Tuesday (6-1 loss). They are in Los Angeles on Wednesday for the final contest league-wide in the first half. As it stands, they would sneak into the postseason as the No. 8 seed in the West.
16. Nashville Predators (23-18-8, last week No. 22) – The hosts of the upcoming All-Star Game have finally started to look like themselves again. Nashville has won its last three games and they have a chance to grab more points on Wednesday in Calgary. The race between the Predators, Wild and Avalanche could go very well down to the final day of the regular season.
17. New Jersey Devils (25-20-5, last week No. 13) – The Devils have as many points as the Penguins (55) but the catch is that New Jersey has played two more games. They both figure to be battling for that last Wild Card spot the rest of the way. New Jersey is only 5-5-0 in its last 10 games and their goal-differential is a blah minus-4.
18. Carolina Hurricanes (23-20-8, last week No. 23) – If anyone says that they saw this coming, I’m happy to call that person a liar right to their face. The Hurricanes are one of the hottest teams in the NHL (7-2-1 in their last 10 games) and they are coming off the most impressive win of the first half: a 5-0 destruction of the Blackhawks on Tuesday. Carolina will start the second half with three games in four nights in Canada: at Calgary, Winnipeg and Montreal (all non-playoff teams at this juncture).
19. Arizona Coyotes (24-20-5, last week No. 19) – The Coyotes are clinging to the last playoff spot in the West as the Ducks have come within two points of them (with two games in hand). I don’t like Arizona’s chances to hold off Anaheim when their goal-differential is minus-15. The Coyotes’ first three games to start the second half are brutal: vs. LA, vs. Chicago and at Anaheim.
20. Anaheim Ducks (22-18-7, last week No. 25) – Bruins head coach Claude Julien admitted after the Ducks battered his team that Anaheim is far superior to what their unimpressive record indicates. The Ducks have won three straight games and they are 7-3-0 in their last 10. Things set up nicely for Anaheim since their first three contests after the break are all against Pacific Division teams above them: vs. San Jose, at Los Angeles and vs. Arizona.
21. Montreal Canadiens (24-22-4, last week No. 20) – It’s amazing to see how far the Canadiens have dropped since the beginning of this season. In case you forgot, this is the same team that started 2015-16 on a 9-0 tear. It doesn’t get much lower than getting swept by Columbus in a home-and-home set and being outscored 10-4 which actually just happened to Montreal.
22. Ottawa Senators (23-21-6, last week No. 15) – Add Ottawa to the exceedingly long list of underachieving teams from Canada. The Senators are 4-6-0 in their last 10 games after losing 3-2 to Buffalo on Tuesday. Ottawa’s goal-differential is -16 which doesn’t bode well for their hopes of making the playoffs this spring.
23. Vancouver Canucks (20-19-11, last week No. 20) – Vancouver was in a groove (5-3-2 in last 10 games) until they dropped their last two. They have the same amount of points as Anaheim (51) but they are clearly going in opposite directions. The Canucks have only 16 wins in regulation and overtime while their goal-differential is an unsightly minus-17.
24. Philadelphia Flyers (20-18-8, last week No. 21) – Similar to Vancouver, Philadelphia had been playing better but now they have lost three in a row heading into the break. Pittsburgh and New Jersey are seven points in front of the Flyers and Carolina is ahead by six points. The only silver lining for Philadelphia is that they are tied with Washington (who they meet on Wednesday in D.C.) for the fewest games played (46) in the league.
25. Winnipeg Jets (22-24-3, last week No. 26) – It can’t be fun to be a Jets fan these days since not only is the team pretty bad but they have basically no hope in the Central Division. With the NHL Draft lottery, the worst record doesn’t guarantee anything but Winnipeg might as well shoot for that because it’s probably the fastest way to escape out of this unenviable situation. The Jets have been terrible on the road this season (9-14-2).
26. Calgary Flames (21-23-3, last week No. 26) – The Flames seem resigned to life down here for the time being. They have lost their last two games and could really use a win against Nashville on Wednesday to feel better about themselves. They have been fine at Scotiabank Saddledome (14-9-0) this season, so there is that.
27. Buffalo Sabres (20-26-4, last week No. 26) – Through another forgettable campaign, rookie center Jack Eichel (16 goals, 18 assists) is a beacon of light for the perennially depressed Buffalo sports fans. He scored twice in the Sabres’ win at Ottawa and he has three goals and four assists in his past five games. Buffalo can play the role of spoiler as they start the second half in Montreal then they have a home-and-home series with Boston.
28. Columbus Blue Jackets (19-27-5, last week No. 30) – It is not hyperbole at all to say that if Montreal misses the playoffs this season, those two blowout losses to Columbus could be a main reason why they are left out. For a couple days at least, the Blue Jackets have had something to be positive about. They return to Canada for three more games after the break: at Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary.
29. Toronto Maple Leafs (17-21-9, last week No. 28) – Things have nearly bottomed out in Toronto where the Maple Leafs are 2-6-2 in their last 10 games, but hey how about them Raptors? It’s tough to win hockey games when you can’t score and Toronto is tied for the third fewest goals scored (114) in the NHL. The Leafs looked the part of a last-place team going nowhere when they were shellacked 5-1 at Florida on Tuesday.
30. Edmonton Oilers (19-26-5, last week No. 29) – If you wanted me to pick a song to perfectly sum up the current state of the Oilers, I’d choose Simon & Garfunkel’s classic tune “Sounds of Silence.” Hello darkness my old friend, yeah that fits Edmonton like a fleece-lined glove. The Oilers have lost their last three games in a row and they are tied with Toronto and Columbus for the fewest points in the league (43).