Ryan Miller has given the already formidable Blues a big upgrade. Credit: Getty Images
1. St. Louis Blues (44-14-7; last week-2) – As predicted, the Blues are even better with Ryan Miller in net. The Western Conference is stacked, but at the moment, the Blues are two points ahead of Anaheim for first place. St. Louis’ goal differential is an NHL best plus-65, which is insane, and the Blues are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games.
2. Anaheim Ducks (43-15-7; last week-1) – When you are 4-4-2 in your last 10 games and three points behind St. Louis after playing the same amount of games, you understandably get bumped down one spot. The Ducks are 2-6 in overtime and shootouts, which is hard to explain. They kick off a three-game road trip in Calgary, which should be a breeze, but back-to-backs this weekend in Colorado and LA will be very difficult.
3. Pittsburgh Penguins (44-17-4; last week-3) – For one night (Sunday), the Bruins were a point ahead of the Penguins. Since then, Pittsburgh swept a back-to-back with Washington to retake the lead in the Eastern Conference. The margin between those two teams is extremely thin.
4. Boston Bruins (42-17-5; last week-5) – With the exception of the Kings, no team in the NHL is currently playing better than the B’s. They have won their last five games to all but wrap up the Atlantic Division with a month left in the regular season. Boston has plenty of opportunity to overtake the Penguins as they play five games in seven nights.
5. Chicago Blackhawks (38-13-14; last week-4) – We could be blasted for having the defending champs here but the fact is there are four teams with more points than them. They have scored an NHL-best 223 goals and they are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games. Chicago being 5-8 in overtime and shootouts shows how random the extra sessions tend to be.
6. Colorado Avalanche (42-18-5; last week-6) – The Avalanche will probably finish third in the heavyweight Central Division but it’s not crazy to think they could reach the Stanley Cup Final this June. Veteran right wing P.A. Parenteau (14 goals, 19 assists) could miss the rest of the season with a knee injury, which doesn’t help such a young club. Wednesday and Friday should be an interesting test as they host the Blackhawks and Ducks.
7. San Jose Sharks (42-17-7; last week-7) – It’s been under-the-radar but San Jose is having a wonderful season as they have the third most points in the Western Conference. Tuesday night's 6-2 whitewashing of Toronto was the perfect send-off for their three-game road trip against Eastern Conference teams. The Blue Jackets and Rangers should give them tough games while the Islanders are in shambles.
8. Los Angeles Kings (38-22-6; last week-8) – When you have won your last eight games, it’s easy to forget recent struggles (namely goal scoring). With their postseason pedigree, the Kings are sure to be a trendy pick in the West. With a five-game homestand starting Thursday, the win streak could easily reach double digits.
9. Minnesota Wild (34-22-9; last week-9) – The Wild seem to be the Atlanta Hawks of the NHL: good enough to make the playoffs but not nearly deep enough to make noise in the West. They host the Rangers and Blue Jackets before going to Boston, three difficult contests in a row where points should be at a premium.
10. Montreal Canadiens (34-24-7; last week-10) – Canada’s gold medal in Sochi seemed to come at a major cost for the Canadiens: goaltender Carey Price hasn’t played for Montreal since then. The Habs have lost their last two games and have fallen 12 points behind Boston (while the Bruins have two games in hand). The locals will be happier if the Habs can continue their recent dominance (five in a row dating back to last season) vs. the B’s.
11. Toronto Maple Leafs (35-24-8; last week-12) – Tuesday night's beating in San Jose notwithstanding, the Leafs are playing well (5-3-2 in their last 10 games). For them to go anywhere in the playoffs, they’ll need to win on the road (they are 13-13-7 this season). Conveniently enough, their next three games (at Kings, Capitals and Red Wings) are all away.
12. Tampa Bay Lightning (34-24-7; last week-11) – Steven Stamkos has understandably been rusty but that’s not an excuse for his teammates. Tampa Bay is 2-6-2 in its last 10 games. If they sink much more, they could be surprisingly left out of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
13. Dallas Stars (32-23-10; last week-16) – There won’t be a scarier scene in the NHL this season than the one that transpired in Dallas Monday: winger Rich Peverley (who has a history of irregular heartbeats) collapsed on the bench. Luckily, the Stars’ medical staff did an incredible job to revive him or else this could have been a tragedy. It’s a good sign for the team that they emotionally bounced back with a thrilling 3-2 overtime win vs. St. Louis Tuesday.
14. New York Rangers (35-27-4; last week-15) – The race to second place in the Metropolitan Division is one of the more random entertaining subplots in the NHL this season. With a healthy Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers would seem to have the inside track. Most teams would shudder at having five of their next six games on the road but that’s where the Rangers have excelled (19-12-0).
15. Columbus Blue Jackets (34-26-5; last week-14) – If you’re looking for a darkhorse in the Eastern Conference playoffs this season, the Blue Jackets fit the bill. That is assuming that they make it in the first place. Columbus is 6-3-1 in its last 10 games and the Blue Jackets have won their last two.
16. Philadelphia Flyers (33-25-7; ); last week-13) – The Flyers are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games, so it's hard to justify why they fell three spots. Here come the hate mail/hate tweets from Philly. What's more unfair? The Flyers’ next 12 games are all against teams currently in the playoffs.
17. Phoenix Coyotes (31-24-11; last week-20) – We may have overrated the Coyotes but you have to give more weight to teams from the Western Conference since it is so far superior to the Eastern Conference this season. The Coyotes have a funky next five games: three against the Bruins and Kings but they'll also see the lowly Flames and Panthers. It feels like goaltender Mike Smith is finally playing like everyone expected him to.
18. New Jersey Devils (29-24-13; last week-not ranked) – There is a reason that only 16 teams make the NHL playoffs. After you reach that point, yuck. Still, the Devils deserve some credit: they are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games to pull within two points of Columbus and Philadelphia.
19. Detroit Red Wings (29-23-13; last week-18) – Detroit is only four points behind Tampa Bay and six points behind Montreal but it feels like more. Losing their last two games hasn’t helped their playoff push. They should beat Edmonton on Friday but their next three games - Blackhawks, Maple Leafs and Penguins could leave them on life support.
20. Washington Capitals (30-27-10; last week-17) – The Capitals lost a back-to-back vs. their main rivals in the Penguins and it only gets worse since Pittsburgh has beaten them a franchise record eight consecutive times. Should we mention that if Washington does sneak into the playoffs, they very well could face the Penguins in round one? A trip to California next week against that state's three excellent teams looms large for the Caps.
Follow Metro sports writer Richard Slate on Twitter:@RichSlate