The Flyers have won back-to-back games and are slowly but surely crawling up the rankings. Credit: Getty Images
1. Anaheim Ducks (40-13-5; last week-1) – The Ducks are scuffling a bit, though there's no cause for alarm. They’ve lost their last two and are 5-5-0 in their last 10 games. Still, Anaheim has three more points than Chicago in the same amount of games so the Ducks remain the top team in the last week of action before the Olympic break.
2. St. Louis Blues (37-12-6; last week-2) – Ottawa’s 5-4 shootout win in St. Louis Tuesday night was a big moment for the Eastern Conference: the Blues had been 9-0-1 against the weaker conference this season at Scottrade Center. St. Louis has a big test Thursday night as it hosts the Bruins, a team it beat in a shootout, 3-2, on Nov. 21 in Boston. Underrated forward Vladimir Sobotka was replaced on the Czech Republic Olympic team as he recovers from a leg injury.
3. Chicago Blackhawks (34-10-14; last week-3) – The Blackhawks were the first team to score 200-plus goals this season and look like a lock to lead the NHL in that category in 2013-14. Chicago is 4-2-4 in its last 10 games. The bizarre thing is that they are 5-8 combined in overtime and shootouts. Hard to explain with their wealth of offensive talent.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins (39-15-2; last week-4) – A rematch of Pittsburgh and Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals seems to be more and more likely this spring. The Penguins and Bruins are separating themselves from the rest of the mostly mediocre conference. Pittsburgh is 7-3-0 in its last 10 games and the Pens' 23-4-0 mark at Consol Energy Center is the best home record in the NHL.
5. Boston Bruins (36-16-3; last week-6) – No top team has been as good as the Bruins the last few weeks. Boston has the best goal differential (plus-47) in the Eastern Conference and the B's have allowed the fewest goals in the NHL (120). Captain Zdeno Chara has left for Sochi, to carry Slovakia’s flag in the Opening Ceremories, so Boston’s remaining defensemen need to pick up the slack in St. Louis Thursday and Saturday vs. Ottawa.
6. San Jose Sharks (35-16-6; last week-5) – The Ducks are nine points ahead of the Sharks but San Jose is 10 points in front of Los Angeles, so the pecking order in the Pacific Division seems pretty set. The Sharks are 20-4-3 at the SAP Center but they are coming off a rough 5-2 loss to the Flyers there on Monday. They host Columbus on Friday before the break.
7. Colorado Avalanche (36-15-5; last week-7) – If Patrick Roy isn’t the NHL Coach of the Year, there should be a federal investigation. Roy has completely turned around a franchise that was going nowhere the last few seasons, in just one year. The Avalanche are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games and wrap up before the break on the East Coast at the Flyers and Islanders.
8. Tampa Bay Lightning (32-19-5; last week-8) – Of course, after jumping on the Roy bandwagon, we have to admit that Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper would also be a worthy selection. The Lightning have firmly held on to third place in the Eastern Conference despite missing Steven Stamkos since early November. Speaking of Stamkos, he’s hoping to return this week or else he will probably skip out on the Olympics.
9. Minnesota Wild (30-21-7; last week-10) – If Rodney Dangerfield was still alive, he’d probably be a big fan of the Wild since they get zero respect. Of course, with a goal-differential of minus-3, it’s easy to question Minnesota. Still, they are in sixth in the Western Conference which means something to any smart hockey fan.
10. Toronto Maple Leafs (30-22-6; last week-12) – Any time a so-called "good team" loses to the Panthers, it’s a black eye on said squad. Therefore, Toronto’s 4-1 loss at Florida Tuesday was painful, but the Leafs are still 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. Phil Kessel (30 goals, 31 assists) has the second most goals in the NHL and the fifth most points.
11. Montreal Canadiens (30-21-6; last week-13) – Montreal’s sound 4-1 win over Boston last Thursday at TD Garden was shocking in how one-sided it turned out to be. The Canadiens have struggled all season to score goals (139) but they have beaten the Bruins both times they’ve met. Team Canada hasn’t announced its starter yet, but goaltender Carey Price (24-17-5, .923 save percentage, 2.37 goals against average, 4 shutouts) seems like the logical choice.
12. Los Angeles Kings (30-22-6; last week- 9) – Everyone respects the Kings, but they are in serious trouble. They are 1-8-1 in their last 10 games and they’ve lost four straight. Their last game before the break is Thursday vs. Columbus, which is not a cakewalk by any means.
13. New York Rangers (31-23-3; last week- 14) – The Rangers are playing good hockey: 7-3-0 in their last 10 games and they’ve won four in a row. They should pummel the Oilers Thursday at MSG, but winning in Pittsburgh the next night is a real tall order. The Rangers are currently in sixth place in the East but home ice (a top-four seed) looks quite possible since the Metropolitan Division is terrible and they look like the clear runner-up to Pittsburgh.
14. Columbus Blue Jackets (29-23-4; last week- 18) – The Blue Jackets are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games and have won three straight, including a 4-2 win in Anaheim on Monday. At Los Angeles Thursday is far less daunting but the back-to-back in San Jose the next night will be difficult. Having a healthy Sergei Bobrovsky and Nathan Horton changes everything for Columbus.
15. Philadelphia Flyers (28-23-6; last week-17) – Philly’s 5-2 win at San Jose on Monday had to be their most impressive two points of the season. They host Colorado Thursday, which will be difficult, but the Flyers get a gift on Saturday in the form of the Flames heading into the break. The Flyers are 14-10-1 at the Wells Fargo Center this season and that should improve.
16. Dallas Stars (26-21-9; last week- 20) – It’s tough to sort these last few teams but we think the fairest way is to go with the Stars who have an even goal differential (161 goals scored, 161 goals allowed). Dallas has won its last two games but playing at San Jose then hosting Phoenix on Saturday won’t be an easy way to go into the break.
17. Phoenix Coyotes (26-20-10; last week-15) – The Coyotes are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games but coming off a 3-1 loss to the Stars Tuesday. Phoenix will have to earn their points in the last two games before the break: hosting Chicago on Friday then traveling to Dallas the next night. Phoenix is 10-10-7 on the road this season, part of the reason why they’re stuck in ninth place in the Western Conference.
18. Detroit Red Wings (25-19-12; last week-not ranked) – The Red Wings have to be thanking their lucky stars that they are in the Eastern Conference and not the West anymore. Detroit is eighth in the East with a good shot to at least sneak into the playoffs. Detroit is 5-3-2 in its last 10 games and the even better news is that Pavel Datsyuk finally hopes to return Thursday in Florida.
19. Winnipeg Jets (28-25-5; last week-not ranked) – It’s doubtful that anyone outside of Winnipeg realizes it, but the Jets are the hottest team in the NHL: 8-2-0 in their last 10 games with three consecutive wins. The Jets are at Washington Thursday and at St. Louis on Saturday; the Capitals are a mess, but getting any points against the Blues would be impressive.
20. Ottawa Senators (25-21-11; last week-19) – The Sens are 4-3-3 in their last 10 games. It illustrates that the Senators are hanging around. Of course, at tenth in the Eastern Conference, they’ll need to make a move soon if they want to return to the postseason. Ottawa's 5-4 shootout win in St. Louis Tuesday shows how good they can be.
Follow Metro Boston Bruins beat writer Richard Slate on Twitter:@RichSlate