The Bruins are racking up wins before the Olympic break. Credit: Getty Images
1. Anaheim Ducks (39-11-5; last week-1) – The Ducks are putting some separation between themselves and the other top teams in the West (Chicago and St. Louis), so they are the clear-cut top squad in the NHL. Anaheim is 7-3-0 in its last 10 games and the Ducks beat Los Angeles, 3-0, at Dodger Stadium last weekend. They have dropped their last two games at home but with their next four contests at the Honda Center (21-2-2), expect the Ducks to start another big win streak.
2. St. Louis Blues (36-11-5; last week-3) – The Blues are coming on strong as they’ve won their last three games to vault ahead of Chicago for first place in the Central Division (both are tied with 77 points, but St. Louis has played three less games). Even better, they lead the NHL with an unbelievable goal differential of plus-61. Their next three games: at Carolina, vs. Nashville and vs. the Senators are all conducive to building a long win streak.
3. Chicago Blackhawks (32-10-13; last week-2) – For once, the Blackhawks are going through a rough patch (3-3-4 in their last 10 games). That’s not to say they won’t be the favorite to win the Stanley Cup again in the spring but it shows that every team in the NHL goes through some turbulence. They lead the league in goals (194), but they could do a better job of preventing them (154).
4. Pittsburgh Penguins (37-14-2; last week-4) – The Penguins are rolling along, 7-2-1 in their last 10 and seemingly days away from clinching the wretched Metropolitan Division (17 points ahead of the second-place Rangers). Pittsburgh is nearly unbeatable at the Consol Energy Center (22-4-0) so it’ll be more telling to see them visiting LA Thursday and Phoenix on Saturday. Sidney Crosby (league-leading 74 points) is a lock for another Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP) assuming he stays healthy the rest of the season.
5. San Jose Sharks (34-13-6; last week-5) – By locking up Patrick Marleau (22 goals, 26 assists) and Joe Thornton (47 assists) for three more years, the Sharks are committed to staying the course with their big-name nucleus. Of course, that also brings added pressure for them to finally get to the Stanley Cup Final.
6. Boston Bruins (34-15-3; last week-7) – The Bruins are playing their best hockey of the season as they’ve won their last four games (five out of the last six) and have allowed the fewest goals in the league (115). Plus, four of their remaining five games before the Olympic break are at TD Garden (where they are 20-5-2). Somehow, Thursday is the first Bruins-Canadiens matchup of the season at TD Garden. What took so long NHL?
7. Colorado Avalanche (33-14-5; last week-6) – Nobody has talked about them all season but the Avalanche continues to chug along - 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. They host Minnesota and Buffalo in two winnable games before heading to the East Coast to face the Devils, Rangers and Flyers. Top overall pick Nathan MacKinnon (18 goals, 17 assists) looks like a budding star and the scary part is that he’s only 18-years-old.
8. Tampa Bay Lightning (31-17-5; last week-8) – One of the most underappreciated stars of his generation, Martin St. Louis (25 goals, 27 assists) is having a spectacular year at age 38. Their four-game road trip got off to a tough start with a 3-2 loss in Toronto Tuesday. Games at Ottawa, Montreal and Minnesota will also really test them.
9. Los Angeles Kings (30-19-6; last week-9) – If only the Kings could score goals (133), they’d be one of the top teams in the league. Having Jonathan Quick certainly helps them stay in every game though, as they have allowed only 116 goals (second fewest in the NHL). The Kings seem like a prime candidate to make a move at the trade deadline for some offensive firepower. Is, I don’t know, Islanders forward Thomas Vanek available?
10. Minnesota Wild (29-20-6; last week-13) – The Wild started a key three-game road trip with a surprising two points, a 4-2 win at Anaheim Tuesday. If they can win at the Honda Center, they should get at least a point in Colorado and definitely two in Calgary. Minnesota is 6-3-1 in its last 10 games but still under .500 on the road (10-13-4).
11. Vancouver Canucks (27-18-9 last week-10) – With John Tortorella predictably suspended and Henrik Sedin out with an injury, the Canucks are spinning their wheels (4-5-1 in their last 10 games). The more long lasting bad signs for Vancouver lie in their goal-differential (minus-1) and lack of goals (137). Like the Kings, they are another team that could use a proven goal-scorer before the playoffs start.
12. Toronto Maple Leafs (28-21-6; last week-12) – The Maple Leafs are playing, arguably, their best hockey of the season. The NHL diehards don't like shootouts, but Toronto is using them to their advantage with a 9-4 record in the cheesy format. Three of their last five games before the Olympic break are at Air Canada Centre, where they are 18-10-1.
13. Montreal Canadiens (28-20-5; last week-11) – Montreal will have its hands full on Thursday in Boston but they then return to the Bell Centre for four straight games. They are 4-6-0 in their last 10 with a goal-differential of minus-3. It’s not hard to figure out their biggest issue as they’ve scored more goals than only three other teams in the Eastern Conference.
14. New York Rangers (28-23-3; last week-14) – The Rangers have found their groove, going 7-3-0 in their last 10 games. After playing the Islanders in The Bronx, they meet them again on Friday at Madison Square Garden. Henrik Lundqvist (18-18-3) has also looked like himself after some sketchy starts midway through the season.
15. Phoenix Coyotes (25-18-10; last week-17) – Here's some huge, breaking news - the Coyotes are finally moving out of Phoenix! Oh, just kidding. They are only changing their name to Arizona Coyotes next season. The three people that have Coyotes jerseys (not related to the players) don’t have to worry though because the logo will look mostly the same.
16. Carolina Hurricanes (24-20-9; last week-not ranked) – Anton Khudobin (11-4-0, .925 save percentage, 2.24 goals against average) has been superb and, if nothing else, he’s proven that Cam Ward could be expendable. Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to the Metropolitan Division since the Rangers (second place) are only four points ahead of the Devils (seventh place). Therefore with their next four games at PNC Arena, the Hurricanes need every point they can get.
17. Philadelphia Flyers (26-22-6; last week-15) – The Flyers have come back to Earth, bottoming out with what Claude Giroux called an “embarrassing loss,” a 6-1 defeat to the Bruins on Saturday. But they did bounce back with an impressive 5-0 win over Detroit Wednesday. The only problem is they have the toughest road trip that any team in the NHL has to go through this weekend - the California stretch of at Anaheim, at Los Angeles and at San Jose.
18. Columbus Blue Jackets (26-23-4; last week-16) – Columbus has lost its last three games but the Blue Jackets have home games with Washington and Florida coming up. However, like the Flyers they also go on the dreaded California trip, which is so difficult for non-Western Conference clubs. They have the second-best goal differential (plus-3) in their division.
19. Ottawa Senators (23-20-10; last week-18) – Apologies to all readers who support the Senators. Yes, they are 5-3-2 in their last 10 games but still inexplicably drop down a spot. Sometimes life is unfair.
20. Dallas Stars (24-21-8; last week-not ranked) – Nobody can hang onto the last spot in the rankings. It sort of has become the kiss of death, so good luck Dallas! The Stars need to beat the Devils Thursday night at home before they go to Anaheim, Phoenix and San Jose. Don’t ask us why they gave forward Ryan Garbutt (10 goals, 61 penalty minutes) a three-year extension. He seems to be a dime a dozen.
Follow Metro sports writer Richard Slate on Twitter:@RichSlate