1. Washington Capitals (35-8-3, last week No. 1) – The Capitals continue to be on an absolute tear as they aim for the top seed in the Eastern Conference and a President’s Trophy to boot. Washington has the most points (73) in the NHL and the best goal-differential (plus-55). They are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games as they’ve opened up an amazing 18-point advantage on the second-place Rangers in the Metropolitan Division.
2. Chicago Blackhawks (32-13-4, last week No. 3) – The only other club in Washington’s galaxy is Chicago who oh by the way has won a franchise-record 12 games in a row after Tuesday’s 4-1 victory at Nashville. Superstar right wing Patrick Kane leads the league in goals (30, tying his career-best already), assists (41) and points. Thursday should be a nice test for them as they visit Tampa Bay in a 2015 Stanley Cup Finals rematch.
3. Los Angeles Kings (29-13-3, last week No. 5) – The Blackhawks understandably get the most attention these days but the Kings are another super consistent team in the Western Conference. LA leads second-place San Jose, Arizona and Vancouver (they are all tied with 49 points) by 12 points apiece in the Pacific Division. The Kings are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games and they have allowed the second fewest goals (101) in the NHL.
4. Dallas Stars (29-13-5, last week No. 2) – I’m not saying that they are frauds but in reality, we all knew that the Stars were overachieving when they started out this season on fire. Dallas is 2-6-2 in its last 10 games as they have dropped five points behind Chicago, into second-place in the Central Division. They still lead the league in goals scored (156) but they have allowed too many goals (127) for a group that strives to be at the top.
5. St. Louis Blues (27-15-7, last week No. 6) – This is a point that I repeat all the time but it’s worth noting once again that St. Louis would be in first-place if they resided in either the Atlantic Division or Pacific Division but in the Central, 61 points puts them squarely in third-place. The Blues have won their last two games as they head out on a tricky four-game road trip (at Detroit, Colorado, Chicago and Nashville). Their goal-differential of plus-3 doesn’t inspire much confidence in long-term success this season.
6. Florida Panthers (26-15-5, last week No. 4) – Similar to Dallas, I had a feeling that Florida’s top-notch play was a house of cards. Now that they have lost their last three games, we can really start to see what the Panthers are made of. The Red Wings and Lightning are both only three points behind the Panthers for first-place in the Atlantic Division.
7. New York Rangers (25-16-6, last week No. 7) – These days, a win at home against Vancouver isn’t normally considered a turning point in a campaign but the Rangers hope that Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime victory at Madison Square Garden vs. the Canucks gets them out of their recent funk. New York has been terrible on the road (8-11-3) and three of their next four games are there. However, at Carolina, Ottawa and New Jersey doesn’t seem too scary.
8. Tampa Bay Lightning (25-17-4, last week No. 11) – Shame on you if you happened to write off the Lightning already in 2015-16. With most of the same roster back from the Eastern Conference champions of last season, this team has finally gotten healthy and not surprisingly, they are on a six-game winning streak. Saturday’s game at Florida is especially meaningful since they could be playing for first-place in the Atlantic Division.
9. New York Islanders (24-15-6, last week No. 9) – Thus far, it’s tough to gauge the Islanders since on paper they look like a quality team but many times when I’ve watched them this season, they have been anything but a contender in the East. Their goal-differential is plus-11 and they are over .500 at home (15-7-3) and on the road (9-8-3) which are all good indicators. They are one point behind the Rangers who have played one more game than their new neighbors.
10. Boston Bruins (24-16-5, last week No. 14) – Has any other team been more up and down than the Bruins this season? Boston is seemingly always on a lengthy steak of some sort, right now it has won its last three games including a 4-1 victory at Montreal on Tuesday. That result should finally put the Winter Classic debacle behind them, at least when it comes to the Canadiens (who still took the season-series 3-2).
11. Detroit Red Wings (23-14-8, last week No. 10) – The Red Wings continue to be that team that baffle me, like I have a hard time explaining how they have 54 points at this moment. They are in second-place in the Atlantic Division and yet their goal-differential is minus-5. Wednesday’s game vs. St. Louis and Monday’s trip to Brooklyn to face the Islanders should help unravel the enigma in the Motor City.
12. Minnesota Wild (22-15-8, last week No. 8) – Minnesota is a mess and frankly, I blame most of it on Blair Walsh. Oh wait, sorry wrong sport. The Wild have dropped four straight games to fall into fourth-place in the Central Division and if they aren’t careful, they could drop out of the playoff picture if this slide continues for much longer.
13. New Jersey Devils (23-19-5, last week No. 13) – I can’t believe that I’m doing this since I think that the Devils are clearly one of the most flawed teams in the NHL but it’s tough to argue with their overall record. There are so many middling teams in the league at this time and that really helps them. Of course, if the postseason started today they would meet the Capitals who might not allow a goal in a first-round sweep of New Jersey.
14. San Jose Sharks (23-18-3, last week No. 20) – This week in the revolving door that is second-place in the Pacific Division, your San Jose Sharks! They get the nod over Arizona and Vancouver since they have played one less game than the Coyotes and three fewer than the Canucks. Also, other than the Kings, the Sharks are the only other team in the Pacific with a positive goal-differential (plus-6).
15. Ottawa Senators (22-18-6, last week No. 17) – This is where things get complicated since so many clubs are treading water around this spot. Ottawa is currently in ninth-place in the Eastern Conference but they have won their last two games. The Senators are in New Jersey on Thursday before a three-game homestand (Islanders, Rangers and Sabres) leading into next week’s All-Star break.
16. Montreal Canadiens (23-20-4, last week No. 12) – My how the mighty have fallen. Everyone would agree that Carey Price is an outstanding goaltender but his prolonged absence doesn’t fully explain why Montreal has completely gone off a cliff. The Canadiens are 3-6-1 in their last 10 games, they are in sixth-place in the Atlantic Division and 10th-place in the East.
17. Colorado Avalanche (23-21-3, last week No. 19) – The Avalanche are hanging around (5-4-1 in last 10 games) but they’ll need to go on a serious run if they want to feel comfortable about their chances of reaching the playoffs this spring. They have a plus-1 goal differential which in the Central Division is way more impressive than that would be anywhere else. Their last four games before the break are a gauntlet: vs. Blues, at Stars, at Sharks and at Kings.
18. Pittsburgh Penguins (21-17-7, last week No. 16) – The Penguins have been decent lately (4-2-4 in last 10 games) but it will take more of a push to get back into the playoff picture. They are in fifth-place in the Metropolitan Division and 11th in the East although New Jersey is just two points in front of them (Penguins have two games in hand). Fireworks are almost always guaranteed when they meet the Flyers who will be at Consol Energy Center on Thursday.
19. Arizona Coyotes (22-18-5, last week No. 13) – The Coyotes were looking great (5-3-2 in last 10 games) until they lost their past two games, including a 2-1 setback to Buffalo on Monday. Thursday’s game vs. San Jose is a huge one for both teams. Second-place in the Pacific Division figures to be one of the most fascinating races down the stretch this season.
20. Vancouver Canucks (19-17-11, last week No. 21) – Rounding out the trio of teams in the Pacific Division with 49 points, the Canucks check in with a sickening goal-differential of minus-17. Ryan Miller (11-12-7, .915 save %, 2.69 goals against average and one shutout) isn’t the All-World goaltender that he used to be but his 49 saves against the Rangers shows that he can still be that guy from time to time. Henrik Sedin (9 goals, 28 assists, plus-11) is out at least two weeks with an upper-body injury which is bad news for a club that was already thin at center.
21. Philadelphia Flyers (20-16-8, last week No. 23) – If the Flyers seriously hope to make the playoffs this season, the 3-2 loss to Toronto on Tuesday, isn’t helping their cause. There are very few teams in the NHL that you should always beat and the Maple Leafs fall under that designation which nobody wants. Philadelphia has a very tough stretch going into the break as they visit the Islanders on Saturday, host the Bruins on Monday and travel to DC on Wednesday.
22. Nashville Predators (20-18-8, last week No. 18) – Things clearly aren’t going as planned in Nashville as the Predators are 2-6-2 in their last 10 games. I would say that it’s time for a big trade to shake things up but they did that so I’m fresh out of ideas. It doesn’t make sense that a club with so many good players could be this average.
23. Carolina Hurricanes (20-19-8, last week No. 22) – Despite Sunday’s horrid 5-0 loss at Pittsburgh, the Hurricanes are still 5-2-3 in their last 10 games. Goaltender Cam Ward (14-11-5, .905 save %, 2.41 goals against average and one shutout) went on IR with a concussion so Eddie Lack (6-8-3, .891 save %, 2.97 goals against average) will be the starter for a while. Carolina is at Toronto on Thursday before a three-game homestand (Rangers, Flames and Blackhawks) before the break.
24. Anaheim Ducks (19-18-7, last week No. 24) – The Ducks fell 3-2 to their most bitter rival-the Kings-on Sunday but they are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games. The Ducks host the Wild on Wednesday before embarking on a three-game road trip against Eastern Conference teams (Capitals, Red Wings and Bruins). Anaheim has been terrible on the road this season (6-10-3) so there is that.
25. Winnipeg Jets (21-22-3, last week No. 26) – The fact is that the Jets are only four points behind the Avalanche but it feels like a wider margin since Winnipeg has been in a haze virtually all season long. Plus Colorado beat them 2-1 on Monday, a big two points in the lower portion of the Central Division. The Jets have five games remaining on their six-game homestand.
26. Calgary Flames (20-21-3, last week No. 25) – The Flames have dropped into a last-place tie in the Pacific Division with hapless Edmonton although Calgary has a whopping four games in hand. The Flames are only 4-5-1 in their last 10 games after Tuesday’s 4-2 loss at New Jersey. They have three more games left on this road trip (Blue Jackets, Hurricanes and Stars) and Calgary is 6-12-3 away from home this season.
27. Buffalo Sabres (19-23-4, last week No. 27) – After getting hurt in the first game of the season (that’s so Buffalo), goaltender Robin Lehner is finally back for the Sabres. Buffalo has won its last two games, relegating Toronto to last-place in the Atlantic Division. Three of their four games before the break (Avalanche, Rangers and Senators) are on the road where they are surprisingly over .500 this season (10-9-2).
28. Toronto Maple Leafs (17-20-7, last week No. 27) – Overrated defenseman Dion Phaneuf (3 goals, 19 assists, -4) must really like Toronto since reports say that he’s unlikely to budge from his no-trade clause. The only team in the league with fewer points than the Maple Leafs is the hope Blue Jackets. Believe it or not, none of the seven Canadian teams are currently in the top eight for either conference.
29. Edmonton Oilers (19-24-5, last week No. 29) – Other local sportswriters have made a wonderful career out of curses (cough, Shaughnessy) and I don’t believe in that garbage but I am running out of explanations for Edmonton’s never-ending failures in the last decade. Center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (8 goals, 22 assists) could miss the rest of the season with a broken hand, making him the second No. 1 overall pick (joining Connor McDavid) to suffer a serious injury for the Oilers in recent months. Edmonton is the worst road team (6-15-4) in the NHL.
30. Columbus Blue Jackets (17-26-4, last week No. 30) – When does spring practice for Ohio State football start? How can you adequately describe what a disgrace that the Blue Jackets have been this season? Columbus has the fewest points in the NHL (38) and the worst goal-differential (-33), a deadly combination for a new market that had started to care about hockey.
Follow Metro Boston Bruins beat writer Richard Slate on Twitter: @RichSlate