Records through March 4
1. Chicago Blackhawks (19-0-3, previous No. 1) – At some point, the Blackhawks are going to lose in regulation, right? This streak is turning into one of the great marks in regular season sports history and true to form, they are winning in a number of ways. Chicago is only two games away from the halfway point of the regular season. So how long until they clinch a playoff spot?
2. Anaheim Ducks (15-3-3, previous No. 3) – I doubt they have many nationally broadcast games this season, since nobody thought they’d be this good, but if you have NHL Center Ice then you already know about the Ducks. They have scored a Western Conference-best 75 goals and they are 8-1-0 at home.
3. Montreal Canadiens (14-4-4, previous No. 5) – You can argue that the Bruins could be here since the Canadiens have played three more games then them, but we’ll go with Montreal since they won 4-3 in Boston on Sunday night. Plus, the Canadiens (7-0-3) are unbeaten in regulation in their last 10 games and they topped the B’s with backup goaltender Peter Budaj in net.
4. Boston Bruins (14-3-2, previous No. 2) – Boston had its six-game win streak snapped on Sunday night vs. Montreal but they have been playing great hockey on the whole. The Northeast Division doesn’t appear to be the walkover it has been the last few seasons with Montreal and Toronto much improved. Tyler Seguin is heating up, while linemates Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron are on fire too.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins (15-8-0, previous No. 4) – The Penguins have 30 points, just like the Bruins, but they have played four more games. Pittsburgh leads the NHL with 81 goals, they’ve gone 7-3-0 in their last 10 and they are 9-4-0 on the road. Evgeni Malkin returned from a concussion Monday and scored a highlight reel goal. Be scared of this team.
6. Vancouver Canucks (11-6-4, previous No. 7) – There is a seismic drop from Pittsburgh to Vancouver. The Canucks haven’t played well in their last 10 games (4-4-2) but you have to respect the assorted talent they throw on the ice every night. Ryan Kesler returned from a shoulder injury for seven games before breaking his foot last week. Vancouver will miss his leadership on a team that lacks many standup guys.
7. Toronto Maple Leafs (14-9-0, previous No. 11) – It is still hard to take the Leafs too seriously but they are treading water while many teams around them fall back due to major injuries or terrible play. Toronto is 9-4-0 on the road and it’s a big week for them with a home game against the Senators on Wednesday, at the Bruins on Thursday and at the Penguins on Saturday. Those three games should give us more of a clue as to whether Toronto is a contender or not.
8. Phoenix Coyotes (11-8-3, previous No. 15) – The Coyotes are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games which means something in the Western Conference (the superior conference). One of the best in the NHL, goaltender Mike Smith is healthy and back on the ice for Phoenix. Nobody has noticed but they have built a nice team in the desert.
9. Los Angeles Kings (11-7-2, previous No. 16) – Outside of the Blackhawks, there is no hotter team in the NHL right now than the defending Stanley Cup champions. They are 8-2-0 in their last 10 games and they have been great at the Staples Center (6-1-1). Jeff Carter had a natural hat trick on Monday night as the Kings’ previously dormant offense has begun to wake up.
10. Carolina Hurricanes (12-8-1, previously unranked) – This is probably a mirage or at least a short stay to be this high in the rankings since franchise goaltender Cam Ward hurt his knee on Sunday and is expected to be out 6-8 weeks. The good news for Carolina is that somebody has to win the truly awful Southeast Division (worst in the NHL). Why not them? The Hurricanes have the longest current win streak (three games) in a jumbled Eastern Conference.
11. Ottawa Senators (12-7-4, previous No. 6) - It might have taken a little longer than we expected but colossal injuries to the Senators are wearing them down. They are 9-1-2 at home but they’ve already played in five shootouts (3-2), most in the Eastern Conference. It’s hard to see them staying ahead of Montreal, Boston and even Toronto with this AHL-infused roster.
12. San Jose Sharks (10-6-4, previous No. 13) – The Sharks have struggled in their last 10 games (3-4-3) but it’s hard to see them continuing to play at that mediocre level. Don’t ask how a team with Logan Couture, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau is tied with Nashville with the least goals (47) in the NHL. San Jose has played fine at home (7-1-3) but they haven’t gotten enough results on the road (3-5-1).
13. St. Louis Blues (11-8-2, previous No. 10) – Did you know six teams in the Western Conference all have 24 points? It’s absurd. The Blues are one of those squads but they aren’t trending upward since their goaltenders (Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott) haven’t been themselves. The Blues are 6-3-1 on the road which shows you that they can be a quality team when they put their minds to it.
14. Minnesota Wild (11-8-2, previous No. 17) – They still don’t score goals (49) but the Wild have won on their home ice (8-2-1) and have played well in their last 10 games (6-3-1). Mikko Koivu (13 assists) is one of the best passers in the NHL and one of the best defensemen - Ryan Suter (14 assists) - has adjusted quickly to his new team.
15. New Jersey Devils (10-7-5, previous No. 8) – No team has slid farther than the Devils in the last few weeks. That’s what happens when you lose a Hall of Fame goaltender like Martin Brodeur to IR. New Jersey is 2-6-2 in its last 10 games while their division foes, the Flyers and Rangers, have finally awoken. That’s bad news in the Garden State for the Devils who are 0-3 in shootouts.
16. Philadelphia Flyers (11-11-1, previous No. 20) – The Flyers won their only two games last week but they face a much tougher stretch this week: at Rangers (Tues.), vs. Penguins, at Bruins and vs. Sabres. You can’t expect them to be consistent with Ilya Bryzgalov between the pipes but they are tough and can score with anybody so they’ve got that going for them.
17. New York Rangers (10-8-2, previously unranked) – The sons of crazy John Tortorella have started to play their favored style. Fittingly, their goal differential is 0 since they’ve scored the same amount of goals (51) as they’ve allowed. The big news for them is that Rick Nash has returned although Brad Richards is banged up after a dirty hit by Buffalo’s Patrick Kaleta (suspended five games) on Sunday.
18. Dallas Stars (11-9-2, previous No. 12) – If the playoffs started today, the Stars would be left out of the Western Conference playoff picture despite having the same amount of points as LA, San Jose, St. Louis and Minnesota. It’s hard to see them really jumping any of those teams but there is always a random team or two that manages to sneak into the postseason.
19. Detroit Red Wings (10-8-4, previous No. 14) – Not sure if the alarms have sounded yet in Hockeytown but the Red Wings have been arguably the NHL’s biggest disappointment so far this season. They had a great chance to knock off Chicago on Sunday but after grabbing a 1-0 lead in the third period, they took two straight delay of game penalties which led to Patrick Kane’s tying goal. After a scoreless overtime, Chicago won in a shootout. That’s how it’s been for Detroit.
20. Nashville Predators (9-9-5, previous No. 9) – They fell more than anyone in this week's rankings but unlike the Devils, they don’t have a built-in excuse with a major injury. The Predators have just been playing poorly as they are 3-6-1 in their last 10 games and they’ve lost three games in a row. That minus-12 goal differential sticks out like a sore thumb. They have to find a way to manufacture more goals.
Follow Metro sports writer Richard Slate on Twitter: @RichSlate