Records through March 18:
1. Chicago Blackhawks (24-2-3, previous No. 1) – There was actually the thought of dropping the Blackhawks to No. 2 for the first time this season but they are still five points ahead of the Ducks. The Blackhawks travel to Anaheim Wednesday for their second meeting of the season. The Ducks won, 3-2, in a shootout in Chicago on Feb. 12.
2. Anaheim Ducks (21-3-4, previous No. 2) – Anaheim hasn’t lost in regulation in its last 11 games (8-0-3) and the Ducks have won their last 12 games at the Honda Center. There is no question that they are the hottest team in the Western Conference. Wednesday's game is a possible Western Conference Finals preview, so be sure to check it out on the NHL Network.
3. Pittsburgh Penguins (22-8-0, previous No. 5) – Having won nine games in a row, the Penguins are the hottest team in the NHL. They beat the Bruins twice last week (highly impressive) and have scored an NHL-high 108 goals. A wrist injury to their best defenseman, Kris Letang, could be a serious issue.
4. Montreal Canadiens (19-5-4, previous No. 4) – It’s time to stop pretending that Montreal’s great start this season was a fluke. The Habs are legitimately one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference and NHL. They’ve won five consecutive games and they are 7-1-2 in their last 10 games. Most impressive, they have been great on the road (10-2-2) as well as at the Bell Centre (9-3-2).
5. Boston Bruins (19-5-3, previous No. 3) – The Bruins came up short in both showdowns in Pittsburgh last week but they seem to be getting better at putting away inferior opponents. They dodged a major bullet as top line center David Krejci’s knee injury doesn’t appear all that serious. Still, injuries are an issue with third line center Chris Kelly out.
6. Los Angeles Kings (16-10-2, previous No. 6) – Their slow start has been pretty much forgotten as the Kings have owned games at the Staples Center (11-2-1). Similar to their playoff run last season, they are getting goals from many different lines and players along with solid goaltending (even though Jonathan Quick isn’t fully up to speed just yet).
7. Minnesota Wild (16-10-2, previous No. 8) – Minnesota has leaped over Vancouver for the lead in the Northwest Division. The Wild have won three games in a row and they are 7-3-0 in their last 10. It’s hard to see them getting higher than this but they have to be satisfied with where they sit at the moment.
8. Ottawa Senators (15-8-6, previous No. 10) – The Senators are still hanging around despite all their major injuries. Having the best record at home (10-1-3) in the Eastern Conference has helped them stay afloat through the tough times. They are 4-2-4 in their last 10 games, showing how either way it usually comes down to the wire for them.
9. St. Louis Blues (16-10-2, previous No. 15) – Called up from the minors, goaltender Jake Allen (8-1-0, 2.18 GAA, .920 save percentage) has been a revelation while Chris Stewart (14 goals, 14 assists) was the NHL’s No. 1 star last week after five goals (two game-winners) and two assists. The Blues aren’t going to catch the Blackhawks but they have a good chance to finish second in the Central Division.
10. Carolina Hurricanes (15-11-2, previous No. 7) – It looks like the Hurricanes are in for a competitive race with the Jets in the Southeast Division but Carolina has been doing enough lately (6-3-1 in their last 10 games) to be ranked ahead of Winnipeg. Carolina only has two games left this week, both at home, against the Panthers and Devils so they should continue to earn points.
11. Detroit Red Wings (14-10-5, previous No. 11) – Coming off possibly its best win of the season, a 5-2 victory at Vancouver on Saturday, Detroit has the toughest week of anyone in the NHL. They host Minnesota Wednesday, then go to Anaheim for two games (Friday and Sunday). Needless to say, they have to get a positive result against the Wild because the Ducks are nearly impossible to beat at home.
12. Vancouver Canucks (13-9-6, previous No. 14) – Don’t let this ranking fool you, the Canucks are struggling. They’ve lost their last two games and they are 3-5-2 in their last 10 games. Most troubling, it’s hard to figure out how a roster loaded with talent has a goal-differential of minus-2. If only the Sedin twins had any sort of leadership skills, then maybe Vancouver wouldn’t be in this situation.
13. Winnipeg Jets (15-12-2, previous No. 20) – The Jets have been one of the hotter teams in the Eastern Conference (6-3-1 in their last 10 games). They are a .500 team at home (6-6-0) but they have a chance to improve on that mark this week with four straight games at home. That includes back-to-back nights against the Capitals on Thursday and Friday.
14. New York Rangers (14-12-2, previous No. 12) – You still can’t trust the Rangers. They look great one night, then hopeless the next. They are 10-5-1 at Madison Square Garden and if they can win on the road (4-7-1), they will really be onto something. The Rangers need to find a way to score more goals since they have an Eastern Conference low, 67.
15. Toronto Maple Leafs (15-12-2, previous No. 9) – The Leafs have been treading water lately (4-4-2) which is still good enough to put them in front of some of the train wrecks in the Eastern Conference (looking at you Florida and Buffalo). A home-and-home with the Bruins on Saturday and Monday, a team that has absolutely owned them, will tell us whether to take Toronto seriously moving forward this season.
16. New Jersey Devils (13-10-6, previous No. 16) – Martin Brodeur has returned to practice, but not games for the Devils … about the best thing I can say about them. They are falling apart, hanging on to the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs with a terrible goal-differential of minus-9. It would be nice if Ilya Kovalchuk (10 goals, 15 assists) could carry them a bit more through the tough times but this is who he has become.
17. San Jose Sharks (12-10-6, previous No. 13) – You could argue that the Sharks have been the biggest underachievers in the NHL (Flyers fans rejoice!) and I wouldn’t disagree. Perhaps it’s time to break up this current cast that has been together for too long without ever really doing anything notable when it matters. It’s shocking that they have only scored 67 goals this season with all those great forwards.
18. Phoenix Coyotes (13-12-4, previous No. 17) – Being one of the worst road teams in the Western Conference (3-7-3) is holding the Coyotes back from being a better team. They have the pieces to be a playoff team but if they started today, they’d be on the outside (ninth place). Something is up with Mike Smith (11-9-3, 2.86 GAA, .900 save percentage) and they won’t go anywhere with their franchise goaltender playing like that.
19. New York Islanders (13-12-3, previous not ranked) – One of the biggest jokes in the NHL the last decade, the Isles are finally starting to turn it around thanks to John Tavares (17 goals, 14 assists) and a great record on the road (8-4-1). They have been playing well (5-3-2), winners of two in a row, but it’s hard to see that continuing when they’ve allowed so many goals (91).
20. Columbus Blue Jackets (11-12-6, previous not ranked) – This is not a misprint, the Blue Jackets haven’t lost in regulation (6-0-4) in their last 10 games. They have gone to overtime in nine of their last 10 games, which is insane. Not surprisingly, goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (9-6-5, 2.00 GAA, .932 save percentage) was the NHL’s third star last week since he’s been on fire.
Follow Metro sports writer Richard Slate on Twitter: @RichSlate