1. Dallas Stars (23-6-2, last week No. 1) – The Stars continue to cruise up here at the top: they have the most points in the NHL (48), the most wins (23), the most goals (107) with the best home (12-3-0) and road (11-3-2) records in the NHL. Dallas is 6-2-2 in its last 10 games after blowing out lowly Columbus 5-1 on Tuesday. They have some marquee games coming up later this week as they host the Canadiens on Saturday and Blackhawks on Tuesday.
2. Washington Capitals (21-6-2, last week No. 2) – The Capitals are still on fire (8-1-1 in last 10 games) and they are the best team in the Eastern Conference at the moment. Goaltender Braden Holtby (19-4-1, .933 save percentage, 1.87 goals against average) has never been better. Mostly thanks to him, Washington has allowed an NHL-low 63 goals this season.
3.Montreal Canadiens (20-9-3, last week No. 3) – The combination of Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher being out for an extended period of time has finally caught up to the Canadiens. Montreal is just 4-5-1 in its last 10 games after a lifeless 3-1 loss to the Sharks on Tuesday at the Bell Centre. They still possess the best goal-differential (+28) in the league.
4. Los Angeles Kings (19-9-2, last week No. 4) – The Kings are coming off of a 5-3 loss in Ottawa on Monday but they are 7-1-2 in their last 10 games. The Pacific Division is really down (2nd place San Jose is 9 points behind them) so they should have a very good chance to grab a high seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Thursday’s game at Montreal could be a Stanley Cup Final preview.
5. New York Rangers (19-9-4, last week No. 5) – It’ll soon be forgotten but Tuesday’s 4-2 win vs. Oilers was one of the most important two points of the season for the Rangers. New York has been really struggling (3-5-2 in last 10 games) and they dropped to second-place in the Metropolitan Division, only one point ahead of the Islanders. They host the Capitals on Sunday at Madison Square Garden in what should be an excellent contest.
6. New York Islanders (18-9-5, last week No. 6) – The Islanders had been rolling (7-1-2 in last 10 games) but then they mysteriously were dominated at home by the Panthers in a 5-1 loss on Tuesday. They are in fourth-place in the East but only three points behind Washington. New York has three more games before Christmas, starting with a quick road trip to Colorado and Arizona beginning on Thursday.
7. Minnesota Wild (16-7-6, last week No. 11) – Quietly the Wild are putting it all together (5-2-3 in last 10 games) and they get goaltender Devan Dubnyk back after he missed four games. They rocked Vancouver 6-2 on Tuesday as center Mikko Koivu and left wing Thomas Vanek both put up a goal and three assists. Minnesota will have its hands full in the next week: vs. Rangers, at Predators, vs. Stars and vs. Canadiens.
8. St.Louis Blues (18-10-4, last week No. 8) – With Minnesota and Chicago each only two points behind them, St. Louis desperately needed Tuesday’s 4-3 victory in Winnipeg. The Blues are only 4-4-2 in their last 10 games, hence why Dallas has created a large gap (8 points) between them in the Central Division. They host Nashville on Thursday in a sneaky big game for both clubs.
9.Chicago Blackhawks (17-11-4, last week No. 7) – Even during the holidays, all good things must come to an end and that included Patrick Kane’s incredible 26-game point streak. Chicago was surprisingly blanked by Colorado 3-0 at the United Center on Tuesday. No worries though as their next three games are against the Oilers, Sabres and Sharks.
10.Detroit Red Wings (16-9-6, last week No. 10) – I believe that the Red Wings are overachieving but it’s hard to argue with their record to this point. Detroit was exposed a bit in Monday’s 2-1 loss to Buffalo but they are 5-1-4 in their last 10 games. The good news for the Red Wings is that they’ll be home from now through Christmas with the next three games (Canucks, Flames and Devils) all at Joe Louis Arena.
11.Ottawa Senators (16-10-5, last week No. 9) – I can’t speak for Canada but I feel like at least in the U.S., the Senators are very underrated as evidenced by Monday’s win against the Kings. Ottawa will have another chance to grab people’s attention with Wednesday’s game in Washington. A win there would help them leapfrog Detroit into second-place in the Atlantic Division.
12. Boston Bruins (16-9-4, last week No. 13) – The Bruins have a golden opportunity to send the Penguins into further chaos this week as they have a home-and-home series with Pittsburgh. Boston is 6-1-3 in its last 10 games and their goal-differential is up to +13. They are still seeking to become .500 or better at TD Garden (6-7-2) for the first time this season.
13. Nashville Predators (15-10-6, last week No. 12) – It has been a bumpy time in the Music City as the Predators fell to 3-4-3 in their last 10 games following Tuesday’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Flames. Nashville’s goal-differential is zero and they only have 13 wins in regulation and overtime. They are just four points behind St. Louis but 12 points in back of Dallas.
14. Tampa Bay Lightning (16-13-3, last week No. 17) – I have preached patience throughout Tampa Bay’s early-season struggles and it seems to have started to pay off. The Lightning are 6-4-0 after their thrilling 5-4 win at Toronto on Tuesday. They are at Washington on Friday but then they have a six-game homestand that goes until the start of 2016.
15. Florida Panthers (15-12-4, last week No. 16) – The other team in Florida-the Panthers-has also been on a nice run lately (7-3-0 in last 10 games). Tuesday’s 5-1 win at Barclays Center against the Islanders had to be Florida’s most impressive performance of the season. The Panthers have a back-to-back on the road against the Hurricanes and Devils before returning home for a six-game homestand that extends past New Year’s Day.
16. New Jersey Devils (16-11-4, last week No. 14) – The Devils are in eighth-place in the Eastern Conference so you could argue that they deserve to be higher than this. The problem is that I just don’t have that much faith in them. They blanked Buffalo 2-0 on Tuesday but their goal-differential is +1.
17. Calgary Flames (14-14-2, last week No. 26) – That is not a misprint, a club tied with Columbus for the worst goal-differential (-24) in the NHL should be here. Calgary is the hottest team in the league, no pun intended, since they have won their last six games in a row to get back to .500. In fact, they are only one point out of the playoffs in the Western Conference and one point behind second-place San Jose in the Pacific Division.
18. San Jose Sharks (15-14-1, last week No. 18) – The enigma that is the Sharks was on full display in Tuesday’s solid win at Montreal. San Jose is 3-6-1 in its last 10 games and they have the worst home record (4-9-0) in the NHL which is so bizarre. Center Logan Couture returned for less than two games before suffering another serious injury, forcing him to get an operation to close a bleeding artery in his thigh.
19. Colorado Avalanche (15-16-1, last week No. 24) – Like the Flames, the Avalanche are another team that has seemingly risen from the dead. Tuesday’s win at Chicago was undoubtedly their best of the season and Colorado is 7-3-0 in its last 10 games. Improbably, they are hanging onto eighth-place in the West.
20. Philadelphia Flyers (13-12-6, last week No. 19) – Rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere continues to be a revelation for the Flyers as he scored his third overtime goal of the season (tying Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau for the NHL lead) in Tuesday’s 4-3 win over Carolina. Philadelphia is 6-3-1 in its last 10 games. The fact that they are in 12th place in the East and have a goal-differential of -20 speaks more to the overall depth of the thus far superior conference in 2015-16.
21. Pittsburgh Penguins (15-11-3, last week No. 15) – These are rough days for the Penguins who are 3-4-3 in their last 10 games after Monday’s 4-1 loss to Washington. Between freak injuries to key players like goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (concussion) and defenseman Kris Letang (upper-body) and poor play, new head coach Mike Sullivan steps into a very tricky situation. Pittsburgh is in 11th-place in the East, they lead the rival Flyers by one point in the Metropolitan Division.
22.Edmonton Oilers (14-16-2, last week No. 27) – Edmonton’s six-game win streak ended on Tuesday in New York but the Oilers actually look like a decent team, what a change! Edmonton is 7-2-1 in its last 10 games and they are tied with Arizona, Calgary and Vancouver in the log-jammed Pacific Division. A healthy Taylor Hall (15 goals, 20 assists, +13) is a star: he leads the league with five game-winning goals.
23. Arizona Coyotes (14-14-2, last week No. 23) – The walls are starting to close in on Arizona as the Flames and Oilers are trending upwards while they slowly slide. The next four games for the Coyotes (Blue Jackets, Islanders, Maple Leafs and Kings) are all at Jobing.com Arena. They are home through Christmas which is nice since nothing gets you in the spirit quite like being in the desert.
24.Winnipeg Jets (14-15-2, last week No. 20) – Things could be going better in Winnipeg where the Jets have slipped into last-place in the Central Division. They are 4-6-0 in their last 10 games and they have dropped their last two. They host the Rangers on Friday before going to Edmonton and Calgary next week (they are 6-10-1 on the road).
25. Anaheim Ducks (11-13-5, last week No. 22) – Time is starting to run out on the Ducks who are in last-place in the Pacific Division and last-place in the West. They are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games but last time out, they got crushed 5-1 by the lightweight Hurricanes on Friday. They get a tour of New York and New Jersey this week as they travel to play the Sabres, Devils, Rangers and Islanders.
26. Vancouver Canucks (11-13-8, last week No. 21) – If they hadn’t played in three more games than Anaheim, I’m pretty sure that the Canucks would be at the bottom of the Western Conference. Vancouver is 3-5-2 in its last 10 games and they have started a pivotal six-game road trip with a pair of one-sided losses (4-0 at Chicago, 6-2 at Minnesota). Now they face four Eastern Conference teams (Flyers, Red Wings, Panthers and Lightning) before Christmas.
27. Buffalo Sabres (13-16-3, last week No. 28) – Even though I said that the East is better, I also think that the four worst teams reside there. Buffalo is 5-4-1 in its last 10 games coming off Tuesday’s shutout against New Jersey. They host Anaheim on Thursday and Chicago on Saturday before receiving a week off before their next game.
28. Carolina Hurricanes (12-14-5, last week No. 30) – With hat tricks in two out of his last three games and nine goals in his last six, left wing Jeff Skinner is starting to reemerge after posting just 18 goals last season. Remember, he is only 23-years-old but he already has two 30-goal seasons to his credit. Carolina hosts Florida on Friday and they are .500 (6-6-3) at nearly empty PNC Arena.
29.Toronto Maple Leafs (10-13-6, last week No. 25) – The constantly rebuilding Maple Leafs are 4-4-2 in their last 10 games. Toronto is in last-place in the Atlantic Division and it looks like they’ll be battling Columbus all season for the worst record and No. 1 draft pick. Will goaltender Jonathan Bernier (0-8-2, .881 save percentage, 3.45 goals against average) ever win another game?
30.Columbus Blue Jackets (11-19-3, last week No. 30) – After a week’s absence, the Blue Jackets are back in their rightful place. Columbus was no match for Dallas on Tuesday as they fell to 2-5-3 in their last 10 games. I honestly can’t give you one legitimate reason to pay any attention to this miserable group.