1. Washington Capitals (49-13-4, last week No. 1) – Games decided by shootouts usually aren’t seen as huge results either way but Washington’s 2-1 shootout win at Anaheim on Monday was a very valuable two points. The Capitals knocked off the hottest team in the NHL who is also gaining momentum as the top club in the Western Conference. Washington has 102 points in just 66 games which whatever way you slice it, is damn impressive.
2. Anaheim Ducks (37-19-9, last week No. 8) – This turnaround authored by the Ducks has been nothing short of remarkable. Anaheim is 9-0-1 in its last 10 games and they now lead the Pacific Division (1 point ahead of LA). A Stanley Cup Final in June of the Capitals vs. the Ducks would be quite a treat for hockey fans around the world.
3. Chicago Blackhawks (41-21-5, last week No. 2) – The Blackhawks have stumbled a bit lately (5-4-1 in last 10 games), leaving them in second-place in the Central Division (1 point behind Dallas). Chicago is at St. Louis on Wednesday, a huge tilt for both teams since the Blues are only two points behind the Blackhawks. Patrick Kane (38 goals, 51 assists and plus-18) is running away with the NHL scoring title and he has already set a new career-high in points this season.
4. New York Islanders (37-20-7, last week No. 11) – It was a great week for the Islanders who have won four straight games and gone 8-1-1 in their last 10. Goaltender Jaroslav Halak (18-13-4, 2.30 goals against average, .919 save percentage and 3 shutouts) left Tuesday’s 2-1 win over the Penguins with a groin injury, something to monitor with the playoffs right around the corner. New York’s goal differential of plus-27 is the second-best mark in the Eastern Conference.
5. New York Rangers (39-22-6, last week No. 5) – Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (31-17-4, 2.31 goals against average, .923 save percentage and 4 shutouts) has been out for a week with neck spasms and outside of a 6-4 loss to the Islanders on Sunday, the Rangers are playing consistently well (7-3-0 in last 10 games). They are three points ahead of the Islanders but their rivals have three games in hand. New York is off until Saturday when they visit Detroit.
6. St. Louis Blues (38-20-9, last week No. 3) – The Cooper Mannings of the Central Division continue to shine (7-3-0 in last 10 games), even if few outside of St. Louis seem to notice. The Blues have won three games in a row after Sunday’s 4-2 win over the Wild. For what it’s worth, they are only three points behind Dallas (with a game in hand) and two points behind Chicago.
7. Los Angeles Kings (39-22-4, last week No. 9) – Anaheim came to Staples Center last Saturday and beat Los Angeles 3-2 in a brawl-filled classic. There didn’t seem to much of a hangover effort though for the Kings who returned on Monday to pound the Canucks to the tune of 5-1. Three tight divisional races are shaping up but I’ll take Ducks-Kings over all of them since they genuinely hate each other (something that is rare in the NHL these days).
8. Tampa Bay Lightning (39-23-5, last week No. 7) – The Lightning were on a roll (8-1-1 in last 10 games) until Tuesday’s playoff-like 1-0 overtime loss to the Bruins. Tampa Bay and Boston are tied for first-place in the Atlantic Division (with Florida 2 points behind them) but the Lightning have played one less game. Of those three clubs, Tampa Bay has the best goal-differential (plus-25).
9. Boston Bruins (38-23-7, last week No. 12) – Few predicted that the Bruins would be up here with 14 games left in the regular season. Amazingly enough, they grabbed seven out of a possible eight points in the last week against Chicago, Washington, Florida and Tampa Bay. Left wing Brad Marchand’s (34 goals, 20 assists, plus-23) career year had another highlight with Tuesday’s overtime winning goal at Tampa Bay.
10. Dallas Stars (40-20-8, last week No. 4) – This is probably a little too harsh since they do still have the second-most points in the league but have you seen the Stars lately (3-5-2 in last 10 games)? They can only be described as a mess after losing 4-3 in overtime to the Canadiens on Tuesday. They host Chicago on Friday in what should be an important contest in terms of deciding the Central Division title.
11. Nashville Predators (34-21-12, last week No. 10) – I can’t logically justify a team that’s 8-0-2 in its last 10 games dropping down one spot but here we are. The Predators look like a lock for the first Wild Card berth. Anything can happen in the NHL playoffs but it’ll be hard to pick them in a first-round series against almost anyone.
12. Florida Panthers (36-21-9, last week No. 6) – While we are talking about overachieving teams that are coming crashing back to Earth, I also have to mention the Panthers (4-3-3 in last 10 games). Last time out, they also lost to Boston in overtime (5-4 on Monday in Sunrise, FL). Florida should still comfortably make the playoffs but you have to wonder about their confidence at with so many young players in the lineup.
13. San Jose Sharks (37-23-6, last week No. 13) – The Sharks (6-3-1 in last 10 games) are still hanging around in the Pacific Division title chase. San Jose has scored the fourth-most goals in the NHL (198) and their goal-differential is an impressive plus-24. Regardless, you’d have to be insane to pick them to finish ahead of the heavyweight Ducks and Kings when it’s all said and done this season.
14. Pittsburgh Penguins (34-24-8, last week No. 15) – Fittingly for the inferior Eastern Conference, both of their current Wild Card teams are hanging on for dear life. Pittsburgh is 5-5-0 in its last 10 games after Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to the Islanders. Friday at Columbus could be a trap game since the Penguins are mediocre on the road (14-14-4 this season).
15. Detroit Red Wings (32-23-11, last week No. 14) – Detroit lost 5-3 to Columbus on Tuesday, falling to a cringe-worthy 3-5-2 in its last 10 games. Between that and Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson’s retirement, it’s been a rough week in the Motor City. The Red Wings have lost their last three games in a row but they should have a good chance to put a stop to that on Thursday as lowly Winnipeg comes to Joe Louis Arena.
16. Minnesota Wild (31-26-10, last week No. 16) – Of the 16 teams that are in playoff position at the moment, the Wild are clearly the worst one of them all. They are tied with Colorado at 72 points but Minnesota has played one fewer game. They host Edmonton on Thursday, as close to a sure thing victory as you can find at this time of the year.
17. Philadelphia Flyers (31-23-11, last week No. 17) – Pittsburgh and Detroit’s recent struggles have kept the door wide open for the likes of the Flyers and other pretenders in the East. Philadelphia is 7-2-1 in its last 10 games after Tuesday’s 4-2 win vs. Tampa Bay. The Flyers are three points behind the Penguins and two points behind the Red Wings with a game in hand over both clubs.
18. Colorado Avalanche (34-30-4, last week No. 18) – For all intents and purposes, the Avalanche are the only team outside of the Top-8 in the Western Conference with a realistic shot of making the postseason. Like Peyton Manning before announcing his retirement earlier this week, Colorado is just happy to be noticed at this point. With a goal-differential of minus-12, they don’t look bound for anything besides a long off-season.
19. Carolina Hurricanes (30-26-11, last week No. 19) – The Hurricanes are playing poorly (4-5-1 in last 10 games) like the Penguins and Red Wings but they remain only four points behind Detroit. Their improbable 4-3 shootout win against the Senators on Tuesday pushed Carolina one point ahead of Ottawa. Right wing Jeff Skinner (25 goals, 16 assists) sent that contest to overtime by scoring the tying goal with 0.2 seconds left in regulation.
20. Ottawa Senators (31-29-8, last week No. 20) – The Senators have been playing well lately (5-3-2 in last 10 games) but that loss to the Hurricanes certainly hurt their slim hopes at a Wild Card bid. In the West, they would only be two points outside of the playoffs but in the East they are five points behind Detroit (who also has two games in hand on them).
21. New Jersey Devils (31-29-7, last week No. 21) – Goaltender Cory Schneider (26-23-6, 2.17 goals against average, .923 save percentage and 4 shutouts) sprained his MCL on Friday and while he’s expected out “at least two weeks,” I assume that the Devils will eventually shut down their franchise player. New Jersey has broken down like an old car on the Garden State Parkway (2-8-0 in last 10 games). With a road trip in California starting on Thursday in San Jose, it’s time for the Devils to start making their summer plans.
22. Montreal Canadiens (31-30-6, last week No. 22) – Montreal has essentially given up on this ill-fated season by fielding a lineup of so many AHL players but they still managed to beat Dallas 4-3 in overtime thanks to center Alex Galchenyuk (23 goals, 21 assists) who is having a sneaky good year. The Canadiens are 4-4-2 in their last 10 games. With seven points (not to mention four other teams) separating them and the Red Wings, it looks like it could be the first season since 1969-70 with no Canadian clubs in the NHL playoffs.
23. Columbus Blue Jackets (28-31-8, last week No. 23) – The Blue Jackets improved to 5-3-2 in their last 10 games after Tuesday’s 5-3 win at Detroit. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (11-13-1, 2.65 goals against average, .911 save percentage and 1 shutout) was activated off IR on Wednesday. I’m confident in guessing that no teams in the playoff mix want to face Columbus down the stretch.
24. Buffalo Sabres (27-32-9, last week No. 26) – Buffalo is the second-worst team in the East but I still believe that they are better than a handful of awful clubs in the West. The Sabres are 4-4-2 in their last 10 games after Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to the Rangers. Rookie center Jack Eichel (20 goals, 26 assists) has a four-game point streak (3 goals, 2 assists).
25. Vancouver Canucks (25-28-12, last week No. 24) – Things get pretty bleak down here in NHL purgatory. The Canucks are 3-7-0 in their last 10 games after Monday’s blowout loss to the Kings. Vancouver has scored the fewest goals (157) in the West and third-fewest in the league.
26. Arizona Coyotes (28-32-6, last week No. 25) – The proverbial rug has been pulled out from under Arizona’s season as they are 2-8-0 in their last 10 games. Rookie Max Domi (17 goals, 26 assists) earned his first NHL suspension (1-game) after he jumped Anaheim’s Ryan Garbutt (who had hit Coyotes star defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson). You don’t condone the act itself but Arizona’s front office had to be happy in a way to see a youngster stick up for a veteran teammate like that in a lost season.
27. Winnipeg Jets (27-34-5, last week No. 27) – The Jets did get awarded an outdoor game against the Oilers for next season but let’s hope that those teams are a little more competitive by then, otherwise who cares? Winnipeg is 2-6-2 in its last 10 games. If you are a playoff team, this is one of the hopeless groups playing out the string that you want to see in March or early April.
28. Calgary Flames (27-34-5, last week No. 28) – I feel like a broken record here: the Flames are also 2-6-2 in their last 10 games. I’m not saying it’s all his fault (because it is not by a long shot) but I see no possible way that head coach Bob Hartley keeps his job once this miserable season ends. Calgary is tied with Arizona for the most goals allowed (207) in the West.
29. Edmonton Oilers (26-36-7, last week No. 29) – Edmonton is 4-5-1 in its last 10 games so there is that. Of course-this being the cursed Oilers-they were blanked 3-0 by the Sharks on Tuesday. Their goal-differential of minus-37 is the second-worst in the NHL.
30. Toronto Maple Leafs (21-33-11, last week No. 30) – The constant losing has understandably gotten to head coach Mike Babcock (who threw some of his veteran players under the bus after Monday’s 4-3 shootout loss to Buffalo). Toronto is a grim 1-7-2 in its last 10 games and their goal-differential is an NHL-worst minus-39. Blue Jays Opening Day and the Raptors’ annual playoff choke job can’t come soon enough for Toronto sports fans.
Follow Richard Slate on Twitter: @RichSlate