Mark Arcobello and the Predators have stunned many this season.Getty Images
  1. 1. Nashville Predators (28-9-4; last week-3) – Keep in mind that the Predators didn’t even make the playoffs last season, so this has been quite a turnaround by head coach Peter Laviolette and Co. in the Music City. Nashville is tied with Anaheim for the most points in the NHL (60) but the Predators have done it in two fewer games. The Predators have the best home record in the league (16-2-1) and the second-best goal-differential (plus-32).
  2. 2. Chicago Blackhawks (28-13-2; last week-1) – I still think that the Blackhawks are the best team in the NHL but they have gone 6-4-0 in their last 10 games so that’s why I had to bump the Predators ahead of them. Chicago has the best goal-differential in the league (plus-39). The Blackhawks kicked off a four-game homestand with a 4-1 beating of the Wild on Sunday, now they are off until Friday when they'll host the Jets.
  3. 3. Tampa Bay Lightning (27-12-4; last week-5) – The class of the Eastern Conference continues to roll on: they have won their last three games and they are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. After a quick back-to-back in Philadelphia and Boston, Tampa Bay returns home for three games. Center Tyler Johnson (17 goals, 28 assists) leads the NHL in plus/minus (plus-26) as he’s quickly becoming a star.
  4. 4. Anaheim Ducks (27-10-6; last week-2) – The Ducks put on a top-notch tribute to Teemu Selanne on Sunday then went out and picked up a thrilling 5-4 shootout win over Winnipeg. Anaheim is a top club but it has given up way too many goals for a contender (118), hence its pedestrian goal-differential (plus-3). Only time will tell if young center Rickard Rakell’s four-point night (two goals, two assists) against the Jets was the start of something or a complete fluke.
  5. 5. New York Islanders (28-13-1; last week-7) – Nobody has a tougher week ahead than the Islanders, and I believe in them, but these three games should tell us something more: at Rangers, vs. Penguins and at Canadiens. New York is 6-3-1 in its last 10 games and has won its last two. Goaltender Jaroslav Halak (22-8-0, .914 save percentage, 2.29 goals against average, three shutouts) is well on his way to a career year.
  6. 6. St. Louis Blues (26-13-3; last week-8) – It was a good week for the Blues as they have won their last four games and center David Backes (14 goals, 13 assists, eight power-play goals) was named the first star of the week in the NHL. The Blues' goal-differential is plus-31 but unfortunately for them, they are in the Central which has three top teams in one division (Nashville and Chicago). The Blues play, basically, the rest of January at home (where they are 15-4-1) with five more games coming up.
  7. 7. Pittsburgh Penguins (25-10-6; last week-6) – As all teams do (except maybe Chicago), the Penguins have stumbled a bit (4-4-2 in their last 10) which has allowed the Islanders to jump one point ahead for first place in the Metropolitan Division. Pittsburgh is still a very good team, as evidenced by its impressive 2-1 overtime win in Montreal on Saturday. Evgeni Malkin (19 goals, 28 assists) and Sidney Crosby (12 goals, 32 assists) are headed to another NHL All-Star Game.
  8. 8. Montreal Canadiens (26-12-3; last week-4) – The Canadiens are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games so I understand that it seems dumb to drop them a few spots from llast week. The explanation is that most teams around them have been playing really well too. Montreal has a quick back-to-back in Columbus and Ottawa this week before three games at the Bell Centre where it is 13-5-2. Montreal is 5-1 in shootouts this season, which points to its abundance of skilled players.
  9. 9. Detroit Red Wings (22-11-9; last week-9) – This might be Detroit’s high-water mark for a while since it just put All-Star goaltender Jimmy Howard (16-7-7, .920 save percentage, 2.11 goals against average, two shutouts) on injured reserve with a groin injury. The Red Wings are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games but they do face the lowly Sabres (goal-differential minus-66) twice this week so they have that going for them. It is backup goaltender Peter Mrazek’s time to shine.
  10. 10. New York Rangers (21-11-4; last week-12) – You can’t be much hotter than the Rangers, who have won five straight games and nine out of their last 10. Their re-emergence has made the Metropolitan Division far more interesting than it was early in the season as they should push the Islanders and Penguins the rest of the way. Rick Nash is tied for the NHL lead in goals (26) with Dallas’ Tyler Seguin and his career-high of 41 (2003-04 with Columbus) seems well within reach.
  11. 11. Washington Capitals (22-11-8; last week-11) – Similar to the Rangers, the Capitals have been on fire (7-1-2 in their last 10 games). Alex Ovechkin (21 goals, 15 assists, nine power-play goals) is going to Columbus for the All-Star Game and if Howard misses it, Washington goaltender Braden Holtby (20-8-7, .921 save percentage, 2.27 goals against average, three shutouts) would be a logical choice to replace him. Washington beat Detroit, 3-1, on Saturday and it has two more winnable games at Verizon Center vs. Colorado on Monday and Philadelphia on Wednesday.
  12. 12. Winnipeg Jets (21-14-8; last week-14) – If the Jets were in the Pacific Division, they’d be in second-place. Instead, they are in the Central behind possibly the three top teams in the Western Conference. Winnipeg nearly ruined Selanne’s retirement ceremony but it blew a pair of two-goal leads to the motivated Ducks. I never thought I’d say this but I’m really looking forward to Jets-Panthers on Tuesday.
  13. 13. Boston Bruins (22-15-6; last week-18) – It turns out that reports of the Bruins' demise were greatly exaggerated. Boston has recovered from a bleak stretch to go 6-1-3 in its last 10 games. The B's have won their last three and they have three big games at TD Garden this week: vs. Lightning, Rangers and Blue Jackets.
  14. 14. Vancouver Canucks (23-14-3; last week-10) – The Canucks looked to be Anaheim’s main competition in the Pacific but they have dropped off, going 5-4-1 in their last 10 games. Second-place looks like the race though as two points separate Vancouver, San Jose, Los Angeles and Calgary. The Canucks head out on a five-game road trip this week, starting in Nashville, that should go a long way to determining if they make the postseason or not.
  15. 15. Florida Panthers (20-11-9; last week-20) – Look out for the Panthers ... no, seriously. Florida is 6-3-1 in its last 10 games and has won three in a row. These are happy times for the Panthers with Roberto Luongo (17-7-7, .927 save percentage, 2.23 goals against average, two shutouts) an All-Star and Jonathan Huberdeau having been the third star of the week, with three goals and two assists in three games.
  16. 16. Los Angeles Kings (19-13-10; last week-13) – The Kings aren’t playing great by any means (4-2-4 in their last 10 games) and they are hanging on to the eighth seed in the Western Conference. LA’s 1-6 record in shootouts this season has to indicate the random nature of it. The Kings have the second-worst road mark in the West (5-8-6).
  17. 17. San Jose Sharks (22-16-5; last week-15) – Speaking of California teams that are a mess, the Sharks are 4-5-1 in their last 10 games and they have dropped their last two. San Jose’s goal-differential is minus-2, no doubt a troubling number. Without making some kind of trade, it’s hard to see the Sharks remaining in the playoff picture.
  18. 18. Calgary Flames (22-18-3; last week-16) – Calgary has to pick it up and Saturday’s 1-0 win at Vancouver was a good place to start. Defenseman and captain Mark Giordano (10 goals, 26 assists, plus-16) is going to the All-Star Game while rookie sensation Johnny Gaudreau (13 goals, 19 assists) will compete in the skills competition for first-year players. Calgary has four more games on its road trip, ending with three in California.
  19. 19. Toronto Maple Leafs (22-17-3; last week-17) – Randy Carlyle was fired as head coach of the Maple Leafs last week so Toronto clearly isn’t messing around. This team has too much talent to be in 10th place in the weak Eastern Conference. Phil Kessel (19 goals, 24 assists) might be a coach killer but he’s going to the All-Star Game once again and James van Riemsdyk (19 goals, 21 assists) should be an injury replacement.
  20. 20. Colorado Avalanche (18-16-8; last week-not ranked) – The Avalanche still have a ton of work to do if they want to return to the playoffs but credit to them for getting off the mat after a horrendous start to the season. Goaltender Semyon Varmalov has been playing out of his mind lately, going 3-0-0 last week with .962 save percentage, 1.67 goals against average, one shutout which earned him the second star of the week. Colorado’s goal-differential is still minus-10 but it is 7-3-0 in its last 10 games and it has won three in a row.
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