1. Washington Capitals (32-7-3, last week No. 1) – At basically the halfway point of the 2015-16 regular season, the Capitals have shown no signs of slowing down from their amazing pace. Washington has the most points in the NHL (67), the best goal-differential (+49) and superstar left wing Alex Ovechkin (26 goals, 13 assists) scored his 500th career goal in Sunday’s 7-1 blowout win over Ottawa. The Capitals have won their last four games in a row and they are 8-1-1 in their last 10.
2. Dallas Stars (29-11-4, last week No. 2) – For the first time all season, the Stars are scuffling just a bit (4-4-2 in their last 10 games). After running away with the Central Division, Chicago is only two points behind Dallas and St. Louis is five points back of the Stars. Dallas has scored the most goals (149) in the league and they start a three-game road trip in California on Friday at Anaheim.
3. Chicago Blackhawks (28-13-4, last week No. 4) – Being a fan of the Blackhawks has to be a similar experience to rooting for the Patriots, Spurs or St. Louis Cardinals: you always expect them to come out on top no matter what. Chicago has won its last eight straight games and they have the third most points (60) in the NHL. Head coach Joel Quenneville (who is now tied for the 2nd most wins in NHL history) was rewarded on Tuesday with a three-year contract extension.
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4. Florida Panthers (26-12-5, last week No. 3) – Florida’s franchise-best 12-game win streak finally came to end on Monday in a 3-2 overtime loss at Vancouver. Still, the Panthers have clearly proven that they are for real and they have a great shot at capturing the Atlantic Division and earning the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. They will try to start a new run on Wednesday when they visit Calgary.
5. Los Angeles Kings (27-12-3, last week No. 5) – Things are good in LA where the Kings continue to roll (7-2-1 in last 10 games). Center Anze Kopitar (12 goals, 23 assists, +17) had four points (1 goal, 3 assists) in Monday’s 4-2 win over Detroit and the team is reportedly closing in on an extension with him. Los Angeles is tied with Florida for the second fewest goals allowed (92) in the league.
6. St. Louis Blues (25-14-7, last week No. 6) – Nobody ever said that life would be easy in the Central Division: St. Louis has the same amount of points as Florida and LA (57) but they find themselves in third in the Central. The Blues were fading (4-3-3 in last 10 games) but they have won their last two. St. Louis has three games left on their homestand (Hurricanes, Canadiens and Penguins), they are 14-7-3 at Scottrade Center this season.
7. New York Rangers (23-14-5, last week No. 9) – This is a tricky spot since the Rangers, Red Wings, Islanders and Wild are all at almost the exact same level. New York gets the nod here since I think that long-term they are the best club out of those four choices. Washington has opened up a 16-point lead on the Rangers so they can kiss the Metropolitan Division goodbye in this campaign.
8. Minnesota Wild (22-13-8, last week No. 7) – Minnesota has dropped its last two games so they have fallen 10 points behind first-place Dallas. The Wild host the Jets on Friday before embarking on a four-game road trip. Their goal-differential is +11 and they are 8-6-6 on the road this season.
9. New York Islanders (23-15-5, last week No. 8) – As the injuries continue to mount (defenseman Travis Hamonic is out 2-3 weeks with a lower-body injury), the Islanders stay afloat (5-5-0 in last 10 games) in the Metropolitan Division. The Islanders have the same amount of points as the Rangers (51) but the Original Six team has played one fewer contest. The Islanders host the Rangers on Thursday in the latest chapter of their rivalry.
10. Detroit Red Wings (22-14-7, last week No. 10) – The Red Wings continue to cling to second-place in the Atlantic Division with Montreal two points behind them. Detroit’s goal-differential is -5 which is all that you need to know about their legitimacy at least so far in 2015-16. However if the playoffs started today, they would be the No. 4 seed in the East so there is that.
11. Tampa Bay Lightning (22-17-4, last week No. 18) – Don’t look now but the Lightning (winners of their last 3 games) have finally righted the ship as they are 6-3-1 in their last 10. They have pulled within three points of Detroit and only one behind Montreal. Tampa Bay opens a four-game homestand (Penguins, Panthers, Oilers and Blackhawks) on Friday at Amalie Arena where they are only 10-8-2 this season.
12. Montreal Canadiens (23-17-3, last week No. 11) – Goaltender Carey Price (10-2-0, .934 save%, 2.06 goals against average, 2 shutouts) is skating and it will take some major patience for the Canadiens to not rush him back since they desperately need him to return. Montreal is 3-7-0 in its last 10 games and without him, they are rudderless. Their next three games are brutally tough: vs. Chicago, at St. Louis and at Chicago.
13. Arizona Coyotes (22-16-4, last week No. 17) – Arizona is certainly taking advantage of their terrible division (they are 10-1-2 against other teams in the Pacific). Rookie left wing Max Domi (13 goals, 18 assists) potted his first career hat trick in Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime win vs. Edmonton. The Coyotes are 7-1-2 in their last 10 games and they have won four in a row.
14. Boston Bruins (21-15-5, last week No. 14) – The Bruins are a mess (3-6-1 in their last 10 games) and they can’t score any goals right now (they have only topped 2 goals once in their last 5 games). They have two very winnable games (Flyers and Sabres) left on their road trip which concludes on Friday in Buffalo. Their goal-differential is +14 as they try to hold onto the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference.
15. New Jersey Devils (21-18-5, last week No. 13) – Cory Schneider (18-13-5, .926 save percentage, 2.09 goals against average, 3 shutouts) continues to carry this mediocre team so it was nice to see him named to the All-Star Game. New Jersey has the same amount of points as Boston (47) but they have played three more games. If any club desperately need a goal-scorer before the trade deadline, it is the one that resides in Newark, NJ.
16. Pittsburgh Penguins (20-16-6, last week No. 16) – The Penguins are 5-2-3 in their last 10 games but then again they lost 3-2 in overtime at Carolina on Tuesday and even worse, they find themselves in 10th place in the East. Needless to say, this is not how they drew it up in Pittsburgh coming into this seaeson. The playoffs aren’t out of the realm of possibility but home ice or a deep run appear to be a pipe dream at this point for such a flawed group.
17. Ottawa Senators (20-17-6, last week No. 15) – The Senators have tumbled out of the playoff picture (3-6-1 in last 10 games) but the good news for them is that they are only one point behind Boston (granted they have played two more games). Goaltending has been a disaster in Ottawa as they have allowed the second most goals (131) in the league. Unless they figure that out soon, it’s tough to see them making the postseason this spring.
18. Nashville Predators (19-17-7, last week No. 12) – The Predators swung a huge trade last week, swapping defenseman Seth Jones to Columbus for center Ryan Johansen (7 goals, 22 assists) but so far, it hasn’t made much of a difference as Nashville has dropped its last four games in a row. The Avalanche have the same amount of points but the Predators have played one fewer game. Nashville is one of the worst road teams in the league (7-11-4).
19. Colorado Avalanche (21-20-3, last week No. 19) – Lately, Colorado hasn’t taken advantage of Nashville’s struggles since the Avalanche have lost their last two games. The Central Division figures to get five teams in the playoffs so really all Colorado has to worry about is finishing in front of Nashville and they should be fine. Their next four games do not look too imposing: vs. Devils, at Blue Jackets, at Jets and vs. Sabres.
20. San Jose Sharks (21-18-2, last week No. 24) – I’m speaking from experience here when I warn you not to get seduced by San Jose’s modest three-game win streak. At this moment, they would be the No. 8 seed in the West which only means that they would have the honor of getting swept by Dallas. The Sharks just aren’t a good team as their NHL-worst home record (6-12-0) attests to.
21. Vancouver Canucks (17-16-10, last week No. 26) – Being in the lowly Pacific Division breathes life into many teams that frankly don’t deserve it in 2015-16. The Canucks are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games and they have the same amount of points as the Sharks (44) but San Jose has played two fewer contests. Vancouver begins a lengthy six-game road trip on Thursday in Washington.
22. Carolina Hurricanes (19-18-7, last week No. 27) – I can’t believe that I am doing this but the Hurricanes deserve some credit. They are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games and they have won their last three after Tuesday’s overtime win vs. Pittsburgh (thanks to Jeff Skinner’s game-winner). Suddenly, a team that looked destined for a top pick is only two points behind New Jersey and in the mix for a Wild Card berth.
23. Philadelphia Flyers (18-15-7, last week No. 23) – The Flyers are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games and have won three straight which is kind of incredible considering that they have scored the second fewest goals (91) in the NHL. Philadelphia’s goal-differential is -17 so this will likely fall apart at any second. Wednesday’s meeting with Boston is huge for both teams, who are currently going in opposite directions.
24. Anaheim Ducks (17-17-7, last week No. 21) – Last time out, Anaheim fell 2-1 to Detroit on Sunday but they have four games left (Senators, Stars, Kings and Wild) on their homestand at Honda Center where they are 11-7-4 this season. The Ducks lack of goals (78) continues to be mystifying as they will almost surely be the lowest scoring team in the league in 2015-16. Anaheim is 5-3-2 in its last 10 games.
25. Calgary Flames (19-20-2, last week No. 20) – After a great stretch, the Flames have fallen back to near the basement of the Pacific Division (4-6-0 in last 10 games). Calgary’s goal-differential is -20 and they are the second worst road team (6-11-2) in the NHL. It’s possible that they could be in last-place by the weekend since they travel to Edmonton on Saturday.
26. Winnipeg Jets (19-21-3, last week No. 22) – If any team is destined to be a seller at the trade deadline, it has to be Winnipeg. The Jets are stuck in last-place in the Central Division and I think you can book that the rest of the way for this season. They are not truly awful but in such a powerhouse division, they don’t have a chance.
27. Toronto Maple Leafs (16-17-7, last week No. 25) – Toronto’s leading scorer James van Riemsdyk (14 goals, 15 assists) is expected to miss 6-8 weeks with a broken foot. The Maple Leafs are 6-4-0 in their last 10 games but they have dropped their last two. They are only one point ahead of last-place Buffalo in the Atlantic Division but Toronto does have three games in hand.
28. Buffalo Sabres (17-22-4, last week No. 30) – Buffalo had seemingly bottomed out with six consecutive losses but they have bounced back with two wins in a row. Don’t get me wrong, the Sabres are bad but they are not Columbus awful. Tuesday’s 3-2 win in Minnesota was a rosy snapshot of what they have the potential to consistently do in a few years.
29. Edmonton Oilers (17-23-4, last week No. 28) – On the bright side for Oilers fans, there are only 38 games left in another forgettable campaign. Edmonton is 3-5-2 in its last 10 games. They have the worst road record (5-14-3) and the second worst goal-differential (-23).
30. Columbus Blue Jackets (15-25-4, last week No. 30) – The greatest PR team couldn’t spin this in a nice way: up to this point, this season has been a complete disaster for Columbus. They have to hope that Seth Jones (1 goal, 10 assists) develops into the franchise defenseman that many projected him to be a few years ago. Columbus’ goal-differential is -33 so they are a safe bet to get the No. 1 pick in this summer’s draft.