1.New York Rangers (44-17-7; last week-4) – The Rangers are that stock that you wish you had invested in earlier since they have been absolutely on fire for months now. New York is tied with Anaheim for the most points in the NHL (95) and remarkably, they’ve done it in three less games. Goaltender Cam Talbot (17-6-4, 2.19 goals against average, .926 save percentage, 5 shutouts) earned the No. 2 star of the week as the Rangers have won their last five games in a row.
2.St. Louis Blues (44-20-5; last week-6) – By virtue of their 3-0 win at Dallas on Sunday coupled with Nashville’s 4-2 loss at Anaheim, the Blues pulled into a first-place tie in the Central Division with the Predators. The teams are certainly trending in opposite directions: St. Louis is 6-3-1 in its last 10 games while Nashville is 2-8-0 in its last 10. The Blues have a goal-differential of +44 which is tied with the Lightning for second-best in the league (behind only the Rangers’ +49).
3.Anaheim Ducks (44-20-7; last week-2) – The Ducks bolstered their resume with four goals in the third period vs. the Predators as they rallied from a 2-0 deficit to pick up a big victory. Anaheim is still the top seed in the Western Conference but they’ll be challenged by St. Louis who has played two fewer games. The Kings and Avalanche come to the Honda Center this week before the Ducks hit the road for a five-game East coast trip that goes through the end of March.
4. Montreal Canadiens (43-19-7; last week-1) – The Canadiens slipped up a bit last week-why they fell in the rankings-but they bounced back with a solid 3-1 win at the Islanders on Saturday. They have a tough back-to-back at the Lightning on Monday then Panthers on Tuesday before returning to the Bell Centre to face the Hurricanes and Sharks later this week. They still only lead Tampa Bay by two points for first-place in the Atlantic Division, a race that seems destined to go down to the final day of the regular season.
5. Tampa Bay Lightning (42-21-7; last week-3) – Tampa Bay’s season-long six-game homestand didn’t get off to the best start with a 2-1 loss to Winnipeg on Saturday but they are tied with Nashville for the best home record in the NHL (26-7-1) so expect them to play well. The Lightning have scored a league best 226 goals but they have to be worried about a possible playoff matchup with the Bruins who have won 10 straight against them.
6.Nashville Predators (41-19-5; last week-5) – The Predators are sinking like a stone (2-8-0 in their last 10 games) in the Central Division and Western Conference. Chicago is only five points behind them and the Blackhawks have played three less games. Having only three games in the next eight days (Wild, Sabres and Canadiens) and all of them at Bridgestone Arena should help Nashville get back on track before the postseason begins in less than a month.
7. Chicago Blackhawks (41-21-6; last week-9) – Chicago is sitting pretty in position for home-ice (fourth-place in the West) and anything better than that would be a bonus. The Blackhawks must not be a fan of the schedule makers since they played two games out West, return to face the Islanders on St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago (overpriced green beer for all!) before heading back out on a four-game road trip. Playing the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday in the second leg of a back-to-back is beyond brutal.
8. New York Islanders (43-24-4; last week-7) – Much like the Predators, the Islanders are a team that’s been on top (overachieved?) all season and now find themselves struggling in crunch time. New York has dropped its last three games and they are five points behind the Rangers (and they’ve played three more games) so that Metropolitan Division title looks more unlikely by the day. Johnny Boychuk was going to be one of the most sought-after free agent defensemen this summer but the Islanders took away that possibility by locking him up for seven years and $42 million.
9. Pittsburgh Penguins (39-20-10; last week-8) – It was a rough weekend for the Penguins as they lost 2-0 to the Bruins on Saturday and 5-1 vs. Detroit on Sunday. Even worse, Sidney Crosby was a late scratch vs. Boston (but he returned on Sunday) and Evgeni Malkin got hurt against the Bruins and is out for at least a few games with a lower-body injury. Pittsburgh is away this week at New Jersey, Dallas and Arizona-three non-playoff creampuffs.
10. Detroit Red Wings (38-19-11; last week-10) – Detroit was falling apart as well before they ran into Pittsburgh who was an even bigger mess than them. The Red Wings’ win coupled with Boston’s loss at Washington on Sunday pushed Detroit back to five points ahead of the Bruins. The Red Wings are off until Thursday when they begin a back-to-back at Florida then Tampa Bay.
11. Minnesota Wild (38-24-7; last week-12) – Remember when it looked like the Wild had a slim chance to reach the postseason? Now, they are battling Chicago for home ice in the first round of the playoffs. The Wild are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games and they picked up an impressive 3-1 win at St. Louis on Saturday.
12. Washington Capitals (37-23-10; last week-11) – Sunday’s 2-0 win vs. Boston was huge for the Capitals since the Bruins had pulled into a tie with them for the first Wild Card position in the East. Braden Holtby picked up his eighth shutout of the season (2nd most in the NHL) and Washington took advantage of a tired Boston team that was playing their third game in four days. The Capitals have a must-win game in Buffalo on Monday before tough games at Minnesota on Thursday and Winnipeg on Saturday.
13. Boston Bruins (36-23-10; last week-16) – Before that loss to Washington, Boston had been the hottest team in the NHL (5 straight wins, 8-1-1 in last 10 games). The Bruins and their many Irish fans get a holiday gift on Tuesday: a home game vs. the wretched Sabres. Things are much harder later in the week as Boston has three games in four days on the road: at Ottawa, Florida and Tampa Bay.
14. Vancouver Canucks (39-25-4; last week-13) – The Canucks are so lucky not to be in the Central Division where they would be in fifth-place. Instead they find themselves in second-place in the Pacific Division. Vancouver is at Rogers Arena on Tuesday to face the Flyers and Thursday vs. Blue Jackets, two very winnable contests.
15. Calgary Flames (38-26-5; last week-15) – Against all odds, the Flames are still hanging on to the seventh seed in the West. Rookie Johnny Gaudreau (19 goals, 34 assists) has closed the gap with Nashville’s Filip Forsberg (21 goals, 33 assists) for the Calder Trophy (top rookie). Calgary kicks off a five-game homestand on Tuesday vs. St. Louis, they are 19-12-3 at Scotiabank Saddledome this season.
16. Winnipeg Jets (34-23-12; last week-14) – The race for the eighth seed in the Western Conference could be epic with the Kings one point behind the Jets (with a game in hand). Winnipeg is only 4-4-2 in their last 10 games but they picked up a key 2-1 win at Tampa Bay on Saturday. It’s a huge week for the Jets with three home games at MTS Centre: vs. San Jose, St. Louis and Washington.
17. Los Angeles Kings (33-22-13; last week-17) – It will take everything that the defending champs have to just reach the postseason this spring. Winning two Stanley Cups in three years has understandably taken its physical and mental toll on the Kings. Still, don’t count out LA yet with a must-win vs. Arizona on Monday at Staples Center.
18. Ottawa Senators (33-24-11; last week-not ranked) – The Senators are still a long shot to make the playoffs but we can thank one man-goaltender Andrew Hammond-for keeping them relevant. Hammond aka The Hamburglar (the greatest nickname in professional sports at the moment) has gone 10-0-1 since making his first NHL start less than a month ago. Did I mention that Ottawa fans now throw hamburgers on the ice to salute their new folk hero?
19. San Jose Sharks (34-27-8; last week-20) – Springtime in San Jose always brings drama but now it is off the ice with longtime center Joe Thornton sniping back and forth with GM Doug Wilson. When you are four points out of the playoffs, that is always the type of needless distraction that you look for. The next seven games for the Sharks are on the road so this could very well be the last time you hear about them this season in the power rankings.
20. Florida Panthers (32-26-8; last week-19) – It’s been an unexpectedly positive season for the Panthers but with the Bruins’ ascension not to mention Ottawa’s hot streak, their playoff hopes are really dwindling. Florida’s next three games are all at the BB&T Center: vs. Montreal, Detroit and Boston. They’ll have to go on a serious win streak to catch the B’s at this point.