Records through March 11
1. Chicago Blackhawks (21-2-3, previous No. 1) – Somewhere the ’72 Miami Dolphins popped champagne when the Blackhawks went down 6-2 to the Avalanche on Friday, snapping their unbeaten in regulation streak at 24 games (half the regular season). Oh wait, wrong sport. Seriously though, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Chicago come back to Earth somewhat as they also lost 6-5 to the Oilers on Sunday.
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2. Anaheim Ducks (18-3-3, previous No. 2) – Don’t look now but the Ducks are only six points (three wins) behind the Blackhawks. Given Chicago’s injuries at the moment, I might even like Anaheim’s chances against them in the playoffs. However, we’re still a month and a half away from that so no need to make rash judgments.
3. Boston Bruins (17-3-3, previous No. 4) – The B’s and Canadiens are in a virtual dead heat. They have even split their first two games (with both winning on the road). The only thing that separates them is that Boston has played three games less than Montreal and the Habs only have one more point. It feels like they’re building to another epic playoff series this spring. Wouldn’t that be great?
4. Montreal Canadiens (17-5-4, previous No. 3) The Canadiens have won three games in a row and they are 6-1-3 in their last 10 games. Their goal-differential is plus-18 and they are 9-2-2 on the road. The Bruins might jump them this week since they have five games and the Canadiens only play twice. Winger Michael Ryder (two goals, seven assists) has been solid in his seven games back in a Montreal uniform.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins (18-8-0, previous No. 5) – The Penguins are the hottest team in the Eastern Conference - they have won five games in a row entering Tuesday night’s showdown with Boston in Pittsburgh. It’s a huge week for the Penguins since they play four current playoff teams: Toronto, Rangers and Bruins (twice). We’ll see what kind of shape Pittsburgh is in next week after that gauntlet.
6. Los Angeles Kings (14-8-2, previous No. 9) – The defending Stanley Cup champs are the hottest team in the Western Conference: they are 8-2-0 in their last 10 games and 9-2-1 at the Staples Center. Their formula of great goaltending from Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier, plus plenty of goals from Jeff Carter (17 goals, second in the NHL) has been working wonders.
7. Carolina Hurricanes (14-9-1, previous No. 10) – One team was added to the higher rung this week (Kings) but just like last week, after the top teams the drop-off to the mid-level teams is enormous. The Hurricanes have stayed afloat thanks to Alexander Semin’s 19 assists (sixth best in the NHL). They can put some more distance between themselves, Tampa Bay and Washington this week since they play the Capitals twice and the Lightning once.
8. Minnesota Wild (13-9-2, previous No. 14) – The Wild have played well lately (7-3-0) and they’ve been great at home all season (9-2-1). Their goal-differential of minus-1 and road record (4-7-1) say that they are frauds, but they also reside in the Western Conference’s worst division: Northwest. Minnesota has taken advantage of Vancouver’s inconsistent start.
9. Toronto Maple Leafs (15-10-1, previous No. 7) – The Leafs have receded to their more fitting level as they’ve hit a tougher portion of their schedule. They are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games but they play the Jets twice this week, sandwiched around a game with the Penguins, so they need to get points against Winnipeg. The Maple Leafs are 9-5-0 on the road, where they’ve played two more games than at home so far.
10. Ottawa Senators (13-8-5, previously No. 11) – If there was an award for playing hard, the Senators would be a runaway favorite. Unfortunately, this isn’t Little League. Ottawa is getting the most out of its limited roster at the moment but the Sens have trouble when facing the more talented teams that can wear them down. Blowing a 2-0 lead at home to the Bruins on Monday couldn’t have made them feel too good about themselves either.
11. Detroit Red Wings (12-9-5, previous No. 19) – Honestly, the Red Wings didn’t do anything specifically to make this big of a jump from last week. But then again, they are playing a tad better than the rest of the teams are at their same level. Detroit is 5-3-2 in their last 10 games and as always, they excel at home: 9-4-3. Figuring out how to win on the road (3-5-2) is the next step for them to take.
12. New York Rangers (13-9-2, previous No. 17) – The Rangers have clawed back into contention, playing their unique style of ugly, defensive hockey. Rick Nash (five goals, four assists) has been on fire in his last five games and has proven to be ready for the bright lights of New York City after toiling for years in Columbus. The Rangers can fatten up on the Sabres and Jets before facing the Penguins on Saturday in Pittsburgh.
13. San Jose Sharks (11-7-6, previous No. 12) – The Sharks have lost an NHL-high (tied with Vancouver) six games in overtime and they are 4-3 in shootouts this season. That seems like a risky proposition that is bound to catch up to them if they keep playing so many extra sessions. They are one of the more mercurial teams in the NHL since they are 7-1-4 at home but 4-6-2 on the road, plus they’ve lost their last two games (both in overtime).
14. Vancouver Canucks (11-7-6, previous No. 6) – Another team that is spinning its wheels and should be playing much better than they currently are. The Canucks are 3-4-3 in their last 10 games and are 2-5 in shootouts. It might be time for them to shake things up with a roster that has been basically the same for years.
15. St. Louis Blues (13-10-2, previous No. 13) – Speaking of underachievers, the Blues are a squad that look better on paper than they do on the ice. They are 8-5-1 on the road ,which is promising, and have played three less games at home, but they are 5-5-1 there so that has to improve if they want to get anywhere.
16. New Jersey Devils (12-9-5, previous No. 15) – The Devils would have dropped more, if only there were fewer middling teams just like them. They are 3-6-1 in their last 10 games but they are still in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, mostly because the teams on the outside-looking-in are hopeless. Martin Brodeur can’t return soon enough since Johan Hedberg (4-7-2) has been terrible since taking over as the starter.
17. Phoenix Coyotes (12-10-3, previously No. 8) – It’s not that they have struggled that much lately or that I overrated them, it’s more that their division (Pacific) is the toughest in the NHL with four points between the second-place and fifth-place teams. It will probably be that way for the rest of the season since only Los Angeles (first in Pacific) is a notch above the rest.
18. Dallas Stars (12-10-2, previous No. 18) – The Stars continue to hang around which is probably the best-case scenario for them this season. Their goal-differential is 0 and they are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games - it doesn’t get much more average than that.
19. Nashville Predators (10-9-6, previous No. 20) – The Predators put their two most talented forwards on IR Monday in Colin Wilson and Patric Hornqvist, which certainly doesn’t help a team that has still scored the fewest goals in the NHL (54, 31 less than Chicago and Anaheim). Pekka Rinne’s (9-8-5, 4 shutouts-best in the NHL) margin for error is smaller than any other goaltender in the NHL.
20. Winnipeg Jets (12-11-2, previously not ranked) – By virtue of being the only other team in the NHL over .500, the Jets make these rankings pretty much based solely on that. They are 8-5-2 on the road (they must be excited to get out of Winnipeg) and 6-3-1 in their last 10 games. Still, their goal-differential of minus-11 leaves something to be desired.
Follow Metro sports writer Richard Slate on Twitter: @RichSlate