1. Anaheim Ducks (31-10-6; last week-2) – The Ducks entered the All-Star break with the most points in the NHL and they are tied for the longest current win-streak (5 games). Anaheim is 8-2-0 in their last 10 games and they look like a good bet to grab the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference for the playoffs. They start the second half at Vancouver and San Jose, the teams behind them in the Pacific Division that they can further bury.
2. Nashville Predators (30-10-5; last week-1)– When goaltenderPekkaRinneis healthy, the Predators are certainly in the discussion for top team in the league. However, with him out indefinitely, it’s hard to predict how they’ll do without the best goaltender in the NHL. They play Colorado on Tuesday at Bridgestone Arena, where they are an NHL-best 18-2-1, but then things get interesting with games at St. Louis, Colorado and Pittsburgh.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning (30-14-4; last week-3)– Tampa Bay pretty much led the Eastern Conference from wire-to-wire in the first half. They have the most points (64) and the best goal-differential (+29). They are a league-best 19-4-1 atAmalieArena and they won their last three games going into the break.
4. New York Islanders (31-14-1; last week-5)– In terms of exceeding expectations in the first half, it’s hard to beat the Islanders. The only question now is if they can keep up this amazing pace in the second half-their last go-around on Long Island. It’s a big week for the Islanders as they host the Rangers and Bruins then go to Detroit.
5. St. Louis Blues (29-13-4; last week-4)– If the Predators slip up as I expect, the Blues are in perfect position to overtake them (only 3 points behind). St. Louis is 7-2-1 in their last 10 games and their goal-differential is +37. Right away, the Blues get a shot at the Predators as they host Nashville on Thursday to start the second half.
6. Detroit Red Wings (27-11-9; last week-6)– The Red Wings are playing great hockey, they have won their last five games and they are 8-2-0 in their last 10 games. They are only one point behind Tampa Bay and lead Montreal by two points in the Atlantic Division. Detroit is at Florida and Tampa Bay this week before hosting the Islanders on Saturday.
7. Chicago Blackhawks (30-15-2; last week-8)– Not that anyone in the world was worried about them but the Blackhawks righted the ship with two wins heading into the break. Chicago has the best-goal differential in the NHL (+40) and they are tied with St. Louis for the most goals (148) in the West. The next six games for the Blackhawks are on the road so they have their work cut out for them.
8. MontrealCanadiens(29-13-3; last week-8)– If the Lightning or Red Wings struggle, theCanadiensare right there to move up in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference standings. Montreal is 7-2-1 in their last 10 games and they won the final two games heading into the break. Three of their four games this week are at the Bell Centre where they are 15-5-2 this season.
9. Pittsburgh Penguins (26-12-8; last week-9)– Sidney Crosby andEvgeniMalkinboth skipped the All-Star Game with injuries, Pittsburgh fans have to hope that those aren’t too serious. The Penguins are only three points behind the Islanders in the Metropolitan Division but the Rangers and Capitals are nipping at their heels. Pittsburgh opens the second half with a tough back-to-back: vs. Winnipeg on Tuesday then at Washington the next night.
10. Winnipeg Jets (26-14-8; last week-10)– Winnipeg is one of the hottest teams in the league, having won their last five games heading into the break. They are 7-2-1 in their past 10 and own the best road record in the NHL (14-5-5). Four of their next five contests are on the road as well.
11. New York Rangers (27-13-4; last week-11)– It’s hard not to like the way that the Rangers are playing: they are 8-2-0 in their last 10 games and won three straight heading into the break. They are tied with Montreal for the fewest goals allowed in the East (106). They recently lost to the Islanders but get another crack at them on Tuesday then they host anothercontender-Canadiens-onThursday.
12. Washington Capitals (24-13-9; last week-12)– Another club that is performing at a high level is the Capitals. Washington is 6-2-2 in their last 10 games. The Capitals are at the Blue Jackets on Tuesday which is nice enough but then they take on the Penguins, go to Montreal, then host the Blues.
13. Boston Bruins (25-16-7; last week-13)– The Bruins got three out of a possible four points in their back-to-back on the road heading into the break. Boston is 6-1-3 in its last 10 games. They are off until Thursday when they visit the Islanders then the Kings come to TD Garden on Saturday.
14. Vancouver Canucks (26-16-3; last week-15)– The Canucks basically have no chance to catch the Ducks but the race for second and third-place in the Pacific Division should be an interesting one. Very little separates Vancouver, San Jose, Calgary and Los Angeles. The Canucks are about to embark on a season-long six gamehomestandbut they are only 11-8-1 at Rogers Arena this season which is puzzling.
15. San Jose Sharks (25-17-6; last week-14)– The Sharks went into the break on a positive note with a 4-2 win over their rival the Kings. However, San Jose still has plenty of work to do if they want to seal a playoff spot this spring. They start with three games at home: vs. Ducks, Blackhawks and Oilers.
16. Calgary Flames (25-19-3; last week-16)– In their own way, the Flames are a big success story from the first half. They are hanging around in the loaded West with a goal-differential of +11. The key to them reaching the postseason is to be consistent starting with this cake week of home games: vs.Sabres, Wild and Oilers.
17. Los Angeles Kings (20-15-2; last week-17)– I will never count out the Kings but for now, it’s not looking good for the defending Stanley Cup champs. They are understandably worn out and unless they go on a big winning streak, it’ll be tough for them to leap ahead of many teams in front of them in the West. LA is an unsightly 2-3-5 in their last 10 games.
18. Colorado Avalanche (20-18-10; last week-20)– For some reason, it took them way too long to wake up but the Avalanche have finally joined us for the 2014-15 regular season. Now the question is if they have enough time left to make up even more ground in the playoff race. Their 3-2 overtime win over Boston in the first half finale had to help team morale.
19. DallasStars (21-18-7; last week-19)– Basically the same thing that I just said about Colorado could also apply to Dallas. Digging themselves into such a hole in the first half will likely be their undoing this season. The Stars get a tour of Canada this week (Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg), which I hear is beautiful this time of year.
20. Florida Panthers (20-14-10; last week-18)– The Panthers predictably lost some steam at the end of the first half but that shouldn’t take away from the strides that they’ve already made. Granted, they are facing an uphill climb to make the playoffs since Boston is now seven points clear of them. They open with home games against the Red Wings and Blue Jackets before a tour of the Metro New York area (Devils, Rangers, Islanders).
Follow Metro Boston Bruins beat writer Richard Slate on Twitter @RichSlate