1. Nashville Predators (30-10-4; last week-1) – Goaltender Pekka Rinne (29-6-2; .931 save %, 1.96 goals against average, 3 shutouts) hurt his knee last week and he’s expected to miss three to five weeks which is terrible news for the NHL’s top team. Backup goalie Carter Hutton got pulled in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to Detroit, a bad omen of things to come. Don’t be shocked if the Predators trade for a more dependable veteran goaltender to play while Rinne is out.
2. Anaheim Ducks (30-10-6; last week-4) – Anaheim’s modest four-game win streak is tied for the longest current run in the league. The Ducks have the most points (66) and they are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. Their final game before the All-Star break is Wednesday at Calgary, they lead second-place San Jose by 12 points in the Pacific Division (highest disparity in the NHL).
3. Tampa Bay Lightning (29-14-4; last week-3) – The Lightning still have the most points in the Eastern Conference although the Red Wings and Islanders are each only one point back. Tampa Bay has the best home record (18-4-1) in their conference and they close the first half on Tuesday at Amalie Arena vs. the Canucks. Tampa Bay’s offense is no joke since they’ve scored an NHL-best 152 goals.
4. St. Louis Blues (28-13-4; last week-6) – Have the Blues had a poor stretch all season? It seems like they’ve been consistently very good from day one. They have the best goal-differential in the NHL (+35) and they are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games.
5. New York Islanders (30-14-1; last week-5) – There is virtually no difference between the Islanders and Red Wings but I’ll give New York the nod since they have been at this level for longer than Detroit. The Islanders have what has to be one of the longest vacations during the All-Star break: eight days between games. They also don’t have to leave Long Island until Jan. 31.
6. Detroit Red Wings (26-11-8; last week-9) – Jimmy Howard is out but surprisingly, Detroit has rallied to play some of its best hockey of the season. The Red Wings have won their last four games thanks to Tomas Tatar who has five goals and two assists during the win streak. For that, he earned the NHL’s second star of the week.
7. Montreal Canadiens (28-13-3; last week-8) – I still think the Western Conference is unquestionably better, mostly because of its overall depth, but it was a great week for the East. Montreal is 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. They host the Predators on Tuesday and goaltender Carey Price (23-10-2; .927 save percentage, 2.19 GAA, 2 shutouts) could be back for that much-anticipated showdown between two of the NHL’s top teams.
8. Chicago Blackhawks (28-15-2; last week-2) – The Blackhawks are only 5-5 in their last 10 games and they’ve dropped their last two but it’s not like the sky is falling in the Windy City. Still, their 6-3 loss at the United Center to Dallas on Sunday was unexpected to say the least. Chicago has a chance to go out on a high note as they host the awful Coyotes on Tuesday.
9. Pittsburgh Penguins (26-12-6; last week-7) – Pittsburgh’s 5-2 loss at New York on Sunday allowed the Rangers to close within two points of the Penguins. Pittsburgh is 4-5-1 in their last 10 games. They meet the Flyers in Philadelphia on Tuesday, those are usually highly entertaining contests filled with chippy plays and plenty of goals.
10. Winnipeg Jets (25-14-8; last week-12) – I feel like I’ve been driving the Jets’ bandwagon all season so it is gratifying to see them play really well. Winnipeg has won their last four games, tying them with Chicago. Monster defenseman Dustin Byfuglien was the first star of the week with three goals and three assists during the aforementioned win streak.
11. New York Rangers (26-13-4; last week-10) – The Eastern Conference champions continue to roll, going 7-3-0 in their last 10 games. A Rangers-Islanders meeting in the postseason would be simply awesome. Underrated defenseman Marc Staal (2 goals, 6 assists, +8) signed a six-year extension with the Rangers, at the reasonable cap number of $5.7 million.
12. Washington Capitals (24-13-8; last week-11) – Washington has finally cooled off by losing their last two games. The Capitals are still 6-2-2 in their last 10 contests. Their gift from the scheduling gods is a meeting with Edmonton on Tuesday at Verizon Center.
13. Boston Bruins (24-16-6; last week-13) – Boston’s season-high five-game win streak was ended by Columbus on Saturday but the Bruins are 6-1-3 in their past 10 games. The B’s are in Dallas on Tuesday and Colorado on Wednesday, a sneaky important back-to-back before the break. A rumor that had been around for what feels like months finally gained some traction (with national outlets reporting it) on Monday as it looks like the Bruins will host next year’s Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium vs. the Canadiens.
14. San Jose Sharks (24-16-6; last week-17) – I guess the teams at the bottom of the rankings have been struggling since the Sharks are only 5-4-1 in their last 10 games but this seems like the logical spot for them. San Jose’s all-important goal-differential is zero, indicating how fraudulent they are this season. They have a chance to grab four points with home games against New Jersey and LA before the break.
15. Vancouver Canucks (25-15-3; last week-14) – Somebody has to finish in second in the Pacific Division behind Anaheim and Vancouver appears to have as good a shot as any of the other so-called contenders. The Canucks close out this portion of the schedule with a back-to-back in Florida and then Tampa Bay. They are 14-7-2 on the road this season which is the second best mark in the West, trailing only Winnipeg.
16. Calgary Flames (19-13-10; last week-18) – They are not a great team but the Flames definitely have a bright future (no pun intended) ahead of them and it would be quite a bonus if they can make the playoffs this year. Calgary is 7-3-0 in their last 10 games and they have won three straight. The Flames started their California swing with a 4-3 OT win at San Jose on Saturday; they are in LA on Monday followed by Anaheim on Wednesday.
17. Los Angeles Kings (20-14-1; last week-16) – If the playoffs started today, the defending champs wouldn’t be involved. So could the Kings really miss out on the postseason? I think they’ll be fine but it could be tight if they continue to float (3-3-4 in their last 10 games) in general and play terrible on the road (5-8-6).
18. Florida Panthers (20-13-10; last week-16) – Boston has created some separation from Florida (4 points) although the Panthers still have three games in hand. They appear to be the most likely team to be right on the cusp of the playoff picture the rest of the way. Roberto Luongo won’t need any extra motivation against his former club-Vancouver-on Monday.
19. Dallas Stars (21-17-7; last week-not ranked) – This is familiar territory for the Stars, they go on hot streaks since they can score plenty of goals but they usually don’t sustain it since their goaltending is terrible (148 goals allowed, 4th worst in the NHL). Unless they trade for a goaltender before the deadline, don’t expect this familiar story to change anytime soon. The league’s leading goal-scorer Tyler Seguin (28 goals, 24 assists) takes on the team that gave up on him way too soon-the Bruins-on Tuesday in Dallas.
20. Colorado Avalanche (19-17-10; last week-20) – Another club that isn’t bad but is running out of time to make up some serious ground in the stacked West. The Avalanche have gone 6-2-2 in their last 10 games. Colorado is in St. Louis on Monday then they host Boston on Wednesday, two games that should be tough to gain points in.