The Blackhawks lost, twice. The Columbus Blue Jackets are on a seven-game point streak and have won five in a row. WHAT?!
That’s the beauty of the National Hockey League.
Believe it or not, we’re in the stretch run, as we’ve crossed the half-way point in the season. Over the next twenty or so games, we’re going to see a lot of great action, as the shortened season is going to keep a lot of teams in contention.
1. Chicago Blackhawks 21-2-3 (45 points) [#1 last week]
I don’t want to hear anything about this team dropping down a spot because they lost two regulation games this week. They’re allowed to lose a game or two. It’s only natural to expect a bit of a letdown right after a streak like theirs ends. They’ll be just fine.
2. Anaheim Ducks 18-3-3 (39 points) [#3 last week]
The Ducks leapfrog the Habs on the coattails of a seven-point week that saw them post shutouts behind two different goaltenders in consecutive games. Jonas Hiller is back and playing well. That’s a great problem to have, considering that Viktor Fasth continues to produce as well. This team is really rounding into form.
3. Montreal Canadiens 17-5-4 (38 points) [#2 last week]
They just continue to play well and finished off a five-game road trip with a 5-2 win over the Panthers. P.K. Subban now has 18 points in 20 games. They’re getting production from almost everyone. Thirteen players with 10 or more points. Say what you want about if they belong here or not, but I think this team is going to have every chance to win the Northeast Division crown.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins 18-8-0 (36 points) [#5 last week]
This team has won five in a row and Sidney Crosby is on fire. They’re scoring goals in bunches right now. They play four games this week against current playoff teams, including two against the Bruins. It’ll be interesting to see how they fair in those. Right now, you have to think they can beat anyone.
5. Boston Bruins 16-3-3 (35 points) [#4 last week]
They’ve still played less games than a lot of teams. They trail Montreal by three points for the conference lead, with four games at hand. Tyler Seguin (9 points in his last 7 games) is really starting to come on as of late for the Bruins. He may very well be their leading goal scorer by the end of the season, which will make them an even more dangerous team.
6. Los Angeles Kings 13-8-2 (28 points) [#16 last week]
The Kings have been hot and their slow start is a thing of the past now; they’re 8-2 in their last ten games. Throw in the fact that Jeff Carter has been scoring almost at will lately and they’ve been playing much better defense and no one will want to play the Kings come playoff time. Jonathan Quick is the last part of the puzzle as he hasn’t played nearly to the level on which he played last season.
7. Minnesota Wild 13-9-2 (28 points) [#10 last week]
I think this team is finally starting to figure it out. Though the depth might not be there, the big guns are starting to pick up the slack. Ryan Suter has been a point machine lately, with 9 points (1g, 8a) in his last seven games. The one thing this team has lacked is the ability to rip off a four or five-game winning streak at any point. They’re on the verge of their first three-game winning streak of the year if they can beat the Ducks at home on Tuesday.
8. Toronto Maple Leafs 15-10-1 (31 points) [#9 last week]
It’s a good state of affairs when the team is still winning despite Phil Kessel being third on the team in goals. James Van Riemsdyk continues to improve and Nazem Kadri has burst onto the scene as of late. There will be doubters until the day they clinch a playoff spot.
9. Detroit Red Wings 12-9-5 (29 points) [#13 last week]
Suddenly those two straight losses to the Blue Jackets don’t look so bad anymore considering how they’re playing. Prior to that they notched two solid wins. The biggest thing for this team is consistency. Every time it looks like they’re about to go on a winning streak, they fall back down to earth. With the West being so tight, every point is key.
10. Ottawa Senators 13-8-4 (30 points) [#6 last week]
That was a tough win this team got at Madison Square Garden last week. They have continued to battle every night. I don’t care about the injuries, the way they’ve played so far, it’s hard to imagine them falling out of the top eight.
11. Vancouver Canucks 11-7-6 (28 points) [#7 last week]
A four-game losing streak has the Canucks right back into the pack in the West. They have a roster that has eight players who have scored five goals, but no one has really stepped up to carry the offensive load. They have a tough stretch coming up, including a homestand against some good teams. It’ll be interesting to see if they can get back on track.
12. Carolina Hurricanes 14-9-1 (29 points) [#8 last week]
I think this team is going to have a hard time keeping distance between themselves and the rest of the division without Cam Ward. They’ve looked pretty good offensively lately and they’ll need to be carried by their scoring. For all those who doubted if Alexander Semin had anything left, he’s been excellent.
13. St. Louis Blues 13-10-2 (28 points) [#15 last week]
The Blues have really struggled to get on any sort of a roll. This was my preseason pick out of the West, so I’m going to continue to think that they can turn it up. Patrick Berglund has been hot, with four goals in his last three games. The Blues problem really remains the fact that they’re not getting the type of goaltending they had last year.
14. San Jose Sharks 11-7-6 (28 points) [#11 last week]
After their blazing start, who would have thought that the Sharks would be a team that struggled to score? They have two games with the Kings this weekend. It might be sink or swim time. No pun intended. Antti Niemi, who has been their backbone, was shaky last week. He needs to get back on track quickly.
15. New York Rangers 13-9-2 (28 points) [#17 last week]
I think the Rangers are starting to hit their stride. Sure, they’re battling injuries, but that’s going to happen. Rick Nash is scoring big goals and the secondary scoring they’ve needed is starting to come. I wouldn’t want to face this team in the first round of the playoffs.
16. New Jersey Devils 12-9-5 (29 points) [#20 last week]
They’ve won two of three and they played one of their best games of the season against the Jets on Sunday night. Do they have what it takes to get hot again and remain in the Eastern Conference playoff picture? David Clarkson has vanished after his hot start. He hasn’t scored in twelve games.
17. Phoenix Coyotes 12-10-3 (27 points) [#19 last week]
Not sure what to make of the Coyotes. They play in a very tough division and they struggle to score. They play the Kings three times over the next nine days. That’ll be a good measuring stick as to where they are. I’m just not sure that they can score enough to get over the hump.
18. Winnipeg Jets 12-11-2 (26 points) [#21 last week]
I honestly think that this team will be right there in the end trying to get that #3 seed in the East via the Southeastern Division title. They might not be the most talented team on paper, but they’ve been finding ways to win games. If they’re going to compete, this week might define their season. They get Toronto twice, the Rangers and Senators.
19. Nashville Predators 10-9-6 (26 points) [#18 last week]
Starting Tuesday, they embark on a five-game road trip. Something has to give as Nashville has been very up and down all year. In their last four games, they’ve tallied a 6-0 win and three losses in which they only scored one goal. They picked up Zack Boychuk and Bobby Butler via waivers. Will it make a difference?
20. Dallas Stars 12-10-2 (26 points) [#14 last week]
The West is so deep that there will be good teams left out of the playoffs. Every point is crucial and Dallas is still right in the thick of things. They have home games against Nashville, Chicago and Anaheim this week. Win two out of those three games and the Stars will be in good shape.
21. Colorado Avalanche 10-10-4 (24 points) [#24 last week]
When Matt Duchene scored with 0.2 seconds left against the Sharks, it showed just how the Avalanche have continued to fight. With Ryan O’Reilly getting situated, I think this team will be dangerous and could push for a playoff spot. They’ve got to be feeling pretty good after ending the Blackhawks point streak as well.
22. New York Islanders 11-12-3 (25 points) [#26 last week]
The Isles are hanging around in the playoff race. They were actually on a five-game point streak prior to being demolished by the Penguins. They need more consistent play from Evgeni Nabakov if they plan on making a run. They play at both Florida teams this week, it could be their chance to get above .500.
23. Columbus Blue Jackets 10-12-4 (24 points) [#30 last week]
Suddenly, the Blue Jackets are playing very well. You saw that there was some fight in this team the way they played the Blackhawks lately, but now they’ve ripped off some wins. The back-to-back wins over Detroit must feel good considering how badly the Wings have tormented them in the past.
24. Philadelphia Flyers 12-14-1 (25 points) [#12 last week]
This team got to .500 last week and they were playing well. I really thought this would be the week that they took off. Well, it wasn’t. Losses to the Rangers, Penguins and Bruins show where this team is at right now. They play two games against the Devils next week. They’ll need to win those if they expect to get back into contention.
25. Edmonton Oilers 9-11-5 (23 points) [#28 last week]
So they went out and beat the Blackhawks (and made it as nerve-wracking as possible by blowing the lead) but there is still work to be done. This team HAS to take a stride forward this season. They had lost five in a row prior to beating the Blackhawks. Maybe that will give them the spark they need?
26. Washington Capitals 10-13-1 (21 points) [#25 last week]
Though they’ve been better, I think their terrible start is really going to hurt them the rest of the way. They’ll have to battle every single game from here on out to make up the points and try to climb back into contention. If they are going to make a push, it’ll be this week. They have two games with the Hurricanes. Win them both and things get interesting.
27. Calgary Flames 9-10-4 (23 points) [#23 last week]
The trade rumors involving the Flames continue to swirl. Will Jarome Iginla move? To me it makes sense if the price is right. Any time you’re going nowhere and you have a chance to unload an aging superstar for a good return, it makes sense. Have to play for the future.
28. Tampa Bay Lightning 10-14-1 (21 points) [#22 last week]
This team, in my opinion, has been the biggest disappointment this season. Not only did they have playoff expectations, but they got out to such a fast start. Then it all went completely downhill. They can score, we know that, but the defense isn’t there. The 2010-2011 season and the playoff run seem very distant now. Steve Yzerman, who was so loved when he broke onto the scene, needs to turn this team around soon.
29. Buffalo Sabres 9-14-3 (21 points) [#27 last week]
The Sabres continue to struggle and it’s looking more and more like this is a lost season in Upstate New York. The question becomes, will the Sabres be active in the trade market, looking to deal someone to a contender?
30. Florida Panthers 7-13-6 (20 points) [#29 last week]
It’s going to be a long season in Florida for pretty much everyone not named Jonathan Huberdeau, whose 12 goals are a breath of fresh air. He looks like he’s going to be a star. Now the Panthers need to find some goaltending down the road and build from there.