By Dave Turner
NOTE: Last week, Jeff O’Connor filled in for me with these rankings, so some of the teams are going to have rises and drops based on what we’ve each seen differently
It’s looking like it’s going to be a three team race to the President’s Trophy at this point. The Penguins run is reaching epic proportions as they close in on their own win-streak record.
As for the rest of the league, the playoff races continue to get tighter and tighter. When all the dust settles, you may see a few points be the difference between a 6 seed and an 11 seed, it’s that close.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins 25-8-0 (50 points) [#1 last week]
We know the Penguins can score, but I think it’s their defense that has made them even scarier. Paul Martin, who struggled in his first two years in Pittsburgh, is having a great season. This team is so deep, that it’s completely possible that they may set the consecutive wins record soon. With gritty Brenden Morrow in the fold, they’re even better now.
2. Chicago Blackhawks 24-3-3 (51 points) [#2 last week]
The Hawks keep chugging along. They only had two games last week, but they’ll face two good tests this coming week when they play the Kings and Ducks at home. That game against the Ducks may go a long way to figuring out home ice in the Western Conference. You better believe that the United Center will be rocking for that one.
3. Anaheim Ducks 22-5-4 (48 points) [#3 last week]
The Ducks were red-hot, until they met the Detroit Red Wings. Anaheim dropped two consecutive games at home to Detroit, managing only two goals in those losses. At this point, you can only assume that it’s a small blip on the radar and the Ducks will be back to playing great hockey once again.
4. Boston Bruins 20-7-3 (43 points) [#5 last week]
They’re finally catching up in terms of games played and now they’re only two points out of the Northeast Division lead. They’ll square off with the Habs this week in a HUGE game. I just have a strange feeling that we’re going to see Jarome Iginla end up here.
5. Montreal Canadiens 20-6-5 (45 points) [#4 last week]
Two losses to Buffalo last week drops them a spot. Now, they have a crucial stretch that might define their season. A back-to-back at the Penguins and at the Bruins is as tough as it gets. We’re going to have to see Carey Price at his best in those games if the Habs hope to come away with a few points out of those games.
6. Minnesota Wild 18-10-2 (38 points) [#5 last week]
They rattled off a couple of big road wins last week, at Vancouver and at Detroit. This team is starting to play really good hockey. They’re 8-3 in March. Ryan Suter has been absolutely fantastic lately, with ten points in his last seven games. He’s playing the type of hockey they expected from him when they signed him to that mega-deal.
7. Vancouver Canucks 17-9-6 (40 points) [#11 last week]
They rebounded from a crucial loss to the Wild to rattle off three straight wins this week. Cory Schneider gave up a total of three goals in those three wins. If Schneider gets hot, this team can roll with anyone.
8. Ottawa Senators 17-9-6 (40 points) [#9 last week]
It’s past the point of giving this team props for playing so well without their two best players. At this point, they’re within striking distance of making a play for the Northeast Division crown. Will they fall off? I don’t think so. They play great team defense, and throw in the great play of Craig Anderson and you have to expect that they’ll continue to play well.
9. Detroit Red Wings 16-11-5 (37 points) [#6 last week]
Those two wins against the Ducks were impressive. This team is starting to play well and they’ve begun to firmly entrench themselves into the middle of the playoff picture out west. They have two road games (at Phoenix, at San Jose) before facing off against the Blackhawks in a big tilt at home on Sunday.
10. Los Angeles Kings 17-12-2 (36 points) [#8 last week]
The Kings have done well to get themselves within two points of a home playoff series. Now comes the big test. At Chicago, at St. Louis, at Minnesota and at Dallas this week. Is this the week that the Kings make their move? I expect the Kings to be major players at the trade deadline.
11. St. Louis Blues 17-12-2 (36 points) [#10 last week]
A tough loss in Calgary last night. I’m still not sold on this team because of their goaltending. Jaroslav Halak can be so good at times and so… normal at others. They’re among the bottom of the league in terms of team save percentage and that HAS to be better if the Blues are going to make a push for a home playoff series.
12. Toronto Maple Leafs 17-12-3 (37 points) [#12 last week]
Joffrey Lupul came back and had three goals in his first five games. Not quite on pace for 100, but he’ll be a nice help. His suspension wasn’t so great though. The Leafs have a big one against Boston tonight. I would hope that this team doesn’t get desperate if other dominoes fall in the East and make a big move. They’re done well to build the team to this point, let it continue to develop.
13. New Jersey Devils 15-11-6 (36 points) [#16 last week]
The Devils had been playing much better, but the loss of Ilya Kovalchuk will hurt them, considering they’ve struggled to score already. The bright spot? Martin Brodeur is back and he’s been excellent since his return. The Devils are a different team with him in net, going 10-2-3 in games Brodeur has started this year.
14. Winnipeg Jets 17-14-2 (36 points) [#13 last week]
The Dustin Byfuglien trade talk is ludicrous. Why would they trade him when they’re in good position to host a first round playoff series? The Jets have two games with the struggling Carolina Hurricanes this week, which could put them in position to win the division.
15. San Jose Sharks 13-11-6 (32 points) [#15 last week]
The Sharks have been so up and down this season. Are they a playoff team? I’m not sure at this point. They have two games with the Ducks this week, they have to win one. Antti Niemi, who was hot for most of the year, has given up three or more goals in six of the last seven games. If the Sharks are going to go anywhere, they’ll need Niemi to be better than that.
16. Washington Capitals 15-16-1 (31 points) [#26 last week]
The Caps looked dead in the water for much of the season, but that’s definitely not the case anymore. They’ve been hot lately and there is certainly enough talent there for them to continue the push and find their way to a playoff spot. Their two wins at Winnipeg this week have actually given them a chance at pulling out a Southeast Division title. They’re currently five points out of first place in the division.
17. New York Rangers 15-13-3 (31 points) [#17 last week]
They follow up the big win against the Devils with losses to the Panthers and Capitals (in OT). I think this is who the Rangers are, they’re inconsistent and Henrik Lundqvist isn’t as good as he was last year. It’s no secret that the Rangers are looking to make a move. Rumblings of Marian Gaborik on the move? I’m not buying that.
18. Nashville Predators 13-13-6 (32 points) [#23 last week]
Shea Weber has been excellent in the offensive zone lately, but he has to be. There’s not much scoring on this roster. Bobby Butler, picked up on waivers from the Devils has five points in his last three games. This team is only a point out of the playoff picture and will be there in the end as long as Pekka Rinne can play well.
19. Dallas Stars 15-13-3 (33 points) [#25 last week]
Losing captain Brenden Morrow is a crushing blow for a team that is currently in eighth place in the West. Will they be open to more trades as the deadline approaches? It only makes sense to try and deal Jaromir Jagr if they can get enough in return.
20. Columbus Blue Jackets 13-13-6 (32 points) [#20 last week]
I like the fight that this team is showing. They’re learning to compete. All of these close games are only going to make them better in the long run. If Sergei Bobrovsky can keep up his strong play, this team has a shot to make the playoffs. They have a three game road trip out west this week, with games at the Canucks, Oilers and Flames.
21. New York Islanders 14-15-3 (31 points) [#19 last week]
They had a tough stretch last week, but they’re still only two points out of a playoff spot right now. We know they can score, but it’ll be Evgeni Nabakov who will have to carry them to the playoffs. This will be a make or break week for the Isles. Road games at the Caps, Flyers and Penguins will be a tall task.
22. Buffalo Sabres 13-15-4 (30 points) [#28 last week]
The Sabres have been better as of late, winning two games against Montreal last week. This team was expected to be a seller come trade deadline time, but they could be right back in the thick of the playoff race with a good week. Games with Tampa, Florida and Washington could allow them to get to .500.
23. Carolina Hurricanes 15-13-2 (32 points) [#14 last week]
I know they’re still just a point out of a playoff spot, but what about their five game losing streak makes you think that they might stick around? Dan Ellis isn’t Cam Ward, and though they can score, it’s their lack of defense that is hurting them. They have two with the Jets and one with the Leafs this week. This is sink or swim time for the Canes.
24. Phoenix Coyotes 13-14-4 (30 points) [#18 last week]
They’re still within striking distance of the eighth spot in the West, but they’ll play a lot of tough teams this week. If they want to be a playoff team, beating Nashville and San Jose, two teams who are also attempting to get that eight seed, would go a long way.
25. Edmonton Oilers 11-12-7 (29 points) [#21 last week]
They’re still hanging around in the hunt for the last playoff spot, but just barely. They need to make a push, or they might find themselves trying to deal on April 3rd. Nail Yakupov and Ales Hemsky, who both started the season hot, haven’t scored in a while. It’s 12 without a goal for Yakupov and 10 for Hemsky.
26. Philadelphia Flyers 13-16-2 (28 points) [#22 last week]
I think the game against the Penguins last night sums up this team pretty well. There is talent there, they have every ability to win games, but they just find ways to lose. Can they pick it up and be a playoff team? Sure, but I wouldn’t expect it. They’ll need the good Ilya Bryzgalov if they expect to climb the standings in the East.
27. Calgary Flames 12-14-4 (28 points) [#24 last week]
They’ve been better lately and are only four points out of a playoff spot. If they get a couple of big wins this week, do all of the trade plans come to a halt. They’ve been good at home (9-5-2), but dreadful on the road (3-9-2)
28. Colorado Avalanche 11-16-4 (26 points) [#29 last week]
The Avs seem like they’re out of it, now five games under .500. Do they look to deal and play for the future? It looks more and more like P.A Parenteau wasn’t a flash in the pan last year. He was a good signing for Colorado. Ryan O’Reilly has eleven points in twelve games, which is another good sign for the future.
29. Tampa Bay Lightning 13-18-1 (27 points) [#27 last week]
This is a team that is perhaps the biggest underachiever this year. With Guy Boucher gone, it’s up to Steve Yzerman to find a strong coach who can get this team to play well moving forward. With a lot of holes on this team, especially in goal and on defense, do the Lightning consider trading Martin St. Louis?
30. Florida Panthers 9-18-6 (24 points) [#30 last week]
After a nice 3-1 win over the Rangers, the Panthers followed that up by scoring just one goal in their next two games, losses at New Jersey and NY Islanders. It’ll be interesting to see if they can unload Brian Campbell’s contract on another team, giving them a lot of flexibility moving forward.