1:39 PM ET
- Joe McDonaldESPN Staff Writer Close
- Joined ESPN in 2010
- Former Red Sox and Bruins beat reporter
- Covered Boston teams since 1992
This week's edition of the rankings features some massive moving and shaking, especially in the top three positions. So, before you start sending hate mail and blowing up my Twitter account, take into consideration that these decisions are based on if the Stanley Cup playoffs were to begin right now. It's not where a team finishes in the standings, but what it can do once it earns a postseason berth. Some teams are hot right now, while some of the best and most consistent squads are starting to struggle at the wrong time.
1. (Last week: 5) Pittsburgh Penguins, 43-16-8
The surging Penguins are only one point behind the Washington Capitals (95 points) for the highest total in the NHL. Pittsburgh has won five consecutive games, which is especially impressive given all its current injuries to key players. (The latest victim is forward Carl Hagelin, who had been playing well with linemates Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin but will now be sidelined four weeks with a lower-body injury.) Even still, the Penguins are well-positioned to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.
2. (10) Ottawa Senators, 39-22-6
First-year coach Guy Boucher has the Senators believing in themselves — as evidenced by his team's six-game winning streak. Goalie Craig Anderson extended his personal win streak to six games. Ottawa, which enters Monday's action only two points back of the Montreal Canadiens, has a chance to size the top spot in the Atlantic Division.
3. (9) Calgary Flames, 38-26-4
In the midst of a remarkable nine-game winning streak, the Flames are playing their best hockey at the right time. It helps that goalie Brian Elliott has a ton of confidence and is 12-1-1 in his past 14 games. Calgary center Mikael Backlund is one of the most underrated two-way players in the league — and another reason why the Flames are red-hot.
4. (2) Chicago Blackhawks, 43-20-5
The Blackhawks posted a huge win over the Minnesota Wild on Sunday, and the timing could be crucial. Chicago is a point shy of the Wild for first place in the Central Division, while the Blackhawks finish the four-game season series between the two with a 3-1-0 record. Chicago is obviously a dangerous team and should be considered one of the favorites to reach the finals, especially given the way goalie Corey Crawford is playing of late. He has a 9-3-0 record since Feb. 2.
5. (1) Washington Capitals, 44-17-7
Now is not the time for the best team in the NHL to endure a losing skid. The Capitals have 95 points but have lost four in a row. A team of this caliber should sprint into the postseason, not crawl. It also doesn't help that newcomer Kevin Shattenkirk was suspended two games for charging the Los Angeles Kings' Kevin Gravel.
6. (3) Minnesota Wild, 43-18-6
I still believe this is the season that Minnesota — which still owns the top spot in the currently own the top spot in the Central Division — will make a deep playoff run. The Wild will have a back-and-forth battle with the Blackhawks for the division lead down the stretch.
7. (4) Columbus Blue Jackets, 43-18-6
The Blue Jackets have been one of the most consistent teams the entire season and that shouldn't change before the playoffs. Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has been outstanding and is showing zero signs of slowing down.
8. (11) Boston Bruins, 36-26-6
Bruins GM Don Sweeney acquired veteran forward Drew Stafford at the trade deadline and he's been Johnny-on-the-spot with two goals and two assists for four points since his arrival in Boston. The Bruins are 9-2-0 in their past 11 games.
9. (12) Montreal Canadiens, 39-22-8
Captain Max Pacioretty continues to pump in game-winners for the Canadiens, who have gone 7-1-0 in their past eight games, and now has seven this season. Another promising sign for Montreal down the stretch is the play of goalie Carey Price, who is in the midst of a six-game winning streak, with a 0.99 goals-against average, a .964 save percentage and one shutout in that span.
10. (6) New York Rangers, 44-23-2
When you hear "hip injury" for a goaltender, it's usually a cause for concern. But that shouldn't be the case for Rangers veteran netminder Henrik Lundqvist, who is expected to miss the next two to three weeks. His end-of-season hiatus could actually be a blessing in disguise. He'll be able to rest and recuperate before the Rangers embark on the playoffs.
11. (7) San Jose Sharks, 41-20-7
Down the stretch and into the postseason, teams need their best players to be at their best. Captain Joe Pavelski is that guy for the Sharks. He has scored seven game-winning goals this season, including a two-goal performance on Sunday en route to a 5-1 victory over the Dallas Stars. The Sharks have a seven-point lead for first place in the Pacific Division.
12. (8) Edmonton Oilers, 35-24-9
The last 14 games of the regular season will be crucial for the Oilers. They're holding onto a wild-card spot, but now is not the time to panic or crumble. This is when the veteran presence of Milan Lucic will be key — and one reason why Edmonton GM Peter Chiarelli signed the Stanley Cup winner during the offseason.
13. (15) St. Louis Blues, 35-27-5
Vladimir Tarasenko has been one of the best players in the league the entire season and he's not slowing down, as the Blues have a wild-card spot in the West thanks to a four-game winning streak. The high-flying forward is tied for second in the league, with 32 goals, and trails the Pens' Sidney Crosby by two.
14. (13) Anaheim Ducks, 33-22-10
Captain Ryan Getzlaf is leading by example on the ice. His goal and two assists helped the Ducks to an impressive 5-2 victory over the Capitals on Sunday. Anaheim is 6-4-0 in its past 10 and enters Monday's action in sole possession of second place in the Pacific Division.
15. (17) Toronto Maple Leafs, 31-22-14
The Leafs' three-game winning streak is timely — and helping them hang onto the final wild-card spot in the East. They've also benefitted from some timely individual performances, including Morgan Rielly's. The 23-year-old recorded the first overtime goal of his NHL career on Saturday to help Toronto to its third consecutive win. The Maple Leafs are confident and getting all the bounces right now.
16. (14) Nashville Predators, 33-24-11
Goalie Juuse Saros helped snap the Predators' four-game losing skid — and kept Nashville in third place in the Central.
17. (16) Los Angeles Kings, 33-28-6
The Kings' Adrian Kempe scored his first NHL goal, and it proved to be the game-winning tally as Los Angeles posted a 4-2 win over the Capitals on Saturday. It was a crucial win for the Kings, who remain three points back of the final wild-card spot in the West, and one that could jumpstart a winning streak.
18. (15) New York Islanders, 32-24-11
The Islanders are getting a good look at 21-year-old right wing Josh Ho-Sang in the final stretch run of the season. There's no denying his talents, but the team needs a bigger sample size both on and off the ice for the prospect.
19. (20) Tampa Bay Lightning, 32-26-9
Captain Steven Stamkos is on the verge of returning from a serious knee injury that has limited him to 17 games this season. Meanwhile, forward Nikita Kucherov has been outstanding and recently established single-season career highs for goals and points, with 67 in 60 games. He also has 10 goals and eight assists for 18 points in his past nine games for the Lightning.
20. (19) Florida Panthers, 29-27-11
It's been a disappointing season for the Panthers, and things continue to get worse. Florida is in the midst of a four-game losing skid.
21. (21) Buffalo Sabres,28-29-12
The Sabres will miss the playoffs again this season, but there were plenty of missed opportunities for this team. If it had a little more resiliency, it's possible Buffalo could have been in the playoff discussion.
22. (22) Winnipeg Jets, 30-33-6
Thanks to a three-game losing skid, the Jets are a team on the outside looking in at this point. Winnipeg can still be a playoff team and can make up some ground this week, with games against the Predators, New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders.
23. (23) Philadelphia Flyers, 31-28-8
Earlier this season, the Flyers won 10 consecutive games and looked like a contender. Then the bottom fell out, and Philly has won only 12 of its last 35. The Flyers are six points out of a wild-card spot with 15 games remaining. It's going to be a tough grind down the stretch.
24. (24) Vancouver Canucks, 28-31-9
The lowly Canucks will give center Drew Shore an opportunity to impress. Shore, 26, had played a total of 80 NHL games with the Panthers (67 games) and the Flames (13) before the Canucks signed him for the remainder of the season. He had 24 goals and 24 assists in 50 games in the Swiss A League this season.
25. (25) New Jersey Devils, 25-31-12
The cellar-dwelling Devils play the Jets, Flyers and Penguins this week. So it's safe to say that New Jersey, which has 11 picks this year, is looking ahead to the draft at this point.
26. (26) Dallas Stars, 27-31-10
What a difference a year makes. The Stars were the second-best team in the league last season and finished with 109 points. This season, they won't even make the playoffs.
27. (27) Detroit Red Wings, 26-30-11
Speaking of the playoffs, this will be the first time in 25 years that the Red Wings will miss the postseason. It's time to rebuild in Hockeytown.
28. (28) Carolina Hurricanes, 27-27-11
Despite Carolina's current record, I like the Hurricanes and believe they will soon be a perennial playoff contender. The roster is loaded with young talent and depth. It also helps that Carolina GM Ron Francis has plenty of cap space to play with moving forward.
29. (29) Arizona Coyotes, 24-35-8
John Chayka's first season as the youngest GM in NHL history is coming to a close and I'm sure he learned a lot that he will build on moving forward. He's smart, savvy and the Coyotes have a bright future. It would be a huge step forward for Arizona if it signs prospect Clayton Keller, 18, out of Boston University after the college hockey season is over.
30. (30) Colorado Avalanche, 19-45-3
Oof. Is it the offseason, yet?
31. (N/A) Vegas Golden Knights
GM George McPhee made his first official roster move when he signed free-agent forward Reid Duke from the Brandon Wheat Kings to a three-year entry-level deal last week.