30) Buffalo Sabres
It's never good when a team only has 38 points through 57 games. Head coach Ted Nolan seems to have things going in the right direction even though the Sabres have lost their last four games. Stay tuned for next season Buffalo fans.
29) New York Islanders
The Islanders have shown us streaks of potential this season but they have lost six out of their last eight games. Defense and goal-tending continue to be the biggest issues for the Islanders as they waste John Tavares' prime years. The Islanders also have to deal with making that dreadful Vanek-Moulson trade. Vanek has rejected a lucrative deal from them and now they will have to trade him for pennies on the dollar.
28) Florida Panthers
There's not much going on in Florida right now. The Panthers have dropped five out of their last six games. They are in talks with Tim Thomas to re-sign him but that could be a bad thing since he's allowed 33 goals in his last ten starts.
27) Calgary Flames
The Flames have been playing much better lately, winning six out of their last eight games. They're not going to be in playoff contention this season but there have been a few positives. One of those has been defenseman Kris Russell who they signed to a two year deal. Rookie Sean Monahan has been great with 16 goals and 8 assists in 51 games.
The Oilers are finally looking like a team that could make the playoffs but it is too little and too late. It's unfortunate for Edmonton fans who have been so patient with this franchise. The Oilers made a nice trade to acquire Ben Scrivens who appears to be a solid number one goalie. He is 3-3-0 with a 2.01 goals against average and .948 save percentage since being traded. Edmonton also acquired stay-at-home defenseman Mark Fraser who is helping shore up their defensive zone. The Oilers are 5-2 in their last seven games but they are already playing for next season.
25) Nashville Predators
The Predators closed out their last five games by posting a 2-1-2 record but they still sit in the bottom of the Central Division. The Predators are not going to go anywhere this season but another high draft pick should put them in better position next season. Nashville has also made some decent moves to acquire players like Devan Dubynk who is a young goalie with plenty of upside.
24) Washington Capitals
Alexander Ovechkin and company seemed to gain momentum as Sochi approached. They went 5-3 in their last eight games to get themselves out of the basement in the Metropolitan Division. The Capitals should have locked down the second place spot in that division but they've lacked focus and failed to play a full sixty minutes too many times this season. They're goaltending situation is in flux and the only positive is the play of Ovechkin. He has forty goals and twenty assists this season. Starting goalie Braden Holtby has played very well recently, allowing just two goals in his final two starts.
23) New Jersey Devils
The Devils seem to have figured out their goalie situation and even though they haven't posted a regulation win in their last seven games; they are still in the hunt for the post-season. Cory Schneider is finally getting the playing time he deserves but for his peripherals, he deserves a better record. Schneider is 11-11-9 with a 1.85 goals against average and .926 save percentage. The Devils are a great defense team, allowing the fewest shots in the NHL but they will need to find some offense to make the playoffs.
22) Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks are a mess right now and they've dropped seven consecutive games. Vancouver has scored just four total goals in their last four games. Henrik Sedin has bruised ribs and will miss the Olympics but should return to the ice following the break. Daniel Sedin has lost all of his scoring abilities, failing to put the puck in the back of the net in 19 games in a row. Daniel has not produced a point in nine games. Roberto Loungo is limping into Sochi, allowing at least three goals in each of his last six starts. Vancouver needs a break but they might be too forgone to recover from this disastrous run.
21) Winnipeg Jets
A coaching change has dramatically improved the Jets this season. They are 9-3-1 under the tutelage of Paul Maurice but they cooled off significantly before the break, losing their final two games. Captain Andrew Ladd has five points in his last five games and Blake Wheeler has been killing it since being named to Team USA. Wheeler has ten points in his last ten games but he has not scored in his previous five match-ups. Evander Kane will be back after the break and the Jets should continue to play well but it's probably not going to be enough to make the playoffs.
20) Phoenix Coyotes
The Coyotes have been around the .500 mark for most of the season and their play hasn't been too impressive. However, Mike Smith has done everything he can in his last four starts, allowing just five goals in that span but posting a 2-2 record. Phoenix has a chance to make the playoffs through the Western Conference wild card but Smith is the key to it all.
19) Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers are playing the best hockey of their season heading into break. They've won four games straight and have allowed just four total goals in that span. Steve Mason has been fairly consistent this season and he has allowed just three goals over his last three starts. Claude Giroux has 13 points in his last ten games and Jakub Voracek has greatly improved during the back-half of the season. Philadelphia should make the playoffs but they need to be more disciplined. They lead the league in penalties taken.
18) Ottawa Senators
The Ottawa Senators have certainly improved since the first half of the season but they are still lingering among the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference. Ottawa will have a chance to make the playoffs through a wild card spot but they are going to need to put together some consistent play. They went 2-3 in their last five games and beat the Blues in that span. Their latest match-up was a 7-2 blow-out loss at TD Garden against the Bruins. Goaltending has been the biggest issue for the Senators but Craig Anderson is playing better lately. Anderson has allowed 14 goals in his has last four starts. If the Senators can receive consistent goaltending, they will stand a good chance to make the post-season.
17) Carolina Hurricanes
Carolina will be right in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff battle when play resumes for the NHL. They've won just two games in five match-ups leading up to the Olympic break but the emergence of Anton Khudobin has been a big reason they are this far up our rankings. Khudobin is 13-6-0 with a 2.14 goals against average and .927 save percentage. He has made eight straight starts and will likely continue to hold down the number one spot once play resumes. Eric Staal has been up and down this season, posting just one point in his last five games. The same can be said for Alexander Semin who has just 29 points on the year. Semin has played better lately with nine points in his last ten games. The Hurricanes are hoping Semin will find his scoring touch when he returns from Sochi. Carolina will need Staal and Semin to put together big points down the stretch.
16) Montreal Canadiens
The Habs have been on a roll and probably would like to keep playing since they have won six out of their last eight games. They won three straight games before going on break while outscoring their opponents 11-3 in that span. Carey Price has been unstoppable, allowing just seven goals in his previous six starts. One piece of bad news for the Canadiens is that Max Pacioretty was injured in their final game before break against the Hurricanes. He is suffering from back spasms but will travel to Sochi. He has 37 points this season in 50 games and the Canadiens will need him down the stretch.
15) Minnesota Wild
Minnesota has led the Western Conference wild card standings for awhile now and they look like a lock to hold down that position. Darcy Kuemper has been excellent in net posting an 8-3-2 record with a 2.46 goals against average in Josh Harding's absence. Zach Parise has tallied nine points in seven match-ups since returning from an injury that kept him out for a month. Parise should only get better after returning from Sochi and Mikael Granlund has had a great sophomore season after a disappointing rookie year. The Wild will be a dangerous team for the remainder of the season.
14) Dallas Stars
The Dallas Stars find themselves in surprising contention for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference. Dallas won three out of their last four games and they've done so with solid defense. The Stars have allowed just four goals in their previous four games. They haven't generated a ton of offense but Tyler Seguin has been productive in Dallas. The young center had his six game point streak snapped prior to the break but he is well on his way to topping his career high in points. The Stars have two good lines and if they can get some production from their depth players then they could lock down a playoff spot in the West.
13) Los Angeles Kings
The Los Angeles Kings have fallen down the standings in recent weeks and many experts have written them off entirely. Their anemic offense has lost them many games and they could make a move to acquire some offense down the stretch. Jaromir Jagr is a guy who could transition to the Kings for a playoff run. The Kings are 2-9 in their last eleven games and they are 12 points behind the second place Sharks in the Pacific Division. Jonathan Quick has been great as usual but the Kings will need to find some offense if they are going to make a third straight deep playoff run.
12) Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs have defied the hockey gods all season long. They play a high risk and high reward game which requires excellent goaltending on a nightly basis. The Leafs have been getting that kind of play in net all season long from Jonathan Bernier who is 22-16-5 with a 2.55 goals against average. It's never a boring night in goal for Bernier who sits behind a defense which allows the most shots against in the league. Toronto has got their offense going though with 14 goals in their last five games. The Maple Leafs have won five out of their previous six games and they should make the playoffs although we don't expect them to contend for the Stanley Cup given their playing style.
11) Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets have been a second half team for the past two seasons. They have rallied up the Metropolitan Division standings and put themselves in prime position to make the playoffs. They have gone 3-1-1 in their last five games and Ryan Johansen has been unstoppable for them. He leads the team in points and goals with a five game active point streak heading into the break. Head coach Todd Richards has his team implementing his system to perfection. The Blue Jackets are playing a heavy style of hockey that features hitting first and scoring later. This is a style of hockey which will do well down the stretch and the Blue Jackets should be a competitive match-up in the playoffs this season.
10) Detroit Red Wings
Detroit has been pushing hard lately and they're going to need to continue that type of play following the break if they want to make the playoffs. The Red Wings have won three out of their last five games and they are currently locking down the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Those wild card positions are going to be a battle for the rest of the season. Detroit is finally healthy again but they're going to need more from their goaltenders. Olympian Jimmy Howard has been as inconsistent as they come lately, allowing ten goals in his last four appearances. Pavel Datsyuk is listed as day-today right now and he sat out the Russians first practice. The Red Wings will need Datsyuk to lead the way when the NHL season resumes.
9) New York Rangers
The New York Rangers had a dismal start to the season but they have drastically turned it around. They have won eleven out of their last fifteen games and sit in second place in the tight Metropolitan Division. It's taken Henrik Lunqvist about half the season to get himself into prime form but he has done it yet again. Lunqvist has allowed just five goals in his previous four starts. Mats Zuccarello has provided the Rangers with energy and offense with eight points in his last six games. Contributions from players like Zuccarello will get this team over the hump and if King Henry returns from Sochi with the same kind of confidence he has right now; the Rangers will be a dangerous team moving forward.
8) Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning have had to play through numerous injuries this season including injuries to stars like Steven Stamkos, Valtteri Filppula, and Ben Bishop. Despite those set-backs, they are still in second place in the Atlantic Division and should be able to get into post-season play easily. Stamkos will be re-evaluated following the break and getting him back will be a huge boast for Tampa Bay. The Lightning have found a number one goalie this season in Ben Bishop who is 28-8-4 with a 1.98 goals against average. It looks like he is 100% again after dealing with an upper-body injury for the last week or two. Bishop is a Vezina Trophy front runner and any team with that kind of net-minding has a chance to go deep in the playoffs. Not to mention, the Lightning have one of the most dynamic offenses in the NHL. I would not want to face them in the post-season.
7) Colorado Avalanche
If it wasn't official before, it is now; the Avalanche are a legitimate threat who could upset anyone in the playoffs. They're charging up the Central standings after going 5-2 in their last seven games. Colorado will make the playoffs and rookie Nathan MacKinnon has been as advertised after the Avalanche drafted him first overall. He has 44 points in his rookie season and leads NHL rookies in goals. Gabriel Landeskog is also on pace to destroy his career highs in points, goals, and assists. The Avalanche have received excellent goaltending from Semyon Varlamov who is 28-11-5 with a 2.48 goals against average and .924 save percentage this season.
6) San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks put together three wins over their last four games following an offensive slowdown. Their goal scoring hasn't quite come back though as they have totaled just nine goals in their last four games. San Jose has been bit pretty hard by the injury bug as star rookie Tomas Hertl was injured when he was leading all rookies in goals. Logan Couture should be available following the Olympic break and the Sharks desperately need him healthy again. The Sharks have great goaltending and they always play competitively in the playoffs.
5) Boston Bruins
Zdeno Chara's two game absence only cost the Bruins one contest and they put together an offensive showcase in their final game. The Bruins beat the Senators 7-2 and they have won three out of their last four games. Boston was able to put some distance between themselves and the Lightning in the Atlantic Division over the past two weeks. The Bruins should be able to continue that trend, especially if their offense continues. They have scored 16 goals in their last four games. At this point in the year, Boston appears to be a serious Stanley Cup contender yet again.
4) Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins have improved dramatically on the defensive side of the puck this season. They allow the seventh least goals against per game in the NHL. If they can keep that kind of defense up then they will have a great chance to win the cup. It will be difficult with the loss of Kris Letang but he is more of an offensive defenseman. Sidney Crosby has been having an incredible season and leads the league in points by an eleven point margin. Pittsburgh won four out of their last six games heading to the break and they will put it in cruise control for the rest of the year.
3) Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks went on a tear before the Olympic Break, winning three out of their last five games and getting at least a point in four of those games. Chicago benefited from a rejuvenated Marian Hossa posting seven points in his last six games. Patrick Kane has gone ice cold with ten points in his previous 18 games but he does have seven in his last ten. Kane should find his scoring touch again after playing in Sochi. The Blackhawks will be a dominate force in this season's Stanley Cup playoffs.
2) Anaheim Ducks
The Anaheim Ducks have accumulated the most points in the NHL but for some reason they are shunned from the top rankings in most polls. They have taken their eye of the ball in the last week but we expect them to come out strong following the Olympic Break. Anaheim did put together a dominating performance in their last game before the break, they beak the Predators 5-2 on the road and Ryan Getzlaf posted three points.
1) St. Louis Blues
The St. Louis Blues have won six out of their last eight games and they have control of the Central Division. The Blues are tied with the Blackhawks in points but they have three games in hand. St. Louis has the best defense in the NHL and a tandem of capable goalies. The Blues have been good for a couple of years now but this season they finally have offense. Sophomore forwards Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Swartz have provided a boost and T.J Oshie is having the best season of his career. If St. Louis can stay focused and their young forwards continue to contribute then they will stand a good chance to make a deep playoff run.