It is going to be a close call in the Central Division. The Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild are within a point of each other in the standings, but each of them dropped in the NHL Power Rankings after a huge road trip from the Pittsburgh Penguins. With Nashville and San Jose getting hot at the right time, playoff seedings in the Western Conference could be all over the place in the final three to four weeks.
The Sharks move back up to sixth after two straight coasting wins, and the Bruins have made a massive leap, too.
1. Washington Capitals (97 points)
Previously 1 (95 points)
Washington has taken a tumble in March. Tuesday’s win against Minnesota was the first time the Capitals scored more than two goals in a game this month, and they had just come off a winless road trip in California. They still own first place in the Metropolitan Division. Nicklas Backstrom led Washington with three assists to burst out of the team’s slump.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins (95 points)
Previously 5 (90 points)
They had been untouchable on their five-game road trip through their first three games, but they hit the skids with a shootout loss in Calgary and were shut out in Philadelphia. Nevertheless, the Penguins are now just two points behind Washington for first place in the Metropolitan Division and the Presidents Trophy. Matt Murray shut out the Canucks on Saturday for his fourth shutout of the season.
3. Chicago Blackhawks (93 points)
Previously 2 (89 points)
After a poor start to the week, the Hawks recovered with two 4-2 wins against Minnesota and Montreal. Unfortunately, they will be without Artem Anisimov for what looks to be the remainder of the regular season with a lower body injury. Corey Crawford has been outstanding in his last two games, stopping 82 of 86 shots to help the Blackhawks take over first place in the Central Division.
4. Minnesota Wild (92 points)
Previously 3 (90 points)
Minnesota played four of their five games on their current road trip this week, and it was not pretty. They could only win one of those games, a 7-4 victory over the Panthers, and Devan Dubnyk has been below average in that span. They now have to play catchup with Chicago after falling to them on Sunday. Eric Staal has scored in three straight games, and it started with two goals and an assist against the Panthers. He is three games away from 1000 for his career.
5. Columbus Blue Jackets (94 points)
Previously 4 (90 points)
The past week and a half has has been filled with games against teams currently not in a playoff spot, but the offense has stepped up anyway. Although Sergei Bobrovsky could not continue his shutout barrage, the Jackets still scored at least three times in wins over Buffalo and Philadelphia. David Savard scored twice in the home-and-home against Buffalo this week, and that included his first goal on the road this season (compared to four at home) during Columbus’s three-goal outburst on Saturday.
6. San Jose Sharks (91 points)
Previously 8 (85 points)
Except for Saturday’s loss against Nashville, San Jose’s six-game home stand has gone very smoothly. After a huge win against Washington, the Sharks have cruised past lighter competition, defeating Dallas and Buffalo by a combined 9-2 score. They will play Dallas twice on the road next week as they look to wrap up the Pacific Division. Joe Pavelski was hot this week, scoring four times in his last two games and adding two more points in the win over the Caps.
7. New York Rangers (90 points)
Previously 6 (88 points)
Having three back-to-backs in two weeks seemed like great news for a Rangers team that was 8-2-0 in the second game of back-to-backs this season. Unfortunately, they could not capitalize in that situation with Tampa Bay in town. At least they got the better of Detroit on Sunday to save a mediocre week. Ryan McDonagh carried the Blueshirts on Sunday, scoring the first two New York goals and picking up his first shorthanded point of the season.
8. Ottawa Senators (85 points)
Previously 9 (80 points)
The Senators needed to capitalize on their light schedule this week, and they succeeded in getting points in their last seven games, including a six-game winning streak that ended on Tuesday. It is a good thing they had that run, too. They play Montreal three times in their next six games, and Boston, Pittsburgh, and Chicago are also on the schedule. Fredrik Claesson scored his first two NHL goals during the road trip on hard wrist shots, and Craig Anderson now has the franchise lead in wins after Saturday’s light win in Denver.
9. Montreal Canadiens (86 points)
Previously 7 (84 points)
Montreal was hammered in Calgary to begin the week and ended it with a home loss to Chicago. Fortunately, their convincing win against the Oilers was enough for them to maintain first place in the Atlantic Division. Their three showdowns against Ottawa will likely determine their playoff seeding. The Habs won in Edmonton by scoring four times in the third period, with Max Pacioretty and Paul Byron each scoring twice in the win.
10. Edmonton Oilers (81 points)
Previously 10 (78 points)
There was plenty of action at Rogers Place, which included a thrilling game between Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid that ended in a shootout, but the wins were not coming. Then Edmonton took out their frustrations on Dallas with a convincing 7-1 victory. Perhaps this win will help the Oilers get out of the wild card spot that Calgary previously owned. Milan Lucic had points in each game this week, including two assists against the Stars, and he now has 16 points against the Central Division compared to just 12 against the Pacific Division.
11. Boston Bruins (82 points)
Previously 14 (74 points)
After ending Calgary’s 10-game winning streak, it is clear that the Bruins are taking this year’s playoff run seriously. They have now taken over the top penalty kill unit in the NHL after allowing just two power play goals on nine attempts this week. Brad Marchand is not only the best player on the team, but he is also the top scorer in the league. He now has 36 goals and 76 points this season, and that includes six goals in his last four games and a hat trick in Vancouver.
12. Calgary Flames (82 points)
Previously 12 (76 points)
The Flames made history this week. Not only did they win their franchise-tying 10th straight game (which had only been matched when the team was in Atlanta), but it marked the first time four teams had a double-digit winning streak in one season. Unfortunately, the run ended with a loss to Boston on Wednesday, and the Flames now have to worry about falling back into the first wild card spot. Before sitting out against Boston because of an illness, Brian Elliott recorded his first two shutouts of the season in consecutive starts. This included making 31 saves at Winnipeg.
13. Anaheim Ducks (82 points)
Previously 11 (78 points)
This season has not been spectacular compared to previous seasons, but this week brought back flashbacks. They shut out Chicago on Thursday and defeated both Washington and St. Louis in consecutive home games. Amazingly, John Gibson has yet to return. Jonathan Bernier matched his career high for saves in a shutout after saving all 43 of the Blackhawks’ shots, and Corey Perry provided the only offense for Anaheim on Thursday night. He also scored twice against Washington.
14. Nashville Predators (79 points)
Previously 13 (74 points)
With St. Louis hot on their heels, the Predators badly needed a strong showing during their road-heavy schedule to avoid falling into a wild card spot. After losing to the Kings, the Predators won a defensive showdown in San Jose and knocked out the pesky Jets in overtime. A win in Washington would certainly add to their momentum. James Neal is currently riding a four-game point streak, including the go-ahead goal against the Sharks and a thrilling power-play goal in overtime to sink Winnipeg. He has reached the 20-goal plateau in all but one season, when injuries cut his season to just 20 games in 2010-2011.
15. St. Louis Blues (77 points)
Previously 16 (71 points)
With the help of some late goals, the Blues were able to extend their winning streak to five before falling in Anaheim on Wednesday. After going to San Jose on Thursday, the Blues have a significantly lighter schedule for the rest of the season. That is great news since their lead over LA for the final playoff spot is still only four points. Vladimir Tarasenko had a three-game goal streak this week, and he ended it with two early goals on the Islanders on Saturday.
16. New York Islanders (77 points)
Previously 15 (73 points)
Despite winning twice on the road this week, interim coach Doug Weight expressed his displeasure for the Islanders’ nine-game road trip and how poorly it was scheduled. That may have had an effect on why they allowed eight goals to Carolina on Monday. Both of New York’s wins this week came in overtime, with Andrew Ladd getting the puck in Vancouver and John Tavares knocking out the Hurricanes in the second game of a home-and-home series on Tuesday.
17. Toronto Maple Leafs (76 points)
Previously 17 (72 points)
The Leafs looked terrible on Tuesday, but they had won three straight games prior to the 7-2 beatdown. They now have to worry about Tampa Bay in the wild card standings, as they now trail the Lightning and Islanders by one point in the race to the second wild card spot. James van Riemsdyk and Mitch Marner provided all the offense against Carolina in regulation on Saturday, and Morgan Reilly ended it with a stunning array of puck movement and a hard shot in overtime.
18. Tampa Bay Lightning (77 points)
Previously 20 (69 points)
What a week for Tampa Bay in what has now become an enticing playoff run in the Eastern Conference. After winning all four games, the Lightning are now tied with the Islanders for the second wild card spot. Add in Toronto, and we have ourselves a dead sprint toward the finish line for a date with what is likely the Metropolitan Division winner. Victor Hedman set a career high for points in a season this week. He is now at 59 points, and he scored the overtime winner in Ottawa on Tuesday to continue Tampa Bay’s hot streak.
19. Los Angeles Kings (72 points)
Previously 21 (68 points)
The Kings have not taken advantage of a lengthy home stand this week, winning only twice in their four games at Staples Center this week. This included a crucial loss to St. Louis, the team they are trying to catch. LA travels to Alberta twice over the next two weeks, and their performances against the revamped Oilers and Flames could ultimately determine their fate. Tyler Toffoli ended his seven-game goal drought with both Kings goals on Tuesday, but that was not enough as Arizona won the shootout in 11 rounds.
20. Florida Panthers (71 points)
Previously 20 (69 points)
There was no shortage of scoring this week, as the Panthers scored and allowed seven goals in separate games. Unfortunately, they only won once this week, and that will not do if they want to sneak into the playoffs. Thomas Vanek had his first career four-assist game in an offensive explosion over the Maple Leafs on Tuesday.
21. Philadelphia Flyers (72 points)
Previously 18 (70 points)
The Flyers needed to beat Pittsburgh to keep their playoff hopes realistically alive and they did. The 4-0 shutout snapped a three-game losing streak that had effectively put them in a desperate situation. Wayne Simmonds scored his 200th career goal on the power play, and Steve Mason made 23 saves for his 33rd career shutout.
22. Buffalo Sabres (68 points)
Previously 23 (66 points)
The Sabres split an exhilarating home-and-home with Columbus, but the wheels fell off in San Jose after scoring early. They continue what has been a tough California road trip all season before a tough go-round with Pittsburgh. Jack Eichel continues to reel in the points for Buffalo. He had three more points this week, including a sick crossover to Evander Kane that helped the Sabres complete the comeback against the Blue Jackets on Saturday.
23. Winnipeg Jets (67 points)
Previously 22 (66 points)
The Blues continue to pull away while the Jets continue to fall short against playoff teams. Having Patrik Laine has been a treat this season, but it looks like Winnipeg does not have what to takes to makes the playoffs this year. Laine got his 33rd goal of the season on Monday, and he now has a two-goal lead over Auston Matthews for the rookie lead in that category.
24. Carolina Hurricanes (68 points)
Previously 28 (62 points)
With New Jersey in free fall mode, the Hurricanes can enjoy not being the worst in the Metropolitan Division. Believe it or not, they actually are still within striking distance for a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference after getting points in all four games this week. If they have another big week, then they will go on a three-game stretch against Detroit and New Jersey in good shape. Jaccob Slavin led Carolina on an eight-goal outburst in Brooklyn on Monday and recorded his first career hat trick in the win.
25. Vancouver Canucks (65 points)
Previously 25 (64 points)
So the Canucks lost three in a row at home, and Willie Desjardins’s hot seat continues to be hot. With the playoffs likely going down the tubes, the Canucks should try to match last season’s total of 75 points or even my prediction of 71 points. Markus Granlund took full advantage of being on the Sedin line on Monday, scoring twice in the opening period during Vancouver’s loss to Boston. He is just one goal away from hitting the 20-goal plateau for the first time in his career.
26. Dallas Stars (64 points)
Previously 24 (64 points)
After beating the Capitals last week, the Stars have tumbled into oblivion. They have been outscored 17-4 in their last three games and have to play Calgary and San Jose this week. For a team that had the best record in the Western Conference last year, being this close to the first overall pick is a major disappointment. Dallas goalies have now been pulled in 13 games this season. That is bad.
27. Detroit Red Wings (63 points)
Previously 26 (61 points)
You would think a four-game stretch of Colorado, Arizona, Colorado, and Buffalo would be a confidence booster, but the Wings have already lost their first matchup in Denver. With their final home game at Joe Louis Arena being against the Devils, the two teams should lament about how horrible they have been against teams they should beat. At least they got bragging rights against Chicago on Friday. Jimmy Howard recorded 24 saves to preserve the win in his return from a knee injury that kept him out for nearly three months.
28. New Jersey Devils (62 points)
Previously 27 (62 points)
This week was about as bad as it could get for the Devils. They played in Colorado and Arizona and failed to earn a single point. They are currently on a 10-game losing streak, and perhaps the Coyotes are not the second-worst team in the NHL. Maybe New Jersey can get their act together in an extended break after their game against Winnipeg was postponed because of the blizzard hitting the region. Kyle Palmieri scored twice in New Jersey’s 5-4 loss to Arizona on Saturday. He enters Thursday with exactly 95 goals and 95 assists for his career.
29. Arizona Coyotes (60 points)
Previously 29 (53 points)
Arizona should be a little careful. With their latest string of wins, they are now just two points behind New Jersey in the overall standings. With the playoffs very unlikely, do the Coyotes continue to play spoiler and risk a worse draft pick? It was a wild week for Arizona. In a “highly anticipated” game against Colorado, Mike Smith set the franchise record for career shutouts in a 1-0 victory against horrible offenses. Then on Tuesday, Max Domi forced overtime late in Los Angeles with his second goal of the game, and Anthony DeAngelo ended the shootout with just the third made goal in the 11 rounds.
30. Colorado Avalanche (41 points)
Previously 30 (39 points)
Colorado has no chance of catching the Devils, but they also beat them this week. They picked up their 20th victory of the season against former rival Detroit, and they play again in Joe Louis Arena on Saturday. It will be the last game the Avs play against a non-playoff contender until the second-to-last game of the season. J.T. Compher scored his first NHL goal on what would be the game-winning goal against the Red Wings on Tuesday.
New Jersey scores five times on Colorado on Thursday. They could not even win…
Michael Matheson ends his pointless streak with at least two points in a game. You would think he would contribute to more than one of Florida’s seven goals on Tuesday, but he had just one assist.
The Blue Jackets and Islanders combine for at least 13 goals on Saturday.
Auston Matthews torches the Bruins with at least three points on Monday.