So, the Islanders? Yeah, no one saw that coming. And doing it with defense? Man, Barry Trotz is a magician.
But here’s the deal: The Metropolitan Division is relatively weak. Which raises the very real question: Where will the Isles play their playoff games? Regardless, it’s been great to see a team that’s been a sieve on defense for years finally figuring it out.
31. Los Angeles Kings | Record: 19–26–4 | Previous Ranking: 29
Jonathan Quick has had some moments, but it’s been Jack Campbell who’s been the more consistent choice in net.
30. Chicago Blackhawks | Record: 17–24–9 | Previous Ranking: 25
There needs to be a long-term goaltending solution for Chicago—it’s not working thus far. The Blackhawks got a big win over the Capitals on Sunday to snap a five-game losing streak, but it was only their second win of the month.
29. Florida Panthers | Record: 19–20–8 | Previous Ranking: 22
It’s been a bad start to the New Year in Floriday. The wins against Nashville and Toronto stops the bleeding—getting Vincent Trocheck back was huge.
28. Ottawa Senators | Record: 19–25–5 | Previous Ranking: 31
We’ll see what happens with Matt Duchene et al. There is the beginning of a young core, here. But only the beginnings.
27. Philadelphia Flyers | Record: 19–23–6 | Previous Ranking: 30
Carter Hart has been pretty good to spark some life into the Flyers. Full-time starter next year?
26. Detroit Red Wings | Record: 18–25–7 | Previous Ranking: 27
Dylan Larkin is less than 15 seconds of average ice time—less than a shift—away from leading the Wings. Says a lot about Larkin—and a lot about the Wings’ defense.
25. New Jersey Devils | Record: 18–23–7 | Previous Ranking: 26
Will Butcher was a revelation as a rookie last year. This season? Not so much—and that’s with increased ice time. The Devils enter the All-Star break with three straight losses.
24. New York Rangers | Record: 21–20–7 | Previous Ranking: 24
A nice bounce-back win over Carolina after an angry press conference from David Quinn, followed by a solid road victory over Boston.
23. Arizona Coyotes | Record: 22–22–4 | Previous Ranking: 23
Don’t look now—the bruised and battered Coyotes are actually in playoff contention. The West is a wild, wild place.
22. Anaheim Ducks | Record: 21–20–9 | Previous Ranking: 19
The Ducks say they aren’t considering firing Randy Carlyle. That may change in a few weeks.
21. Vancouver Canucks | Record: 23–21–6 | Previous Ranking: 20
Not that there’s a better option, but not sure that Jacob Markstrom is the best long-term choice in net.
20. St. Louis Blues | Record: 21–21–5 | Previous Ranking: 28
The Blues have had a great turnaround, and somehow, in contention for a playoff spot. Sign up Craig Berube now.
19. Edmonton Oilers | Record: 23–23–3 | Previous Ranking: 21
Rumors of a big splash are abuzz. The more depth scoring, the better for the Oilers.
18. Colorado Avalanche | Record: 22–18–8 | Previous Ranking: 15
Philipp Grubauer said the Avs remind him of the Caps a few years before they won the Cup. Not sure that’s the case.
17. Carolina Hurricanes | Record: 23–20–5 | Previous Ranking: 16
Nino Niederreiter has a ton of talent, and is a multiple-time 20-goal scorer. This may be a trade that rejuvenates him and the Canes.
16. Minnesota Wild | Record: 24–21–3 | Previous Ranking: 18
Victor Rask probably doesn’t move the needle for the Wild, but Pontus Aberg might.
15. Dallas Stars | Record: 24–21–4 | Previous Ranking: 17
The Stars might need more than a singular trade. In danger, as always it seems, of falling off the edge.
14. Buffalo Sabres | Record: 24–18–6 | Previous Ranking: 12
This is a bad time for a West Coast swing, but it is nice to see the Sabres bounce back with a win in Calgary after a drubbing by Edmonton.
13. Pittsburgh Penguins | Record: 26–16–6 | Previous Ranking: 9
If the rumors are to be believed, this is a team ripe for a shakeup. Is there enough time, though, to turn it around?
12. Montreal Canadiens | Record: 27–18–5 | Previous Ranking: 14
At this point, the Habs are still the best surprise of the season. And they got a nice win in Columbus.
11. Boston Bruins | Record: 27–17–5 | Previous Ranking: 8
What to do with David Backes? Hard to see a trading partner; the Bruins’ best hope is that he can fit in a fourth-line, penalty-killing role.
10. Washington Capitals | Record: 27–16–5 | Previous Ranking: 6
Is this just a slide? Or is it the beginning of something more serious? The Capitals find themselves in the midst of a five-game losing streak, and back-to-back games against the Sharks and Maple Leafs heading into the break aren’t going to be easy.
9. Toronto Maple Leafs | Record: 29–17–2 | Previous Ranking: 7
Getting Frederik Andersen back is helpful, given the up-and-down play in net of late without him.
8. Columbus Blue Jackets | Record: 28–17–3 | Previous Ranking: 11
Second-best team in the East? Maybe. But it sure does help to have Artemi Panarin playing so well.
7. Nashville Predators | Record: 28–18–4 | Previous Ranking: 10
Is a 7–2 win over Washington the start of a rebound? Maybe not. Looked pedestrian in losses against Winnipeg and Florida.
6. New York Islanders | Record: 29–15–4 | Previous Ranking: 13
Robin Lehner, Vezina-candidate? He just might be. He’s the leader in goals-against average (2.02), and second in save percentage (.930).
5. Vegas Golden Knights | Record: 29–17–4 | Previous Ranking: 3
What’s slightly concerning: The last two elite teams the Golden Knights played, the Sharks and Jets, were losses. They’ve been rolling over lesser competition.
4. Winnipeg Jets | Record: 31–15–2 | Previous Ranking: 5
Laurent Brossoit is a fine backup goalie, and he stopped 26 shots in the second period against Vegas. It’s good for a contending team to have a good second option.
3. San Jose Sharks | Record: 28–15–7 | Previous Ranking: 4
This team is becoming the offensive juggernaut we all expected at the beginning of the season. Both Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson are averaging just shy of 25 minutes a game. Think that’ll be 30 in the playoffs?
2. Calgary Flames | Record: 32–13–5 | Previous Ranking: 2
It helps to play with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, but Elias Lindholm has been a revelation for the Flames. He’s also averaging the most time on ice for a forward.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning | Record: 37–10–2 | Previous Ranking: 1
It’s business as usual, save for a blowout loss against the Islanders. The Lightning just keep plugging along.