The St. Louis Blues hit the Olympic break with 84 points in 57 games. They beat the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Bruins in the final week, pushing their record against the Eastern Conference to 18-4-2.
Then they beat the streaking Winnipeg Jets to improve their Central Division record to 15-0-1. They have played three fewer games than the Anaheim Ducks (who lead the Western Conference with 87 points) and the Chicago Blackhawks (who are next with 84 points).
The Blues face a daunting schedule during the stretch run, hitting the road for six of their first seven games coming back from the Olympic break. So their time as the top-ranked team may not last long.
But for now St. Louis stands atop the pile. Here is how the pecking order shakes out.
BAD NEWS: The status of pending free agents Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi remains unresolved. Both players are the subject of much trade chatter.
BOTTOM LINE: They won five of their last six games heading into the break. Only an inexplicable home loss to Edmonton marred their recent record.
GOOD NEWS: Winger Marian Gaborik (collarbone) didnât heal in time for the Olympics, but should be good to go after the break.
BAD NEWS: Defenseman James Wisniewski was hobbled by broken right pinkie toe.
BOTTOM LINE: The Jackets made their big move in January, winning 10 of 14 games. They are looking to add talent before the trade deadline.
GOOD NEWS: Red-hot winger Phil Kessel scored 19 points during a 10-game span.
BAD NEWS: Slumping, injury-plagued power forward David Clarkson has scored two goals since Nov. 23.
BOTTOM LINE: They won 11 of 14 games heading into the break, including seven consecutive games at home.
GOOD NEWS: Struggling center Mike Richards finally earned a point, ending a seven-game scoring drought.
BAD NEWS: Jeff Carter failed to score a goal during his last eight games before the break.
BOTTOM LINE: This team needs to give goaltender Jonathan Quick more support. In his first 16 games back to active duty, he posted a 2.01 goals-against average and .918 save percentage while earning two shutouts.
GOOD NEWS: Goaltender Carey Price has allowed just six goals in his last seven starts, stopping 203-of-210 shots during that span.
BAD NEWS: Forward Daniel Briere scored just four goals in his 29 appearances since November.
BOTTOM LINE: The Canadiens stabilized before the break with a modest three-game winning streak.
GOOD NEWS: Goaltender Darcy Kuemper went 8-2-2 in 13 starts (one no-decision) since Jan. 7.
BAD NEWS: Goaltender Josh Harding hasnât played in the New Year due to complications with his treatment for multiple sclerosis.
BOTTOM LINE: The Wild used an 11-4-2 surge to stay in the middle on the Western Conference playoff race.
GOOD NEWS: Forward Brayden Schenn is finally breaking out. He has scored 15 goals (a career high) and counting.
BAD NEWS: Price free-agent addition Vincent Lecavalier has scored just three goals since Nov. 27. GM Paul Holmgren struck again!
BOTTOM LINE: They won four consecutive games heading into the break, setting the stage for a potential big finish.
GOOD NEWS: Winger Radim Vrbata finally warmed up, scoring three times in four games. Antoine Vermette ran his point streak to 10 games.
BAD NEWS: Shane Doan has scored just two goals since Jan. 7.
BOTTOM LINE: Goaltender Mike Smith finally picked up his play, posting a 1.27 goals-against average and .960 save percentage in four starts this month. The Coyotes will need more of that to reach the playoffs.
GOOD NEWS: The Stars tightened up defensively, holding opponents to 28 or fewer shots in 11 consecutive games.
BAD NEWS: They rank just 23rd in the NHL with a 15.1 conversion rate on their power play.
BOTTOM LINE: After staggering through a 1-8-1 stretch in January, the Stars turned their season round with a 6-1-2 run.
GOOD NEWS: Defenseman Dan Hamhuis returned from an undisclosed injury in time to play in the Olympics.
BAD NEWS: Goaltender Roberto Luongo lost five games in a row while allowing 17 goals.
BOTTOM LINE: They staggered into the break with seven consecutive losses and 16 losses in 20 games. Should GM Mike Gillis try to save this season or starting long-range retooling?
GOOD NEWS: Pavel Datsyuk escaped the injured list in time to play in the Olympics.
BAD NEWS: Forward Stephen Weiss, who produced just two goals and two assists in his 26 games for the Red Wings, is still working his way back from a sports hernia.
BOTTOM LINE: They gathered some steam with a 6-2-2 upturn, but then lost at Tampa Bay before the break.
GOOD NEWS: The Predators are just four points out of the last playoff spot despite encountering tremendous adversity this season.
BAD NEWS: You know you are having a bad year when your general manager (practice puck in the face) and broadcaster (heart attack) end up in separate St. Paul hospitals on the same road trip.
BOTTOM LINE: They are still searching for offense. Coach Barry Trotz moved Colin Wilson back to center and the move yielded just one point in six games.
GOOD NEWS: Bobby Ryan snapped his four-game pointless streak before the break. Milan Michalek scored three goals in two games after going the previous 13 games without scoring.
BAD NEWS: Center Jason Spezza is minus-23 after 54 games. That is not easy to do.
BOTTOM LINE: GM Bryan Murray would love to add another scorer, preferably somebody who could team with Spezza. Perhaps itâs time he dealt from his surplus of young puck-rushing defensemen.
GOOD NEWS: Martin Erat scored his first goal of the season! Sure, it went into an empty net, but a goal is a goal.
BAD NEWS: Neither defenseman Mike Green (concussion) nor center Mikhail Grabovski (ankle) returned to active duty before the break.
BOTTOM LINE: The Capitals won three of their last four games before shutting down. They also snapped their seven-game losing streak against Metropolitan Division opponents.
GOOD NEWS: After scoring just nine points in the first two months of the season, center Mark Scheifele scored 23 in the next two.
BAD NEWS: New coach Paul Maurice still needs to fix his power play, which ranks 24th with a 14.4 percent conversion rate.
BOTTOM LINE: Maurice has guided the Jets back into the wild-card race. The Jets are only two games out of the last playoff spot in the Western Conference.
GOOD NEWS: During a span of 13 starts, goaltender Cory Schneider was 7-2-4 with a 1.43 goals-against average and .944 save percentage.
BAD NEWS: The Devils have been shut out seven times this season, six times with the luckless Schneider playing goal.
BOTTOM LINE: They lost five of their last seven games heading into the break.
GOOD NEWS: Defenseman Justin Faulk is finally emerging as an offensive threat. He has scored 22 points (a career high) and counting.
BAD NEWS: Somehow this talented team ranks 26th on the power play with a 14.2 percent conversion rate.
BOTTOM LINE: They won seven of their last 10 games before the break to stay in the thick of the playoff race.
GOOD NEWS: They locked up defenseman Kris Russell with a two-year, $5.2 million contract extension.
BAD NEWS: This offensively challenged team has been shut out seven times this season.
BOTTOM LINE: They won six of seven games before finishing the pre-Olympic schedule with a 2-1 loss at Philadelphia.
GOOD NEWS: Defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky finally recovered from his concussion and made an immediate impact on the power play. Defenseman Travis Hamonic also returned after missing 12 games with a concussion.
BAD NEWS: The Islanders will have no choice but to trade top-line winger Thomas Vanek, a pending free agent.
BOTTOM LINE: They will emerge from the break 12 points out of the last Eastern Conference playoff spot with just 22 games to play.
GOOD NEWS: New owner Vinnie Viola is committed to spending to the salary cap for next season.
BAD NEWS: The Panthers staggered into the break by losing five of their last six games. That put them 13 points out of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 24 games left.
BOTTOM LINE: Barring miracles, they will miss the playoffs for the 12th time in 13 years.
GOOD NEWS: Newcomers Mark Fraser and Matt Hendricks have added grit and defensive commitment to this finesse-minded lineup.
BAD NEWS: The Oilers are 17 points out of the last playoff spots with 22 games left. Their stretch run will be all about next season.
BOTTOM LINE: They enjoyed a long-overdue 5-0-1 surge before losing 2-1 at New Jersey.
GOOD NEWS: Sabres executives Pat LaFontaine and Tim Murray could collect a mother lode of picks and prospects for all their pending free agents.
BAD NEWS: Buffalo lost its last four games heading into the break, leaving the team 24 points out of the last playoff spot with 25 games to go.
BOTTOM LINE: This franchise should turn around quickly. It already has lots of young talent and it is about to gain more â along with lots of payroll flexibility.