NHL power rankings: Blues lead the pack heading into home stretch
The St. Louis Blues start their post-Olympic schedule the hard way, heading to the West Coast on a three-game road trip. They got nine players back from Sochi, including four that played in the gold-medal game.
This team may take a while to regain its bearings. Body clocks will need some adjusting. Speculation will hang over its goaltenders, since Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott are working under expiring contracts and Buffalo still has Ryan Miller on the trade block.
But for now, anyway, the Blues compare favorably to the rest of the NHL. They head into the stretch run with 84 points in 57 games. They suffered just one regulation loss in their last eight games heading into the break.
Here is how the NHL pecking order shakes out:
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1 Blues 39-12-6
GOOD NEWS: They had nine players at Sochi and none of them suffered Olympic injuries.
BAD NEWS: Key forward Vladimir Sobotka (broken kneecap) remains sidelined.
BOTTOM LINE: All eyes are on GM Doug Armstrong, who could move forward Chris Stewart and maybe, just maybe, seek an upgrade in goal.
2 Ducks 41-14-5 +3
GOOD NEWS: Defying the laws of nature, 900-year-old Teemu Selanne (actual age: 43) found fresh legs and starred at the Olympics, winning a bronze with Finland.
BAD NEWS: The Ducks hit a brief offensive lull before the break, so they would welcome a big home stretch from Selanne.
BOTTOM LINE: With goaltender Viktor Fasth and forward Nick Bonino back in action, the Ducks will continue their quest for the top conference seed.
3 Blackhawks 35-11-14
GOOD NEWS: Newcomer Peter Regin adds some depth up front despite producing just seven points and a minus-10 rating for the Islanders.
BAD NEWS: The Blackhawks had six players in the gold medal game at the Olympics, so they could be more sluggish than most teams coming out of the break.
BOTTOM LINE: When goaltender Corey Crawford is on, this team is a nightmare to play against. And, boy, was he on before the break, posting a 2.13 goals-against average and .929 save percentage during his last 14 starts.
4 Penguins 40-15-3 -2
GOOD NEWS: Sidney Crosby hit the jets while helping propel Team Canada to Olympic gold. Expect some carryover.
BAD NEWS: They remain depleted on defense with Kris Letang (stroke) and Paul Martin (broken hand) sidelined for significant periods of time.
BOTTOM LINE: Despite their 16-point division lead, the Penguins still have room to improve via trades and improved health.
5 Bruins 37-16-4 -1
GOOD NEWS: Vezina Trophy candidate Tuukka Rask starred for Finland at Sochi.
BAD NEWS: The Bruins play 17 games in March. They have eight more sets of back-to-back games this season.
BOTTOM LINE: Their seven-point division lead over the Lightning appears secure. Their longest losing streak this season is two games -- and that has only happened three times.
6 Avalanche 37-16-5
GOOD NEWS: Rookie forward Nathan MacKinnon scored 12 goals in his 19 games during this calendar year.
BAD NEWS: Alex Tanguay's season-ending hip injury depleted the team's offensive depth.
BOTTOM LINE: Is this team a real Cup contender? Home games against the Kings, Coyotes and Lightning coming out of the break could help answer that question.
7 Sharks 37-16-6
GOOD NEWS: Forwards Logan Couture, Raffi Torres, Matt Nieto and Tyler Kennedy are all coming off the injury list. Rookie gunner Tomas Hertl should return before the playoffs as well.
BAD NEWS: Defenseman Brad Stuart (upper body injury) remains sidelined.
BOTTOM LINE: The Sharks stumbled before the break due to injuries and their power play outage. They converted just one of 24 man advantages during a span of nine games.
8 Lightning 33-20-5
GOOD NEWS: Forward Valtteri Filppula (broken ankle) hopes to return soon.
BAD NEWS: Cornerstone center Steven Stamkos (broken leg) isn't quite ready for game action. He will sit out the Lightning's first post-break road trip. BOTTOM LINE: Thanks to the brilliant play of goaltender Ben Bishop, the Lightning have persevered despite key offensive injuries.
9 Rangers 32-24-3
GOOD NEWS: Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist starred at the Olympics after winning five consecutive games for the Rangers.
BAD NEWS: Top scorer Mats Zuccarello will miss several weeks with a hand fracture suffered in Sochi.
BOTTOM LINE: Pending free agents Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi aren't much closer to signing contract extensions and remain prominent in trade rumors.
10 Maple Leafs 32-22-6 +1
GOOD NEWS: Phil Kessel scored 19 points during a 10-game span, then continued that scoring tear in the Olympics before the US went cold as a team offensively.
BAD NEWS: Goaltender Jonathan Bernier is seeing 35 shots per 60 minutes behind a porous defense.
BOTTOM LINE: The Maple Leafs won 11 of 14 games heading into the break, including seven consecutive games at home. Forward Dave Bolland's return will make them even stronger.
11 Kings 31-22-6 +1
GOOD NEWS: Defenseman Drew Doughty finally imposed his offensive will at the Olympics. The Kings hope he carries that assertiveness into the stretch run.
BAD NEWS: Goaltender Jonathan Quick's Sochi experience turned ugly in a hurry. Will he suffer a hangover?
BOTTOM LINE: The Kings lack salary cap flexibility, but GM Dean Lombardi better find a way to add a goal scorer.
12 Blue Jackets 29-24-5 -2
GOOD NEWS: Winger Marian Gaborik (collarbone) is back to bolster the offense. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky continued his hot play into the Olympics, allowing two non-shootout goals in three games for Russia.
BAD NEWS: Defenseman Fedor Tyutin will miss a few weeks with an ankle injury suffered at Sochi.
BOTTOM LINE: Executive John Davidson is doing what he did in St. Louis -- turning a long-struggling franchise into a legitimate threat.
13 Canadiens 32-21-6
GOOD NEWS: Goaltender Carey Price played great heading into the Olympics (allowing just six goals in his last seven starts) and then he starred at Sochi.
BAD NEWS: GM Marc Bergevin failed to strike a deal for Avalanche winger P.A. Parenteau. So the search for another scorer continues.
BOTTOM LINE: They won five of seven games before the break and scored nine goals in the last two games.
14 Wild 31-21-7
GOOD NEWS: Captain Mikko Koivu (broken ankle) is working his way back to active duty after missing the Olympics.
BAD NEWS: Goaltender Josh Harding faces an uncertain future due to complications with his multiple sclerosis treatment.
BOTTOM LINE: The Wild used an 11-4-2 surge to stay in the middle on the Western Conference playoff race. Fill-in goaltender Darcy Kuemper (8-2-2 in 13 starts since Jan. 7) was a lifesaver.
15 Flyers 30-23-6
GOOD NEWS: Goaltender Steve Mason won his last three starts before the Olympic break and four of his previous five. He earned two shutouts during that span.
BAD NEWS: Overall the Flyers have allowed 167 goals, third-most in the Metropolitan Division.
BOTTOM LINE: They won four consecutive games heading into the break, but now they must face the Rangers and Sharks coming out of it.
16 Coyotes 27-21-10
GOOD NEWS: Defenseman Derek Morris (upper-body injury) is closer to full strength.
BAD NEWS: They went into the break with a listless 2-1 loss to the Stars, leaving them in ninth place in the Western Conference.
BOTTOM LINE: Goaltender Mike Smith will decide whether this team gets in the playoff bracket. He posted a 1.27 goals-against average and .960 save percentage in his last four starts before the break.
17 Stars 27-21-10
GOOD NEWS: Forward Jamie Benn was one of the top all-around performers at the Olympics.
BAD NEWS: Defenseman Stephane Robidas has resumed skating, but he remains weeks away from returning.
BOTTOM LINE: After staggering through a 1-8-1 stretch in January, the Stars went on 6-1-2 run to move back into the playoff mix. They held opponents to fewer than 24 shots per game during that stretch.
18 Canucks 27-24-9
GOOD NEWS: Henrik Sedin (ribs), Kevin Bieksa (lower body) and Alexandre Burrows (hand) appear to be on the mend.
BAD NEWS: Center Ryan Kesler suffered an undisclosed injury while blocking a shot at the Olympics.
BOTTOM LINE: They lost seven consecutive games heading into the break. They lost 16 times in their last 20 games. GM Mike Gillis should concede the season and hit the reset button.
19 Red Wings 26-20-12
GOOD NEWS: Pavel Datsyuk got back to full speed during the Olympics. And forward Stephen Weiss (just two goals and two assists in 26 games) may finally be healthy enough to help.
BAD NEWS: Top forward Henrik Zetterberg could miss the rest of the regular season after aggravating his back injury at the Olympics.
BOTTOM LINE: This franchise's epic playoff streak is in peril. Mike Babcock faces a huge coaching challenge.
20 Capitals 27-23-9 +2
GOOD NEWS: Defenseman Mike Green (concussion) and center Mikhail Grabovski (ankle) should contribute down the stretch.
BAD NEWS: Winger Alex Ovechkin struggled mightily in the Olympics. The Russian team was an epic failure and Ovechkin's father fell ill during the tournament. That is a lot of baggage to carry home.
BOTTOM LINE: The Capitals won three of their last four games before shutting down. Can they finally gain some traction?
21 Jets 28-26-6 +2
GOOD NEWS: Top winger Evander Kane (hand infection) appears to be back to full strength.
BAD NEWS: Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec didn't exactly boost his confidence at the Olympics.
BOTTOM LINE: They went on a 9-3-1 roll under new coach Paul Maurice, allowing them to move back into playoff contention.
22 Senators 26-22-11 -1
GOOD NEWS: Erik Karlsson used the Olympic stage to remind us he is the game's best offensive defenseman, by plenty.
BAD NEWS: Catching the Maple Leafs for a wild-card playoff berth will be no small task.
BOTTOM LINE: The Senators have the talent to make that climb. They also have an opportunity, since just 12 of their remaining 23 games are against current playoff teams.
23 Predators 25-24-10 -3
GOOD NEWS: Goaltender Pekka Rinne (hip infection) is finally making some progress. He could play again before the end of the season.
BAD NEWS: They lost three consecutive games heading into the break and fell further off the playoff pace.
BOTTOM LINE: Shea Weber's outstanding play in the Olympics generated some more blockbuster trade speculation. Moving Weber and his nine-digit contract for a mother lode of talent could make sense for this perennial also-ran.
24 Hurricanes 26-23-9 +1
GOOD NEWS: Forward Jeff Skinner has 23 goals this season, including six game-winners.
BAD NEWS: Defenseman John-Michael Liles remains hobbled by a lower-body injury.
BOTTOM LINE: The Hurricanes won seven of their last 11 games before the break to stay within three points of the final playoff spot.
25 Devils 24-22-13 -1
GOOD NEWS: Goaltender Cory Schneider was a tremendous long-range addition. He went 7-2-4 with a 1.43 goals-against average and .944 save percentage during a span of 13 starts to displace franchise icon Martin Brodeur.
BAD NEWS: Their offense ranks 29th in the NHL despite Jaromir Jagr's heroic twilight year production.
BOTTOM LINE: After losing five of their last seven games heading into the break, the Devils appear ready to make some bailout trades.
26 Flames 22-29-7
GOOD NEWS: Forward Curtis Glencross (high ankle sprain) should return shortly.
BAD NEWS: Key forward Mike Cammalleri, a pending free agent, appears likely to depart the lineup in a bailout trade.
BOTTOM LINE: They salvaged respectability by winning six of their last eight games before the Olympics.
27 Islanders 22-30-8
GOOD NEWS: Given their woeful finish, they can put off sending a first-round pick to Buffalo in the ill-fated Thomas Vanek deal.
BAD NEWS: The Islanders must soldier on without top player John Tavares, who will be sidelined for two months while recovering from a knee injury suffered at Sochi.
BOTTOM LINE: They are 12 points out of the last Eastern Conference playoff spot with just 22 games to play, so they can focus on retooling for next season. Let's see what they can get in bailout trades of Vanek and defenseman Andrew McDonald.
28 Panthers 22-29-7
GOOD NEWS: The new ownership group seemed determined to fix the franchise's massive economic problems. Whether that can happen in South Florida remains to be seen.
BAD NEWS: Top young forward Aleksander Barkov could miss the rest of the season with a knee injury suffered at Olympics. Tomas Kopecky is sidelined by a concussion suffered at Sochi.
BOTTOM LINE: The Panthers were 13 points out of the last playoff spot with 24 games left. They are destined to miss the playoffs for the 12th time in 13 years.
29 Oilers 20-33-7
GOOD NEWS: Struggling winger Nail Yakupov scored six points in his last seven games. He earned a spot on the top line with Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
BAD NEWS: The Oilers say this feels like a new season after the Olympic break. But it is not. This is the same miserable season that saw them sink toward with Western Conference basement despite possessing high-end skill.
BOTTOM LINE: The perpetual rebuild will continue as the Oilers shop Ales Hemsky and Sam Gagner around the league.
30 Sabres 16-34-8
GOOD NEWS: Goaltender Ryan Miller didn't get hurt at the Olympics, so he remains valuable as a trade chip.
BAD NEWS: Marcus Foligno scored 13 points in his first 13 games as a Sabre. In the 98 games since, he has 11 goals and 32 points.
BOTTOM LINE: New GM Tim Murray will finally get busy. Forwards Steve Ott and Matt Moulson are two more veterans who could move before the trade deadline.