The good news is that the way things are shaping up, the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks will meet in the first round of the playoffs. The bad news is that the way things are shaping up, the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks will meet in the first round of the playoffs.
On one hand, it should be an epic series. On the other, one of the two best teams in the league will be going home after the first round. The Kings find themselves on top of THN’s Power Rankings, thanks to an eight-game winning streak, while the Sharks are ranked sixth. (Last week’s rankings in parentheses.)
1. LOS ANGELES (6): If the Kings can beat Toronto at home Thursday night, they’ll tie the franchise record for consecutive wins with their ninth. Marian Gaborik failed to register a point in his first three games with the Kings after coming over at the trade deadline, but the Kings have been getting contributions from unlikely sources such as Alec Martinez, who has a five-game point streak.
2. BOSTON (7): After dropping their first two games after the Olympic break, the Bruins have rattled off six straight wins. Not only that, they’ve been an offensive juggernaut, outscoring their opponents 29-10 in those games. Despite the offensive output, the Bruins don’t have a single player in the top 20 in NHL scoring.
3. ST. LOUIS (1): Goalie Ryan Miller has come as advertised since joining the Blues before the deadline, compiling a 4-0-1 record, a 1.78 goals-against average and .925 save percentage. Of course it helps that Miller has faced an average of only 24 shots a game with the Blues. The Blues could get another lift as early as Thursday night with the return of Vladimir Sobotka, who has been out since Jan. 31 with a fractured knee.
4. PITTSBURGH (9): Winners of four of their past five games, the Blues have managed to clamp down defensively, highlighted by a 32-save effort by Marc-Andre Fleury in a 2-0 win over Washington Tuesday night. Defenseman Brooks Orpik went nose-to-nose with Alex Ovechkin in consecutive wins over Washington and held the NHL’s top goal scorer without a point.
5. ANAHEIM (2): A 7-2 loss to Calgary Wednesday night was the fourth in a row for the Ducks, with two of those defeats coming in shootouts. It also marked just the second time this season that the Ducks have been beaten by five goals. The first time? Game No. 1 of this season when they lost 6-1 to Colorado.
6. SAN JOSE (4): The Sharks have feasted on Eastern Conference teams in their past eight games, going 6-1-1 and outscoring their eastern opponents by a 33-19 margin, with four of their six next games coming against teams from the other conference. The Sharks outscored Montreal and Toronto 10-2 in consecutive games. With two goals against Toronto, Joe Pavelski has 34 and sits third in the league.
7. COLORADO (3): The Avalanche moved into second place in the Central Division with an impressive 3-2 home ice win over Chicago Wednesday night. Just as importantly the victory gave the Avs a 4-1-0 record against the defending Stanley Cup champions this season. The Avs have been one of the hottest teams in the NHL since the calendar turned to 2014 with 19 wins in 27 games.
8. CHICAGO (5): The Blackhawks have scored more goals than any other team in the NHL and have a league-high five players with at least 50 points this season, but consistency has eluded them since the beginning of 2014. Two crucial losses to Colorado in a week bookended victories over Columbus and Buffalo. A goal against his hometown Buffalo Sabres was the first for Patrick Kane in seven games
9. DALLAS (13): One night after dealing with the emotion of watching Rich Peverley collapse on the bench with a heart issue, the Stars gathered themselves, travelled to St. Louis and defeated the No. team in the NHL in overtime. The win over St. Louis was also the first full game as a Star for the newly acquired Tim Thomas, who has become a very important man with injury to Kari Lehtonen.
10. MINNESOTA (8): The Wild suffered an absolute meltdown Tuesday night against lowly Edmonton, blowing a three-goal lead before losing in a shootout. The Wild, in fact, has lost its last two in shootouts, but overall has gained at least a point in seven of its past eight games. The Wild is still fairly comfortably in a playoff spot with a four-point lead, but that lead was as high as nine points 10 days ago.
11. TORONTO (10): When the Maple Leafs are good, as they were Monday night in a 3-1 win over Anaheim, they’re very good. But when they’re bad, as they were in a 6-2 loss to San Jose the next night, they’re putrid. The Leafs were outshot 48-21, with the disparity of 27 shots matching their worst shot disparity of the season. With a goal differential of minus-7, the Leafs have the worst mark in that department among teams currently in the playoffs.
12. COLUMBUS (17): There was a time, like every other day in history, when the Blue Jackets would not have been able to sit an 18-goal scorer as a healthy scratch, but that’s exactly what they did with Cam Atkinson recently. It’s indicative of a new attitude in Columbus, where players can’t afford to get too comfortable because there are finally NHL-caliber players in the organization there to push them.
13. PHOENIX (16): The Coyotes have won four of their past five to vault themselves back into the Western Conference playoff race. Much of the reason for that has been the improved production from Radim Vrbata who has four goals and six points in his past four games. The Coyotes close out an eastern road trip in Boston Thursday night riding a streak in which they’ve won four of their past five games.
14. NY RANGERS (14): Despite the checkered history of college free agents, the Rangers went all-in to secure the rights to free agent right winger Ryan Haggerty of RPI, and could insert him into the lineup after the team finishes its three-game road trip Friday night in Winnipeg. Speaking of right wingers, Martin St-Louis has just one assist in four games since coming to the Rangers at the trade deadline.
15. PHILADELPHIA (12): The Flyers have cooled off with two losses, one in overtime, after going on a streak in which they had won eight of nine games. The Flyers now begin a stretch in which they’ll play 17 games in the next 30 days, including their next six in which they play Pittsburgh twice, then move on to play Chicago, Dallas, St. Louis and Los Angeles.
16. TAMPA BAY (15): Perhaps it’s a matter of shaking off the rust or losing his running mate in Martin St-Louis, but Steven Stamkos has no points and is minus-2 since returning to the lineup from his broken leg. After recording five shots in his first game back, Stamkos had a total of just three in the next two games combined. The Lightning, meanwhile, is in the midst of a dreadful spell, dropping 11 of its past 13 games, with eight of those losses coming in regulation time.
17. MONTREAL (11): The Canadiens are 3-4-1 and have given up 29 goals since Carey Price was injured during the Olympics and have been outscored 13-3 in their past three games. Newly acquired Thomas Vanek has just one assist in three games since coming over at the trade deadline and Rene Bourque, who had failed to score a point in five games, was a healthy scratch for Montreal’s 4-1 loss to Boston Wednesday night.
18. NEW JERSEY (19): The Devils are hanging in the playoff race in the Eastern Conference, thanks in large part to the efforts of the 42-year-old Jaromir Jagr, who leads the team scoring race by a mind-boggling 15 points. In fact, Jagr has had such a good season that he’s already decided he wants to play at least one more year and hopes to do it with the Devils.
19. DETROIT (18): The Red Wings are in serious jeopardy of missing the playoffs for the first time since 1989-90 and if they do, they should be able to point to two factors. Until this season the Joe Louis Arena has been a house of pain for opponents, but now this season is just 12-11-9 at home. And the Red Wings are just 4-8 in shootouts this season. The Red Wings have been outscored 7-1 in their past two losses.
20. OTTAWA (22): The Senators are dropping out of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference, having won just two of their past seven games, a stretch that has included losses to bottom feeders Edmonton, Calgary and Nashville. After going scoreless in his first game with the Senators, Ales Hemsky has recorded two straight games with three assists, registering points on six of the Senators last eight goals.
21. WASHINGTON (21): The Capitals are in the midst of a freefall, losing five of their past six games, including a home-and-home series against Pittsburgh and back-to-back shutouts on the road for the first time since 2010. And in each of their past three games on the road, the Capitals have recorded no more than 12 shots in the first two periods of play. That’s not good news for a team that faces three games in California’s Death Valley next week. Alex Ovechkin is pointless in his past four games.
22. NASHVILLE (28): Yeah, they were only wins over Ottawa and Buffalo, but for the Predators the two victories marked much more than just a garden variety winning streak. After scoring just three goals in their previous four games, the Predators put up four goals in each of their victories, with both wins coming on the road.
23. VANCOUVER (27): Only 10 teams in NHL history have given up more goals in a period than the seven the Canucks did in their 7-4 loss to the Islanders Monday night. And even when the Canucks win, as they did 3-2 in a shootout over Winnipeg Wednesday night, they lose. In that game, Ryan Kesler went knee-on-knee with Jim Slater and left the game. All this with the drama that is the future of John Tortorella as the backdrop.
24. WINNIPEG (20): After winning nine of their first 11 games under new coach Paul Maurice, the Jets have hit the skids with just two wins in their past nine games. Five losses in a row has dropped the Jets five points out of a playoff spot with three teams to leapfrog in order to qualify for the post-season.
25. CAROLINA (23): Making his first start on home ice since New Year’s Eve, goaltender Cam Ward stopped 24 of 25 shots to defeat the Rangers 3-1 Tuesday night. It marked the first time in 11 tries the Hurricanes have beaten the Rangers, including a stretch in which they’d lost their past six to the Rangers at home.
26. NY ISLANDERS (26): The Islanders exploded for seven goals in the third period of their win against Vancouver Monday night, but have also developed an annoying habit of blowing two-goal leads this season. The Islanders have also been leaky defensively and in goal, giving up 24 goals in six games so far in March.
27. CALGARY (25): In a rare display of offensive firepower, the Flames jumped out to a 5-0 lead before the game was half over – powered by two shorthanded goals – and cruised to a 7-2 win over Anaheim Wednesday night. Finnish rookie Joni Ortio got his sixth start against the Ducks and sits with a 3-3-0 record with just 13 goals against.
28. EDMONTON (24): The Oilers showed what kind of team they can and want to be when they battled back from a three-goal deficit to defeat Minnesota 4-3 in a shootout Tuesday night. The victory gave the Oilers points in four of their past five games. David Perron, who has a career-high 24 goals, returns to St. Louis for the first time when the Oilers visit the Blues Thursday night.
29. FLORIDA (29): After notching a shutout in his first game back with the Panthers, goalie Roberto Luongo gave up seven goals in consecutive losses to Boston and Phoenix. And in a recurring story, the Panthers are out of the playoffs by a million miles and are working a bunch of young guys into the lineup so they can get some NHL experience.
30. BUFFALO (30): Just when things were starting to look up, well as “up” as things can look in Buffalo these days, the Sabres lost three in a row and scored a total of two goals. Overall, they’ve lost four of their past five. On a more positive note, it appears again that coach Ted Nolan will receive a contract extension.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. To read more from Ken and THN’s other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.
(Editor’s note: reference to the Bruins having only one 20-goal scorer removed. We regret the error.)