19. Nashville Predators: 7-5-2 This team is close to being one of the top 10 teams in the league. They need to get better on offense in even strength scenarios to help support the back-end. An impressive win in LA this week shows what they are capable of, but until they figure out how to score against five opponents, they may be wasting this part of Pekka Rinne’s career.
18. New York Rangers: 6-7-0 East coast bias? Perhaps. The men in blue are getting better as the season rolls on as Rick Nash gets more comfortable with his teammates (Note: Rick Nash is out with a concussion, Timetable for his return is unknown). Back-to-back wins against the Sabres and the Hurricanes have fans in the Big Apple shying away from their cries of “Fire Vigneault.” My only question is, how good can Derek Stepan be?
17. Washington Capitals: 7-7-0 Nicklas Backstrom has been red hot the last three weeks and Braden Holtby is has experienced the one fight minimum for goalies in their careers. Alex Ovechkin is dealing with the dreaded upper body injury bug, but it will be interesting to see how the team responds to teams being physical with them from here on out.
16. Montreal Canadiens: 8-7-0 I really like this Canadiens team and even though they endured a tough week, their blue line play is exquisite. P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov had good weeks and it should only be a matter of time before the offense starts to do their part.
15. New York Islanders: 6-5-3 A 3-1 victory over the Boston Bruins this weekend shows how good this young Islanders squad can be. They can score, they can control the puck, and they can even hit a little bit. Their biggest issues are keeping bigger players out of the crease. Their division has been weak, so I can see them snagging key wins against teams like the Capitals and the Hurricanes this week. Also, their acquisition of Thomas Vanek for Matt Moulson is a win-now move that Islander fans should become more accustomed to in the coming years.
14. Minnesota Wild: 7-4-3 I am not sure what to make of this Wild team. From an advanced statistics viewpoint, they would be the baseball equivalent of a “lucky” team. They don’t score much, but they don’t give up many goals, but they do score on the power play, but they do give up power play goals (that was a mouthful). Perhaps it helps that Josh Harding has been the best goalie in the league the past two weeks, and maybe even all season.
13. Vancouver Canucks: 10-5-1 The Sedin twins inked matching contract extensions this week to remind Canucks fans that being a consistent fringe contender isn’t that bad of a thing. Maybe bringing in a fiery coach like John Tortorella will help push this always talented roster to another level? Their 4-0 victory over the impressive Toronto Maple Leafs this past week shows just how good they can be.
12. Boston Bruins: 8-5-0 They didn’t need to play well this week because the city of Boston was a bit distracted. With losses in three of their last four, the Bruins are going to need to wake up a bit to not slip in the conference standings. Five straight games at home will help, and Tukka Rask continues to make his contract extension look like the right move by the Bruin front office.
11. Los Angeles Kings: 9-6-0 A rough week for the Kings has them in a similar position to the Boston Bruins. We know they have the talent, and more importantly, all-world goaltending (See. Jonathan Quick). But the entire team with perhaps the exception of Anze Kopitar (Four points in his last two games) has struggled and Quick’s poor week is hopefully just a blip on the radar screen.
10. Phoenix Coyotes: 10-3-2 A win over the Sharks starts a tough, but important stretch for the Coyotes this week. They can show that they are contender material with wins or good efforts against the Canucks and the Ducks this week. Also, since his early hat-trick, can Radim Vrbata find the net again. He only has two goals since his career day and if he gets going, this team is scarier than they already are on offense.