Tuesday April 5th, 2016

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The last time the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup, they were energized by a mid-season coaching change.

Could it be happening again?

The Pens are a different team under Mike Sullivan than they were with Mike Johnston at the helm. They're skating fast and having fun. That's not the same as playing run 'n' gun, but much like the Dallas Stars they're not denying that their strengths lie in the offensive zone. And while holding on to the puck at that end of the ice, they've built up the second-best goal differential in the league.

They might not be the best team in hockey, but they're the best team in hockey right now. And with the start of the playoffs just a week away, that's a pretty good thing to be.

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Biggest jump: Vancouver Canucks (30 to 25)

Biggest drop: Nashville Predators (4 to 11)

HOW THEY STACK UP AFTER WEEK 26
 
  • 1
    1Pittsburgh Penguins
     
    last week: 3
    record: 46-25-8
    No one will care what Phil Kessel did (or didn't do) between October and February if he plays like this for the next 10 weeks. The much-maligned winger has gone on a tear at the best possible moment, scoring five goals and 11 points in his past six games to help power Pittsburgh to a torrid, timely 12-1 stretch. Last week: 4-0-0

  • 2
    2Dallas Stars
     
    last week: 5
    record: 48-23-9
    The Stars took care of business at home and then split in California, leaving them in complete control of their destiny with two games remaining in their regular season. Win 'em both and the team that missed the playoffs last year will finish this campaign as the top seed in the West. Last week: 3-1-0

  • 3
    3St. Louis Blues
     
    last week: 2
    record: 48-23-9
    Another week, another pair of Blues headed to IR. Both forward David Backes and netminder Jake Allen are out for the regular season, with no word yet on when they might return. At this point it wouldn't be surprising to see the hockey gods throwing banana peels on the ice to trip up this hard-luck team. Last week: 2-1-0

  • 4
    4Washington Capitals
     
    last week: 1
    record: 55-17-6
    No one's panicking over Washington stumbling into the playoffs with a 6-4-2 mark, especially since they clinched the Presidents' Trophy along the way. But there is a bit of a hitch in their game of late. They have scored just four even-strength goals in their past four games, and they allowed four third-period goals against in losses to Philly and Arizona. Wouldn't hurt to tighten up this week. Last week: 1-1-1

  • 5
    5Florida Panthers
     
    last week: 9
    record: 45-25-9
    No matter what happens the rest of the way, this will go down as one of the greatest seasons in franchise history. Monday's win over Toronto earned the Panthers their 99th point, topping their previous record of 98 set in 1999-2000. Now to top it off with a Cinderella playoff run like the one they made in 1996 ... Last week: 3-1-0

  • 6
    6Anaheim Ducks
     
    last week: 6
    record: 44-24-10
    The Ducks are getting hammered by injuries–Frederik Andersen (concussion), Rickard Rakell (appendectomy), Brandon Pirri (upper body) and David Perron (shoulder) joined an already long list–but they managed to slip ahead of the Kings into the top spot in the Pacific. Thursday's game in L.A. could decide which team avoids a tough first-round matchup with the Sharks. Last week: 2-1-0

  • 7
    7San Jose Sharks
     
    last week: 7
    record: 44-29-6
    What a treat it's been watching Joe Thornton play this season. The 36-year-old has carried the Sharks in MVP-caliber fashion, scoring 52 points since Jan. 1, a total second only to Sidney Crosby's 55. He has six points in his past four games to help keep alive San Jose's dreams of finishing second in the division. Last week: 2-1-0

  • 8
    8Los Angeles Kings
     
    last week: 8
    record: 46-28-5
    They haven't blown their chances of capturing the Pacific quite yet, but with just two wins in their past eight games the Kings aren't exactly mounting a hard charge. Their loss in Vancouver on Monday night was their fifth straight on the road, leaving them in peril of losing home ice in the first round. Last week: 1-2-0

  • 9
    9Chicago Blackhawks
     
    last week: 11
    record: 46-26-7
    Coach Q earns his 800th win. Patrick Kane reaches the 100-point milestone. But man, when the Hawks have allowed four goals-against in three consecutive games, the best news of the week is that Corey Crawford is likely to return to the net in time for the playoffs. Last week: 2-1-0

  • 10
    10Philadelphia Flyers
     
    last week: 12
    record: 39-26-13
    As bad as that 6–2 loss to the Penguins on Sunday may have looked, it was just the fourth regulation defeat that Philly has suffered in its past 19 games. Steve Mason has been a beast, starting 15 of their past 16. Have to believe he'll be between the pipes for the final three, although newly signed Ray Emery could step up in a pinch. Last week: 2-1-0

  • 11
    11Nashville Predators
     
    last week: 4
    record: 39-26-14
    Not the best time for the wheels to come flying off in Nashville. Four consecutive losses ended any hope the Preds had of catching Chicago for third place in the Central and left them wondering what they could do to to patch a defense that leaked 17 goals in the process. Last week: 0-2-1

  • 12
    12Detroit Red Wings
     
    last week: 15
    record: 40-28-11
    Probably the last thing Detroit needed right now was an unnecessary distraction. But that's exactly what the Wings got with the report that Pavel Datsyuk is considering returning to Russia at the end of this season. He hasn't exactly denied it when confronted with the rumor, so you might want to watch the Wings every chance you get from here on out. This team, and the game, could be losing one of the all-time greats. Last week: 2-1-0

  • 13
    13Tampa Bay Lightning
     
    last week: 10
    record: 45-29-5
    Just when it seemed like things couldn't get worse for the Bolts, eh? Losing sniper Steven Stamkos (blood clot) not long after top pair defender Anton Stralman (fractured leg) leaves the Lightning with little hope of making any noise in the postseason. Last week: 1-2-0

  • 14
    14New York Rangers
     
    last week: 14
    record: 44-26-9
    Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan each tallied their 20th goals of the season in Monday's playoff-clinching 4–2 win over the Blue Jackets, giving the Rangers five players with 20-or-more goals in the same season for the first time since 2010-11. That ability to spread the offense could be a difference maker for them once the postseason starts. Last week: 1-2-0

  • 15
    15New York Islanders
     
    last week: 17
    record: 43-26-9
    They're beating the weak (Carolina, Columbus) and the crippled (Tampa Bay) but at this point of the season, the battered Isles will take the points where they can get them. Defenseman Travis Hamonic is out for the rest of the regular season and blueliner Calvin de Haan's status is questionable as of this writing. Too bad the Isles won't have home ice for the playoffs. After their 5-2 win over the Bolts on Monday, New York is on a 10-2-1 roll at Barclays. Last week: 3-1-0

  • 16
    16Minnesota Wild
     
    last week: 13
    record: 38-31-11
    The way things are going, the Wild will have to find their way into the playoffs through the back door. Coach John Torchetti blamed the team's three consecutive losses on a lack of battle, especially in the offensive zone. There's still time to correct that, but not much. Last week: 1-3-0

  • 17
    17Buffalo Sabres
     
    last week: 21
    record: 33-35-11
    Gotta hand it to the Sabres—they're going down swinging. They've picked up 14 of the last 20 points available to them (6-2-2) and have gone 18-13-7 in the second half, giving them reason to believe that the playoffs might be within their reach next season. Last week: 2-0-1

  • 18
    18Carolina Hurricanes
     
    last week: 18
    record: 34-29-16
    Jaccob Slavin won't appear on many Calder Trophy ballots, but he's authored one of the best seasons of any rookie. The 21-year-old fourth-rounder out of Colorado College has proven himself to be a reliable minute-muncher while the team has dealt with a series of injuries. If the 'Canes learned nothing else this season, at least they know the future of their blueline is in good hands. Last week: 1-1-1

  • 19
    19Ottawa Senators
     
    last week: 22
    record: 36-34-9
    A year ago this time, Andrew "Hamburglar" Hammond was putting a bow on a storybook season that saw him go 20-1-2 with a 1.79 GAA and .941 save percentage. The encore, unfortunately, wasn't quite as thrilling. Hammond is an unsavory 6-10-1, with an undercooked 2.66 GAA and .913 save percentage this season, making him another in a long line of Senators who under-delivered on expectations. Last week: 2-1-0

  • 20
    20Boston Bruins
     
    last week: 16
    record: 41-30-8
    After winning just three of their past 10 games, the Bruins are exactly where they deserve to be: out of the playoffs. They might yet squeak in with each of the season's final three games being played in the friendly confines of the Garden, but this shaky defense just screams first-round exit. They'd be better off as a long shot in the draft lottery. Last week: 1-2-0

  • 21
    21New Jersey Devils
     
    last week: 20
    record: 37-34-8
    The Devils might have a familiar face in the lineup when they kick off a three-game homestand to conclude the season. Patrik Elias is back practicing with the team after knee surgery and could make his return as soon as Tuesday. The franchise's all-time leading scorer hopes to play next season as well, but he knows that at his age (he'll be 40 on April 13) there are no guarantees. Might be worth a trip to the Rock to see him in person one more time, just in case. Last week: 1-2-0

  • 22
    arizona Coyotes
     
    last week: 23
    record: 35-37-7
    Nice to see Mike Smith playing so well after his return from IR. He's allowed two goals or less in six of the seven games he's played, while posting a ridiculous .962 save percentage. The 34-year-old capped it all off with a 31-save shutout of the Capitals in Arizona's home finale on Saturday. Last week: 1-2-0

  • 23
    23Colorado Avalanche
     
    last week: 19
    record: 39-36-4
    Yeah, that was a brutal schedule—two games against the Blues and one against the Capitals—but at this point in the season the Avs needed points in the bank, not excuses. Five straight losses have all but closed their window on the playoffs, and opened one on second guessing the way this team is built and coached. Last week: 0-3-0

  • 24
    24Montreal Canadiens
     
    last week: 24
    record: 36-37-6
    Just when the Habs show some signs of fight in their game, they blow a 3–0 lead and lose 4–3 to Florida on Saturday. Maybe the recall of All-Star MVP John Scott this week will light a fire under 'em. Last week: 2-1-0

  • 25
    25Vancouver Canucks
     
    last week: 30
    record: 30-36-13
    All of a sudden the Canucks are world-beaters, knocking off the Sharks, Ducks and Kings in succession to earn their first three-game winning streak of the season ... and possibly killing their chances to win the top draft pick in the process. Last week: 3-1-0

  • 26
    26Calgary Flames
     
    last week: 25
    RECORD: 33-40-6
    There are no guarantees that any of this season's goalies will be back for 2016-17, not when the Flames are saddled with the league's worst goals-against average. But Joni Ortio is making a decent case for himself down the stretch, allowing just seven goals in his past four starts. The 24-year-old earned his first shutout of the season in Saturday's 5–0 win over Edmonton. Last week: 1-3-0

  • 27
    27Toronto Maple Leafs
     
    last week: 27
    record: 28-40-11
    Thanks to coach Mike Babcock, there's no questioning the effort this bunch is making, even as the losses pile up like firewood. There's just not enough NHL talent here to compete. Last week: 1-3-0

  • 28
    28Winnipeg Jets
     
    last week: 28
    record: 32-39-8
    When Brandon Tanev hits the ice on Tuesday night, he'll be the 11th player to make his NHL debut this season for the Jets. That pretty much sums up what kind of season it has been for a team that desperately needs to re-focus in the off-season. Last week: 1-2-0

  • 29
    29Columbus Blue Jackets
     
    last week: 29
    record: 31-40-8
    Never a dull moment when John Tortorella's in charge, eh? With the Jackets locked in a 3-8 skid, Torts sent a message to his team on Monday night by scratching Scott Hartnell and benching Sergei Bobrovsky, who was one win shy of setting the franchise mark. It didn't help, as the Jackets lost 4–2 to the Rangers, but there's something to be said for holding the vets accountable. Last week: 1-2-0

  • 30
    30Edmonton Oilers
     
    last week: 26
    record: 30-43-7
    Even after allowing five goals to the Flames on Saturday, the Oilers are unlikely to finish 30th in goals-against for the third consecutive season. Edmonton enters the week tied with Ottawa in 27th at 2.96. Baby steps, I guess. Last week: 0-1-0

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