I'll admit it. I'm really digging this season of American Horror Story, which is not something I'd ordinarily cop to, but it does help me make a point. If you're not watching, it's a wheels-off show, one where narrative coherence takes a back seat to shock value, where characters are routinely killed off, but always seem to find a way to come back to wreak vengeance. It doesn't always make sense, but it's a blast to sit back and see what happens next.
I mention this because the NHL's narrative of late features plenty of shocking twists and unexpected turns of its own.
Take the Stars. Ten games into January, they were mired in a sloppy 1-8-1 slump that appeared to smother whatever playoff hopes they might have held. A week later, they look like one of the most dangerous teams in hockey, playing an aggressive, possession-driven game that's helped them win three of four and crawl out from the grave and back into the Western Conference wild-card race. They're still a ways out -- six points and two teams separate them from the final postseason spot -- but their ferocious three-zone puck pursuit sets them up as a club that's more than just in the hunt. Dallas is a legitimate threat down the stretch.
While the Stars are looking ahead, they also have to keep one eye behind them. The Jets couldn't fog a mirror during their final weeks under coach Claude Noel, but Paul Maurice has them playing focused, smart and hungry hockey. They're like a pack of wolves, confident that if one of them doesn't track down their prey, another will. Winnipeg is still a long shot to make the dance, but with a 7-1 mark against conference rivals since Dec. 27, the Jets aren't just earning points -- they're feasting on the teams they have to beat to make a move.
Ryan Johansen has matured into a difference maker for Columbus, playing big minutes and dominating in the face-off circle, while Ryan Murray and James Wisniewski are tearing it up on the back end, each chipping in nine assists in 11 January games. Sergei Bobrovsky has seven wins to go along with his 2.25 GAA and .926 save percentage for the month. The Blue Jackets are not just improving. They're finally good.
But while Columbus was expected to contend for a playoff spot, the success of the Hurricanes is a shocker that Ryan Murphy (the American Horror Story writer, not the Carolina defenseman) could have scripted. Fighting through a stretch that saw two games postponed by bad weather, the Hurricanes are playing their best hockey of the season. They've won four straight, including a 3-2 win over the Blue Jackets on Monday, to move into third spot in the Metropolitan Division. For a team that won just four of its first 14 games, and which looked like it would challenge the Sabres to be the first club officially eliminated, Carolina's story is a reminder that in the NHL, as in horror, no one is really dead until the end credits roll.
Here's how the rest of the league stacks up after Week 17:
Notable rise: Winnipeg Jets (26 to 18), Dallas Stars (27 to 19)
Notable fall: Montreal Canadiens (13 to 23)
NHL Power Rankings