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  • The NHL's top tier of teams just got a little bigger, with a pair of Western Conference teams continuing to roll their way up the standings.
By Jeremy Fuchs
December 11, 2017

We talked last week about league’s tiers, with the top consisting of Tampa Bay, St. Louis and Toronto. Well, you can add Los Angeles and Nashville to that list. They are the two hottest teams in the league, by far, with the Kings winning eight straight and the Predators 7-1-2 in their last 10.

With Winnipeg struggling a bit and the offensive problems in Columbus, there's starting to be a good bit of separation between the top two tiers. Call it the haves and the almost-haves.

Here's how we see teams stacking up in the NHL, from 31-1 (stats and records through Monday's games):

31. Buffalo Sabres
Last week: 30 (-1)
Record: 7-17-6

Is it a good win if it's against Colorado? For the Sabres, it will have to be.

30. Arizona Coyotes
Last week: 31 (+1)
Record: 7-21-5

We have movement! For the first time all year, the ‘Yotes are out of the bottom spot in the rankings—it has a lot more to do with Buffalo than anything else.

29. Ottawa Senators
Last week: 28 (-1)
Record: 9-12-7

Oy. We're now at 12 losses in their last 12 tries. What a fall for last season’s Eastern Conference finalists.

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28. Edmonton Oilers
Last week: 27 (-1)
Record: 12-16-2

A pretty good trip to the East, even if they ended up falling to an Auston Matthews-less Toronto team. With Cam Talbot on injured reserve, maybe Laurent Brossoit taking over in net could provide a spark?

27. Florida Panthers
Last week: 29 (+2)
Record: 12-14-4

Seems like a lot of bad teams have good wins against Winnipeg, and Florida is one of them. But that might say more about Winnipeg than Florida.

26. Carolina Hurricanes
Last week: 25 (-1)
Record: 11-11-7

Not a great West Coast trip, and didn't follow up a win against Nashville with anything substantial.

25. Detroit Red Wings
Last week: 24 (-1)
Record: 11-13-6

Get walloped at Montreal, beat Winnipeg 5-1 and then lose 6-1 to St. Louis. Not sure anyone can really figure this team out.

24. Colorado Avalanche
Last week: 22 (-2)
Record: 14-13-2

Now we're seeing the post-Duchene wheels coming up. The Avs aren’t scoring and certainly not defending. A 7-3 win over Florida is nice, but not exactly the type to inspire real confidence.

23. Chicago Blackhawks
Last week: 17 (-6)
Record: 14-11-5

If you had the power play holding this team back, well, you were probably the only one. Pretty good offense, pretty good defense, can't convert on the man-advantage. Just 1 for 6 combined against Buffalo and Arizona.

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22. Philadelphia Flyers
Last week: 26 (+4)
Record: 11-11-7

A really nice West Coast trip for a team that looked like one of the worst in hockey. Three good games from Brian Elliott after not playing up to par pretty much the whole year.

21. Minnesota Wild
Last week: 19(-2)
Record: 15-11-3

They follow up two good wins to Vegas and St. Louis with a tough loss against the Kings. The key has been the inconsistency of Devan Dubnyk: Good one game, not so much the next.

20. Anaheim Ducks
Last week: 23 (+3)
Record: 13-11-7

Nice to see Adam Henrique off to a hot start with points in his first five games wearing an Anaheim jersey. With Ryan Getzlaf returning to the lineup and Ryan Kesler not far behind, the Ducks will have enviable center depth.

19. Montreal Canadiens
Last week: 20 (+1)
Record: 13-14-4

They cooled off a bit this week, but it's been impressive to see the turnaround once Carey Price returned from a lower-body injury. They went from uncompetitive to not half-bad in the span of a week and a half—although that loss to Edmonton sure didn't look too great.

18. Boston Bruins
Last week: 21 (+3)
Record: 14-9-4

So the Anton Khudobin No. 1 Goalie train derailed a bit when he was pulled against Nashville. For all the ‘Trade Tuukka’ talk, the reality is this: when you have two goaltenders, you more often than not have none.

17. Vancouver Canucks
Last week: 18 (+1)
Record: 14-13-4

Right now, this team is Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat and Jacob Markstrom. And that’s not even it right now, with Horvat shelved.

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16. Calgary Flames
Last week: 13 (-3)
Record: 16-12-2

Mike Smith has been middling in net this season. He isn't holding them back, but he's not propelling them forward, either.

15. New York Rangers
Last week: 16 (+1)
Record: 16-11-3

The Rangers have somewhat adjusted to Mika Zibanejad’s absence, and looked good in a win at Pittsburgh with Henrik Lundqvist sidelined by illness. There are a lot of tough games coming up.

14. Dallas Stars
Last week: 12 (-2)
Record: 17-13-1

Three tough losses to Nashville, St. Louis and Vegas, but that's instructive. Dallas is in the upper tier of the West, but is not an elite team.

13. San Jose Sharks
Last week: 15 (+2)
Record: 16-10-3

Last week it was time to talk about Brent Burns’s struggles, now it's time to talk about Joe Pavelski’s. A career 12% shooter, he’s currently scoring on just 7.5 % of his shots, close to his career low of 7.1% in 2010-11.

12. Pittsburgh Penguins
Last week: 10 (-2)
Record: 16-13-3

The Penguins do have a knack for rookie goalies upstaging veterans. Tristan Jarry has been good enough in Matt Murray’s absence—ride him until he isn't.

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11. Washington Capitals
Last week: 14 (+3)
Record: 18-12-1

This is a team starting to heat up with eight wins in their last 11 games. The Caps have done it with defense: before the streak, they gave up six goals in back-to-back games to the Preds and Calgary. They've only given up four once since.

10. New York Islanders
Last week: 9 (+1)
Record: 17-10-3

The Islanders must look at the team across the Hudson River to New Jersey and think, wow, we should've made that Sami Vatanen deal. And the Islanders have more offense to spare than the Devils.

9. Vegas Golden Knights
Last week: 11 (+2)
Record: 19-9-1

The best news is that Marc-Andre Fleury is on his way back. With a top-flight offense, Fleury will bring stability in net and will make the Knights a whole lot better.

8. New Jersey Devils
Last week: 8 (—)
Record: 16-9-4

Sami Vatanen slid right in as a first-pair defender. Not so sure they'll miss Adam Henrique too much. A really smart trade.

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7. Columbus Blue Jackets
Last week: 5 (-2)
Record: 19-10-1

The prediction on Columbus is this: Sergei Bobrovsky might steal them a series. But there's simply not enough scoring, not even close. See Cam Atkinson, who was a healthy scratch on Sunday.

6. Winnipeg Jets
Last week: 7 (+1)
Record: 18-8-5

Two really bad losses to Detroit and Florida, felled by a poor power play. They are now two for their last 14 on the man advantage. Not too worried yet—but the situation bears monitoring.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs
Last week: 3 (-2)
Record: 20-10-1

Came back from the West Coast with a good shootout win over Calgary. Frederik Andersen has been playing better of late, which is a very encouraging sign.

4. Nashville Predators
Last week: 4 (—)
Record: 18-7-4

Still the hottest team in hockey even with the shootout loss to Vegas, and what a stroke of genius by David Poile on Kyle Turris. Getting the center instead of Matt Duchene might have been a little dispiriting at first, but he's been the far better player.

3. St. Louis Blues
Last week: 2 (-1)
Record: 21-8-2

The Blues rebounded a bit after a three-game swoon. Now they must deal with the Jaden Schwartz injury—out at least six weeks with an ankle problem.

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2. Los Angeles Kings
Last week: 6 (+4)
Record: 20-8-3

It was a really good week after a down one. Winning eight in a row will do that, especially with a really nice win over St. Louis with backup goalie Darcy Kuemper in net.

1. Tampa Bay Lightning
Last week: 1 (—)
Record: 21-6-2

It's getting harder and harder to find places to knock the Lightning. They're a pretty complete team.

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