- The Predators and Lightning continue to separate themselves from the pack, while the rest of the contenders are searching for some stretch-run consistency.
The two best teams in hockey are the two hottest teams: Nashville is 9-0-1 in its last 10; Tampa Bay is 7-2-1.
The contenders behind the Predators and Lightning, however, are a mixed bag. Boston is 7-2-1, but Vegas has experienced a little turbulence in recent weeks, going 5-5-0 in the same span. Toronto is looking good at 6-2-2, while Pittsburgh has gone 5-4-1.
Of course, playoff runs are unpredictable—Nashville was an eighth seed heading into a first-round matchup with the Blackhawks last year. And who had the Senators taking the Penguins to Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals? Some teams just need to eke their way in so they can start making noise.
There's always a hot goalie, but then again, there's destiny. Right now, destiny seems to have the leading hand.
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)
Jack Eichel’s return has provided some extra oomph, but there’s still not enough on this team to do much of anything.
30. Arizona Coyotes
Last week: 31 (+1)
They're in the midst of their best stretch of the season. Darcy Kuemper has actually been pretty good since coming over from L.A.
29. Vancouver Canucks
Last week: 28 (-1)
Man, the Canucks lose Brock Boeser and there's absolutely no one left to score.
28. Ottawa Senators
Last week: 29 (+1)
Not a bad week for the Sens, with wins over the Panthers, Bolts and Stars. They were competitive in a loss to the Blue Jackets. This is a team that has shown some jump since the trade deadline.
27. Detroit Red Wings
Last week: 26 (-1)
The Wings can't seem to get anything going—they completely fell off after the deadline.
26. Montreal Canadiens
Last week: 27 (+1)
It’s been another bad month in a bad season. There aren’t too many signs of hope for the Habs right now, either.
25. Edmonton Oilers
Last week: 25 (-)
No. 2 goalie Al Montoya played pretty well against Tampa Bay. He's about the only guy who did.
24. Chicago Blackhawks
Last week: 22 (-2)
They beat Boston and then looked horrible against Winnipeg. It’s a big reminder: there's still talent on this team. It just can't seem to come together.
23. New York Islanders
Last week: 23 (-)
So, does this bad stretch mean that John Tavares is less likely to re-sign?
22. New York Rangers
Last week: 24 (+2)
The Blueshirts are playing surprisingly well given the sell-off. They really missed Chris Kreider up front and Alexandar Georgiev has shown plenty of promise in net as Henrik Lundqvist gets some well-deserved rest.
21. Carolina Hurricanes
Last week: 21 (-)
Things are falling off the rails a bit and now there must be a least a little regret about the non-sale at the deadline. The rumors surrounding the GM search should make for an interesting offseason.
20. St. Louis Blues
Last week: 20 (-1)
The Blues had two nice wins against L.A. and Anaheim before faltering against Colorado and needing overtime to beat the Rangers and Blackhawks. Things could get even tougher if Vladimir Tarasenko’s injury is anything worse than day-to-day.
19. Calgary Flames
Last week: 17 (-2)
That's a pretty ugly weekend against San Jose and Vegas. So much for Mike Smith’s return stabilizing things. The Flames are still in the hunt for a wild card spot, but there’s very little room for error—especially after falling to the Coyotes on Monday.
18. Philadelphia Flyers
Last week: 14 (-4)
So the Petr Mrazek experiment isn't working out quite as the Flyers had hoped. It was worth a shot, right?
17. Florida Panthers
Last week: 18 (+1)
It’s probably a little too late for the Panthers to sneak into the playoffs. Still, there’s no discounting a big win over the Bruins. Is next season finally the season?
16. New Jersey Devils
Last week: 16 (-)
The Devils followed up a good win in Nashville with a nice win over Vegas. They’re in the midst of a tough six-game road trip, but have gone 3-1 so far. Points are at a premium in a compacted Metro.
15. Columbus Blue Jackets
Last week: 19 (+4)
They’re sneaky-hot right now, racking up eight straight wins with impressive victories over Vegas, Colorado and Boston. And there’s some offense, too—the Jackets are averaging over four goals a game on their current streak.
14. Dallas Stars
Last week: 12 (-2)
They lost four straight on a long road trip, and then found out goalie Ben Bishop is out at least two weeks in a loss to Winnipeg. Things aren’t about to get any easier for Tyler Seguin & Co.
13. Anaheim Ducks
Last week: 11 (-2)
A win against Vancouver was a helpful reset after a tough three game stretch against Nashville, Dallas and St. Louis. The Ducks have some tough games coming up at Calgary and Winnipeg.
12. Los Angeles Kings
Last week: 13 (+1)
They alternated wins and losses through the first half of March before getting shut out at home against New Jersey. Anze Kopitar is a dark horse Hart Trophy candidate in a deep, deep pool.
11. Colorado Avalanche
Last week: 15 (+4)
The Avs have been a streaky team in recent weks: Three wins followed by three losses followed by three wins. They dropped a tough on to the Predators, but made up for it with a beatdown on the Red Wings. Nathan MacKinnon’s MVP-caliber season gets better by the game.
10. San Jose Sharks
Last week: 9 (-1)
They’re 6-2-0 so far in March, with the losses coming at the hands of the Blue Jackets and Capitals. The Sharks have taken care of business against teams they should have. With the Ducks creeping up behind them in the standings, the rest of the month will be about defending their spot in the Pacific.
9. Minnesota Wild
Last week: 8 (-1)
The Wild were blown out against Colorado and then responded nicely with a 4-2 win in Vegas—with backup Alex Stalock in net. He’ll be an important part of keeping starter Devan Dubnyk fresh for the postseason.
8. Washington Capitals
Last week: 10 (+2)
Ride the Philipp Grubauer train. Why not? He's played well while spelling Braden Holtby and the team is responding in front of him. Every point matter right now in a too-close-to-call Metro division.
7. Pittsburgh Penguins
Last week: 7 (-)
This is where we expected Pittsburgh to be all season long. Which game do you put more stock in: a 5-2 loss to Toronto or the 3-1 victory over Dallas?
6. Toronto Maple Leafs
Last week: 6 (-)
Hopefully Frederik Andersen isn't out for long. Without him in net, a long playoff run is impossible for the Leafs. They’re playing solid at home, where they have 12 straight wins, but look destined to open the postseason on the road.
5. Winnipeg Jets
Last week: 5 (-)
They broke out in a big way with a 6-2 win over Chicago after losing three straight. Winnipeg has to be thrilled with how well deadline acquisition Paul Stastny (3-7-10 in 9GP) is meshing.
4. Vegas Golden Knights
Last week: 4 (-)
March has been tough for the Knights, capped with a bad loss to New Jersey. Marc-Andre Fleury might benefit from some rest. A playoff spot is as good as locked up, anyway.
3. Boston Bruins
Last week: 3 (-)
They’re probably the top of the second tier of contenders, even if it wasn't the best week for the B's. At this point, they just need to hold on until everyone gets healthy—a great chance for Ryan Donato to get into the game.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning
Last week: 1 (-1)
Take out that weird loss to Ottawa and we might have a pure tie at the top of the standings. They’re one of the few teams with enough depth that could give the Predators a run.
1. Nashville Predators
Last week: 2 (+1)
A peerless March. The Preds have great goaltending—Pekka Rinne deserves some Vezina love—and excellent scoring. Who can stop them?