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  • Reloaded with a healthy Auston Matthews and a newly signed William Nylander, the already-surging Maple Leafs look as lethal as ever.
By Jeremy Fuchs
December 04, 2018

It's a league of streaking teams. Four have won eight of their last 10 games. Two have won seven; six have won six. To be fair, there are teams trending in the other direction, with Vancouver bringing up the rear by going 1–8–1.

The point, though, is that a bad week can kill. The top teams in the league are proving week-after-week just how good they are. And to stay competitive, you need to keep up. We've seen how a good week can propel you (Buffalo). We've seen a how bad week can end you (Islanders, Sharks). Teams are better than ever in today's NHL. Keep up or you can forget about it.

31. St. Louis Blues | Record: 9–13–3 | Previous Ranking: 30

It's a real struggle defensively.

30. Los Angeles Kings | Record: 10–16–1 | Previous Ranking: 31

A few decent wins over poor competition, but we haven't seen anything that suggests the corner has been turned and Ilya Kovalchuk’s ankle issues probably won’t help.

29. Philadelphia Flyers | Record: 11–12–2 | Previous Ranking: 25

Ron Hextall never got a reliable goalie. It has to be the main reason he was fired, and we’ll see how quickly new GM Chuck Fletcher can try to tidy things up for the Flyers.

28. Florida Panthers | Record: 10–10–5 | Previous Ranking: 29

Nice to see Jonathan Huberdeau pick up his game with 11 points in his last five games. But that's been one of the few positives.

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27. New Jersey Devils | Record: 9–12–5 | Previous Ranking: 26

How hot should the seat be for John Hynes? Both Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid have been troublesome in net, but six straight losses

26. Arizona Coyotes | Record: 12–11–2 | Previous Ranking: 27

Arizona put together a nice win at Minnesota, but any goodwill from the beginning of the year has yet to be followed up on.

25. Chicago Blackhawks | Record: 9–14–5 | Previous Ranking: 23

It's going to be a long year for the Blackhawks. The complete lack of defensive structure is a bit surprising, losing four straight and six of their last seven.

24. Ottawa Senators | Record: 12–12–3 | Previous Ranking: 28

The problem is not offense—it's very clearly defense. A new infusion of goaltending talent is needed, but it must have felt good to spoil Erik Karlsson’s return to Ottawa.

23. Edmonton Oilers | Record: 13–12–2 | Previous Ranking: 24

It's still the early days in the Ken Hitchock Era, but it's safe to say the results are mixed, at best.

22. Vancouver Canucks | Record: 11–15–3 | Previous Ranking: 19

Things have gone off the rails a bit, with a downward spiral that including 11 straight losses. The hot start wasn't a mirage, though. It was foreshadowing for the future of this program.

21. Detroit Red Wings | Record: 12–12–3 | Previous Ranking: 22

Detroit fans should be pleasantly surprised with how the season has gone, even if it means another year out of the playoffs.

20. Pittsburgh Penguins | Record: 10–10–5 | Previous Ranking: 21

This smells of one of those patented mid-season coaching changes and a big trade and then a big run in the latter half of the season. Sound like a familiar Pittsburgh tale?

19. New York Islanders | Record: 13–9–3 | Previous Ranking: 13

The defense, which was good to start the year, has started to come apart, and it's worth wondering if that's the way the rest of the year will go.

18. Vegas Golden Knights | Record: 14–13–1 | Previous Ranking: 20

The Golden Knights are slowly picking up the pace. Circle this on the calendar: Tuesday, Dec. 4 against Washington. The Capitals are returning to Vegas for the first time since hoisting the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.

17. Carolina Hurricanes | Record: 12–10–2 | Previous Ranking: 18

Waiving Scott Darling was the right move. The vote here is to go with Curtis McElhinney, who is responsible for seven of Carolina’s 12 wins.

16. Montreal Canadiens | Record: 12–10–2 | Previous Ranking: 15

We always knew the Canadiens would come back to Earth and that is what it looks like with five losses in their last six games.

15. New York Rangers | Record: 13–12–2 | Previous Ranking: 16

The Rangers struggled against some of the better teams, but it's hard to be too picky with a team that's seriously outperformed expectations.

14. Dallas Stars | Record: 15–10–3 | Previous Ranking: 14

Goaltender Anton Khudobin has been slightly better of late, which helps as the offense has been going in fits and starts. A 4–1 win over a Connor McDavid-less Oilers on Monday was a good redemption win from last week.

13. Anaheim Ducks | Record: 14–10–5 | Previous Ranking: 17

The Ducks really nice win in Tampa Bay, with Ryan Miller in net. Can they be a goaltending-driven team that ekes by opponents? Or can they show the type of offense they showed against Washington on Sunday?

12. Winnipeg Jets | Record: 16–8–2 | Previous Ranking: 9

So Patrik Laine is back with 21 goals so far this season. Good! But the rest of the team still may be finding its way.

11. San Jose Sharks | Record: 13–10–5 | Previous Ranking: 11

The Sharks ended their road trip from hell with win in Montreal after four straight losses. It remains surprising how Erik Karlsson hasn't been otherworldly good. But he's still been pretty good!

10. Boston Bruins | Record: 14–8–4 | Previous Ranking: 8

Injuries continue to kill the Bruins, with Kevin Miller as the latest. Now that Ryan Donato is back, can he capture his Olympic glory?

9. Calgary Flames | Record: 16–9–2 | Previous Ranking: 12

David Rittich is the guy in net, it appears. Now that he has the job, is he ready to carry the team—which has won six of its last eight—to the playoffs?

8. Columbus Blue Jackets | Record: 15–9–2 | Previous Ranking: 10

Pierre-Luc Dubois has quietly become a really productive player, with six points in his last three games. That’s bordering on star level, while the Blue Jackets are hanging with a Capitals–led Metropolitan Division.

7. Minnesota Wild | Record: 14–10–2 | Previous Ranking: 5

Matt Dumba has 10 goals and plays the second-most minutes on the team. Do we have a secret star alert?

6. Washington Capitals | Record: 15–8–3 | Previous Ranking: 7

The Capitals are back in the contender conversation as well. As good as the offense has been in this stretch, it's been Braden Holtby's steadiness that's helped (Anaheim game notwithstanding).

5. Colorado Avalanche | Record: 16–6–5 | Previous Ranking: 6

Colorado is quietly back in the conversation as one of the best teams. The Avalanche have been a bit topsy-turvy, but are scoring at just a ridiculous rate with 99 goals this season (second in the league).

4. Buffalo Sabres | Record: 17–8–3 | Previous Ranking: 2

The Sabres looked the part of contender against both Tampa Bay and Nashville, even if those games resulted in losses. That's half the battle.

3. Tampa Bay Lightning | Record: 20–7–1 | Previous Ranking: 1

Winning the Buffalo showdown was impressive, but it's hard to know the team's long-term future without Andrei Vasilevskiy.

2. Toronto Maple Leafs | Record: 19–8–0 | Previous Ranking: 4

The Maple Leafs are coming on strong of late and it doesn’t hurt to have Auston Matthews back, with William Nylander on the way. All signs point to Toronto taking off.

1. Nashville Predators | Record: 19–8–1 | Previous Ranking: 3

Pekka Rinne has been ridiculously good. He's the Vezina front-runner and it doesn't hurt for the Predators to have a good backup in Juuse Saros. Even with a string of injuries plaguing the lineup, Nashville still sits atop the Western Conference.

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