FILE - In this Nov. 2, 2019, file photo, Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby prepares to take a face-off during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Edmonton Oilers in Pittsburgh. The Penguins captain will be in the lineup on Tuesday night, Jan. 14, 2020, when Pittsburgh faces Minnesota. Crosby hasn't played since undergoing abdominal surgery on Nov. 14. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

1) St. Louis Blues

After a franchise history tying 9 home game winning-streak and battling for the lead in the presidents trophy race, the St. Louis Blues have finally reached the number 1 spot on these rankings, knocking off the Washington Capitals.  The Blues possess many important skills that lead to success but some of their most crucial assets include their ability to work along the boards on the forecheck and backcheck and their skill in the dirty places. This not only creates many opportunities for St. Louis but also wears the opposing team down throughout the game.  In addition, their defense helps create good scoring chances and odd man rushed for their forwards. Not to mention Jordan Binnington who has done a solid job in net. All around this squad is the best team in the NHL right now and is very tough to compete with.

2) Washington Capitals

No matter who you are, you cannot deny the consistency this year from the Washington Capitals.  Other teams may go up and down in the standings while on the other hand the Capitals just keep plugging away.  Their offense a dominant top 5, their defense a top ten crew, and as always a great power play and an improved penalty kill.  Moreover, to maintain this stability for years to come, Washington recently extended Nickolas Backstrom’s contract to include five more years.  He is an outstanding forward and will unquestionably be a significant help to the organization both now and in the future barring a major injury or a serious regression which is unlikely.  The Caps are looking for another cup run and are primed to go deep in the playoffs.

3) Pittsburgh Penguins

There are two major factors you have to look into when considering the recent success of the Penguins.  First off, the Pens have something better than almost, if not every opponent. Goaltending. Tristan Jarry has been the key to much of the Penguins recent achievements and their rising in the Metropolitan Division standings.  He has been nothing short of incredible in goal. Second, their offense has been on fire. This is particularly surprising because their star forward Sidney Crosby has been out for two months and just recently returned. This shows both tenacity and teamwork as they have proved they do not need their star because they are a full team, not just one or two players doing everything.  Pittsburgh will have a chance at their 4th cup in just over a decade.

4) Boston Bruins

The Bruins are typically a tremendous team and are usually very hard to beat.  Although, a recent skid of 1-5-4 has sent the Bruins Atlantic Division lead from impossible to catch, to reachable as the Tampa Bay Lightning are only 3 games back from Boston.  Fortunately for the Bruins, they have gotten much better in the past ten games as they went 6-1-3. This squad is still one of the best in the league and a formidable opponent. There is really no weak part of this Boston team, still they are beatable.

5) Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning are an excellent team making a comeback after a bad first half of the season.  The resurgent squad has an excellent power play and are 11 wins for their last 13 games. The only problem is, there is no way to tell how legitimate this team is until the playoffs.  Don’t be fooled, not all that glitters is gold. They could be the same Tampa Bay Lightning they were last year and lose in the first round or be the Stanley Cup contender they should be.  We simply won’t know until April. No matter which way it turns out, the Lightning’s play good or bad, will speak for itself come playoff time.

6) Dallas Stars

With arguably the best goaltending tandem in the league, it’s no wonder the Dallas Stars are 2nd in their division.  With goalies Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin collectively averaging a save percentage this season of .931% it has been nearly impossible for opposing teams to find the back of the net.  These goaltenders combine brilliantly with the Stars fantastic defense. Between both the defense and the goaltending Dallas is only allowing 2.33 goals against per game, which is the lowest in the league.  The only piece missing for the Dallas Stars is the offense. It’s in a poor place as it sits at 24th in the league, only scoring 2.65 goals per game. Defense wins championships though, as we saw last season, the reason the Stars lost in the second round was a result of the lack of offense.  How far they can go this time remains to be seen.

7) Carolina Hurricanes

With a top fifteen offense and a top ten defense, power play and penalty kill the Hurricanes have fought their way to 27 wins so far this season.  The team has playoff experience from last year that is sure to come in handy in April. As I have said before, this team is good all the way around.  As they keep on humming toward the playoffs it will be interesting to see if they trade for some big pieces or if they are content with what they have.

8) Arizona Coyotes

An ice hockey team in the desert can’t win huh?  The Coyotes have something to say about that as they have accumulated 26 wins and are currently in second place in the Pacific Division.  Of course this starts with Darcy Kuemper who is one of the candidates up for the Vezina Trophy. The stellar defensive squad is also helping Darcy out as they are only letting in an average of 2.55 goals against per game, third best in the league.  The offense has been an issue, although has improved with the arrival of winger Taylor Hall as he has scored 13 points in 14 games played with Arizona. This group still has a long way to go and a tight race in the division but for now, all is well with the Coyotes.

9) New York Islanders

The backend is what keeps this group competing at a high level.  Whoever you are, whatever offense you have, it is always a difficult task to score goals on the New York Islanders.  This is how they have managed to keep a top three spot in their division. It is quite concerning that they can’t get much of any offense going.  They did recently score 8 goals against the Red Wings. Even so, the problem for NYI is consistency on the offense. If they can’t find a way to get more points on the board are a regular basis it will be tough for the Islanders as they move into the playoffs.

10) Colorado Avalanche

With the Avs high powered offense leading the way and with a quality goaltending-defensive mix, Colorado is pushing toward the playoffs with some steam.  As they have proven over the past two years they are very competent and overachievers in the playoffs. Regardless of who they play during the playoffs they will always have a chance to win.  You have to give credit where it is due here, the Avs are looking good.

11) Calgary Flames

A 5 game winning streak has pushed the Calgary Flames to 1st place in the Pacific Division.  So why aren’t they higher on the list then? Well I will start with the fact that their offense is 27th place in the league.  Less than ideal for sure. Them leading the division looks to be very temporary and it has been hit or miss for the Flames. They will go on a losing streak and then a winning streak, back and forth and never really gaining any real ground that they keep.  All in all, the Flames have talent yes but they aren’t good enough or consistent enough to be any higher on this list.

12) Toronto Maple Leafs

With Austin Matthews leading the way, the Toronto Maple Leafs have one of the greatest offenses in the league and are coming up on a 4th chance to make it past the first round and end their long time curse.  On top of this, the Maple Leafs may not have to play the Boston Bruins this time around. Sounds like they are all set to go right? Wrong. One reason I say this is a result of the injuries the Maple Leafs have had, specifically on the defense.  On a positive note, most of the Leafs should be healthy for the playoffs. The worry has less to do with injuries and more to do with the insufficient defense even when it is healthy. As of now it is a bottom 5 group. Once their players come back from injury they may be able to get it back to bottom ten but that is still nowhere near good enough for playoff hockey.  In short, Toronto is a good team, but they have massive holes in their game.

13) Philadelphia Flyers 

There is something to be said for overachieving as it is a great benefit for a team to possess. If there were ever a hockey team that had this quality, it would be the Philadelphia Flyers.  In just over a week the Flyers defeated the Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues. Two of which were prime time wednesday night hockey matchups. Everyone has to respect Philadelphia.  This will help them reach their goals down the road. Another key ingredient to the Flyers game is their physical play. They are a very rough team to play against and this gives them the edge often times over their opposition.  Lastly, their capability of winning in the faceoff circle is remarkable. They are the best in the league at it. It gives them many prime scoring chances, more easily defendable plays and most importantly, gives them a much better chance of winning the game.  Be on the lookout, the standings might not say it but the Flyers have a substantial shot at making some considerable noise in the Stanley Cup playoff tournament.

14) Vegas Golden Knights

Vegas has recently fired its head coach Gerard Gallant.  This is an interesting move considering that the Golden Knights were doing well.  Even with this big firing taking place the team currently sits in a wild card spot and are ready for another postseason berth.  When analyzing the Golden Knights it is interesting to notice that they are almost exactly average in almost every category. What does this mean for the men in Vegas?  It is good to be decent all the way around, the trouble is that there is no way that will be enough for them to get to a Stanley Cup Finals. They will either have to pick up the pace now or in the playoffs.  The Vegas Golden Knights do have a solid core of talent such as, Marc Andre Fleury and Mark Stone. As is the case with most teams only time will tell what this group is made of.     

15) Vancouver Canucks

This team can roll some heads as they are better than most people think.  As a whole, the Canucks have really been flying under the radar for most people.  This is surprising considering their offense is a top ten unit and their power play is on fire.  Young talent is also helping Vancouver as they push for a playoff spot. This squad is where it needs to be as they hold a wild card spot in the Western Conference.  It is a very tight race and it will be close, that is for sure. Although they are underestimated, The Vancouver Canucks have what it takes as we roll into the All Star break.

16) Winnipeg Jets

You couldn’t get much closer to the edge of a cliff than the Winnipeg Jets are as they are just barely outside of the 2nd wild card spot in the Western Conference.  The Vancouver Canucks are only a game ahead of the Jets and any false move would see Winnipeg out of that wild card race. They are in the fight for their postseason lives.  Their defense has been good and their goaltending has been exceptional, yet while their offense has had trouble producing at times. Even so, the forwards have done a decent job.  Nonetheless, It is time to live or die for Winnipeg.