*This is not Stanley Cup predictions or favorites*. Performance, Wins/Losses, schedule, number of games, and other statistics all are taken into consideration.
It’s no secret what the Panthers have been doing as of late. 8-1-1 in their last 10, four straight wins and thirty-six goals in their last six games. Some are calling the recent success the “Kodak effect”. But despite the interesting series of events that night in Florida, the Panthers are playing their best hockey of the season. In their last contest against the Columbus Blue Jackets, all but six Florida skaters managed to find the score sheet. Not to mention, captain Aleksander Barkov only managed to amass one point on the night. This speaks to the depth and offensively ability of the Panthers. Unsurprisingly, the Panthers lead the league in goals for with 158 and a stifling +47 goal differential.
2. Carolina Hurricanes
The only team that could surpass the Panthers in points given the same amount of games played. The Hurricanes, as they usually do, are flying under the radar. No team has allowed fewer goals than the Hurricanes despite facing questions about their goaltending and blueline throughout the preseason. Much like last season, Carolina is getting contribution from a majority of their lineup with star forward Sebastian Aho leading the way. They’ll be tested in their next two matchups as they fly to Boston to face the red-hot Bruins before a home matchup with the Metro-leading Rangers.
3. Colorado Avalanche
A slow start to the season was never going to impact the Avs long term as they have found their stride of late going 8-1-1 in their last ten. Colorado leads the league in goals per game at 4.29 despite trailing the Panthers in goals for on the season. This is in large part due to the contributions from the blueline as the Avalanche have two top-ten scoring defenseman in the league in Cale Makar and Devon Toews. Makar (36pts) currently sits at fourth in points for defenseman despite having played nine less games than current points leader Victor Hedman (40pts).
4. Tampa Bay Lightning
Even with losing some key players in the offseason, the Lightning look just as much of a contender as they did last season. They’re also doing it without having Kucherov for most of the season, similarly to last year. Three straight wins and 26 goals in their last six games has seen the Bolts inch a bit closer to the Panthers in the Pacific Division while finding themselves in the league’s second spot.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs
Like the Bolts the Leafs have scored 26 goals in their last six games allowing them to reach a 7-2-1 record in their last 10. Given their high-end offensive talent, it comes as no surprise that the Leafs, who are led by Matthews’s nine powerplay goals, are second in the league on the powerplay at 29.7%.
6. New York Rangers
The Rangers answered any uncertainty about whether or not they would be able to make the jump to being a playoff team this season coming off a mediocre 2021. For starters, they have reigning Norris trophy winner Adam Fox who also leads the Rangers in points usurping a talented forward group in New York. However, even more vital to the Blueshirts success is the reinvigoration of number one center Mika Zibanejad who was one of the biggest disappointments of the 2021 campaign. Mika is scoring at just under a point-per-game clip and is second on the Rangers in goals.
Also crucial to their success is Chris Kreider, who is on pace to smash his career goal-scoring record as he sits at twenty-four already this season, needing four to match his all-time high. However, there is no debating the player most crucial to the Rangers path to the top of the Metro. Goaltender Igor Shesterkin is currently one of the best goalies in the league and is currently posting an incredible 1.99 GAA and .939% save percentage.
7. Boston Bruins
One of the hottest teams in the NHL right now, winning eight of their last ten. The Bruins have won five straight games and have finally connected on all cylinders. They’ve also got their longtime number one goalie back in Tukka Rask, who has yet to lose in a Bruin uniform this season. As always, the Bruins are relying heavily on their top-line, which has contributed towards most of their scoring this year. They’ll look to stay hot as they push for a top spot in the Atlantic.
8. Pittsburgh Penguins
Without Malkin for all but three games this season, the Penguins have still found themselves in the first wild card position. Moreover, Crosby is fourth on the team in points as Jake Guentzel continues to prove his elite status while Kris Letang proves his value as a number one defensemen at the ripe age of 34. The Penguins are led by one of the best coaches in the NHL currently in Mike Sullivan who continuously gets the most of of his players despite where they’re at in their NHL careers.
9. St. Louis Blues
Perhaps the Blues have found a bit of their 2019 form as they trail the Central-leading Avalanche by just four points. The Blues impressive Winter Classic performance showed their ability to compete for the Central, netting six goals against the favored Minnesota Wild. St. Louis is also getting the best from Jordan Kyrou, who has been on fire since his imposing performance at Target Field. In fact, the teams point leader hasn’t gone without a point since before his winter classic dominance. They are also getting a career season out of newcomer Pavel Buchnevich, who was acquired over the summer from New York.
10. Los Angeles Kings
One of this year’s biggest surprises, as the Kings currently sit in a playoff spot just short of halfway through the season. Currently, they are holding onto the second spot in the Pacific, a spot no one had thought they’d reach throughout the season. Their two biggest offseason acquisitions have proved their value so far as Arvidsson and Danault are third and fourth in points for the Kings, respectively. Kopitar is yet again finding the best version of his game, all while the Kings are getting solid contributions from within the crease. The California playoff race should be exciting to watch down the stretch.
Honorable Mentions: Nashville Predators, New York Islanders, Minnesota Wild
Nashville Predators – Another surprise sitting at second in the Central. The Preds are finally getting some return on their investments for Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen, who are both having their best seasons as a Predator. Saros meanwhile is making his Vezina case while Josi makes the Norris trophy race that much tighter.
New York Islanders – Although they were severely affected by Covid, they’ve got plenty of games to make up with a roster that is definitely playoff caliber. They are 6-3-1 in their last ten, which will help their push for the playoffs.
Minnesota Wild – Another team part of that heated Central division battle. The Wild have been sliding a bit lately despite having the second best points percentage in the Central. Look for them to jump a few spots in the Central as the season goes on.