Can anyone stop Anaheim?
The Ducks sit atop the NHL standings, but that's not the only thing working in favour of our incumbent top seed in these rankings. They have been nigh unbeatable at home all season and nigh unbeatable anywhere over the last two months. They took on an excellent Vancouver team in Wednesday and lit them up to the tune of nine goals.
Our panel is back again to rank both the Ducks and the rest of the league. Voting this week are Adrian Dater, Dave Lozo, Allan Mitchell, Lyle Richardson, Carol Schram and myself. The criteria remain the same, and the vote will focus heavily on recent performance, with the overall NHL standings only serving as an anchor point for each team.
Read on to see where every NHL team ranks.
Unless otherwise noted, statistics are courtesy of NHL.com and current through January 19.
Last Week: 29
Recent Trend: After a minor recovery from all of the losing, Edmonton set out on a four-game road trip last week. In seven days, they lost by two goals to Chicago, three to Dallas, three to Minnesota before posting an overtime loss to Winnipeg on Sunday.
Big Picture: With Ted Nolan's Sabres showing signs of life, the Oilers' hold on 29th is down to just a single point. Between 1983 and 1988, the glory days Oilers won four Stanley Cups in five seasons; it is increasingly looking like they might replicate that feat this season, but this time with first overall picks.
By the Numbers: Incumbent second-line centre Sam Gagner has 20 points and a minus-21 rating in 38 games. Rookie pivot Mark Arcobello has 18 points and a minus-five rating in 39 games. Arcobello has been better on faceoffs, better defensively, better by the underlying numbers and despite a modest (5'8", 166-pound) frame been one of the Oilers' most physical players. Gagner has spent all of one game outside the top six this season; Arcobello is once again marooned on the fourth line.
Last Week: 28
Recent Trend: Calgary is in free-fall. The Flames have one win in their last seven, two in their last 12 and three in their last 17.
Big Picture: If the current trend continues, the Flames may yet vie for the first overall pick. Buffalo has improved of late and sits six points back of Calgary (but with two games in hand), and the Flames are only three points up on the Oilers (though Edmonton has played two more games).
By the Numbers: A few players are excelling despite the Flames' difficult year. One of them, controversial Czech Olympic snub Jiri Hudler, has 39 points and an even rating in 49 games. Another, defenceman Kris Russell, has 16 points and a plus-one rating despite logging nearly 24:00 per game for one of the worst teams in the NHL.
Last Week: 30
Recent Trend: The Sabres are 2-1-3 in their last six games, and even that lone regulation loss was by only a single goal. The club is still losing much more frequently than it wins, but the games are nice and close.
Big Picture: Buffalo isn't all alone at the bottom of the standings; the Sabres are neck-and-neck with Edmonton and might even catch up to Calgary. All of which, of course, would mean nothing more than losing draft position.
By the Numbers: Ville Leino's performance continues to be out of whack with his contract. He has three seasons left at $4.5 million after this one and has contributed zero goals (on 22 shots) and just six assists in 30 games this season. Worse, in parts of three campaigns with the Sabres, he has just 37 points—16 less than he had in the year they signed him.
Last Week: 25
Recent Trend: The Panthers had been recovering nicely since their coaching change, but the team is on the rocks again. Florida has just one non-shootout win in its last eight games.
Big Picture: Florida is nine points back of the final wild-card slot in the East, and even if the Panthers were to make up that gap they would lose the regulation/overtime wins tiebreaker. It's all a question of draft position and setting up for next season now.
By the Numbers: One bright spot for the Panthers has been the play of Tim Thomas. The 39-year-old took last season off and has had some injuries this year, but has provided Florida with an 0.917 save percentage in net.
Last Week: 24
Recent Trend: The Islanders had been pushing their way back toward the playoff pack with an exceptional run, but that faltered this week. The team won one of three, a shootout win over Tampa Bay, while dropping decisions to Florida and Philadelphia.
Big Picture: New York's run may have sparked hopes of making the playoffs in the team's fans, but it still sits seven points back of the final wild-card spot, which will require an incredibly unlikely winning streak to overcome.
By the Numbers: It is no exaggeration to say that Evgeni Nabokov and Kevin Poulin have almost certainly cost the Islanders a spot in the postseason. The team has 0.898-save-percentage goaltending; with a league-average 0.914 number, the club would have allowed 24 fewer goals.
Last Week: 22
Recent Trend: Nashville won two of three games last week, halting an ugly slide.
Big Picture: The Predators are bunched together with Dallas and Winnipeg. The three teams have a significant lead on the Western bottom-feeders (Nashville is 10 points up on Calgary). but sit way back of the wild-card spots (Nashville is 10 points back of Vancouver and Minnesota).
By the Numbers: Devan Dubnyk's Predators career got off to a rocky start. The veteran goalie played his first game on Saturday after being acquired in trade and allowed five goals on 29 shots in a loss to Colorado.
Last Week: 23
Recent Trend: Thank goodness for Edmonton. The Stars' one and only win so far in 2014 came over the Oilers; the team is now 1-7-1 in January.
Big Picture: This terrible run by the Stars probably seals the team's fate. Dallas now has only 34 games to make up a nine-point chasm between it and the postseason.
By the Numbers: Rookie forward Alex Chiasson is slumping badly. His goal on Saturday narrowly averted a 20-game goalless drought (he had been sitting at 19 games without scoring), and his season easily splits into two parts: the first nine games (5G, 4A, 9PTS, minus-two) and the other 37 (4G, 11A, 15PTS, minus-16).
Last Week: 27
Recent Trend: Winnipeg has won all three games it has played under new head coach Paul Maurice. Two of those wins came over Edmonton and Calgary, but even so it's an impressive way to end a five-game run of regulation losses.
Big Picture: With Winnipeg 10 points out of the final wild-card spot in the West, they aren't likely to pull off a playoff appearance, but they can certainly still climb the standings. Two teams are within a single point and Phoenix is only six ahead; with a strong month or so the Jets might be able to position themselves within reach of a postseason berth.
By the Numbers: James Wright, with just two assists through 49 games, has played more contests than any other forward in the NHL this season without scoring a goal. He's getting decent ice time, too, averaging over 10 minutes per night.
Last Week: 20
Recent Trend: Carolina's five-game winning streak ended last Friday, and the team has swapped wins and losses in the four games since.
Big Picture: The Hurricanes are bringing up the rear of the group of Eastern Conference clubs pushing for a postseason berth. Carolina has to leapfrog five teams to land a playoff spot, but only needs four points to do so.
By the Numbers: Alexander Semin has been on a scoring tear since roughly Christmas; he has tripled his goal count and more than doubled his point totals on the season over his last 12 games (6G, 5A, 11PTS, plus-8).
Last Week: 21
Recent Trend: The Devils could have been worse over this week's tough road schedule; they went 1-1-1 against Montreal, Colorado and Phoenix, continuing a trend of roughly 0.500 hockey.
Big Picture: Every point is incredibly important for New Jersey; the Devils are part of a pack of seven teams vying for four attainable postseason spots in the East.
By the Numbers: Only three teams in the NHL allow fewer goals in an average game than New Jersey (Los Angeles, Boston and St. Louis). Only three teams in the NHL score fewer goals in an average game than New Jersey (Florida, Calgary and Buffalo). They have the offensive game of a lottery team and the defensive game of a contender.
Last Week: 17
Recent Trend: The Capitals have lost five straight games, including two recent ones to teams they are in competition with for the playoffs.
Big Picture: Washington's recent losses have them slipping down the standings; the team is technically tied with Columbus for the final postseason berth, but it has played one more game and has just 14 regulation/overtime wins.
By the Numbers: Mikhail Grabovski's been one of the Capitals' most dynamic offensive weapons this season, but his scoring is off dramatically of late. He had 29 points in the season's first 35 games, but just a single goal and four points in the last 12.
Last Week: 26
Recent Trend: Back from the dead? Toronto now has four wins in four games. It's true that two of those required the shootout, and that the Leafs were outshot in all of those save the one against the Sabres, but the eight points collected have pushed them back into a wild-card spot in the East.
Big Picture: The Leafs are still relying heavily on shootouts and phenomenal goaltending to keep them in the playoff race. It's debatable whether those factors can hold up over the 32 games left in the season for Toronto.
By the Numbers: It's hard to overstate how good the Leafs' goaltending has been. Between Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer, the team has a combined 0.923 save percentage in a league where the average is almost 10 points lower than that. With even average goaltending, Toronto would be 15 goals worse than it is, in which case the team would certainly not be in a playoff position today.
Last Week: 16
Recent Trend: A post-Christmas resurgence showed signs of slowing last week as the Senators posted consecutive losses for the first time in nearly a month.
Big Picture: The Senators are firmly in the mix in the fight for one of the two wild-card spots in the East, and a strong run to close out the year will put them in the playoffs.
By the Numbers: Jason Spezza is struggling through a tough season. The pivot has two goals in his last 21 games, is a career-worst minus-17 and is scoring fewer points per game than he has at any juncture since 2003-04.
Last Week: 19
Recent Trend: The Coyotes made some positive steps toward arresting a long fall, winning consecutive games last week for the first time in more than a month.
Big Picture: Phoenix has squandered much of its exceptional start to the season, but the team hasn't fallen too far to recover, yet. The Coyotes are four points back of a wild-card spot and have two games in hand on Vancouver and three on Minnesota.
By the Numbers: Phoenix is the only team in the NHL without a short-handed goal.
Last Week: 14
Recent Trend: The Red Wings have been good enough to hang with the playoff bubble pack in the East, but not good enough to gain any ground. Detroit won one of two games it played in the last week, and is 6-6-1 in its last 13.
Big Picture: The Wings seem a good bet to be one of the two teams in a wild-card spot when the music finally stops. Their shootout luck has come around of late, they have games in hand on most of their opponents and the club has a history of success. They have 34 games to claim one of the final postseason berths.
By the Numbers: One of the things Detroit needs to get better at is holding leads, an odd critique of a largely veteran team. Only four teams in the NHL (the Flames, Islanders, Oilers and Sabres) have a worse record when scoring first.
Last Week: 18
Recent Trend: The Flyers have been one of the NHL's hottest teams for a little while now, and it has helped them recover from a poor start. This week the team won two of three and fell in the shootout in its lone defeat, though it is worth noting all of those games were against nonplayoff teams.
Big Picture: There really isn't much margin for error in the East right now. Philadelphia's 55 points give them a narrow leg up on most of the competition, but there are a lot of teams not far behind, and the situation could change quickly if the Flyers have any kind of slump.
By the Numbers: Philadelphia signed Steve Mason to a three-year contract extension on Saturday, and the goalie responded by allowing four goals on 24 shots against the New York Islanders, getting pulled by coach Craig Berube in the process. One game is relatively meaningless, of course, but it was an odd juxtaposition all the same, and it continued a longer trend that has seen Mason fall sharply after a hot start.
Last Week: 15
Recent Trend: The Blue Jackets have won six consecutive games.
Big Picture: Columbus' winning streak has elevated them into a three-way tie for the final playoff spot in the East, but they do have the advantage of winning more games in regulation or overtime than their rivals.
By the Numbers: Nikita Nikitin appears to have found his way back into the good graces of the Columbus coaching staff, and positive things keep happening when he's on the ice. He has a plus-15 rating in his last 15 games.
Last Week: 11
Recent Trend: Vancouver is in the middle of an ugly slump it can ill-afford right now. In its last 10 games the team has gone 2-5-3 and has a lone nonshootout victory.
Big Picture: The Canucks have seen their comfortable lead slip away; now the team is in a dogfight with Minnesota and Phoenix for the two wild-card spots in the West.
By the Numbers: Henrik Sedin's streak of 678 consecutive games played nearly came to an end on Saturday against Calgary thanks to a rib injury, reports the Vancouver Sun. He was able to persevere and make it 679, but the Canucks centre played a little over 12 minutes and didn't finish the game against the Flames, so it's possible he'll Tuesday's game versus Edmonton.
Last Week: 10
Recent Trend: The Habs are 4-4-2 in their last 10, and while the team still sits above the pack of teams fighting for the postseason, its lead on Toronto for third in the Atlantic has narrowed to just four points.
Big Picture: While Montreal seems to suddenly be in some danger from the pack, a strong run could yet propel the club to first in the Atlantic. The Habs are two points back of second-place Tampa Bay and four behind first-place Boston.
By the Numbers: Tomas Plekanec is tied for the NHL lead with three shorthanded goals, which is more than 12 different NHL teams have managed.
Last Week: 13
Recent Trend: The Wild had been in free-fall, but have rallied impressively. The team is now 7-2-0 in the new year and has caught up to the Vancouver Canucks in the West.
Big Picture: It is essentially a three-team race for two playoff spots now in the West. Vancouver has 59 points in 50 games, Minnesota has the same total in 51 contests and Phoenix is four points back but has only played in 48 games.
By the Numbers: Minnesota's recent run is particularly impressive given its injuries. The team's two most important forwards (Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise) are both on the shelf, meaning that only two healthy forwards right now (Jason Pominville and Nino Niederreiter) have more than 20 points on the season.
Last Week: 12
Recent Trend: The Rangers have won six of their last seven games and seven of their last nine.
Big Picture: A Sunday night win over Washington was a four-point game. A loss would have put Washington into a wild-card spot and within one point of New York, but instead the Rangers won and got five points worth of clearance on the group of teams outside the postseason.
By the Numbers: Derek Stepan had gone 13 games without a goal and had collected just four assists in that span until Saturday's game against Ottawa, where he scored once and added two helpers. He scored again Sunday against Washington.
Last Week: 7
Recent Trend: Tampa Bay has been playing 0.500 hockey of late, winning half of its last 10 games and losing the other half.
Big Picture: The Lightning's win on Sunday moved them into a tie with Boston for first in the Atlantic Division; the Bruins have two games in hand and the tiebreaker (regulation/overtime wins), but Tampa Bay is close enough to win the Division crown if it finishes strongly.
By the Numbers: Martin St. Louis has played eight games since he wasn't named to the Canadian Olympic team. He has points in every one of those games, recording eight goals and 12 points total over that span.
Last Week: 2
Recent Trend: The Blues have had a smooth flight to the top end of the NHL standings for most of the season, but they have encountered some turbulence lately. St. Louis has dropped three of its last four games, albeit against tough opponents (Vancouver, Los Angeles and Anaheim).
Big Picture: St. Louis is still in the mix for the Central Division crown because it hasn't played very many games. The Blues sit six points back of Chicago with four games in hand.
By the Numbers: The Blues' plus-59 goal differential is the best total in the NHL, 10 goals better than second-place Anaheim.
Last Week: 4
Recent Trend: Boston is in the middle of a long tepid streak, having gone just 4-5-1 in its last 10 contests.
Big Picture: The Bruins still hold down the top position in the Atlantic, but both the Lightning and the Canadiens are sniping at their heels; Montreal is four points back and Tampa Bay is tied in points but behind in regulation/overtime wins.
By the Numbers: Reilly Smith has been the surprise star of the Bruins' return in the Tyler Seguin trade. Smith's 35 points place him second on Boston in scoring, well ahead of the more highly touted Loui Eriksson (15 points in 28 games).
Last Week: 9
Recent Trend: Every time it looks like the Avs are on the verge of slumping, they pull themselves out of it. Colorado is now 8-1-1 in its last 10 games.
Big Picture: The Avs are looking likely to settle into either the second or third spot in the Central Division. They are back of St. Louis by two points, and there is a wide gap between both the first-place team (Chicago) and the fourth-place Wild.
By the Numbers: Rookie forward Nathan MacKinnon has been held without a shot in a game only twice this season and now has shots in 15 consecutive games.
Last Week: 6
Recent Trend: The Kings' overall 2014 record (4-2-2) is not especially bad, but a run of 0.500 hockey is a pretty mediocre recovery from a five-game losing streak, especially for a team with Stanley Cup ambitions.
Big Picture: San Jose has opened up a four-point lead on Los Angeles for second place in the Pacific and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
By the Numbers: Only one playoff team in the West (Minnesota, current holders of the final wild-card slot) has scored fewer goals per game than the Kings' 2.45. Expect L.A. to add some scoring at the trade deadline.
Last Week: 8
Recent Trend: The Penguins have gone 5-0-1 since the New Year, with an overtime loss to Edmonton (of all teams) as the only blemish on their record.
Big Picture: Pittsburgh has a healthy lead on Boston for first place in the Eastern Conference, but seems unlikely to catch up to Anaheim for the Presidents' Trophy.
By the Numbers: Sidney Crosby's having a mediocre season by his standards with his worst points-per-game total since 2009-10, but he's still been good enough to have a 19-point lead on linemate Chris Kunitz in the Pittsburgh scoring race and a 10-point cushion on everybody else in the NHL. As Bleacher Report's Dave Lozo wrote this week, he's really the only viable Hart Trophy choice.
Last Week: 5
Recent Trend: San Jose won all three games it played this week.
Big Picture: The Sharks are likely too far back to have any hope of overtaking Anaheim for first in the Pacific, but they do have a four-point lead on Los Angeles and a nine-point lead on Vancouver for second.
By the Numbers: Joe Pavelski scored his first career hat trick against Tampa Bay on Saturday. It was a special performance not only because it sealed a Sharks victory over a top Eastern team, but also because Pavelski had scored two goals in a game 23 times previously without ever making it to three (as per David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News).
Last Week: 3
Recent Trend: Chicago has picked up the pace of late and now has won three of its last four games and has points in 14 of 16.
Big Picture: Chicago still seems relatively secure in the Central Division, with a six-point lead on St. Louis and an eight-point lead on Colorado, but the Blackhawks have also played four and three more games (respectively) than those competing clubs.
By the Numbers: The penalty kill has been an Achilles' heel for the Blackhawks. Only the New York Islanders have posted a worse efficiency rating than Chicago's 77.2 percent kill rate.
Last Week: 1
Recent Trend: Winning. The Ducks' only loss in 2014 came to Chicago on Friday, and Anaheim still had enough left in the tank to post a win over an incredibly tough Blues squad in St. Louis the next night. Anaheim is 19-2-0 in its last 21 games
Big Picture: The Ducks have a four-point lead on Chicago for the best record in the NHL.
By the Numbers: Anaheim is the only team in the NHL without a regulation loss at home; the club boasts a 20-0-2 record at the Honda Center.