The Hottest and Coldest NHL Teams Right Now

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistJanuary 13, 2016

The Hottest and Coldest NHL Teams Right Now

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Over the course of the six-month NHL regular season, nearly every team in the league experiences significant peaks and valleys.

    Low points can be brought on by injury issues or tough schedules. Highs emerge due to hot streaks, breakout stars and lights-out goaltending.

    As this year's schedule rolls toward the All-Star break, here's a look at who's hot and who's not early in 2016.

    The featured teams have been chosen based on their recent records, but the list also factors in how those records compare to the rest of their seasons thus far. The emphasis here is on teams whose fortunes have most dramatically improved or declined over the last few weeks.

    Though they didn't quite make the cut, congratulations are also in order for the Carolina Hurricanes, Vancouver Canucks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Philadelphia Flyers and Toronto Maple Leafs for their fine recent play.

    Click through to see who beat them out to make the list—and who's currently mired in the Hall of Shame.

Hot: Florida Panthers

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Season to Date: 43 GP, 26-12-5, 57 pts, first in Atlantic Division

    Record in Last 10 Games: 9-0-1

    How They Got So Hot: Plenty of offense and great goaltending. Though the Florida Panthers' franchise-best 12-game winning streak came to an end on Jan. 11 in Vancouver, the team is riding high at the top of the Atlantic Division.

    The Panthers scored three goals or more in eight of the 12 games during the streak, including three five-goal games.

    Leading the way? The top line of Jaromir Jagr (6-4-10 during the streak), Jonathan Huberdeau (3-10-13 during the streak) and Aleksander Barkov (6-8-14 during the streak).

    Florida's offense has amply supported the excellent goaltending of both starter Roberto Luongo and backup Al Montoya. The Panthers are now tied with the Washington Capitals as the stingiest team in the league, allowing just 2.12 goals per game.

    Odds They'll Keep it Up: 80 percent. The Panthers' breakout has been a true team effort. They'll continue to be dangerous and should be great fun to watch in the playoffs.

Cold: Montreal Canadiens

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    Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

    Season to Date: 43 GP, 23-17-3, 49 pts, third in Atlantic Division

    Record in Last 10 Games: 3-7-0

    How They Got So Cold: Three words—Carey Price's injury.

    The Montreal Canadiens were red-hot at the beginning of the year, with MVP goalie Price posting a 7-2-0 record before he was first sidelined in late October, then coming back to win another three games before he was injured again.

    Despite the valiant efforts of rookie netminder Mike Condon, Montreal has gone 6-13-1 since Price's second injury on November 25—hardly the record of a playoff contender.

    It looks like Price's 2015 Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player was one well-deserved piece of hardware!

    Odds They'll Keep it Up: For now, 70 percent. Once Price returns, 30 percent—they should get back on track.

    NHL.com reported on Jan. 12 that Price skated for the first time since his injury, but is not expected back in the lineup until February at the earliest.

Hot: Chicago Blackhawks

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Season to Date: 45 GP, 28-13-4, 60 points, second in Central Division

    Record in Last 10 Games: 8-2-0

    How They Got So Hot: Hidden from view over the past two weeks by the surging Florida Panthers, the Chicago Blackhawks have quietly put together an eight-game winning streak of their own. It dates back to their Dec. 29 win over the Arizona Coyotes.

    During the streak, the Blackhawks have been pretty stingy defensively, but their calling card has been their scoring.

    Patrick Kane has opened up a 10-point lead over Jamie Benn in the NHL scoring race and is 4-9-13 during the streak, while his linemate Artemi "Breadman" Panarin is 5-3-8, giving him an eight-point lead in the rookie scoring race.

    Odds They'll Keep it Up: 85 percent. The Blackhawks are one very good hockey team. Barring significant injury, Chicago will make a run for the top spot in the Western Conference heading into the playoffs.

Cold: Nashville Predators

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    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

    Season to Date: 43 GP, 19-17-7, 45 pts, fifth in Central Division

    Record in Last 10 Games: 3-6-1

    How They Got So Cold: Historically, the Nashville Predators' identity has been to play a tightly structured defensive game backed by good goaltending, giving them the chance to win close 2-1 contests.

    Though general manager David Poile believed he had a solid enough defensive group that he could afford to part with Seth Jones to acquire Ryan Johansen on Jan. 6, Nashville has recently struggled uncharacteristically on the back end.

    The Preds have given up four goals or more in six of their last seven outings. Goaltender Pekka Rinne doesn't deserve all the blame, but his .905 save percentage and 2.50 goals-against average this season are both well below the career average for the 33-year-old.

    Odds They'll Keep it Up: 60 percent. Nashville went through a stretch of injury trouble earlier in the season but is now working with a nearly healthy lineup, so there's no real excuse for the team's current four-game losing streak.

    It's early, but the Johansen trade has yet to pay dividends in Music City. Poile may need to hit a home run on another trade to turn his team around this season.

Hot: Washington Capitals

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    Rafael Suanes-USA TODAY Sports

    Season to Date: 42 GP, 32-7-3, 67 pts, first in Metropolitan Division, first overall

    Record in Last 10 Games: 8-1-1

    How They Got So Hot: The Washington Capitals are good at everything this season. They are first in goals against, second in goals for, second on the power play and fourth on the penalty kill—with a surging Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby leading the way.

    The Caps have scored four goals or more in five of their last seven games, and their only regulation loss since December 10 came with backup Philipp Grubauer in net against the Carolina Hurricanes on New Year's Eve.

    Ovechkin has a habit of heating up during the second half of the season, and his annual surge is already underway. He has collected 12 goals in his last 12 games. With his best months still to come, Ovi is leading the league—again—with 26 goals and is on pace for his seventh-career 50-goal season.

    Odds They'll Keep it Up: 90 percent. The Caps haven't missed a beat despite injuries to Brooks Orpik, John Carlson and Jay Beagle. This may be the year that the franchise makes some real noise in the playoffs.

Cold: Dallas Stars

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Season to Date: 44 GP, 29-11-4, 62 pts, first in Central Division

    Record in Last 10 Games: 4-4-2

    How They Got So Cold: The new year has not been kind to the Dallas Stars. After a sizzling start, the team is 1-3-1 so far in 2016, with the lone win coming in a shootout against the Winnipeg Jets.

    The Stars gave up six goals in consecutive games in their first back-to-back losses of the season against the New York Islanders and New York Rangers. Their vaunted offense disappeared when they managed just one goal in each of their last two games.

    Odds They'll Keep it Up: 50 percent. The team's dip in its fortunes corresponds with a cold spell from captain and leading scorer Jamie Benn, who is 1-0-1 and a minus-five so far in 2016.

    Whether he's fighting through an injury, feeling the effects of his offseason double hip surgery or just dealing with midseason fatigue, it seems clear that the Stars can only go as far as Benn and linemate Tyler Seguin can take them.

Hot: Arizona Coyotes

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Season to Date: 42 GP, 22-16-4, 48 pts, second in Pacific Division

    Record in Last 10 Games: 7-1-2

    How They Got So Hot: Every once in a while, an injury to a starting goaltender can send a team's fortunes upward.

    We saw it last year when the Ottawa Senators rode Andrew "the Hamburglar" Hammond's hot hand all the way to the playoffs. This season, it looks like Louis Domingue is playing Hammond's role with the Arizona Coyotes.

    Before he was placed on IR and underwent core-muscle surgery, starter Mike Smith recorded his fourth straight loss on December 8, dropping the Coyotes to fourth place in the Pacific Division following a hot start.

    Since then, the Coyotes have quietly amassed an amazing 9-3-3 record, generally keeping scores low and giving themselves a chance to win every night. As his body of work grows, replacement goaltender Domingue, 23, becomes more impressive. He now boasts a 7-2-2 record with a .932 save percentage and 2.14 goals-against average.

    Odds They'll Keep it Up: 70 percent. Domingue is emerging as a game-changer, and the Coyotes have been getting offensive contributions across the board in recent weeks—whether they're from grizzled veteran Shane Doan, elite defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson or rookie Max Domi, who recorded his first career hat trick in Arizona's 4-3 overtime win over the Edmonton Oilers on Jan. 12.

Cold: New York Rangers

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    Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

    Season to Date: 42 GP, 23-14-5, 51 pts, second in Metropolitan Division

    Record in Last 10 Games: 4-5-1

    How They Got So Cold: The New York Rangers are 2-0-1 in their last three games, which may or may not mark the beginning of a turnaround from a stark month of December that saw them go 6-7-2.

    The Rangers were the third-best defensive team in the NHL when they won their Presidents' Trophy for most points last season. But now that's their area of struggle.

    New York has dropped to 14th in the league in points, and while Henrik Lundqvist's save percentage is on par with his career average, his goals-against average has ballooned to 2.49—the highest number of his career.

    Lundqvist is seeing more shots than usual—an average of 30.25 a game this year compared to 28.17 over his NHL career. Without considering shot quality, that increase accounts for an extra two shots a game.

    It doesn't seem like much, but at Lundqvist's current .920 save percentage, which is typical for him, it adds up to an extra 10 goals over a 60-game season—or .167 goals per game.

    The Rangers are still scoring at a decent level. But they need to tighten up in front of their goaltender if they hope to get back on track in the second half of the season.

    Odds They'll Keep it Up: 40 percent. Last year, the Rangers found their form in the late stages of the regular season, so they'll be looking to turn on the juice again as the playoffs draw near. It's very plausible that the Blueshirts' current issues are nothing more than midseason malaise.

    All stats courtesy of NHL.com, current through games completed Tuesday, Jan. 12.

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