Updated: December 15, 2014, 12:24 PM ET

Ducks in charge


By Scott Burnside (posted Dec. 15, 2014)

A week ago, I penciled in the Anaheim Ducks at No. 1 and changed my mind at the last minute to go with the scorching-hot Chicago Blackhawks. No such hesitation this week, as the Ducks are not just the hottest team in the league but perhaps the best team right now (with all due respect to the smokin' hot Toronto Maple Leafs). And how about those Buffalo Sabres and Columbus Blue Jackets? To find out about the rest of the gang, read on.

Rk(LW)TeamRec
1
Anaheim
21-6-5
Even without the injured Corey Perry, the Ducks are machinelike, winners of seven straight and 10 of 12 to open up breathing room atop the Pacific as well as the league standings.
2
Chicago
21-9-1
The Blackhawks' eight-game winning streak was snapped Saturday by the Islanders, but they followed that up with a solid 2-1 win over the Flames on Sunday.
3
St. Louis
20-8-2
The Blues have won four in a row and continue to take on the Blackhawks and Predators in what is a pitched battle for the top spot in the Central.
4
Pittsburgh
19-6-4
Sidney Crosby has the mumps, but the Pens have points in eight of their past 10 to maintain their slim hold on the top spot in the Metropolitan.
5
Detroit
17-7-7
The Wings are winless in three, including dropping two in a matter of days to the Leafs, but can look forward to four in a row at Joe Louis Arena, where they have been tough all season. They are missing Stephen Weiss and Justin Abdelkader up front.
6
Nashville
19-8-2
The Preds were shut out by the Sharks on Saturday and have the league's 29th-ranked power play. Good thing they have the NHL's top goaltender in Pekka Rinne.
7
Tampa Bay
19-9-3
The Bolts were beaten twice last week by former Southeast foe the Capitals and have lost three of four.
8
NY Islanders
20-10-0
A huge win over the red-hot Blackhawks ended an ugly three-game slide. But they still boast the league's worst penalty killing.
9
Toronto
18-9-3
OK, we admit we have no idea what to make of the Leafs, other than they have somehow lost only once in regulation in their past 11 games and have won five in a row after a shootout win over the Kings on Sunday.
10
Montreal
19-10-2
The Canadiens are slowly righting the ship after a rough patch, putting up two straight wins.
11
San Jose
17-11-4
No in-between this season for the Sharks, who are again playing top-notch hockey en route to seven wins in their past eight games. They have allowed 16 goals in this eight-game stretch.
12
Winnipeg
15-10-6
The Jets couldn't handle the Ducks on Saturday but still have points in eight of nine and get a dose of some Eastern Conference action this week with the Sabres, Bruins and Flyers all visiting the MTS Centre.
13
Los Angeles
15-10-6
The Kings are still stuck in neutral, as they have just four wins in their past 11 games. Where would they be without Jonathan Quick? Ugly to think about it.
14
Vancouver
18-10-2
The Canucks are now winless in four and have been outscored 17-7 over this stretch.
15
NY Rangers
14-10-4
The Rangers are beginning to look more like the team that would bend but didn't break en route to a Stanley Cup finals berth last spring. They have three wins in a row in spite of losing Derick Brassard to the mumps.
16
Calgary
17-13-2
Yikes, the bottom has officially fallen out on the plucky Flames, as they have dropped five in a row. The challenge for coach Bob Hartley is to stop the bleeding before this gets out-of-the-playoff-picture ugly.
17
Washington
14-10-5
The Caps are 4-0-1 in their past five, including two wins last week over the Lightning. Could this be a corner turned for Barry Trotz's crew?
18
Florida
12-8-8
The Panthers continue to collect points -- nine times in their past 12 games, they've come up with at least one -- to keep hanging around the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Kudos to coach Gerard Gallant for keeping his troops on task after a difficult start.
19
Minnesota
16-11-1
The Wild are stuck in a win-one-lose-one pattern, which is a surefire way to miss the playoffs. They face the Blackhawks, Bruins, Predators and Flyers before the holiday break. Tough test, indeed.
20
Boston
15-13-2
The Bruins have two wins in their past nine games, and the offense has gone south in a dramatic way. Oh, well, at least they're likely to get the 2016 Winter Classic.
21
Columbus
12-15-2
What a remarkable turnaround for the beat-up Blue Jackets, who have won six in a row.
22
Buffalo
12-16-2
Love what Ted Nolan and his gang are doing in Buffalo. Three wins in a row and nine wins in their past 12. Tanking? Not this group.
23
Dallas
11-13-5
The Stars face the Canucks and Flames this week. Let's see whether faint rumblings of a recovery are real.
24
Colorado
10-13-7
The Avs are without Semyon Varlamov again and are unable to put together enough consistent efforts to make headway in the Central.
25
Philadelphia
11-13-5
The Flyers are showing a brief spasm of life with a modest two-game winning streak.
26
Ottawa
12-12-5
I'm guessing maybe it wasn't all Paul MacLean. The Senators are still going nowhere in a hurry in spite of making the league's first coaching change of the season.
27
New Jersey
11-15-5
With the Sabres and Blue Jackets surging, this is exactly what it's come to for the hapless Devils, winners of just two of their past 11 games.
28
Arizona
10-16-4
The Yotes have somehow gone winless in nine straight at home. That will have them busting down the turnstiles at Gila River Arena.
29
Carolina
8-18-3
The Hurricanes have lost five straight and have scored five total goals during that stretch. Ugly.
30
Edmonton
7-19-5
Amazingly, the Hurricanes' ineptitude pales in comparison to the embarrassing Oil, who have one win in 16, costing coach Dallas Eakins his job.

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