Posted by Katie Peverada
While the Buffalo Sabres long ago cemented their position as the best worst team in the NHL, the top six teams remain as jumbled as ever. With about a month left in the regular season, and with each team having 15-or-fewer games remaining, the St. Louis Blues lead the league with 99 points. However, sixth and seventh-place Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks, respectively, are only seven points back in the standings.
1. St. Louis Blues: The Blues dropped the first two games after returning from the Olympic break, but since then they have gone a stout 8-0-1, losing to Dallas in overtime. Olympic-hero T.J. Oshie has shaken off the three-game slump he experienced upon returning from Sochi to put up eight points in seven games. Their upcoming four-game road trip will be a true test, as they face Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Toronto.
2. San Jose Sharks: Antti Niemi backstopped Chicago's Stanley Cup win in 2010, but he still never seems to get the respect he deserves. Thanks to his stellar play in net (he's tied for the league lead in wins with 34), the Sharks have tied Anaheim with 97 points and created the most exciting division race in the Pacific. San Jose is 8-1-1 in their last 10 games and has won six straight (including two shutouts from Niemi).
3. Anaheim Ducks: On Feb. 1, the Ducks were the top team in the league, fresh off an eight-game winning streak. But now, it's mid-March and they're suddenly the owners of two separate three-game losing streaks. They're a respectable 5-3-2 in their last 10, but if they want to take the Pacific from San Jose, they'll need to start giving Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry some help in the offensive end.
4. Boston Bruins: With eight-straight wins, the Bruins hold the longest active winning-streak in the NHL, outscoring their opponents 33-12 along the way. Strangely enough, nobody in Boston even cracks the top-ten in terms of goals or assists. But they do have three guys in the top-ten plus/minus ratings. The always-dependable Patrice Bergeron leads the league with a +32, while David Krejci (+31), Johnny Boychuck (+30), and Jarome Iginla (+28) all solidify the Bruins defensive, hard-hitting style. Furthermore, Tuukka Rask is in the top-five in every major goaltending statistic.
5. Chicago Blackhawks: The Hawks are an uncharacteristic 5-5 in their last ten games, including two losses to the surprising Colorado Avalanche, a team that sits ahead of them in the standings. Their play has been a bit lackadaisical of late against lower-tier opponents, but with convincing wins over Pittsburgh and Detroit in the month of March, the Blackhawks proved they still have that offensive-kick (they lead the league with 231 GF). And the return of Marian Hossa from injury isn't bad news, either. A showdown with the Blues on Friday will be a good indicator of where the Hawks truly are.
6. Colorado Avalanche: Nobody saw this one coming. With 14 games left to play on their schedule, the Avalanche are second in the Central, behind St. Louis but ahead of Chicago. This position comes on the strength of eight wins over their last 11 games and goaltender Semyon Varlamov's pads. Varlamov recovered from a rough outing against the Ducks (five goals on 24 shots) with a spectacular showing against Ottawa (38 saves on 39 shots).