NHL Top 10: Eastern Promises and Central Division Dominance

As the 2014-2015 NHL season gets closer to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the NHL Top 10 will measure the 10  best teams around the league on a weekly basis. The list will be created by a panel of The Hockey Writers contributors.

Week 18 of the NHL season saw the Eastern Conference take the upper hand on the west by earning six of the 10 spots while the Central Division claimed three of the top five.

This week’s list was comprised by THW Devils writer Corey Spina, THW Stars writer Ed Sarno, THW Sharks writer Kenneth Laws and THW Blackhawks writer Derek Wolff.

Has the East done enough to claim the No. 1 spot on our list? Read on to find out.


 

capitals_secondary_logoNo. 10: Washington Capitals (28-16-10)

(Spina-NR, Sarno-9, Laws-NR, Wolff-9)

View image | Alexander Ovechkin’s hunt for the Rocket Richard trophy has the Capitals squeaking into the top 10.

Washington capped off a strong 3-1-0 week with a disappointing home loss against the Flyers in which the Caps could only muster 14 shots and went 1-for-6 on the power play.

As much as Trotz has downplayed it, Alexander Ovechkin–who scored his league-leading 33rd goal of the season on Sunday– needs to get more out of his supporting cast.

The Capitals will take a swing through California this week with critical road games against perennial Pacific contenders San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim; the latter two Washington beat at home earlier this month.

-Wolff

New York Islanders square logo

No. 9: New York Islanders (34-18-1)

(Spina-NR, Sarno-10, Laws-7, Wolff-10)

The Islanders are still clinging to a one-point lead atop the Metropolitan Division over Pittsburgh and finished and up-and-down week with a 3-2 win in Buffalo on Sunday in which Jaroslav Halak gave up two goals on 10 shots.

Life without winger Kyle Okposo hasn’t been easy thus far, with the Islanders being held to two goals or less in five of the seven games since his injury.

Fortunately for New York, Edmonton, Toronto and Columbus will be in town this week, providing an excellent opportunity for the Islanders to put some distance between themselves and Pittsburgh.

-Wolff

Pittsburgh_PenguinsLogoYellowNo. 8: Pittsburgh Penguins (30-15-8)

(Spina-9, Sarno-8, Laws-9, Wolff-8)

View image | Marc-Andre Fluery will be tested this week in nationally televised games against Detroit and Chicago.

 

The Pens have had a really strange week. In their past four games, either they shutout their opponent, or they were shutout. They just finished up with their Western Canadian road trip so maybe a return home will straighten them out.

In any case, they have Crosby, Malkin, Letang, and David Perron is playing well. We know the talent is there, but for the Pens, it’s all about the playoffs.

-Spina

The Pens will have a busy week against some elite competition with nationally televised games against Detroit and Chicago sandwiched with a stopover in Ottawa on Thursday.

Despite being inconsistent the past few weeks, Pittsburgh remains just one point behind the Islanders for the Metropolitan lead. Now, if they could just find a way to win those shootouts…

-Wolff

Montreal Canadiens square logoNo. 7: Montreal Canadiens (34-15-3)

(Spina-8, Sarno-7, Laws-6, Wolff-4)

View image | Carey Price has become a Vezina Trophy candidate.

Carey Price has always been one of the most entertaining players in the league, and this year the Habs’ netminder has taken his game to another level, gaining major ground on Pekka Rinne for the Vezina Trophy. Price has given up three goals or more just twice in his last ten starts.

The Habs downed Boston to earn a season sweep over their rivals on Sunday night, salvaging an up-and-down week that saw disappointing losses against Arizona and Buffalo. Montreal sits just two points behind Tampa Bay with three games in hand in the Atlantic Division.

-Wolff

Anaheim Ducks square logoNo. 6: Anaheim Ducks (34-13-7)

(Spina-4, Sarno-3, Laws-4, Wolff-7)

What holds the Ducks back is the lower-body injury to captain and leading scorer Ryan Getzlaf. The Ducks need Getzlaf healthy in order to maintain that strong one-two punch with Corey Perry. One surprise this season has been the play of Matt Beleskey who is second on the Ducks in goals only behind Perry.

-Spina

Anaheim continues its five-game road trip after back-to-back losses against Eastern contenders Tampa Bay win Washington with stops this week against Florida and Carolina before heading home to rematch the Capitals.

Getzlaf’s injury is a minor concern but the Ducks need to play better defensively. After winning eight of nine, they’ve dropped four of their past six and have given up 23 goals in the process.

-Wolff

St. Louis Blues square logoNo. 5: St. Louis Blues (34-15-4)

(Spina-7, Sarno-5, Laws-1, Wolff-5)

 

Despite Vladimir Tarasenko’s highlight-reel goal on Corey Crawford, the Blues ended the week on a sour note on Sunday with a 4-2 loss against Chicago after getting shellacked 7-1 in Columbus on Friday night.

Winners of seven straight, the Blues were the hottest team in the NHL heading into the weekend, going 12-1-1 since Jan. 1, but with Kevin Shattenkirk not returning to the lineup anytime soon the power play looks certain to suffer. St. Louis have gone 1-for-8 with the man advantage since losing the star blueliner.

The Blues will look to recover against Arizona on Tuesday night, with the Coyotes playing the back half of a back-to-back, before taking a four-day trip through Florida to play the Lightning and Panthers.

-Wolff

-We all know the Blues are one of the best teams in the league. However the injury to all-star defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk is beginning to become a huge hole on their blue line.

It also certainly doesn’t help that Brian Elliot has been beaten up over the past 2 games, giving up four goals on 14 shots before getting yanked for Jake Allen in Columbus. Obviously the bright spot has been the play of Vladimir Tarasenko, but they need Shattenkirk back badly.

-Spina

Chicago Blackhawks square logoNo. 4: Chicago Blackhawks (33-18-2)

(Spina-2, Sarno-1, Laws-8, Wolff-6)

The Blackhawks may not be leading the Central division, but were all aware of the talent this team possesses.

Patrick Kane has been lights out so far this season as he is tied for the league-lead in scoring with 59 points in 52 games.

-Spina

The Blackhawks finally pulled out of a near nosedive to actually post a positive 4-3-0 record after wrapping up their seven-game road trip with a big 4-2 win on Sunday afternoon in St. Louis.

Chicago will be back in the United Center for an eight-game home stand starting Monday night with a visit from old pal Mike Smith and the Coyotes. The home stand should tell us plenty about the Hawks chances in the uber-competitive Central Division, with rivalry matchups against Detroit, Vancouver and Boston providing solid challenges for a team that looked bored and complacent for most of January.

-Wolff

 Detroit Red Wings square logoNo. 3: Detroit Red Wings (31-12-9)

(Spina-1, Sarno-6, Laws-5, Wolff-2)

Mike Babcock continues to get the most out of this young team ahead of schedule.

The Wings are benefiting from another goofy blip in the NHL schedule that sees Detroit play just four games in the first two weeks of February, including games this week in Pittsburgh on Wednesday and at home against Winnipeg on Saturday.

-Wolff

It’s been somewhat amazing how quietly Detroit had moved up the Eastern conference standings. The Wings are just two points back of Tampa Bay for the Eastern Conference lead with three games in hand.

Most importantly, they’ve been doing it without the services of  No. 1 goaltender Jimmy Howard.

Detroit went 3-0 last week and only allowed two goals, while scoring 10 themselves.

-Spina

 Tampa Bay Lightning square logoNo. 2: Tampa Bay Lightning (34-16-5)

(Spina-5, Sarno-2, Laws-3, Wolff-3)

Interesting scenarios are beginning to uproot themselves in the form of former first-round pick Andrei Vasilevskiy. No. 1 goaltender Ben Bishop was pulled in Tampa’s 4-2 loss against the Kings on Saturday, and Vasilevskiy came in to stop 19 of 20 shots.

Tampa is still a solid team at every position, but their goaltending will be an interesting storyline to follow in the coming weeks.

-Spina

The Lightning went 2-1-1 last week and will continue to test their metal against the West after finishing the first third of their 12-game set against the opposing conference.

That schedule concludes at the end of February but not before games against western powers Nashville and St. Louis this week, as well as Anaheim and Chicago down the road.

Tyler Johnson looks like he’s regained his form, potting two goals against Dallas on Thursday.

-Wolff

Nashville Predators square logoNo. 1: Nashville Predators (35-12-6)

(Spina-3, Sarno-4, Laws-2, Wolff-1)

Nashville has been a great story this year and they have become an exiting team to watch.

At the start of the season, we thought the Preds were going to have a number of holes at the forward position. However the breakout of Filip Forsberg and the resurgence of Mike Riberio have helped Nashville to the league’s best record so far.

-Spina

Pekka Rinne looked solid after stopping 30 of 32 in Nashville’s 3-2 win over the Rangers on Saturday.

Now, the Preds will be tested in a meeting between conference leaders with the Lightning in town on Tuesday, before cooling down against Winnipeg and New Jersey later in the week.

-Wolff


THW Ballots

Corey Spina, THW Devils

  1. Detroit
  2. Chicago
  3. Nashville
  4. Anaheim
  5. Tampa Bay
  6. Calgary
  7. St. Louis
  8. Montreal
  9. Pittsburgh
  10. Boston

Ed Sarno, THW Stars

  1. Chicago
  2. Tampa Bay
  3. Anaheim
  4. Nashville
  5. St. Louis
  6. Detroit
  7. Montreal
  8. Pittsburgh
  9. Washington
  10. New York Islanders

Kenneth Laws, THW Sharks

  1. St. Louis
  2. Nashville
  3. Tampa Bay
  4. Anaheim
  5. Detroit
  6. Montreal
  7. New York Islanders
  8. Chicago
  9. Pittsburgh
  10. New York Rangers

Derek Wolff, THW Blackhawks

  1. Nashville
  2. Detroit
  3. Tampa Bay
  4. Montreal
  5. St. Louis
  6. Chicago
  7. Anaheim
  8. Pittsburgh
  9. Washington
  10. New York Islanders

What do you think of our list? Who should be higher or lower? Any team deserving of a spot in the top 10 that we missed? Let us know in the comments below.