Now things will get really interesting. The All-Star break is over, and the trade deadline is a month away. As we enter the stretch run, will Washington keep the train rolling? Is Toronto for real? And how bad will things get in Colorado? (Hint: very, very bad.) Here are the final Power Rankings of January.
The Caps are the cream of the NHL crop and have continued to dominate on both sides of the puck. The playoffs can’t come soon enough for this crew.
The Wild, on a 9-2-1 roll in January, are the top team in the Western Conference, thanks largely to their No. 1 netminder, Vezina Trophy favorite Devan Dubnyk. Minnesota visits Edmonton this week for an interesting tilt with the Pacific Division-leading Oilers.
Before the break, the Oilers had impressive thrashings of Anaheim and San Jose, respectively, on back-to-back nights — which pulled Edmonton into a tie for the division lead with the Sharks.
The Penguins dropped their final two games before the break, and Evgeni Malkin did not attend the festivities in Los Angeles (or play in the team’s final game before the break) because of a lower-body injury, which is mildly troubling.
The Sharks are in the midst of a tidy 6-1 run and will visit Chicago to kick off the post-All-Star campaign. Getting forward Tomas Hertl back will be a nice boost for the Pacific Division co-leaders.
The Ducks are right there in the tight battle atop the Pacific. Has Ryan Kesler — whose son was one of the stars of All-Star weekend — positioned himself for a second Frank J. Selke Trophy as the league’s top two-way forward?
The Blue Jackets hit the break on a two-game slide but are still holding down second place in the Metropolitan Division. It was great to see Cam Atkinson deservedly join the All-Stars in Los Angeles.
The Habs have been in a bit of a funk — and in the midst of a 4-5-1 run — as they prepare to host improving Buffalo in both teams’ first game after the break.
The Predators are cooking, having gone 7-1-1 in their past nine games. They have shown a maddening propensity for extreme highs and lows this season, so finding consistency will be key for them during the stretch run.
The Blackhawks are another top-level team that hit the break going a bit sideways, with two consecutive losses and four losses in their past seven outings.
New York is another Stanley Cup hopeful that struggled before the break, posting a 3-4 record in its past seven games. The Rangers host Columbus in an intriguing matchup on Tuesday.
The Sens, who are already exceeding expectations as the No. 2 team in the Atlantic Division, will get an emotional boost with the return of netminder Craig Anderson this week.
The Flyers — who have won three in a row — are finally finding their groove again. And they’ll welcome back All-Star game MVP Wayne Simmonds.
The Leafs start their post-All-Star schedule with four in a row on the road. It will provide a good test for a young team that has evolved more quickly than many expected.
The Bruins came up with a couple of key wins last week, quieting — for a moment, anyway — the “Claude Julien must go” chatter. Boston, currently third in the Atlantic Division but having played more games than its competition, head to Tampa Bay and Washington before playing four in a row at home.
The up-and-down Kings saw a glimmer of hope as they won two straight on the road before hosting a wildly successful All-Star weekend. Getting Tyler Toffoli back should help keep L.A. pointed in the right direction.
The Canucks are gamely hanging in there and are off until Feb. 2, when they’ll start a stretch run with six of eight on the road. It’s gut-check time in Vancouver.
These are unsettled times in St. Louis, with the goaltending and team defense both in disarray. Maybe the break helped Jake Allen get his mojo back. The Blues have struggled at home of late and play three in a row in the Gateway City.
The Isles have responded to the move that replaced head coach Jack Capuano with the popular Doug Weight and are 6-2-2 in their past 10 games. February will tell the tale of their fate, as New York has eight road games, all against Eastern Conference opponents.
The Sabres are playing some of their best hockey of the season. Can they keep it going with a schedule that sees them play 14 games in February?
The Jets, like Dallas, need to show they’re playoff-worthy or else put the “for sale” sign up in advance of the trade deadline. These are especially interesting times for Ondrej Pavelec, who is trying to revive his NHL career after spending the first half of the season in the minors.
The Flames are just 13-13-0 at home — but, strangely, still hold down a playoff spot. I don’t see that continuing unless Calgary gets better goaltending and more consistent play, especially at the Saddledome.
In spite of their wildly uneven play since the firing of head coach Gerard Gallant, the Panthers are not out of it. Florida hosts Ottawa on Tuesday, but then plays five of eight on the road, where the Panthers are a tepid 9-10-7.
The Stars have not won two in a row in more than a month and now play three in a row at home, including two big Central Division matchups against Chicago and Winnipeg.
About once a month, the Devils resurface for a few minutes, appearing like they might be ready to sneak back into the playoff hunt. Then they drop just as quickly out of sight.
There’s lots of angst in Tampa, as the Lightning continue to search for an elusive groove and some sort of signal that they are capable of returning to the form we saw the past two seasons.
The Canes have to stop their current five-game slide in a hurry if they have any hope of returning to the playoff discussion.
I moved the Coyotes out of their customary spot in 29th thanks to a rare, three-game winning streak heading into the All-Star break. It provided a brief patch of light in an otherwise gloomy season.
The Wings are meandering through the season and have just four wins in 13 games so far in 2017. It’s time for GM Ken Holland to start unloading spare parts.
One win in 10 January games for the embarrassing Avs. I don’t like their chances of getting No. 2 as they visit Anaheim on Tuesday to close out another lamentable month.