NHL Power Rankings: Washington Capitals catapult to top of heap

By Randy Sportak, The Sports Xchange  |  Feb. 2, 2017 at 3:02 PM
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The best part of the NHL after the all-star break is how the caliber of play noticeably ramps up a notch.

Same thing happens after the trade deadline, which is March 1 this season.

The is the time when the league begins to truly separate the pretenders from the contenders, although the loser point sure can muddy the waters.

Here's a look at where things stand as the 2016-17 season heads toward the home stretch.

1. Washington Capitals (8)

Take a minute to appreciate the bounce-back season for one of the league's good guys, Jay Beagle, who has matched career highs with 10 goals and 20 points.

2. Minnesota Wild (2)

Is Wednesday's 5-1 loss in Calgary a blip or does it set up for a Flyers-esque drop-off for a team that had netted points in 16 straight games?

3. San Jose Sharks (6)

Allowing two or fewer goals -- as the Sharks did in seven of their last eight games in January -- is a sign this club is a step ahead in the quest to clamp down defensively.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins (4)

Trading away goalie Marc-Andre Fleury seems the obvious move for the Penguins to add a needed piece at the trade deadline.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets (1)

The more you see Seth Jones, the more you realize he's destined to be a star defenseman.

6. Anaheim Ducks (12)

Cam Fowler's development into an all-around blueliner is a prime example of patience paying dividends.

7. Chicago Blackhawks (3)

Jonathan Toews' career shooting percentage prior to this season was 15.1. This season, it's at 7.9 and he may not reach the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career.

8. Edmonton Oilers (11)

It's easy to say Leon Draisaitl's emergence is just because he's playing with Connor McDavid, but that's too simple. Draisaitl is blossoming into a perfect complement.

9. Montreal Canadiens (7)

Warning sign: The Habs have 10 wins in their last 20 games, and only four of those came against teams currently in a playoff spot: Anaheim, Nashville, New York Rangers and Calgary.

10. New York Rangers (5)

Is this season simply an off-year for goalie Henrik Lundqvist or a sign of being on the downside of his career?

11. Nashville Predators (22)

Despite losing top defenseman Roman Josi for nearly a month, the Preds are among the league's hottest teams and climbed into a playoff spot.

12. Ottawa Senators (10)

Craig Anderson returning to the team is great news on two fronts, for the Senators' playoff hopes and a sign his wife, Nicholle, is doing better in her cancer fight.

13. Los Angeles Kings (16)

Is there a goal-scorer out there for the Kings to acquire before the trade deadline? Jeff Carter can't keep being a one-man show in that regard.

14. Calgary Flames (14)

The need for a defense partner for T.J. Brodie good enough to play on the second pairing is becoming as obvious as the need for a goalie to take the top job.

15. New York Islanders (23)

The Isles are on a 6-0-1 run and those victories came against Boston, Dallas, Los Angeles, Columbus, Montreal and Washington. Maybe a playoff spot isn't out of the question.

16. Toronto Maple Leafs (19)

It must be nice to be able to debate who's been a better rookie: Auston Matthews or Mitch Marner.

17. Boston Bruins (13)

That hold on a playoff spot is about to lost, especially if Patrice Bergeron is facing an injury that will cost a couple of weeks.

18. Florida Panthers (21)

As well as Vincent Trocheck has been, the Panthers' playoff hopes will rest on Sasha Barkov returning early in February and Jonathan Huberdeau in March, and both producing.

19. Philadelphia Flyers (17)

Speaking of teams checking the rearview mirror, the Flyers must be trying for a goalie upgrade to hold onto their spot in the playoff race.

20. St. Louis Blues (9)

The Blues used their big bullet by firing head coach Ken Hitchcock, but unless their team defense and goaltending improves, the free-fall will continue.

21. Dallas Stars (18)

Let's not read too much into wins over Toronto and Buffalo. Maybe it's the start of a much-needed streak for the floundering club, but it's been an awful year in Big D.

22. Winnipeg Jets (26)

Scoring 26 goals in the last six games, as the Jets have done, makes for fun hockey. But the goaltending, even with the recall of Ondrej Pavelec, remains as chilly as January at Portage and Main.

23. Carolina Hurricanes (23)

The Hurricanes need to unearth a few more players like Sebastian Aho to go to another level.

24. Vancouver Canucks (24)

Can Alexandre Burrows net something of value for the Canucks come trade deadline?

25. Tampa Bay Lightning (15)

Floundering goalie Ben Bishop must be dealt, right? With so many teams are in dire need of a netminder, someone will take a calculated gamble and give up plenty in return.

26. New Jersey Devils (28)

This will be five straight seasons without playoffs for the Devils, who need a new wave of young players to start making their mark.

27. Buffalo Sabres (27)

Maybe this season will be the one the Sabres win the lottery. It would be the high point for a disappointing year.

28. Detroit Red Wings (25)

The last time the Red Wings drafted in the top three was 1990, when they took Keith Primeau third overall.

29. Arizona Coyotes (29)

The long-term losing must be abated before all the young players the Coyotes are trying to build around become used to it.

30. Colorado Avalanche (30)

Maybe the answer would be to give Ken Hitchcock a call to see whether he wants the challenge of turning this franchise around.

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