1. Chicago Blackhawks (Last Week: 1; 23-10-2, 48 points) – Clark Griswold would be proud as the Blackhawks enter the Christmas break still looking like the best team in hockey. Despite a 5-1 loss against Winnipeg Tuesday, Chicago still owns the league's best goal differential, top-notch fancy stats in the Corsi and Fenwick categories, and first place in a loaded Central Division.
2. New York Islanders (LW: 7; 23-11-0, 46 points) – Before losing to Montreal Tuesday, the Isles had won four straight including victories over Chicago, Detroit, and Tampa Bay. New York has outshot its opponents in five straight and remains near the top of the standings almost halfway through the season.
3. Pittsburgh Penguins (LW: 2; 22-7-5, 49 points) – The Pens lost a pair of games in Florida against the Panthers and Lightning before heading into the break and sent Steve Downie, Brandon Sutter, and Thomas Greiss back to Pittsburgh to be tested for the mumps. Probably a good time for a break for the Metropolitan Division leaders.
4. Anaheim Ducks (LW: 5; 23-8-5, 51 points) – Ryan Kesler has been everything Anaheim could have wanted when the Ducks acquired him from Vancouver over the summer. His 12th goal put a bow on a comeback win against the red-hot Sharks Monday. Kesler, filling what was a second-line center void, has 27 points in 36 games this year.
5. Nashville Predators (LW: 4; 22-9-2, 46 points) – The Preds keep rolling. They've won three of four and scored 17 goals in that span. With Pekka Rinne playing Vezina-caliber goaltending, that will get it done.
6. St. Louis Blues (LW: 3; 21-10-3, 45 points) – Martin Brodeur was at the forefront when the Blues blew a three-goal lead and lost, 6-3, in Los Angeles Thursday. Dwight King's bouncing, half-ice goal capped the night and Brodeur now owns an abysmal .892 save percentage in five games and an .874 save percentage in three starts. Did the Blues do their due diligence when looking for a washed-up goalie? Is Dominik Hasek still interested in playing? Would Patrick Roy prefer the crease to behind the bench? Is Tony Esposito still alive? Even if he's not, set him up Weekend at Bernie's-style and with today's pads he'd still stop 90 percent of the shots on him. At least Brian Elliott practiced Monday and could be back soon.
7. San Jose Sharks (LW: 10; 19-11-5, 43 points) – Before blowing Monday's game in Anaheim, the Sharks had won nine of 10 and scored a last-minute goal to force overtime en route to beating St. Louis Saturday. Riding the same core of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, and Joe Pavelski, San Jose has moved into second place in the Pacific Division.
8. Detroit Red Wings (LW: 8; 18-8-9, 45 points) – Detroit scored five unanswered to come back and beat Buffalo, 6-3 Tuesday, ending a string of six straight losses. That said, it seemed like that rough stretch had more to do with bad puck luck than poor play. The Wings outshot their opponents in four of those games, lost four times in the shootout, and lost a one-goal game in regulation against the Islanders.
9. Montreal Canadiens (LW: 9; 22-11-2, 46 points) – With its divisional rivals slumping, Montreal zipped to the top of the Atlantic Division on the back of Carey Price. He's won five of his last six games and allowed eight goals in that span.
10. Tampa Bay Lightning (LW 6; 21-11-4, 46 points) – Tyler Johnson's hat trick helped the Bolts beat Pittsburgh for the first time in over three years. The marquee win might help boost a team that's lost six of nine and dropped into second place in the Atlantic Division.
11. New York Rangers (LW: 15; 18-10-4, 40 points) – The defending Eastern Conference Champions are starting to turn it on. The Blueshirts have won seven straight and Rick Nash is second in the league with 22 goals.
12. Vancouver Canucks (LW: 11; 20-11-2, 42 points) – The Canucks began to turn it around over the last week. After scoring seven goals over five straight losses, Vancouver erupted for 10 in two wins over Calgary and Arizona, including a 7-1 win against the Coyotes.
13. Los Angeles Kings (LW: 14; 17-11-7, 41 points) – While Anze Kopitar has gotten more attention for his two-way play as the Kings developed into one of the league's powers, the last week or so has been all about his scoring. Kopitar, who had 13 points through the first 28 games, has 10 in his last four contests.
14. Minnesota Wild (LW: 12; 16-13-3, 35 points) – Despite a middling record, the Wild average the fourth-most shots per game and allow the fewest on average. Darcy Kuemper (.903 save percentage) and Niklas Backstrom (.901) have both been lackluster in net for Minnesota, which has lost four straight.
15. Washington Capitals (LW: 18; 17-11-6, 40 points) – The Caps are 7-1-2 in their last 10 games with the help of Braden Holtby. The netminder has started every game in that stretch and raised his save percentage from .909 to .917 in the process.
16. Boston Bruins (LW: 16; 18-4-3, 39 points) – The Bruins have won three of four and 21-year-old defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who scored twice including an overtime winner in Sunday's victory against Buffalo, has 20 points and is already five away from matching a career best.
17. Winnipeg Jets (LW: 17; 18-10-7, 43 points) – The Jets lost Mark Stuart to a lower-body injury and are now without four of the defensemen they started the season with. Winnipeg hasn't slowed down, though, and has now won three of four including Tuesday's win at Chicago.
18. Toronto Maple Leafs (LW: 13; 20-12-3, 43 points) – Toronto followed up its six-game winning streak with three straight losses before shutting out Dallas on Tuesday.
19. Florida Panthers (LW: 19; 15-9-8, 38 points) – The Panthers lead the league with nine shootouts and have played 52 rounds of the skills competition this year, including 33 in their last four games. Florida's rise to respectability would be a lot more impressive if it actually picked up its points playing hockey. The Cats' last four wins have been in the shootout and they don't have a regulation or overtime win since December 6.
20. Calgary Flames (LW: 20; 18-15-3, 39 points) – While Johnny Football has had an incredibly disappointing debut in Cleveland, Johnny Hockey is pushing himself into the Calder Trophy discussion. Johnny Gaudreau's natural hat trick erased a three-goal deficit and propelled the Flames to snap an eight-game losing streak in Los Angeles Monday. Gaudreau, who has netted game-tying goals in the third period of his last two games, has 10 goals and 27 points, second among rookies and five points behind Nashville's Filip Forsberg.
21. Columbus Blue Jackets (LW: 21; 14-16-3, 31 points) – Columbus' run of nine straight games with a point came to an end with a loss against Nashville Monday. When the streak started, the Blue Jackets had the fewest points in the league. Now, they're seven points from a playoff spot.
22. Philadelphia Flyers (LW: 24; 14-14-6, 34 points) – The Flyers have scored 17 goals in their three-game winning streak and Jakub Voracek (46 points) and Claude Giroux (41 points) now rank first and third in the league in scoring. Perhaps more encouraging is the emergence of secondary scoring on each line. Wayne Simmonds has scored seven times in 10 games and leads the team with 15 goals, Sean Couturier has five goals in 11 games this month, and even Vincent Lecavalier has three goals in his past two games.
23. Colorado Avalanche (LW: 25; 13-13-8, 34 points) – Calvin Pickard had a .939 save percentage while filling in for Semyon Varlamov, but the Russian goaltender returned Tuesday and shut out the Blues to get the Avs their third straight win.
24. Dallas Stars (LW: 22; 14-14-5, 33 points) – The Stars won four in a row before losing against Toronto Tuesday, but Dallas still sits in last place in the Central Division.
25. Ottawa Senators (LW: 23; 14-14-6, 34 points) – The Sens let 19-year-old rookie Curtis Lazar leave the team to captain Team Canada at the World Junior Tournament on December 18, and he could be playing against other teenagers until as late as January 5. That probably says enough about where Ottawa is at right now.
26. Arizona Coyotes (LW: 27; 12-18-4, 28 points) – Mike Smith is in the second year of a six-year, $34 million deal and has an .889 save percentage. Eleven goaltenders currently have a deal worth more than $30 million: Roberto Luongo (bad deal), Henrik Lundqvist (good deal), Jonathan Quick (too soon to tell), Tuukka Rask (good deal), Pekka Rinne (too soon to tell), Carey Price (good deal), Cam Ward (bad deal), Corey Crawford (too soon to tell), Marc-Andre Fleury (bad deal), Mike Smith (bad deal), and Jimmy Howard (good deal). So, that's four good contracts, four bad ones, and three in which it's too soon to tell. Is it really worth using up significant cap space in net when the results are a crapshoot?
27. New Jersey Devils (LW: 26; 12-17-7, 31 points) – After the Devils lost for the eighth time in nine games Tuesday, Jaromir Jagr said he doesn't believe in a break. It'd be nice if the NHL felt the same way. With so many people going home for the holidays, doesn't it make sense to play some games for people returning home to be able to watch their teams instead of taking three days off? At the very least, it makes more sense than playing 11 games on New Year's Eve, when even the diehards are trying to make other plans.
28. Buffalo Sabres (LW: 28; 13-19-3, 29 points) – Considering Buffalo's entire season is essentially being played with the backdrop of the 2015 draft, it seems like a good time to mention the World Junior Championship starts Friday and has two of the more highly-touted prospects in recent years. Connor McDavid, the favorite to be the first overall pick of next year's draft, is over a broken right hand and will play for Canada. Jack Eichel has 27 points as a freshman at Boston University, tied for the most in Division I, and will highlight the United States' roster.
29. Carolina Hurricanes (LW: 29; 10-20-4, 24 points) – The Hurricanes beat the Devils in a shootout Tuesday, 2-1, in a game in which the two Zamboni drivers and one of the guys who opens and closes the door to the penalty box had to be considered for the three stars of the night.