1. Chicago Blackhawks (Last Week: 1; 22-9-1, 45 points) – Chicago's win streak ended at eight with a loss on Long Island, but the Blackhawks responded with two straight wins over Western Conference foes. Corey Crawford hasn't played in the team's last eight games, but Chicago hasn't missed a beat with Antti Raanta (1.85 goals-against average, .944 save percentage in six games this season) and Scott Darling (1.97 GAA, .937 save percentage in seven games). With Crawford set to return this weekend, Darling was reassigned to the AHL on Wednesday.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins (LW: 2; 20-6-4, 44 points) – The NHL puts Pittsburgh in an outdoor game once every three years, involves the team in pretty much every marketing campaign, and now can't even have a league-wide breakout of a viral infection (the mumps) without the Pens. Crosby, too! Typical NHL.
3. St. Louis Blues (LW: 4; 21-8-2, 44 points) – Vladimir Tarasenko's hat trick Tuesday made him the second player to score 20 goals this season (Rick Nash scored twice later in the night to join him and Tyler Seguin) and helped the Blues win their fifth straight.
4. Nashville Predators (LW: 3; 20-8-2, 42 points) – Pekka Rinne has had only four games with a save percentage of less than 90 in 26 starts. He highlights a Preds team that has allowed the fewest goals in the league this year (1.93 per game). Off the ice, James Neal received the league's first diving fine Wednesday.
5. Anaheim Ducks (LW: 6; 21-7-5, 47 points) – The Ducks won seven straight games before losing in Toronto on Tuesday. Just as noteworthy, Bryz is back. After Frederik Andersen started 19 straight games, he was pulled in the third period for Ilya Bryzgalov, who was activated Monday after a conditioning assignment in the AHL.
6. Tampa Bay Lightning (LW: 8; 20-10-3, 43 points) – Ben Bishop went down in Monday's loss at Pittsburgh, but 2012 first-round pick Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 23 of 24 shots en route to a win in his debut Tuesday in Philadelphia.
7. New York Islanders (LW: 7; 21-10-0, 42 points) – The Islanders are the only team without a loser point this season. There's something to be said about a team that earns its points by winning games. Actually, let's try this again.
8. Detroit Red Wings (LW: 5; 17-7-8, 42 points) – On the other hand, the Red Wings have lost in a shootout in three of their last four games and are now are tied for the most loser points in the league with eight, basically making them my least-favorite team.
9. Montreal Canadiens (LW: 11; 20-10-2, 42 points) – Alex Galchenyuk recorded his first career hat trick Tuesday in a win over Carolina, moving the Habs within a point of the first-place Lightning in the Atlantic Division.
10. San Jose Sharks (LW: 16; 17-11-4, 38 points) – San Jose has won seven of eight and is tied for second place in the Pacific Division. Joe Thornton, subject of summer trade rumors, has eight points in that span and 28 points this season.
11. Vancouver Canucks (LW: 9; 18-11-2, 38 points) – Vancouver has lost five straight and given up 19 goals in that stretch. After handling the Roberto Luongo/Cory Schneider situation so poorly they ended up with neither star netminder, Vancouver gave 34-year-old Ryan Miller a three-year deal worth $18 million last summer. So far, he has only a .900 save percentage.
12. Minnesota Wild (LW: 10; 16-12-2, 34 points) – Admitting you're wrong is hard to do. So, I won't. I still think Minnesota eventually puts a run together.
13. Toronto Maple Leafs (LW: 15; 19-9-3, 41 points) – Since a 9-2 drubbing at home against Nashville, the Leafs have won 10 of 12 and now lead the league with 3.45 goals per game. Toronto has been outshot in seven of those 12 games and still faces questions regarding sustainability.
14. Los Angeles Kings (LW: 12; 15-11-6, 36 points) – The defending champs lost five of their last six, but history makes it impossible to write off LA after a slow start.
15. New York Rangers (LW: 20; 14-10-4, 32 points) – The Rangers are riding a four-game winning streak, and after holding Edmonton to 16 shots Sunday, they were the last straw for Oilers coach Dallas Eakins.
16. Boston Bruins (LW: 18; 16-13-3, 35 points) – Zdeno Chara returned last Thursday, but the Bruins lost three straight before beating the Wild in overtime Wednesday. Two of those losses, however, came in shootouts.
17. Winnipeg Jets (LW: 14; 16-10-6, 38 points) – The Jets lost defenseman Jacob Trouba with an upper-body injury and, with defensemen Tobias Enstrom and Zach Bogosian already sidelined, are missing their three leaders in ice time. The Jets have managed to stay afloat, though, and are 4-1-2 in December.
18. Washington Capitals (LW: 17; 14-10-6, 34 points) – Washington has earned points in six straight and is third in the Metropolitan Division.
19. Florida Panthers (LW: 19; 13-8-8, 34 points) – The Panthers won a 20-round shootout over the Capitals, making for the first interesting shootout since the Flyers edged the Rangers for a playoff spot in the skills competition in 2010.
20. Calgary Flames (LW: 13; 17-13-2, 36 points) – Before extending the contract of coach Bob Hartley on Wednesday, Calgary had lost six straight games. Despite the rough stretch, the Flames are still exceeding preseason expectations.
21. Columbus Blue Jackets (LW: 26; 13-15-2, 28 points) – The Blue Jackets have won seven straight, including six one-goal games.
22. Dallas Stars (LW: 21; 12-13-5, 29 points) – With Eakins out, the Stars are now front and center as the most disappointing team in hockey. The Stars, who have allowed the most goals in the league, have won two straight, including a shutout Wednesday in Vancouver.
23. Ottawa Senators (LW: 24; 13-12-6; 32 points) – The Sens have split four games under coach Dave Cameron since he took over for Paul MacLean.
24. Philadelphia Flyers (LW: 27; 11-14-5, 27 points) – Things haven't been so bad for the Flyers lately. Nobody has the mumps, the team picked up points in five straight games before losing to Tampa on Tuesday, and the second and third lines are even starting to contribute some offense. The Flyers are in a deep hole and only three teams have fewer points, but they are one of two teams that has two players in the top 10 in scoring.
25. Colorado Avalanche (LW: 22; 10-13-7, 27 points) – The Avs have almost been sneaky in how terrible they've been this year. Seven non-shootout wins tie them with Edmonton for the fewest in the league.
26. New Jersey Devils (LW: 23; 11-16-6; 28 points) – Not only have the Devils been bad, they also have only one player younger than 30 with more than five goals (Adam Henrique). New Jersey has lost five straight.
27. Arizona Coyotes (LW: 25; 11-16-4; 26 points) – Arizona has only two wins in its last 10 games, and both came against the Oilers. I guess they technically count.
28. Buffalo Sabres (LW: 30; 13-17-2, 28 points) – A few weeks ago, I wrote that I wouldn't move Buffalo out of the last spot until it was within five shots of the next-worst average shot differential. The Sabres still aren't, and are being outshot by about 13 per night, but they have won four of five and are now up nine points on the last-place Hurricanes. At least Buffalo outshot its opponent for the third time this year Saturday against Ottawa. I'll count it.
29. Carolina Hurricanes (LW: 28; 8-19-3; 19 points) – Jordan Staal skated for the first time since Sept. 23 last week, and the Hurricanes need him and all the help they can get. Carolina has lost its last six games and 13 of 16.