NHL Power Rankings 2015-16: Defending Finalists Blackhawks, Lightning Surge

Don’t look now, but the defending Eastern Conference champions are heating up.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have won three straight games and six of their last 10 to leapfrog the Boston Bruins and take the first wild card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Second-line center Tyler Johnson has battled injuries this season, but he’s back in the lineup and scored his first goal since Nov. 25 during Tuesday night’s win over the Colorado Avalanche. Steven Stamkos scored twice and Ondrej Palat scored another, while No. 1 goalie Ben Bishop made 21 saves for a 4-0 shutout.

Bishop has carried Tampa Bay for most of the campaign, but the team’s recent offensive surge is quite encouraging. The Lightning have one of the deepest and most talented forward groups in the league, and now that it’s fully healthy, the rest of the league should be worried.

Here are this week’s NHL power rankings. All records current as of Jan. 13.

1. Washington Capitals (32-7-3, Last week: 1): A four-game win streak and an 8-1-1 record in their last 10 games has the Caps atop my power rankings another week. Did I mention Alexander Ovechkin leads the league in goals scored?

2. Dallas Stars (29-11-4, Last week: 2): The Stars are suddenly on a downward spiral with losses in four of their last five games, including a combined 12 goals given up against the two New York teams.

3. Los Angeles Kings (27-12-3, Last week: 3): Kings center Anze Kopitar, who’s playing for a new contract, has tallied seven points in five January games. L.A. has won seven of its last 10.

4. Florida Panthers (26-12-5, Last week: 4): Florida has taken points in 10 straight games and starting goalie Roberto Luongo is making a strong case for the Hart and Vezina trophies. He’s the reason the Panthers own the league’s top 5-on-5 save percentage.

5. Chicago Blackhawks (28-13-4, Last week: 5): Chicago’s 8-2-0 mark in its last 10 games has shrunk Dallas’ lead atop the Central Division to just two points.

6. St. Louis Blues (25-14-7, Last week: 6): St. Louis losing the NFL’s Rams created a few jokes on Twitter, and the Blues were not immune.

7. Minnesota Wild (22-13-8, Last week: 8): Back-to-back losses to Buffalo and New Jersey aren’t a good sign for Minnesota, especially with the race for third place in the Central intensifying.

8. New York Islanders (23-15-5, Last week: 7): The Isles have three losses in their last five games by a combined score of 13-3. A tough rivalry matchup with the Rangers looms Thursday.

9. Detroit Red Wings (22-14-7, Last week: 11): The Red Wings finish a six-game Western road trip on Thursday. They’re 4-1 in the first five games, including a 2-1 mark on their trip through California.

10. New York Rangers (22-14-4, Last week: 9): The Rangers are the fifth-worst puck possession team in the league based on Corsi percentage, but their league-leading 9.8 shooting percentage at even strength is keeping them afloat.

11. Tampa Bay Lightning (22-17-4, Last week: 16): Steven Stamkos has goals in four of his last five games and trails league leader Alex Ovechkin by five. Tampa Bay’s captain couldn’t have started to heat up at a better time.

12. Montreal Canadiens (23-17-3, Last week: 10): The Canadiens have won just three of their last 10 games with a brutal upcoming stretch that includes matchups with the Blackhawks (twice), Bruins and Blues over the next week.

13. Boston Bruins (21-15-5, Last week: 12): Boston has dropped back-to-back games with losses in seven of its last 10. David Krejci’s absence is the primary reason the B’s have scored one goal or less in six of the last 10 games.

14. Arizona Coyotes (22-16-4, Last week: 17): Arizona has won four in a row and Max Domi continues to rank among the top Calder Trophy candidates.

15. Nashville Predators (19-17-7, Last week: 13): Ryan Johansen has a goal and two assists in his first three games for the Predators since the blockbuster trade with the Blue Jackets. Not a bad start.

16. New Jersey Devils (21-18-5, Last week: 15): The Devils have played a tough January schedule with six games against playoff opponents. They went 2-4-0 in that span.

17. Pittsburgh Penguins (19-15-5, Last week: 18): The Pens have taken points from eight of their last 10 games to remain within striking distance of a wild-card playoff spot.

18. Ottawa Senators (20-17-6, Last week: 14): The Sens have lost seven of their last 10 games and need to turn it around quickly because Tampa Bay is making its march up the Atlantic Division standings.

19. Anaheim Ducks (16-15-7, Last week: 20): The Ducks have been snakebit with a league-worst 4.7 shooting percentage at even strength. On the bright side, Anaheim is the third-best possession team with a 53.7 Corsi percentage. Once the luck turns around, expect the Ducks to take hold of a Pacific Division playoff spot.

20. Carolina Hurricanes (19-18-7, Last week: 26): The Hurricanes are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games and closing in on a playoff spot. They’ve been a great possession team all season; now they’re just getting some luck offensively.

21. Philadelphia Flyers (18-15-7, Last week: 24): The Flyers are chasing a wild-card berth after going 6-3-1 in their last 10 games. They have a pivotal matchup Wednesday night against the Bruins, who occupy the second and final WC spot.

22. Vancouver Canucks (17-16-10, Last week: 15): Vancouver has taken points from eight of its last 10 games.

23. Winnipeg Jets (19-21-3, Last week: 19): A three-game skid has halted the momentum Winnipeg generated from its good start to the month. It’s almost time to push the panic button in Manitoba.

24. Colorado Avalanche (21-20-3, Last week: 22): The Avs have lost two straight and six of their last 10. This might be the inevitable regression the analytics community predicted. It’s incredibly difficult to be out shot for so long and consistently win games.

25. San Jose Sharks (21-18-2), Last week: 21): The Sharks had the fifth-worst record a week ago, but a three-game win streak has eased some of the tensions in San Jose.

26. Calgary Flames (19-20-2, Last week: 23): The Flames have fallen to the bottom of the league in even-strength save percentage, and controlling just 47.7 percent of possession isn’t good, either.

27. Edmonton Oilers (17-23-4, Last week: 27): Life without the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft hasn’t been enjoyable.

28. Toronto Maple Leafs (16-17-7, Last week: 28): This is a costly injury for a Leafs team that’s won six of its last 10 games.

29. Buffalo Sabres (15-21-4, Last week: 29): The Sabres still have the second-worst record in the league, but now they have company with Edmonton. Both teams have 38 points and three wins in their last 10 games.

30. Columbus Blue Jackets (15-25-4, Last week: 30): The Blue Jackets have lost four straight and rank 29th in even-strength save percentage. There’s nothing to be positive about in Columbus right now.

Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images

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