With its top line once again intact, Ottawa reclaims the position it held when the puck dropped in October.
Carolina continues to make a strong case for top-billing, while Detroit licks its wounds after back-to-back losses to Nashville.
(Records and rankings through Wednesday, January 25.)
1. Ottawa Senators (33-10-4; Previous: 2) – They're healthy again. Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley all had a hand in the same scoring play Saturday for the first time since Dec. 17. Is it really fair that Ottawa is the frontrunner in the Doug Weight sweepstakes?
2. Carolina Hurricanes (34-11-4; Previous: 3) – It's the only NHL team that can boast two winning streaks of at least nine games. Heck, no team has done that since 1996. An unsung hero has been backup goalie Cam Ward, who posted four wins and a .933 save percentage during the most recent streak.
3. Detroit Red Wings (32-13-4; Previous: 1) – Coach Mike Babcock says he wants to see more playoff-type goals in the regular season – whatever those are. Seems he thinks the team took too many of its 80 shots in back-to-back losses to Nashville from, well, wing-and-a-prayer territory.
4. Philadelphia Flyers (30-12-8; Previous: 4) – Further evidence that preseason games mean nothing: Jon Sim was dealt to Florida Monday in exchange for a sixth-round draft pick. Sim led all NHL players in preseason goals, but had a hard time cracking coach Ken Hitchcock's lineup in the regular season. He'll be a nice fit in Florida where they don't play defense anyway.
5. Buffalo Sabres (30-15-3; Previous: 5) – Eventually, a video review will go their way, right? The Darius Kaspariatis hit on Tim Connolly Tuesday added injury (Connolly will miss at least six weeks) to an insulting week for the Sabres.
6. Calgary Flames (29-15-5; Previous: 10) – Watch out. For the first time this season, both goalie Miikka Kiprusoff (1.88 GAA in January) and captain Jarome Iginla (season-high eight goals this month) are on top of their games. Matthew Lombardi has been a nice fit lately on the top line.
7. Dallas Stars (32-15-2; Previous: 6) – Another Marty Turco mini-slump is over – hopefully. He was pulled from three of six starts, but rebounded with a 17-save performance in a 4-1 win over Phoenix Monday. He helped Dallas improve to 6-0 in shootouts Wednesday.
8. Nashville Predators (31-12-6; Previous: 13) – After going winless in eight straight against teams with a winning record, Nashville won back-to-backs at Detroit. Never mind that they were spotted a 1-0 lead Monday, the streak is something to build on.
9. Colorado Avalanche (28-19-3; Previous: 8) – David Aebischer tied Patrick Roy's team record for wins in a month Tuesday, and on the same night emulated the goaltending legend by mixing it up with the opposing goalie. Don't let the recent string of four-goal games fool you. He was simply spectacular in Saturday's loss to Detroit.
10. Vancouver Canucks (28-17-5; Previous: 7) – Typical week for the Canucks: impressive home wins against Buffalo and Montreal, flat road losses at St. Louis and Columbus. The best home team in the Western Conference just can't find consistency on the road.
11. New York Rangers (28-15-7; Previous: 12) – The Rangers hadn't won a season series against New Jersey since 1996-97. That changed Sunday when New York improved to 4-1-1 against the Devils with only two games left. On the same night Henrik Lundqvist became the first Rangers' rookie to win 20 games since Mike Richter.
13. San Jose Sharks (23-17-6; Previous: 14) – Only nine San Jose Sharks were wearing teal the last time Owen Nolan played in a San Jose uniform. Most of them would welcome his return, and according to the San Francisco Chronicle Nolan is about 7-10 days from receiving medical clearance to resume playing. His first call may be to the Sharks.
14. Atlanta Thrashers (23-21-6; Previous: 9) – Marc Savard and Ilya Kovalchuk have slowed down a bit. Coach Bob Hartley tried to energize their line Tuesday by adding Peter Bondra, who had been out since early December with a groin injury.
15. Los Angeles Kings (30-19-3; Previous: 11) – The Kings are now winless in their last eight games in San Jose. The Olympic break can't come soon enough for the injury-riddled team.
16. Tampa Bay Lightning (25-20-4); Previous 20) – The Lightning won the final three games on their western road trip by a 12-4 margin, then returned to Florida and set a franchise record with 50 shots in a home game.
17. Edmonton Oilers (26-18-6; Previous: 16) – Still a lot of talk, but no action yet about acquiring a goalie. According to the Edmonton Sun, a deal could get done by next week. But will it be for a goalie or a defenseman?
18. Anaheim Mighty Ducks (21-17-10; Previous: 19) – The Ducks need production from forwards not named Selanne or McDonald.
21. Phoenix Coyotes (24-24-2; Previous: 22) – The Petr Nedved trade could be just the beginning. Back-to-back games against San Jose and Edmonton this weekend will go a long way toward determining the Coyotes' trade-deadline plans.
22. Montreal Canadiens (22-19-6; Previous: 23) – Coach Bob Gainey benched Jan Bulis prior to Wednesday's game at Philadelphia. Not only did Bulis talk his way back into the lineup, he scored four goals in a 5-3 Montreal win.
23. Columbus Blue Jackets (18-30-2; Previous: 24) – Don't call defenseman Bryan Berard hockey's equivalent of Rafael Palmeiro. He may be every bit as embarrassed by his positive steroid test, but it hasn't shown it on the ice.
25. Florida Panthers (19-24-8; Previous: 21) – Already the NHL's leader in minutes played, Roberto Luongo backstopped overtime games on back-to-back nights. That's a lot of minutes. And with Florida's defense, they aren't easy minutes.
26. Washington Capitals (17-26-5; Previous: 26) – Alexander Ovechkin is the better rookie, except when he's head-to-head with Sidney Crosby. Pittsburgh throttled the Caps 8-1 Wednesday and Crosby extended his points lead to 6-2 in meetings of these Calder favorites.
27. New York Islanders (20-25-3; Previous: 25) – They've lost 12 of 15, their goalie is shell-shocked and their captain is regularly booed on home ice.
28. Chicago Blackhawks (16-27-6; Previous: 29) – The Blackhawks earned points in four straight games. Then Nikolai Khabibulin got hurt – again. Corey Crawford, 21, may get his first career start in goal Thursday.
29. St. Louis Blues (11-29-8; Previous: 30) – After bottoming-out last week, St. Louis responded by earning points in a season-best three straight games. How will they celebrate? Maybe by trading leading scorers Doug Weight and Mike Sillinger.
30. Pittsburgh Penguins (12-29-9; Previous: 28) – Pittsburgh may well break camp for the 2006-07 season with a 19-year-old captain. Sidney Crosby is the front-runner to wear the "C" next season, but out of respect for the recently retired Mario Lemieux, the team will finish the season with three alternate captains.