Since the NHL All-Star Weekend activities came to an end yesterday, it is now time to focus on the second half of the regular season and the playoff chase. The trade deadline is also less than a month away. Here are the top 10 teams in the NHL entering the second half of the season.
10. Columbus Blue Jackets: Columbus hasn't been healthy often during the 2017-2018 season. They recently got Zach Werenski, Cam Atkinson, and Alexander Wennberg back. That is a good thing because they will be able to develop some chemistry once again. Columbus had different players step up in the first half, but they need to improve on special teams in the second half and Sergei Bobrovsky needs to continue his dominance between the pipes. The Blue Jackets record so far this season is 27-19-3 with 57 points. Last week's ranking: 9
9. Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins have won their last eight out of eleven games and they might be starting to get it together. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel are taking their game to another level right now. The Penguins goal differential now is only -2, 151 goals scored and 153 goals given up. Pittsburgh's goal differential used to be worse earlier in the season. They fixed their defense and Matt Murray needs to return to his championship form. Pittsburgh's record so far this season when they score three or more goals in a game is 25-5-2. Their overall record is 27-21-3 with 57 points. Last week's ranking: not ranked.
8. Toronto Maple Leafs: Toronto hasn't been ranked in my top 10 in a while because they hit some rough patches. When they are hitting on all cylinders, they are one of the most dangerous teams in the NHL. Toronto can roll out four lines and they can score at any moment. The Maple Leafs have scored 162 goals which is the fifth most in the NHL. Toronto's record is 26-5-1 when they score three goals or more in a game so far this season. Their overall record is 28-15-1 with 61 points. Last week's ranking: not ranked.
7. Washington Capitals: Washington got out of its own way before the end of the first half, but they should feel the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Columbus Blue Jackets climbing up on them. It is surprising that Braden Holtby has not recorded a shutout this season, but Alex Ovechkin leads the NHL in 30 goals scored. The Capitals will look to continue to play inspiring hockey and maybe they can finally overcome the playoff demons. Washington's record so far this season is 29-15-5 with 63 points. Last week's ranking: 6.
6. Vegas Golden Knights: The Golden Knights have scored 164 goals so far this season and they have given up 128 goals. That is one of the better goal differentials in the NHL this season. However, they play in most likely the weakest division in the NHL. In the second half, they will fall back down to earth a little bit, but they will still be tough to play against. The Golden Knights record so far this season is 32-12-4 with 68 points. Last week's ranking: 3.
5. St. Louis Blues: Jaden Schwartz just returned in the Blues 3-1 win on Thursday against the Colorado Avalanche. I expect the Schwartz factor to kick in early and often in the second half of the season for the Blues. Jake Allen will be a different goaltender in the second half of the season for the Blues. They also have one of the most underrated defensive units in the NHL led by Alex Pietrangelo. The Blues record so far this season is 30-18-3 with 63 points. Last week's ranking: 7.
4. Boston Bruins: The Bruins are one of the most difficult teams to play against in the NHL. Boston has scored 156 goals and they have given up 116 goals so far this season. Everyone seems to hate Brad Marchand right now because he was allowed to play in the All-Star Tournament despite the fact he was suspended five games by the NHL for elbowing New Jersey Devils' Marcus Johansson. The Bruins might be the biggest threat to the Tampa Bay Lightning right now in the Eastern Conference. Boston's record so far this season is 29-10-8 with 66 points. Last week's ranking: 4.
3. Nashville Predators: The ground and pound game of the Nashville Predators continues to frustrate opponents. Their style helps when they have one of the best defensive units in the league and a very valuable goaltender in Pekka Rinne. His record so far this season is 24-8-3 with a .927 save percentage and a 2.35 GAA, along with four shutouts. Nashville has given up 123 goals in the NHL so far this season which is the third best in the NHL. The Predators record so far this season is 29-11-7 with 65 points. Last week's ranking: 5.
2. Winnipeg Jets: The Jets need to make sure they don't hit a wall in the second half of the season. The most important thing for Winnipeg is that Connor Hellebuyck continues to play sharp and stays healthy. If he isn't playing well or if he isn't healthy, the Jets will be in big-time trouble. His record is 26-6-7 with a .924 save percentage and a 2.35 GAA, along with four shutouts. Blake Wheeler needs to continue being a vocal leader in the locker room. Winnipeg's record so far this season is 29-13-8 with 66 points. Last week's ranking: 1.
1.Tampa Bay Lightning: When Tampa Bay struggled for a tad, they figured out their problems in a hurry and they are back in the number one spot. They won three straight games into the All-Star Break and Tampa Bay knows Boston isn't far behind them in the standings. Tampa Bay has scored 175 goals and given up 125 goals so far this season. That's the best goal differential in the NHL still. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos need to get putting their foot on the gas pedal. Andrei Vasilevskiy continues to be a sensational story between the pipes for the Lightning this season. His record is 29-9-2 with a .931 save percentage and a 2.18 GAA, along with seven shutouts. Tampa Bay's record so far this season is 34-12-3 with 71 points. Last week's ranking: 2.