Power Rankings: The Washington Capitals just keep gaining on the rest of league

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The Washington Capitals look unbeatable and are beginning to run away with a loaded Metropolitan Division, holding a seven-point lead on Columbus and Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, last year's Stanley Cup finalist, the San Jose Sharks, are starting to make their move, too.

1. (Last week: 1) Washington Capitals, 36-11-6

Washington had a perfect weekend, with a win Saturday afternoon at Montreal and then a smoke job of Los Angeles at home on Sunday. The only thing that can slow these guys down before the playoffs is boredom.

2. (2) Minnesota Wild, 34-12-5

The impressive Wild wrap up their Western Canadian road trip Tuesday in Winnipeg and then open up an eight-game home stand, which is a chance to put real distance between themselves and Chicago for the Central Division lead.

3. (7) San Jose Sharks, 33-17-3

The sizzling Sharks are 8-1-1 in their past 10 games as they embark on a four-game road trek through Buffalo, Boston, Philadelphia and New Jersey, their last games in the Eastern time zone this season.

4. (3) Pittsburgh Penguins, 33-13-5

The NHL's top-scoring team, at 3.57 goals per game, needs to tighten up a tad defensively. The Pens are 21st and allow 2.86 goals against per game.

5. (10) Chicago Blackhawks, 32-17-5

The Hawks are four points back of division-leading Minnesota but have played three more games -- which is another reason Wednesday's road tilt against the Wild is a huge one for them.

6. (3) Edmonton Oilers, 29-18-8

The Oilers entered their five-day bye week with a big 1-0 shootout win at Montreal on Super Bowl Sunday. They've scored only three goals in four games since the All-Star break, not counting the shootout decider Sunday, obviously.

7. (6) Anaheim Ducks, 28-16-10

The Ducks opened their six-game road trip with back-to-back losses against the two Florida teams. Next up, the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.

8. (4) Montreal Canadiens, 30-16-8

One more compressed week for the sputtering Habs -- four games in six days again -- before they can breathe during their five-day bye break next week. After that, the schedule is a little more humane.

9. (7) Columbus Blue Jackets, 33-13-5

Since winning an amazing 16 consecutive games, the Jackets have gone 6-8-1. They've also given up four or more goals in six straight games. But Columbus also still has the league's top power play.

10. (11) New York Rangers, 33-18-1

Winger Michael Grabner -- surely one of the great summer signings at two years and just $1.65 million per -- now has 23 goals.

11. (9) Nashville Predators, 25-19-8

Sometimes the smallest moves can pay off at this time of year. Perhaps that will be the case with fourth-line center Vernon Fiddler, whom Nashville acquired from the Devils on Saturday. He's a gritty, character guy who adds defensive depth down the middle.

12. (12) Ottawa Senators, 27-17-6

The Atlantic Division-leading Habs have been vulnerable during their compressed-schedule stretch over the past six weeks, and second-place Ottawa has four games in hand. Yet the Sens haven't taken advantage, losing four of their past six games -- including 4-0 at Buffalo on Saturday.

13. (16) Los Angeles Kings, 27-22-4

L.A.'s five-game winning streak came to a halt with a 5-0 loss at Washington, but the Kings still certainly look like a playoff team these days.

14. (13) Toronto Maple Leafs, 24-17-9

The young Buds snapped a three-game losing streak with a massive, character-building win at Boston on Saturday night. The win moved Toronto just one point behind the B's for the third playoff spot in the Atlantic with five games in hand.

15. (13) Philadelphia Flyers, 26-20-7

Are these guys a playoff team or not? There might not be a team that confuses me more than the Flyers do. They can look legit some nights, not so much on others.

16. (18) St. Louis Blues, 25-22-5

Losing the talented Robby Fabbri for the season to a torn knee ligament -- as the Blues fight for their playoff lives -- is a crushing blow. One has to assume that whatever Kevin Shattenkirk nets in a trade before March 1 will include a forward in return, although you can't easily replace a player like Fabbri.

17. (19) New York Islanders, 22-18-10

The Doug Weight mojo train takes a hit with tough, back-to-back 5-4 weekend losses to Detroit and Carolina. The Isles are five points back of a playoff spot, and it's time for another run.

18. (15) Boston Bruins, 26-23-6

The Bruins have played more games than anyone in the Eastern Conference, which on one hand makes them vulnerable. But on the flip side, in the year of the compressed schedule, it might not be such a bad thing to be done with it and have fresher legs the rest of the way.

19. (27) Carolina Hurricanes, 24-20-7

Oh, those streaky Canes. Four consecutive wins followed by five consecutive losses followed by three consecutive wins. Carolina is four points behind the Flyers for the last wild-card spot with two games in hand.

20. (23) Florida Panthers, 23-19-10

The healthy Panthers have won three in a row and are just two points out of a playoff spot. But now they rest during their bye week.

21. (22) Calgary Flames, 27-25-3

The Flames are in a six-team race for one of two wild-card spots. They need to tighten up defensively if they're going to hold on to one of those spots.

22. (26) Tampa Bay Lightning, 23-24-6

The crazy thing is that even with the Bolts sitting last in the Eastern Conference, they're still within shouting distance of the third playoff spot in the inviting Atlantic Division. Might be too little, too late.

23. (21) Winnipeg Jets, 25-26-4

The Jets' three-game win streak was snapped with a 5-2 loss Saturday to lowly Colorado. Ouch.

24. (17) Vancouver Canucks, 23-23-6

Reality is settling in for a Canucks team that was never good enough to make the playoffs this season.

25. (19) New Jersey Devils, 22-21-10

Very few teams have salary-cap space; the Devils have loads of it. GM Ray Shero wants to use that as an asset as he continues to reshape this roster over the next six months.

26. (20) Buffalo Sabres, 21-20-10

GM Tim Murray really, really doesn't want to be a seller again. Saturday's win over Ottawa needs to be the start of a major run for the Sabres.

27. (24) Dallas Stars, 21-22-10

It just doesn't feel like a run is going to happen for Dallas, so GM Jim Nill is going to have to be a seller. The Stars have oodles of talent but they continue to be porous defensively as a team plus can't buy a save (Dallas is 28th in team save percentage, at .896).

28. (29) Detroit Red Wings, 22-21-9

After a few false alarms the past few seasons, it looks like the 25-year playoff streak is really going to end in 2017.

29. (28) Arizona Coyotes, 17-28-6

If a cat has nine lives, I wonder how many a Coyote has. Now that the Tempe arena plan is dead, the franchise will look at its other local options for a new home. But ownership was really banking on the Tempe deal, so it's in a tough spot.

30. (30) Colorado Avalanche, 14-33-2

John Mitchell, Rene Bourque, Fedor Tyutin and the great Jarome Iginla are among the pending unrestricted free agents who could be moved before the March 1 trade deadline. Iginla, 39, wants to join a playoff team, and who could blame him? This could be his last hurrah.