The All-Star weekend is officially over, which means it's time to get back to business.
With less than three months remaining in the regular season, expect teams to ramp it up in an effort to make a playoff push. Get ready for more low-scoring games as teams will tighten up defensively. The rink will begin to shrink, the whistles will be swallowed, and the most grueling postseason in sports is almost around the corner.
So let's take a look at each team's X-factor heading into the back-nine of the NHL season.
Check in with CSNChicago.com for updated rankings every Monday throughout the 2015-16 campaign. Here's where we're at so far: Preseason rankings | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 | Week 12 | Week 13 | Week 14 | Week 15 | Week 16
35-8-4, 74 points: Evgeny Kuznetsov. The 23-year-old center has evolved into an All-Star (he replaced Alex Ovechkin in Nashville over the weekend), and has helped take away some pressure on the top line to produce on offense. He's been a big key to Washington's success.
33-16-4, 70 points: Andrew Shaw. It took a while for the Blackhawks to find that left wing on the top line, and Shaw has seized that opportunity over the last two months. If he can permanently stay there, that allows the Blackhawks to play Teuvo Teravainen on the third line to distribute the scoring.
30-16-3, 63 points: Vincent Lecavalier. The Kings were already one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup this season, but Lecavalier has given them an above-average No. 3 center and some more quality depth up the middle, which is crucial in the postseason.
29-15-5, 63 points: Nick Bjugstad. The first line of Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr has done the heavy-duty lifting for the Panthers. If Bjugstad starts producing at a higher rate, that gives a young and relatively thin Panthers team another layer on offense.
27-18-4, 58 points: Vladislav Namestnikov. He didn't play a single minute in last year's Stanley Cup Final, and now finds himself centering the top line with Ondrej Palat and Steven Stamkos. He's a perfect cog for those two players, and allows the Lightning to roll four solid lines.
28-16-8, 64 points: Troy Brouwer. While Jaden Schwartz, who's expected to return soon, could easily fit this category, Brouwer is the guy they acquired for T.J. Oshie and they'll be vital to the Blues' second half and postseason fate.
25-16-6, 56 points: Nick Leddy. With Johnny Boychuk on injured reserve, the Islanders need somebody from the blue line to step up on both sides of the ice. Leddy stands out as the guy to help keep them in contention for the No. 2 seed in the Metropolitan Division.
24-17-7, 55 points: Carl Hagelin. Since being acquired by Pittsburgh, the line of Hagelin, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel have dominated puck possession numbers, controlling just over 60 percent of even-strength shot attempts when the three of them are on the ice together. Hagelin is a perfect fit for Mike Sullivan's system.
25-16-8, 58 points: Mike Green. With Niklas Kronwall placed on long-term injured reserve, the Red Wings need everyone on defense to elevate their game. The door is open for Green to keep this group from dropping off defensively.
31-14-5, 67 points: Patrick Sharp. The Stars have praised Sharp for his contributions on and off the ice ever since they acquired him. He's been through many ups and downs in Chicago, and his locker room presence will be important for a young Stars team looking to break through heading into the back half of the season.
26-18-5, 57 points: Loui Eriksson. When he's on the ice, the Bruins are controlling 54.8 percent of even-strength shot attempts, which ranks first on the team. He's not getting enough credit. If that production continues, the Bruins should claim a playoff spot.
26-18-4, 56 points: Logan Couture. The Sharks are simply a different team with Couture on the ice. The problem is, he hasn't been there much this season. If he can stay healthy, they have a legitimate chance at hanging on to the No. 2 seed in the Pacific Division and perhaps advance a round in the postseason.
22-18-7, 51 points: Ryan Kesler. The Ducks had a really solid January, and Kesler was a big part of that, scoring seven goals and four assists en route to a 7-3-1 record. When he's producing, so is everyone else.
27-17-5, 59 points: Kevin Hayes. Instead of taking a step forward from his breakout rookie season, Hayes has taken a surprising step back in his sophomore year, at times being a healthy scratch. A second-half turnaround by Hayes would certainly lift the Rangers, who rank in the bottom 10 in possession numbers.
23-20-8, 54 points: Jeff Skinner. The once Calder Trophy winner really struggled out of the gates, but found his groove in December and has given the Hurricanes some extra pop to their lineup. If he can continue that production, Carolina could make a real postseason push.
24-18-8, 56 points: Pekka Rinne. The offense is starting to generate with the addition of Ryan Johansen. Now if Pekka Rinne can turn back into the Pekka Rinne we're used to seeing, the Predators should have no problem earning a playoff berth.
23-17-9, 55 points: Thomas Vanek. Consistency is a big issue for Vanek, with his goals normally coming in spurts. But if they can get more from him, the team would benefit greatly. When he scores a goal, the Wild have a 10-2-1 record.
27-22-3, 57 points: Carl Soderberg. He's been a surprisingly nice acquisition, and has given the Avalanche a solid 1-2 punch up the middle. A repeat of his first half would be vital to Colorado's race to the playoffs.
25-20-5, 55 points: Kyle Palmieri. While Cory Schneider is unquestionably New Jersey's MVP, Palmieri makes this team go on offense. Without him, the Devils wouldn't be flirting with a postseason berth.
24-22-4, 52 points: Brendan Gallagher. There was a significant drop-off in offensive production when he was out of the lineup due to an injury, and they can't afford that again. To back that up, the Canadiens are controlling 57.9 percent of even-strength shot attempts when he's on the ice.
24-20-5, 53 points: Antoine Vermette. The 2-6 seeds in the Pacific Division are very much still up for grabs. Playing in late April would be pivotal for the Coyotes' rebuilding process, getting young guns like Max Domi and Anthony Duclair a taste of the playoff action, and Vermette's presence on and off the ice could help lead them there.
|22||22||20-19-11, 51 points: Radim Vrbata. With just 22 points in 48 games, Vrbata is on pace to finish with his lowest point total in a full season since 2005-06. A second-half resurgence by Vrbata could make things interesting for the Canucks, who are already without captain Henrik Sedin.|
|23||23||23-21-6, 52 points: Mark Stone. Does last year's Calder Trophy finalist have another second-half surge in him? If he does, the Senators may too.|
21-18-8, 50 points: Shayne Gostisbehere. What a story the 22-year-old rookie defenseman has been. He ranks first among defensemen on the Flyers with 22 points, and has only played in 29 games this season. A playoff berth may be a stretch, but Gostisbehere is the anchor of the team's defense that is still in it.
20-26-4, 44 points: Evander Kane. The Sabres are getting what they expected out of Jack Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly. They're not with Kane, yet. He needs to prove that he can become the offensive powerhouse that made him the No. 4 overall pick in 2009.
21-24-3, 45 points: Jiri Hudler. After potting a career-high 31 goals last year, Hudler has just six in 41 games this season while mostly playing on a line with Johnny Gaudreau. A big second half by Hudler could change their position in the standings.
19-27-5, 43 points: Ryan Murray. With the Blue Jackets virtually out of the playoff picture, it's time to look at the big picture. We keep waiting on Murray's breakout season, but it hasn't happened yet. The final three months should provide a glimpse of what the future of Columbus' blue line will be in Murray and Seth Jones.
22-24-3, 47 points: Jacob Trouba. The Jets see him as a star in the making, and with Dustin Byfuglien's status still up in the air, Trouba may get a shot to showcase that he can be the leader of the defense.
19-26-5, 43 points: Leon Draisaitl. With Connor McDavid set to return to the lineup on Tuesday, that gives the Oilers one of the most dangerous first- and second-line centers in the league. If they can get some offensive production from both lines, a late Oilers run is certainly possible.
17-22-9, 43 points: Jonathan Bernier or James Reimer. When they're not breathing down each other's necks, that's when both goaltenders are at their best. It's about looking forward, not backward and the Maple Leafs have to decide which one is their starter for years to come.
*Advanced stats courtesy of war-on-ice.com