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Washington rolls on

Biggest climb: Los Angeles Kings (6 from 15)

Biggest drop: New York Islanders (24 from 16)

A reminder: Rankings are based on many factors, and not one is scientific. They're heavily influenced by recent play, taking into account expectations versus achievement, quality of opponents, injuries, hot or cold streaks, lucky bounces, bad breaks, official malfeasance, travel schedule, and my uncannily intuitive gut calls on how each team stacks up against the rest of the Original 30. Please note that I, unlike some referees, do not have it in for your team and no homer glasses were worn during the establishment of these rankings. Also, stats and records are through Sunday, so Monday's action doesn't factor into the equation.

Want to send me a comment about the rankings or maybe a cool video clip that cries out to be shared? Scroll to the bottom of this page for my Mailbag. I read 'em all and if you're halfway civil -- or at least clever in your skewering of my decisions -- I'll try to get back to you.

NHL Power Rankings
1Washington Capitals
Last Week: 2
When a team like this has won 10 straight -- with a chance to set a franchise mark if it beats the toothless Bruins -- it's easy to get caught up in the here-and-now. But take a step back and a gander at the big picture. After brooming the Ducks, Panthers and Lightning at home last week, the Caps have opened a nine-point gap in the East and boast a league-leading 23-3-3 mark at the Verizon Center. Last week: 4-0
 
2Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 4
Plenty to take from their 5-3 come-from-behind win over the Leafs. They stretched their win streak to seven, took the opener of their NHL-record 14-game road trip, battled back from 3-0 down and did it with three of their top four defenders out. Alex Burrows (four-point game) really turned heads. If anyone still thought of him as this year's version of Warren Young, that dynamic performance surely set the record straight. Last week: 3-0
 
3Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 3
They lost the finale, but in outshooting Carolina 41-24 they didn't look like a team on the last leg of an exhausting eight-game trip. They went 5-3, including a gritty 4-3 OT win over the Sharks that left everyone hoping the two teams meet in the postseason. Still, there's bound to be grousing about the goaltending. Cristobal Huet allowed a couple of exasperating softies to the Canes, but he and Antti Niemi both had impressive outings on the swing. Last week: 2-1
 
4San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 1
San Jose Sharks (36-10-9)
They made a game out of a showdown with Chicago, but how exactly did they come out in the first period with all the intensity of the pregame warm-up? "Yeah, we fought back and we are proud of that, but you're not going to win many games against good teams in this league with that kind of start," said coach Todd McLellan. Dan Boyle's absence (four games to date with a UBI) impacted their transition and defensive coverage. They gave up an average of 39 shots in their last three games, forcing Evgeni Nabokov to keep them afloat until they found their legs. Last week: 1-0-1
 
5Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 9
Phoenix Coyotes (33-18-5)
Peter Mueller's spent most of the season in the doghouse, but the kid in the No. 88 sweater against Dallas can play for my team any time. He was scratched against the Rangers, but returned to the lineup Sunday with a dazzling three-point effort in which he displayed hustle, smarts and natural chemistry with Shane Doan. That sort of performance will be key to a squad that lost leading goal-scorer Scottie Upshall (torn ACL) for the rest of the season. Last week: 4-0
 
6Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 15
If you caught Jonathan Quick during their first-ever 5-0 road trip, you understand why he got the Olympic nod over Craig Anderson. The Kings' stopper was sensational in stealing a pair from fellow Olympians Tim Thomas and Martin Brodeur to seal the sweep. While he was forced to keep them close early, his teammates showed character by fighting back from second intermission deficits in both games. The Kings now have won eight of nine. Last week: 4-0
 
7Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 14
Ottawa Senators (31-21-4)
They set a franchise mark of nine wins in a row with a 3-2 OT thriller over the Habs and it's impossible not to tip the hat to Brian Elliott and Erik Karlsson. Elliott, 24, has backstopped seven straight (1.14 GAA, .960 save percentage). Karlsson, 19, is playing with a smooth effectiveness that matches his natural swagger. His alert stretch pass sent Mike Fisher in alone to score the winner vs. Montreal. Last week: 3-0
 
8Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 8
They won three of their final four, including a 2-1 shootout over the Wings, to pull a winning record (8-7) from a rocky January. Helps that Evgeni Malkin seems to be getting his game in order. Also doesn't hurt that they've had a few games go to the skills competition. After out-dekeing Detroit, the Pens are 7-0 in the SO this season. Last week: 2-1
 
9Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 5
Buffalo Sabres (32-14-7)
Despite scoring just three goals, they snapped a frustrating four-game skid with defensive-minded conquests of the Devils and Bruins. Ryan Miller has been drawing a lot of attention (he stopped 69 of 71 shots in the two wins) but clearly benefited from the defensive work of teammates who ensured that quality scoring chances could be counted on one hand in each contest. Last week: 2-1
 
10New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 7
Gentle reminder to Jacques Lemaire: your country needs Martin Brodeur in a couple weeks. Could you try not to run him into the ground? The 38-year-old's started 33 consecutive games. He says he's not tired, but his work load looks like it's starting to wear on him. His save percentage has been .875 or lower in five of his last eight and he's allowed a few -- like the Kings' winner on Sunday -- that sure looked stoppable. Last week: 1-2-1
 
11Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 6
Why'd they drop three straight for the first time this season? It's tough to win when your top line doesn't score. The Stastny-Wolski-Stewart unit was blanked by the Wild, Stars and Rangers, and Colorado was held to three goals while facing backup goalies in those games. Easy to write this off as a cold snap, but they look like a team that could use some added pop before the deadline. Maybe a blueline presence for the power play? Last week: 0-3
 
12Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 13
A 4-2 mark on their longest home stand of the season was enough to vault them from 11th to sixth in the compacted Eastern Conference, but Thursday's match with Atlanta, in which they allowed three unanswered goals in the third, cost them two points they should have banked. Blame inconsistent group effort rather than Ray Emery. The netminder cemented his grip on the No. 1 job, starting all six games and posting a 2.04 GAA and .928 save pct. Last week: 1-1
 
13Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 12
With healthy soldiers back (Jason Williams, Niklas Kronwall) or near return (Johan Franzen, Tomas Holmstrom), they should be an energized group. So why do they look gassed? Could be four games in six days, but more likely it's emotional letdown. The ham 'n' eggers have been punching above their weight class for so long that they're letting up at the sight of reinforcements. This team won't stay in the hunt long if it doesn't tighten up. Last week: 1-1-2
 
14Florida Panthers
Last Week: 22
They've scored nine goals in their last seven games and yet managed to scratch out nine points and stay close in the East. Only one reason: the greatness of Tomas Vokoun. While leading the NHL in shots-faced, he's propped up his team with three shutouts in his last seven appearances. At least help has arrived: David Booth returned after a concussion cost him 45 games. Last week: 2-1
 
15Nashville Predators
Last Week: 10
They aren't having trouble getting the puck on the net, outshooting foes 213-130 in the last six games. The emptiness of that stat is reflected in a five-game losing skid snapped in Saturday's 4-3 win over Atlanta. They were outscored 7-1 on special teams in the six games. "You can't be 29th in the league on both sides of penalties and expect to win," said goalie Dan Ellis. Last week: 1-2
 
16Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 18
Minnesota Wild (27-24-4)
They coughed up four power play goals in a 5-2 loss to San Jose, their porous penalty kill probably all that stood between this surging squad and a four-game win streak. After determined victories vs. the Wings and Avs, their energetic game against the Sharks should set the standard for the stretch run. It didn't earn them points, but this is a more confident, dangerous team now. Last week: 2-1
 
17Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 11
Anaheim Ducks (25-23-7)
They finally crowned a winner in their goaltending duel, signing Jonas Hiller (four-year, $18 million extension) and trading J-S Giguere. The deal brought in Vesa Toskala, who probably won't see more than a handful of starts before escaping as a free agent, and Jason Blake, who may have a hard time earning ice once Joffrey Lupul returns. Not much in terms of value, but clearing cap space and giving Hiller the keys was crucial to moving forward. Last week: 1-2
 
18St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 24
St. Louis Blues (24-22-9)
It's one thing to build a surge on the Flames and Oilers, but if they hope to make a serious run at the postseason, they must get results vs. Central Division foes. They play 11 of their last 27 games against rivals, including a pair this week vs. Chicago. Not exactly easy pickings, but with five points and five teams separating them from eighth, they need to start winning some they're not supposed to. Last week: 2-1-1
 
19Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 27
So, what kind of Canes fan are you? The kind who relishes their impressive four-game win streak as the start of a playoff dash, or one who sees every point as a missed opportunity to snare Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin? Whichever way you lean, the renewed energy displayed by Eric Staal and Cam Ward suggests next season will be a lot less painful. Last week: 3-0
 
20Dallas Stars
Last Week: 25
Dallas Stars (24-20-11)
Maybe it was the Olympic snub. Or the extra rest time afforded him by coach Marc Crawford. Or he just wanted to prove he could still be an impact player after being demoted to the fourth line. Whatever, Mike Modano has give a team in need his best hockey of this (and maybe his last) season. He has four goals in his last five games and his winner vs. the Avs was the 91st of his career, tying him with Wayne Gretzky for 13th on the all-time list. Last week: 2-1
 
21Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 26
You get the sense they're waiting for the Kovalchuk situation to come to a head, don't you? That has to be mentally draining, knowing they're sellers when they're one point out of the playoffs. The captain isn't the only one keeping his bags packed. Colby Armstrong, Kari Lehtonen and Slava Kozlov (press box resident the last four games) are on the block and Ron Hainsey (-3 in a dismal performance vs. the Preds) may also be available. Last week: 2-1
 
22Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 23
A 3-0-1 home stand kept them in the thick of the playoff peloton, but a 2-1 shootout loss to the Ducks and a hard-luck 3-2 defeat by the Caps meant critical points left on the table. Mike Smith was solid, if unspectacular, in his first action since Jan. 12, allowing the winner on a shot from the high slot. With five of their seven remaining pre-Olympic games vs. the Eastern pack, Smith must find his A-game in a hurry. Last week: 1-1-1
 
23Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 17
Now this is what they needed: the NHL's third-lowest scoring team (2.48 gpg) looks like it'll be without leading sniper Mike Cammalleri for 6-8 weeks after he blew out his right knee in Saturday's loss to Ottawa. Tough to replace a guy who's been involved in nearly 35 percent of their goals -- a fact they learned last year when then-leading scorer Robert Lang suffered a sliced Achilles' that cost him his season and the Habs a shot at the playoffs. Last week: 0-2-1
 
24New York Islanders
Last Week: 16
Was it only two weeks ago that a four-game win streak had their fans flooding my in-box with questions about who the Isles should acquire at the deadline? Ah, heady days full of whispered promises and seductive lies. Now, after being slapped by five straight losses, it's time to drink deep of bitter reality. The kids are too young (John Tavares: six points in his last 23 games), the veterans too old (Doug Weight hasn't scored all season). The pieces aren't meant to fit yet. Maybe next year. Last week: 0-4
 
25Calgary Flames
Last Week: 20
Calgary Flames (27-20-8)
Guess snapping a nine-game skid by beating the NHL's worst team didn't convince GM Darryl Sutter that good times are just around the corner. He stunned some faithful (sending others into fits of elation) by dealing disappointing Dion Phaneuf to the Leafs in a seven-player swap. He got two forwards who filled top-six roles in Toronto (Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman) and undervalued defender Ian White. How bad is this offense if these guys are seen as the answer? Last week: 1-1-2
 
26Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 29
Compare their dispirited play in a 4-1 loss to the Kings to their gut-check in a 3-2 OT win against the Blues. It had to be incredibly frustrating for their fans to watch several Jackets raise the white flag early against L.A. (at home, no less), and then fight back to avenge two last-minute goals from the Blues on the road. Leadership issues on the ice and behind the bench continue to haunt a club that has fallen out of contention by winning just four of 10. Last week: 2-1
 
27Boston Bruins
Last Week: 21
Boston Bruins (23-21-9)
They're healthy -- Marc Savard and Marco Sturm returned over the weekend -- and working harder, but the results remained the same. Losses to the Sabres and Kings extended their string of futility to 1-8-2, including a dismal six straight losses at the Garden. Just not enough push in their game now, borne out by the fact that they've generated just 25 power play chances in that 11-game stretch. Last week: 0-1-1
 
28New York Rangers
Last Week: 19
When they spotted the Coyotes three first period goals, it was pretty much church. They've scored two goals or fewer in eight of 11 and been shut out in four. They dropped five straight before taking advantage of the equally challenged Avs. Be interesting to see how that deal to acquire Olli Jokinen works out. Another overpaid, underachieving "superstar" seems like a perfect fit for this bunch. Last week: 1-3
 
29Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 28
Hope you got a good look on Saturday, because the team that blew a 3-0 first period lead to the Canucks won't be the one you see vs. the Devils on Tuesday. Brian Burke shipped six roster players in two stunning deals that, in theory, addressed shoddy defensive zone work. Dion Phaneuf and J-S Giguere will make for a different look, but with four of their top eight scorers now wearing different sweaters, don't expect short-term results to be significantly better. Last week: 0-2-1
 
30Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 30
Edmonton Oilers (16-31-6)
"I thought we hit rock bottom a few games ago but we keep creating holes for ourselves," captain Ethan Moreau said after a franchise-record 13th straight loss. Their problems look pretty much insurmountable, with subpar goaltending and a remarkable capacity for giving the puck away sinking any hope of being competitive. The clearest evidence yet that they've angered the hockey gods: their tastiest chunk of deadline bait, Sheldon Souray, broke his hand in a fight against Jarome Iginla and may be done for the season. Last week: 0-3

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