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Supporting cast sparks Capitals' climb back to top

NOTE: All stats, standings and records are through games of Monday, Nov. 29.

NHL Power Rankings
1Washington Capitals
Last Week: 3
They're learning to win when Alex Ovechkin doesn't score. After a 3-2 victory over Carolina in which he had three assists, A.O. turned to his less-celebrated linemate, Nicklas Backstrom (two goals), and told him: "You're the superstar." So what if Ovie hasn't scored a goal in seven games? His team has won three straight and there's a season's worth of ammo left in his rifle. That should scare everyone. Last week: 3-0-0
 
2Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 1
A kick in the pants is never pleasant, but it is instructive. After the Wings tanked, 5-1, in Atlanta to start the week with Jimmy Howard (four goals in two periods) yanked, coach Mike Babcock declared, "I hope we don't forget this game. You need reminders in life." Suitably chastened, the Wings swept the surprisingly hot Blue Jackets in a home-and-home as Howard rebounded, stopping 34 of 35 shots in the opener. Last week: 2-1-0
 
3Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 2
With a pair of shootout losses against mediocrities Calgary and New Jersey, they may be easing off their blistering early-season pace. Even during their hot streak, coach Peter Laviolette talked about keeping the fire stoked during the rough patch he knew would come. Keep a watch on those embers this week. Last week: 1-0-2
 
4Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 10
Seven straight wins. Three goals-allowed in their last four games. Thirty-two straight penalties killed. A 13-game point streak including a hat trick and 200th career goal for captain Sidney Crosby. As goalie Marc-Andre Fleury so sagely said after he blanked Buffalo: "When you win, nothing else matters." Well, plenty mattered only a few short weeks ago, but the Pens now look like a championship team. Last week: 4-0-0
 
5Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 4
You have to hand it to Carey Price for a superb turnaround. After making 34 saves against Buffalo, the Habs netminder had recorded his 14th win, one more than he had all of last season. But give credit to his supportive teammates, too. After their 4-1 win over Los Angeles, coach Jacques Martin remarked, "It reminded me a little e bit of our team in the playoffs with our commitment to play away from the puck." Last week: 2-1-0
 
6Dallas Stars
Last Week: 18
Dallas Stars (14-8-1)
Signs of life: They reversed a four-game skid with a perfect week, allowing five goals in four wins and grabbing first place in the Pacific. After opening the season with a 16-game goalless draught, Mike Ribeiro notched his second game-winner in 10 days, beating the Blues in the first of a home-and-home. Dallas's previous five victories had been by one goal before their 4-1 triumph against Carolina. Last week: 4-0-0
 
7Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 5
A 6-4 home loss to the Ducks ended a seven-game win streak dating back to Nov. 5. "Early in the season, we were undisciplined," observed Martin Hanzal. "Once we stopped taking penalties and putting ourselves in bad spots, we started winning games. It was pretty easy." Something to keep in mind going forward. Last week: 1-1-0
 
8Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 16
After coasting through an easy week -- solid wins over the Avs (they're now 3-0 against) and San Jose -- they'd played the fewest games of any team in the league (22). Now the pace of life picks up with 14 natches in December, or roughly one every other day. At least they'll be relatively rested for the nemesis Blackhawks in Chicago on Dec. 3. The road hasn't exactly been kind so far (4-5-2). Last week: 2-0-0
 
9Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 6
After five straight wins, they dropped a pair of close ones in a home-and-home against Detroit. It was a early sign that Columbus, improved or not, is still a strong stride from being elite. "We're a good team, but that was a good indication that we still need to get better," said Derick Brassard. "There's a lot of room to keep improving. They're a team that's on top of their game and on top of the conference" Last week: 1-2-0
 
10Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 9
Up 5-0 on the Rangers, they gave up the last three goals and barely hung on to keep their five-game win streak alive. A harbinger? A 6-0 blowout by the Caps in their next game. "It would be easy to point the finger at some guys but the reality is we have to point the finger at every single player that was there," coach Guy Boucher groused. "Everything that we did well to beat other teams the last five games wasn't there tonight and I saw it in the first five minutes." The next night wasn't much better: a 4-3 OT loss to the Panthers. Last week: 1-1-1
 
11Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 24
You beat the Wings, Habs and Bruins by a combined score of 12-2, you deserve a leap in the rankings. In five straight wins, Ondrej Pavelec stopped 154 of 157 shots and Dustin Byfuglien took over the scoring lead among defensemen with 25 points. Says Big Buff: "It's a new mindset to say, 'we can beat anybody.'" Indeed they can. Last week: 3-0-0
 
12St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 7
Nice week for their leading scorer, Andy McDonald, who potted the only goal of a five-round shootout vs. the Preds to keep a three-game win streak alive. Then came a sweep by the Stars in two one-goal games in which they coughed up leads, the second loss being their first at home. With the Hawks and Caps on the horizon, coach Davis Payne shuffled his top lines and girded for a meaningful challenge. "It's a good chance for us to re-assert ourselves and when you have to be at your best, that's a good thing," Payne said. "These two teams should draw that out of us." Last week: 1-2-0
 
13San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 15
Despite a 6-1 loss in Vancouver, they can take heart from two wins -- one over the Hawks, the other a 4-3 cliffhanger over the Oilers that snapped a six-game road skid. But injuries are now a concern on the backline with a five-game road trip coming up. After Niclas Wallin and Kent Huskins went down vs. the Oilers, the Sharks played the last 40 minutes with just four defensemen. With Jason Demers also sidelined, reinforcements were brought in from AHL Worcester. Last week: 2-1-0
 
14Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 13
After being bested 5-2 by their old chum Antti Niemi out in San Jose, they righted themselves with a two-game sweep of Southern California's teams and came home from their six-game road trip with a nice 4-2 mark. The big question now: how to make up for Marian Hossa's anticipated two-to-three week absence due to a lower body injury? Last week: 2-1-0
 
15Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 8
Goaltender Craig Anderson hurt his groin in Vancouver. Again. His pull during a previous visit in October knocked him out for 10 games. At least Greg Mauldin gave the Avs their feel-good story for the first half of the season: two goals and two assists in a 7-4 triumph over Minnesota. "This is something you dream about when you're playing youth hockey with your buddies," said Mauldin, 28, who nearly quit hockey after a scoreless seven games with the Jackets and Isles. Last week: 1-2-0
 
16Boston Bruins
Last Week: 11
Boston Bruins (12-8-2)
With two goals against Florida, 42-year-old forward Mark Recchi became only the 13th NHL player to reach 1,500 career points. Then Boston's week went sour. League leaders in penalty killing, the B's surrendered three power-play goals in a 3-0 loss to Carolina .. with Tim Thomas in goal. "I don't think we should be frustrated," he said. "We should be disappointed." No matter the emotion, their 4-1 loss to the Thrashers two nights later didn't exactly elevate their mood. Last week: 1-2-0
 
17New York Rangers
Last Week: 17
Being a generally-average team with a sometimes-great goaltender, they need Henrik Lundqvist to play like an All-Star. After giving up 17 goals and losing four of five, the King stopped 69 of 70 shots in wins against Florida and Nashville. "I went back to how I used to play (with) a little bit higher stance," he explained. "Now my timing is much better." Last week: 2-2-0
 
18Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 12
Sometimes taking your lumps is the best way to learn. After a six-game winning streak seemed to justify all of their pre-season hype, they've dropped seven of eight and have been outscored 8-2 in losses to the Habs, Hawks and Ducks. Yet there's no sense of panic or need for overhaul of this young, talented squad. "We're just so close," says defenseman Rob Scuderi. "We've been in games but we just can't get over this little hump we're on. I think we'll be a better team because of it, but we just need to keep our heads about us." Last week 0-3-0
 
19Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 21
Anaheim Ducks (12-11-3)
After managing nine points during a six-game losing streak, their top line of Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry broke out, totaling 10 in a 6-4 win over Phoenix. "We've been fighting the puck, all three of us," Ryan said. "We haven't been getting through the neutral zone and haven't gotten the offensive zone time we need. Hopefully it's a ball that starts rolling for us because we need to be productive every night." Last week: 2-1-0
 
20Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 14
Minnesota Wild (11-10-2)
Plug a leak, another opens. With just 13 goals in eight home games, coach Todd Richards juggled his four lines, and voila! A 5-2 win over the Preds. Alas, the ordinarily reliable Niklas Backstrom has been fighting the puck, surrending 18 tallies in three games before grabbing some pine while Jose Theodore moved into the net. Last week: 1-3-0
 
21Nashville Predators
Last Week: 19
A pair of shootout losses to the Blues and Rangers wrapped around a 5-2 loss to the Wild made for a particularly foul sandwich. They were just 7 for their last 73 with the man advantage. Nobody seems capable of finishing. No wonder coach Barry Trotz is losing patience and probably what remains of his hair. "We can't sit and wait for something to happen," he fumed. "We have to initiate and make our own luck." Good places to start: against the Coyotes and Jackets this week. Last week: 0-1-2
 
22Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 23
As far aslosing weeks go, this one wasn't bad. It featured Cam Ward's 37-save shutout of Boston on the day his wife gave birth and included a pair of tough 3-2 losses to the Caps. Only their fourth game in six nights, a 4-1 loss to Dallas, was really sub-par. "We weren't any good," coach Paul Maurice said. "We had no jump left." At least they had four days to rest up for their next tilt: at home vs. the Avs. Last week: 1-2-1
 
23Calgary Flames
Last Week: 27
Calgary Flames (10-12-2)
Like the Rangers, they need their goalie to cover their sins. Miikka Kiprusoff made 32 saves in a 3-0 shutout of Minnesota and had strong outings against the Flyers and hot Pens, drawing praise from his coach. "Kipper's a battler," Brent Sutter marveled. "When Kipper plays that way, pucks hit him in the crest." Kipper may be feeling a lot more rubber with the Canucks, Hawks, Bolts and Kings looming. Last week: 2-1-1
 
24Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 20
Ottawa Senators (11-13-1)
They get 21 shots in a period against the Penguins and still fire blanks. These popgun Sens have scored more than two goals just twice in 10 games, so it's no surprise they've won just twice in their last eight. "When you don't score," observed old sage Daniel Alfredsson, "you really have to do everything else right." Might help if they got it. Last week: 1-3-0
 
25Florida Panthers
Last Week: 25
No sweet home for these Cats, who lost every match of a hopeless three-game homestand, including a 3-0 loss to the Rangers in which they enjoyed a 40-19 shot advantage. "Our effort's there," said coach Pete DeBoer," but we had a real opportunity this week coming home to really make a statement and we didn't." Luckily, there's always the road. A 4-3 shootout win in Tampa was a small shot of redemption. Last week: 1-2-0
 
26Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 22
These sleepy Leafs could have used alarm clocks during losses in Buffalo and Ottawa in which they scored a not-so-grand total of exactly once. Two years after his ballyhooed hiring as GM, Brian Burke's seat cushion is starting to feel noticeably warmer. At 73 percent, their dreadful penalty killing ranks ahead of only Edmonton's. Last week: 0-2-0
 
27New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 28
An unsightly 2-0 loss to the lowly Isles marred a decent week by Jersey's standards. The Devs got terrific goaltending from Johan Hedberg, in for the injured Marty Brodeur. Hedberg lost a shutout string of 108 minutes against Calgary, then beat the Flyers, 2-1 in OT. "I've replaced goalies, but never where I was the man to replace the best goalie to ever play the game," Hedberg said. "The standards are set pretty high." They include this team's overall performance. Last week: 2-1-0
 
28Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 26
All-world keeper Ryan Miller bounced back from a groin injury to make 35 saves in a 3-1 win against Toronto and saw the silver lining in his injury: "At the start of the season I was trying to do too much, and I expected myself to be perfect every night. That can't happen unless you're relaxed, and maybe these little tweaks can slow me down just enough where I can make all the right plays." With their offense sputtering these Sabres will need all theright plays from Miller every night. Last week: 1-2-0
 
29Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 29
On Thursday, Taylor Hall scored the game-winner with 28 seconds to play and Martin Gerber made 35 saves to win his first start since April 2009. But ask their coach and all that wonderment still didn't make up for an ugly 5-0 loss to Phoenix. "We win a game and we figure we're hoisting the Cup or something, I don't know," Tom Renney grumbled. "The pride in the jersey was not close to where it needed to be. It was an absolute joke, a travesty." Of a sham of a mockery of a travesty... Last week: 2-2-0
 
30New York Islanders
Last Week: 30
Now that they've finally won a game, 2-0 over local rival New Jersey, it is time to assess the carnage: 0-11-3, outscored 53-21, no goals in 30 straight power-play attempts. Said a weary P.A. Parenteau after a loss to Columbus: "Guys have never been a part of a situation like this in their hockey careers." At least there are lottery balls in store. Last week: 1-0-1
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