Tuesday November 18th, 2008

Biggest Climb: Nashville (22 to 14)Biggest Fall: Tampa Bay (19 to 30)

After three-plus years of compiling these weekly rankings, Scott Wraight is throwing the torch, be mine to hold it high. If you want to send me a comment, 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 insults -- I'll try to get back to you.

A friendly reminder: As they were with Mr. Wraight, these rankings are based mainly on quality of play (with an emphasis on recent games), overall record and my gut instinct. If we were to go strictly by record, these here rankings would be no different than the standings. Also: statistics and records are through Sunday's games.

NHL Power Rankings
1San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 1
The Sharks lost their first home game of the season (4-3 in OT to the Predators) and Brian Boucher reminded everyone that he really is an NHL backup after all, but the league's best team kept on rolling. The offense keyed this week's success, launching 134 shots and scoring 15 times over three contests. Devin Setoguchi pled his case to be an All-Star write-in with three goals and six points. He's playing a key role on San Jose's red-hot power play, which connected four times on six chances against the Hawks in a 6-5 win on Sunday, and was 9-for-22 on the week.
2Boston Bruins
Last Week: 4
Boston Bruins (10-3-4)
The penalty kill was the fly in the ointment early in the season, but the killers found their groove during their recent five-game winning streak. The run was snapped in a shootout loss to the Rangers on Saturday, but the nearly airtight defense -- just four goals-allowed in three games -- helped propel Boston to the top of the Northeast. The bad news: the B's lost No. 3 defenseman Andrew Ference (broken tibia) for eight weeks. They'll try to fill his 22-plus minutes with Matt Hunwick or Matt Lashoff.
3Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 2
After a series of uncharacteristic gaffes turned a certain victory into Tuesday's 7-6 OT loss to the Penguins -- and has there been a more entertaining game played this season? -- the Wings settled down with a pair of road wins over Tampa Bay and Florida. Five points is nice, but does anyone else get the sense that the long summer took a heavier than expected toll on this group? There's a clear lack of discipline in the defensive zone, the one quality that defined the champs. On the plus side, Johan Franzen returned Tuesday and chipped in with a pair of game-winners.
4Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 9
No one got to hoist an old silver mug in the aftermath of Tuesday's win over the Wings, but after trailing by three in the third period, it had to feel pretty sweet to upend the team that whipped them for the Cup last June. Jordan Staal, who had a hat trick, is playing the most confident hockey of his career. Evgeni Malkin is on a 13-game scoring streak, including a season-high four points in Saturday's 5-2 win over Buffalo. That one stetched the Pens' winning streak to six, but if they hope to keep it going, they'll have to do it without Marc-Andre Fleury. The starter is out of Tuesday's tilt with the Wild due to an undisclosed injury suffered late in the Sabres game.
5Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 7
Niklas Backstrom is on one of those runs that make the Wild the favorite to capture the Northwest. He's given up just five goals in his last four starts, lowering his GAA to 2.00 and has keyed the league's top-ranked penalty kill (93.3 percent). Amazingly, the power play is clicking as well, despite the eight-game droughts of captain Mikko Koivu (two points) and Antti Miettinen (three assists). After a must-watch Tuesday nighter in Pittsburgh, the Wild are home for four straight.
6Washington Capitals
Last Week: 12
Wonder if Alexander Ovechkin has any other ailing relatives that he might be able to visit? Since returning from a trip to Mother Russia earlier this month, AO has rediscovered his MVP form. He scored at least once in each game, and had 10 points on the week. Of course, his success might have more to do with Nicklas Backstrom, now fully recovered from the ankle injury that hobbled him through October. The sophomore center had 11 points, earning recognition as the NHL's First Star for the week. The duo more than made up for the absence of Alexander Semin, who is out indefinitely with a suspected shoulder injury.
7New York Rangers
Last Week: 5
When a team has the best record in its conference, you'd like to give them a little more respect. Problem is, the Rangers don't deserve it. Right now, the Blueshirts only go as far as Henrik Lundqvist carries them. He's now gone 10 games without giving up more than two goals, and he's done that while facing more shots than anyone in the East. Hardly a ringing endorsement of the defense, eh? The offense is stuck in neutral, but they might not need much firepower as they enter a stretch of seven very winnable games to close out the month.
8Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 3
The Habs split their four-game slate, but the celebration had to be muted, especially in light of their 6-1 thrashing at the hands of the Bruins. Carey Price was about as tough as Bruce Banner pre-gamma ray exposure, and Milan Lucic went all UFC on Mike Komisarek, knocking the key defender out of the lineup for at least a week. More troubling are the continuing troubles of the power play, which is a shadow of last season's league-leading unit. The Habs went 0-for-10 against the Blues on Sunday, and were blanked on 19 chances last week.
9Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 8
The Hawks offered an appreciative nod to their past this week by retiring the number three worn by Pierre Pilote and Keith Magnuson, and naming ex-coach Denis Savard a team ambassador. If only the news from the ice was as heartwarming. The defense gave up 12 goals en route to three straight losses -- hardly the ideal launching pad for the six-game road trip that begins Tuesday. The Hawks have flexed their muscles at home, going 6-1-4, but they've won just one of five road games.
10Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 6
Might be time for Lindy Ruff to offer a refresher course on defensive responsibility after his Sabres allowed 14 goals in three games last week. It's one thing to cough up five to the Penguins, but six to the Blue Jackets? Patrick Lalime can spare everyone to death twice a month, but Ryan Miller (15 goals in last four starts) has to be better. The one bright note: their win over the Blues was the first at home since 1997.
11Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 10
Anaheim Ducks (10-7-2)
The top line of Ryan Getzlaf, Chris Kunitz and Corey Perry combined for just four assists in Anaheim's first seven games. Over the last 11, the trio has exploded for 14 goals and 49 points. The reason is simple: they're going to the net consistently and with malice aforethought. Even their hot streak couldn't compensate for J-S Giguere's sudden generosity (11 goals in his last three starts). Jonas Hiller stepped in Sunday night against the Kings, earning his first NHL shutout and snapping a three-game losing streak.
12Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 14
You think Kyle Wellwood had fun on Saturday? There he was on Hockey Night in Canada, playing the team that cut him over the summer for being fat and slow. He wins a draw, drives through the Leafs and bangs home the game's first goal on the way to a 4-2 win. How ya like me now, eh? The Canucks also got three assists from Pavol Demitra. The key free agent acquisition was playing his first game after missing 10 (rib injury) and enjoyed obvious chemistry with Wellwood. The extra offense may come in handy. The team lost defender Kevin Bieksa (broken foot) on Thursday.
13Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 11
After losing three straight to Southeast division opponents, the Canes finally stopped the bleeding with a shootout win over the Lightning on Sunday afternoon. While they came up with just enough offense in that one, scoring continues to be an issue. Eric Staal (one assist in his last seven games) and Sergei Samsonov (three assists on the season) epitomize the team's woes. GM Jim Rutherford made note of the team's listless play early in the week. He might be in the mood for a minor shakeup.
14Nashville Predators
Last Week: 22
They were out there having fun in the warm California sun. After dropping three straight on the road, the Preds tore through the Pacific, knocking off Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose. The latter was the first home loss for the Sharks this season, but the chart-toppers didn't give up their perfect record without a battle. With his starting job in question, Dan Ellis made 54 saves, including 17 while the Preds were shorthanded, to earn the win along with recognition as the NHL's Third Star of the Week.
15New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 13
When you lose an irreplaceable player like Martin Brodeur, all you can do is hope that someone steps up to the challenge. That hasn't happened in New Jersey, where both Kevin Weekes and Scott Clemmensen continue to struggle. The pair coughed up 13 goals in three games, keeping trade rumors alive. A 6-5 win over the Caps on Saturday put the brakes on a four-game losing skid, but the Devils need better net play, and someone to help Zach Parise up front, if they hope to stay in the hunt.
16Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 16
You can sense the frustration building. The Kid Line isn't scoring. Not one of the three goalies on hand seems capable of grabbing the reins for an extended period. And now Dustin Penner is gnawing on Milk-Bones in Craig MacTavish's doghouse. The premium-priced winger has just one goal since scoring a pair in the opener, and was publicly ripped by the coach for his lack of competitive fire. But there are plenty of fingers pointing back at MacTavish, and rumors of his imminent demise are swirling.
17Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 23
A four-game week exacts a physical toll on a team, but extracting seven points sure helps dull the aches and pains. So, too, does the renewed confidence in the offense. Simon Gagne led the charge with three goals and seven points, and Jeff Carter added a pair, including his 11th, to move into fourth place on the league's goal-scoring chart. More good news: Daniel Briere is expected back Friday after missing three games with a groin strain.
18Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 20
Considering most teams live and die by the power play, it's a miracle the Jackets can even sniff .500 let alone stand a game above it. They've scored just five times with the extra man in their last 14 games, clicking at a pathetic 7.5 percent pace. Over the same span, they've coughed up four shorties. As strong as rookie Derick Brassard has been, it may be too early to use him on the point for the PP. On the plus side, Pascal Leclaire returned after an eight-game stint on IR, reclaiming his starting role with a 6-1 win over Buffalo. Look for Steve Mason to be returned shortly to the AHL.
19Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 26
They're are on another three-game winning streak, but forgive us for not getting too worked up. The league's streakiest team is riding on the strong play of Peter Budaj (just four goals allowed over his last three starts), but the offense continues to struggle. Joe Sakic (back spasms) may return for Thursday's game against Calgary. Will he be joined by a new face up front? Plenty of rumors suggest the Avs are willing to move a blueliner (Brett Clark or Jordan Leopold) for a top-six forward.
20Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 18
Just a hunch here, but I don't think Kyle Turris will be here at Christmas. Sure, he was my preseason pick for the Calder, but after a solid start, his play has declined noticeably. Not a knock on his skill, but his size. He looks like a boy playing against men. Compare Turris to fellow rookie Mikkel Boedker. The physical maturity of the Dane defines his early success. The smart money is on Turris being loaned to Canada for the World Juniors.
21Calgary Flames
Last Week: 17
When are we going to stop referring to the play of Miikka Kiprusoff as a slump and consider that maybe he's lost his edge? Sure, the struggling defense is compounding the problem, but Kipper is doing nothing to keep his team in games. He's given up fewer than four goals once in his last five starts. Heck, he gave up four in the first period alone against the Sharks on Thursday. The Flames need Kiprusoff to find himself fast. They face a divisional home-and-home against the Avs, then Detroit on Saturday.
22Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 15
The fan frenzy that surrounded their three-game Western Canada swing last week is ample evidence for the value of a balanced schedule. Now if only the results had matched the love. Vesa Toskala continues to struggle: 10 goals on just 66 shots. Too bad Ron Wilson lacks the faith in Curtis Joseph to sit Toskala for a couple games. That mind game worked nicely on Matt Stajan. The winger has 10 points in his last six games.
23Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 25
Friday's win over Carolina gave Atlanta a 4-0-2 record against the Southeast, but the red-hot Thrashers had their five-game win streak snapped by the Flyers on Sunday. That had to be a bitter disappointment. Philly has owned Atlanta, winning 12 straight now, and this was a great opportunity to both break the skid and set a franchise record for consecutive wins. Give the Flyers credit for staying out of the box. The Thrashers' power play was the prime mover behind their streak, but couldn't do much damage with just two chances.
24Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 28
Coming into the season, the biggest question facing the Kings involved their No. 1 netminder. After rolling with Erik Ersberg for seven consecutive starts, it looks like they have their answer. The 26-year-old Swede gave them a chance to win in all four appearances this week, allowing just a pair of goals in each. Problem is he's not getting any offensive support. The top line of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Kyle Calder has been blanked in each of its last three games.
25St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 24
They were in a generous mood this week, gifting Team Canada (and the Niagara Ice Dogs) with the return of rookie defender Alex Pietrangelo. No surprise, really, if you'd watched him play. The 18-year-old looked tentative more often than not and will be better served working on his game, and his strength, in juniors. He wasn't the only roster deletion: leading scorer Andy McDonald is out indefinitely after fracturing his left leg in a shootout loss to the Habs on Sunday. The Blues PK went 10-for-10 in the game, but it wasn't enough to avert their fifth loss in their last six home contests.
26Dallas Stars
Last Week: 27
Dallas Stars (6-8-3)
Don't read too much into Saturday's 3-2 win over Phoenix -- the Stars have owned the Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena. This was a week where six points were in easy reach, and the Stars walked with three. They are swimming in a sea of self-doubt, and while the improved play of Marty Turco should provide a boost, there are still plenty of issues to address. Unfortunately, the trading of aging, hobbled blueliner Philippe Boucher for aging, hobbled blueliner Darryl Sydor isn't the answer. Neither is waiving B.J. Crombeen. You get the sense the other shoe is about to drop in Dallas.
27New York Islanders
Last Week: 30
Let's be honest. Their home-and-home sweep of the Senators says more about the sorry state of Ottawa than it does about the rejuvenation of the Isles. Still, taking five points out of six with Joey McDonald in net and half the defense on IR deserves some celebration. Radek Martinek is back, Brendan Witt and Freddy Meyer should be online soon, and the team is growing more comfortable with the "overspeed" system of new coach Scott Gordon. The next stretch should provide a good challenge, with three of four on the road against Eastern opponents.
28Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 21
It's no longer a matter of if, but when GM Bryan Murray shuffles the lineup. The Sens, outscored 12-4 during their current four-game slide, are a picture of dysfunction. The last few weeks have seen a number of players and management meetings, with lots of fingerpointing but few answers. Although the team ranks 28th in goal-scoring, look for a move to improve the blueline. The inability of the defense corpse, er, corps to move the puck in transition has been the team's fatal flaw.
29Florida Panthers
Last Week: 29
If Jay Bouwmeester is hoping that a trade will deliver him from the mess that is the Panthers, his current play isn't the way to go about it. If he'd made any kind of impact with the game-high 26:20 he played against the Wings on Friday, the Panthers might have been able to steal one from the defending champs. Instead, he proved that he's a shadow of what he was two years ago. It could decrease his value if coach Peter DeBoer rewarded Bryan McCabe and Keith Ballard with the minutes J-Bo is wasting, but that might be just the message the rest of this team needs.
30Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 19
Who cares about their on-ice failings? The real entertainment is off the ice in the wake of Barry Melrose being canned last Friday. The short-time coach offered plenty of hot opinions about the club, essentially calling them overpaid crybaby softies who weren't willing to put in the work. As harsh as that sounds, Melrose might have done the team a favor by providing the players with a rallying point to re-group under new coach Rick Tocchet.

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