Tuesday March 24th, 2009

Biggest Climb: Edmonton Oilers (23 to 16)

Biggest Fall: Montreal Canadiens (19 to 26)

A reminder: these rankings are based primarily on recent quality of play, with overall record and my remarkably intuitive gut calls worked into the heady mix. Heck, if I went strictly off record, these would be no different than the standings, and you already know where to find those. Also worth noting: statistics and records are through Sunday's games.

Want to send me a comment about the rankings? 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
1Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 2
While other contenders struggle, the defending champs are finally hitting their stride: 7-1-1 so far in March and with five straight wins on the road. More impressive: Chris Osgood has won four in a row since being lit up by the Jackets on March 7. Last week: 2-0
2San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 3
San Jose Sharks (48-14-10)
Injuries played havoc with their lines, but the Sharks won three straight to pass the Red Wings for the overall NHL lead. Kids like Jamie McGinn, Brad Staubitz and Tom Cavanagh are excelling as fill-ins after struggling in earlier call-ups. Last week: 3-1
3Boston Bruins
Last Week: 5
Boston Bruins (45-17-9)
They lost their swagger after getting schooled by the Sharks in February. Six weeks later, they may have re-established their identity with a 4-1 win over the Devils. The aggressive, opportunistic B's that showed up Sunday looked a lot like the team that built a huge lead in the early going. Last week: 2-2
4New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 1
Now that the all-time career wins record is safely tucked in his hip pocket, can Martin Brodeur catch Terry Sawchuk for the shutout mark? He's 9-2 with three SOs since returning from the IR. Ten games doesn't give him much time, but the quest ensures he'll be in top form when the playoffs roll around. Last week: 2-2
5Washington Capitals
Last Week: 4
Instead of rehashing Alex Ovechkin's embarrassing 50th goal celebration, let's give a little love to Mike Green. With five goals in his last four games, he has 28 on the season, the most by a blueliner since Al MacInnis had that many in 1993-94. Last week: 2-2
6Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 6
That 5-1 spanking meted out by the lowly Coyotes wasn't the best start for Vancouver's six-game road swing. But you can't be too hard on a team that's 16-3-1 in its last 20 -- the best stretch in franchise history -- even if the loss did cost them a prime chance to close ground on Calgary in the Northwest race. Last week: 2-1
7Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 8
If they hope to make some postseason noise, they must get the power play on track. After rolling at better than 27 percent through the first half, they've stumbled along at less than half that pace since the All-Star break. Going 4-for-10 over the weekend is a step in the right direction. Last week: 2-1
8Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 7
With Philly having three games in hand, the Pens may have blown their best chance to grab fourth place in the East when they lost to the Flyers on Sunday. They also might have buried their powder blues for the season. They've won just three of 10 while wearing the alternates. Last week: 2-1
9Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 9
It's not time to start shopping for fine champagne just yet, but that miraculous 3-1 triumph over the Panthers -- the one that featured three goals in the final three minutes -- sure felt like a sign of destiny, didn't it? Winning six of seven puts them six points up on the ninth-place Ducks with just 10 games to play. Last week: 2-0
10Calgary Flames
Last Week: 10
Calgary Flames (41-24-6)
Losing five of seven has whittled their 10-point division lead to three. Injuries to key performers (Rene Bourque and Todd Bertuzzi among others) are part of the problem, but consistent effort is a bigger issue in the steely eyes of coach Mike Keenan. Last week: 1-1
11Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 15
Home is where the points are. They've won eight straight at RBC Center, and play five of their final eight in its friendly confines. Cam Ward (23 straight starts) is getting much of the credit, but how about the offense: 44 goals in the last 10 games. Last week: 3-0
12Nashville Predators
Last Week: 11
Snagging six out of eight points on the road with leading scorer Jason Arnott on the sidelines kept them in playoff position. But the schedule gets really ugly with the final 10 including two each against the Wings, Jackets and Hawks. Time for David Legwand and Martin Erat (three goals in his last 20 games) to step it up. Last week: 1-0-2
13Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 18
Ottawa Senators (32-30-10)
Hockey's hottest team has won nine of 10 and has its fans fantasizing about the eighth spot in the East. Wakey wakey, dreamers. Even though the three teams between the Sens and the playoffs seem determined to tank, Ottawa must go at least 8-2 to be in the conversation . . . and with seven of their final 10 on the road, that's not going to happen. Last week: 4-0
14New York Rangers
Last Week: 13
If they lose their grip on the seventh spot and miss the playoffs, they can't blame it on injuries. They've lost just 25 man-games, the lowest total in the NHL. Last week: 2-1
15Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 14
Patrick Sharp paid immediate dividends after missing 16 games: his two goals helped them paste the Kings, but the slumping Hawks might benefit even more from the return to form of Brian Campbell. After a six-week swoon, the defender is playing with renewed confidence since being paired with rookie Niklas Hjalmarsson. Last week: 1-1-2
16Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 23
Edmonton Oilers (35-28-9)
Maybe all Sam Gagner really needed was a glimpse of the finish line to snap his funk. After struggling through a sophomore slump much of this season, he's on target to match his late-season heroics of 2007-08. He has 14 points in his last nine games, including his first career hat trick in an 8-1 rout of the Avs. Last week: 3-1
17Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 21
Anaheim Ducks (35-31-6)
Three straight wins have the not-quite-cooked Ducks back in the playoff picture and in control of their fate. Four of their remaining games (two against the Oilers, one each with the Stars and Preds) are must-wins. Might be a good idea to start Jonas Hiller, who leads the league in shootout save percentage. Last week: 3-0
18St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 12
St. Louis Blues (33-30-9)
Great stat from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: the Blues ranked 27th in road win percentage prior to Feb. 3. Since then, Chris Mason has started 23 straight and the team has the sixth best percentage over that span. With six of their final 10 on the road, Mason gives the Blues a chance (albeit slim) to stay in the hunt. Last week: 1-2-1
19Florida Panthers
Last Week: 16
Florida Panthers (35-27-10)
To paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld (and entirely apropos to the National Car Rental Center), the struggling Panthers know how to take the lead; they just don't know how to hold the lead. They've lost five of their last six, and had the edge in three of those defeats. Last week: 1-2
20Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 22
Bryan Little's surprising campaign -- anyone out there have him down for 30 goals? -- ensures his season won't end when Atlanta's does. He has a chance to be a top-six forward for Canada at the World Championships and maybe even play himself into Olympic consideration. Last week: 2-2
21Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 17
Buffalo Sabres (34-30-8)
They're competing hard, but the NHL isn't handing out participant medals at this time of year. Patrick Lalime is flat-out killing them by letting in soft goals at the most deflating moments. With just one win in their last seven, they're reduced to playing out the string. Last week: 0-3
22Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 25
Minnesota Wild (34-30-8)
They hoped Marian Gaborik's return would provide a late boost to their playoff chances. Problem is, they weren't counting on Mikko Koivu to replace him on IR. The Wild's best player could be out for the remainder of the regular season after injuring his knee. Last week: 2-1
23Dallas Stars
Last Week: 20
Dallas Stars (33-31-8)
You ever wonder if the hockey gods are paying GM Brett Hull back for that skate in the crease thing? Just when it looks like the cavalry has arrived to save the Stars, Brad Richards breaks his left hand in his first game back from right wrist surgery. This week's three-game homestand could seal their fate. Last week: 0-3
24Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 24
Last week's trio of losses killed postseason dreams for all but the most delusional and moved the focus (as always) to next year. At least the die-hards can get an up-close look at top prospect Colten Teubert, who joined the ECHL Ontario Reign for some pro experience. Last week: 1-3
25Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 26
If Brian Burke was seriously thinking of diminishing the Euro content of his Leafs, Saturday's thrashing of the Habs may have given him pause. The line of Alexei Ponikarovsky, Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski combined for 11 points in the 5-2 win. Last week: 2-1
26Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 19
They took a group photo on Monday. Hard to call it a team photo with the players pursuing 20 different agendas most nights. Montreal now is 1-3-2 under Bob Gainey and has lost five straight. So much for the coaching change providing a jolt of energy. It's tough to see this heartless bunch holding on to eighth. Last week: 0-2-1
27Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 30
Phoenix Coyotes (30-36-7)
"We have a lot of guys here, and we try to do the best we can to keep everyone as happy as possible," Wayne Gretzky said of his crowded roster after a recent game. Wow. When your team has lost 10 of 13, I'm thinking that winning hockey games should be a higher priority than maintaining a roomful of smiling players. Last week: 2-1-1
28New York Islanders
Last Week: 27
Really, it's okay for Isles fans to root openly for their team to lose its final 10 games. After dropping three of four, the former Fightin' Fishsticks now hold a six-point "lead" in the only race that matters to them: the one to see who gets the most balls in the draft lottery. Last week: 0-2
29Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 29
They had something positive to build on over the final month -- a dangerous power play on a 10-for-30 tear -- and then quarterback Cory Murphy has his foot broken by a Vinnie Lecavalier slapper. On the bright side, this gives them a long look at Matt Lashoff, the key piece in the Mark Recchi deal. Last week: 0-1-2
30Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 28
It's likely that jobs will be lost after the Avs exposed their soft, white underbelly to the Oilers in that franchise-worst 8-1 defeat. When a team simply fails to compete, even at the tail end of a wasted season, heads must go on the block. Look for Fiddlin' Francois Giguere's noggin to be the first to roll merrily out the door. Last week: 0-2-1

Allan Muir's Mailbag
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