Tuesday December 30th, 2008

Biggest Climb: Edmonton Oilers (22 to 17)

Biggest Fall: Minnesota Wild (20 to 24)

A reminder: these rankings are based mainly on quality of play (with a heavy emphasis on recent games), overall record and my gut instinct. Heck, if I went strictly off record, these would be no different than the standings. Also: statistics and records are through Sunday's games.

Note: 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
1Boston Bruins
Last Week: 1
Boston Bruins (27-5-4)
This is how the good teams get it done: one guy cools off, another guy picks up the torch. Lately, the hot hands have belonged to Michael Ryder (nine goals in his last 11 games) and Manny Fernandez (1.50 GAA and .949 save percentage in December). Last week: 3-0
2Chicago Blackhawks
Last week: 4
They come into this week's home-and-home with Detroit on a 10-0-1 roll and a chance to pull into a tie for first in the division if they sweep both ends. Their current string of nine wins is a franchise record. Last week: 2-0
3San Jose Sharks
Last week: 3
Have they lost their edge? They were outworked by the Blues on Saturday and have dropped three of five. Guess the signing of Claude Lemieux to a two-year deal was no coincidence. Last week: 1-0-1
4Washington Capitals
Last week: 7
I've been knocking Jose Theodore all year, so I have to be just as quick to commend a strong effort. He was in the net for three straight win, and looks more confident than he has all season. The Caps needed someone to step up with Alex Semin and Mike Green returning to the IR. Theo delivered. Last week: 3-0
5Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 2
No, the Conklin/Osgood combo isn't particularly intimidating, but the real problem for has been putting together 60 minutes of hockey. You want to cut the champs some slack, but bad habits have a way of coming back to haunt even the best of teams. Last week: 1-1-1
6New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 5
They set a dubious team mark going 159:18 without scoring in tough losses to the Bruins (2-0) and Pens (1-0), but got back on track for a convincing win over Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers. Never mind the standings: the Devils are the class of the Atlantic. Last week: 1-2
7Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 6
Interconference games aren't often used as a measuring stick, but being slapped around by the Hawks on Boxing Day had to leave them with a few questions, especially in net. Antero Niittymaki's started six of seven, but won just three. Is he the starter? And does anyone really think he or Marty Biron can get the big job done? Last week: 1-2
8Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 8
The PP still ranks as one of the worst in the league, but Guy Carbonneau's juggling has seen it go 5-for-18 over the past four games. It's a start. Certainly helps that Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec are starting to find their comfort zones. Last week: 1-0
9Calgary Flames
Last Week: 12
Calgary Flames (20-11-4)
The deal to get Rene Bourque from the Hawks for a conditional second-rounder didn't make much noise back in July, but it's starting to look like one of the summer's smartest trades. His hat trick led the Flames to a 6-3 win over the Sens and gave the left winger 14 for the season -- just two behind team-leader Jarome Iginla. Last week: 2-0
10New York Rangers
Last Week: 9
So you, devoted Rangers fan, watch your team blow a 4-0 lead and lose 5-4 to the injury-riddled Caps. You hear Chris Drury say, "There are 23 or 24 teams who would be dying to have our record." Do you have the sense that your team gets it? Face it: if it weren't for Henrik Lundqvist, the Blueshirts wouldn't be much better than the hated Fishsticks. Last week: 0-1-1
11Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 13
Roberto who? Playing without their captain for the last 16 games, the Canucks are proving to be ungracious hosts. They've given up just 30 goals in 17 games at GM Place, the fewest allowed by any team on their home ice. Last week: 2-2
12Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 11
Lose one. Win one. That's been the pattern over the last nine for a team coming dangerously close to falling out of the playoff race. Everyone points to injuries and the schedule for the stumbles, but how about some prime-time scoring from Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby? The duo has just two game-winners between them. Last week: 2-2
13Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 10
Anaheim Ducks (19-14-4)
Bobby Ryan's made the most of his extra ice time, scoring eight points in his last five games, but the Ducks are missing Teemu Selanne on the power play. They've scored just six times in their last 41 chances without their PP sniper. Last week: 1-2-1
14Florida Panthers
Last Week: 14
Did someone spike their eggnog? Coming out of the break, Tampa Bay shredded their sluggish defense for 77 shots and nine goals while sweeping the home-and-home series. These are the games that come back to haunt you in April. Last week: 1-1-1
15Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 15
Buffalo Sabres (17-14-5)
Does anyone else sense that this team is wound a little too tightly? Losers of three straight, they almost gave away a fourth, allowing the Isles to tie it up Saturday with a pair in the last 92 seconds before pulling it out in the shootout. Lindy Ruff needs to let up on the reins a bit. Last week: 1-1-1
16Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 19
Which news was worse last week? Paul Stastny's broken arm will sideline this team's best player for six-to-eight weeks, or that Tyler "Two Goals" Arnason will replace him as the No. 1 center? Last week: 2-0
17Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 22
Edmonton Oilers (17-14-3)
Hard to find a more disappointing offseason acquisition than Erik Cole, who's brought a big bag of nothing thus far (nine points in 34 games). Was his three-point effort in Sunday's 5-2 win over the Preds a sign of reversal? The Oilers sure could use some production to go along with the grit. Last week: 3-0
18Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 16
We all agree that the plus-minus stat can be a bit misleading, but there are only so many ways you can spin Rod Brind'Amour's minus-26. I mean, it can't all be the result of teammates blowing their covers, right? Intangibles are nice, but the quality of the captain's play is deteriorating. Everybody but Paul Maurice seems to notice. Last week: 1-2
19Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 17
Phoenix Coyotes (17-15-5)
There's plenty of attention being directed toward Ed Jovanovski for rediscovering his offensive touch in December, but Zbynek Michalek leads the NHL in shots blocked. His smart, all-around game has to be seen to be appreciated. Last week: 1-2-1
20Nashville Predators
Last Week: 18
Another case of Wings hangover. After putting together one of their best efforts in a 3-2 win over the champs, the Preds encored with a stinker against the Oilers. They obviously have more to give. Why can't Barry Trotz wring it out of them on a regular basis? Last week: 1-2
21Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 21
Is the long nightmare over? Could the remarkable play last week of Jonathan Quick (who stopped 78 of 80 shots and posted two shutouts) finally signal the end of the line for the purple-and-black hole, Jason LaBarbera? Unlikely, but the Kings could carry three stoppers when Erik Ersberg returns. Last week: 2-1
22Dallas Stars
Last Week: 25
Dallas Stars (15-14-5)
Saturday's come-from-behind OT victory over the Ducks gave the Stars a 4-0-1 mark over their last five. A win is a win, but their success in extra time masks the continued sloppy play of Marty Turco and the team's propensity for giving points away to divisional opponents. Last week: 2-0
23Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 24
Steve Mason will continue to hog the limelight as long as he provides quality starts like Saturday's 3-0 blanking of the Flyers, but how about a little love for Manny Malhotra? He won a ridiculous 15 of 17 draws (he's now 36 of his last 42) and scored a beauty on a breakaway to seal the win over Philly. Last week: 1-1
24Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 20
Minnesota Wild (17-15-2)
The Isles have been the NHL's worst team over the last month. The second worst? Yep, the ham-fisted Wild, the team that's given up the first goal in 10 consecutive games and lost eight straight against Western opponents. No wonder they're serenaded by boo birds at Xcel. Last week: 1-1
25Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 23
Ron Wilson looked smart starting Justin Pogge in Monday's 6-2 win over Atlanta, then went back to Vesa Toskala, who was hung out to dry while the Leafs were outscored 16-4 in their next three games. Playing for a lottery pick, Ron? Last week: 1-3
26St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 26
St. Louis Blues (14-19-3)
With hip surgery looming, veteran Paul Kariya is expected to miss the rest of the season. That's not necessarily bad news since it affords the rebuilding Blues more time to check out their kids?and gives them a better shot at the Tavares/Hedman sweepstakes next June. Last week: 1-2
27Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 29
Remember two weeks ago when they followed an impressive win in Montreal with a complete no-show against the Sens? That's exactly what coach Rick Tocchet feared after Tuesday's 2-0 win over the Pens, but this time his charges responded with two complete efforts against the red-hot Panthers to escape last place in the Southeast. Last week: 3-0
28Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 27
Ottawa Senators (12-17-5)
Sunday's 3-0 drubbing at the hands of the Canucks made it 12 straight road losses. With five games to go before they return home, Ottawa's season is on life support. Last week: 0-3
29Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 12-20-4
Looking for a reason to get excited after another three-loss week? How about center Bryan Little and his 18 goals. If it's going to take a premier pivot to get Ilya Kovalchuk's name on an extension, Atlanta may have found one in the super soph. Last week: 1-3
30New York Islanders
Last Week: 30
Bill Guerin scored his 400th, they beat Toronto for their first win in December and almost got a second before losing in a shootout to Buffalo. No need to work out the playoff math, folks, but full marks to Scott Gordon's boys for showing some fight. Last Week: 1-1-1

Allan Muir's Mailbag
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