Tuesday March 16th, 2010

Biggest jump: Montreal Canadiens (11 from 17)

Biggest drop: Ottawa Senators (17 from 12); Philadelphia Flyers (18 from 13)

A reminder: These 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, Colin Campbell's canny consistency 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 of any colour were worn during the tabulation of these rankings.

Want to send me a comment 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: 1
If they showed us anything, it's that they can be pretty scary. Falling asleep after building a 2-0 lead vs. Dallas on Monday? Scary. Erasing a 3-0 deficit -- and allowing just one third period shot -- en route to a 4-3 win over Chicago on Sunday? Scary, too, but in a much better way. Also scary? Alex Ovechkin's reckless hit on Brian Campbell. Plays like that are why minor hockey players wear stop signs on the backs of their sweaters. Do we need to stitch them onto NHL jerseys, too? Last week: 2-1-1
2Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 5
Phoenix Coyotes (42-22-5)
The 4-0 win over Carolina was their 41st, most in franchise history since the move to Phoenix. The shutout was Ilya Bryzgalov's eighth, tying the single-season mark set by Nikolai Khabibulin. Lee Stempniak hasn't erased any records yet, but it appears desert air agrees with him. An afterthought at the trade deadline, the former Toronto winger has six goals and seven points in five games with the Coyotes. Last week: 3-0
3Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 4
They're 5-1-1 since the break and face a challenge to their Atlantic lead when they meet the second-place Devils. But all eyes are on Thursday's rematch with an aggrieved Bruins club that'll be without Marc Savard. The smart move would be to sit Matt Cooke and try to focus on a pair of points that both clubs desperately need. Be interesting to see how Dan Bylsma plays it. Last week: 1-1-1
4Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 3
If they were hoping one of their two stoppers would step up as the go-to guy over the weekend, well, it didn't quite work out. Cristobal Huet and Antti Niemi caved late in junk-punch losses to the Flyers and Caps, though to be fair, they didn't see much help from a blueline that's sprung serious leaks since the break. If anyone spots Brent Seabrook's game, please get in touch with a very frustrated Coach Q. Last week: 1-1-1
5San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 2
San Jose Sharks (43-15-10)
They dropped a pair to non-playoff teams (Florida, Anaheim) and have yet to look sharp since returning from the Olympic break. All three of their March wins have required third period comebacks. Nice to know they've got an extra gear, but the lack of 60-minute focus is a concern. Last week: 1-1-1
6Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 7
Mike Gillis took his fair share of heat for signing Mikael Samuelsson, but the veteran winger has proven to be one of the best acquisitions of the summer. The NHL's First Star had six goals and 10 points last week, pushing him to career highs in goals (30) and points (53) for the season. His comfort with the Sedin Twins allowed Alex Burrows to drop down and add some scoring pop (seven goals on the 14-game road trip) to Ryan Kesler's line. Last week: 3-0-1
7Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 6
While Ottawa and Philadelphia remain goalie graveyards, L.A. may be on the verge of unearthing the best tandem in franchise history. With U.S. Olympian Jonathan Quick out of pocket (birth of child), Jonathan Bernier was called up for his first start of the season. The likely AHL MVP lived up to his billing, stopping 29 of 30 regulation shots and all six attempts in the shootout. He was returned to Manchester on Monday, but should back up Quick next season. Last week: 2-1-1
8Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 9
A bit premature to grade the Peter Mueller trade just yet, but they have to be thrilled with the early returns. The former Coyote has made an immediate impact on the power play with his vision, some crisp passing and his ability to get the puck on the net from the point. The Avs are 8-for-22 with the extra man since the deal. Last week: 2-1
9Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 11
Light at the end of the tunnel? Yeah, that's a 5-2 tear into the stretch with a full head of steam. The power play is clicking (at least one goal in nine straight games) with a healthy complement of forwards. They're finally getting contributions from the whole roster...well, almost. Todd Bertuzzi is mired in a 17-game scoring drought. More troubling, he's fired just two shots in his last six games. The streaky winger better get it out of his system now. Detroit will need him to be belligerent and on a roll come playoff time. Last week: 2-1
10Calgary Flames
Last Week: 15
Calgary Flames (34-25-9)
Their four-game winning streak was snuffed out by a dismal first period vs. Vancouver on Sunday, but it just as easily could have ended on Thursday. Miikka Kiprusoff's 33 saves and fourth shutout of the season helped steal a 2-0 win from the Sens. Despite the rough finish to the week, they are playing their best hockey of the season, going 8-2-1 in their last 11 games. Last week: 2-1
11Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 17
Winners of five straight, and six of seven out of break, they're the hottest team in hockey. Not even the most faithful would suggest they're firing on all cylinders, but with the breaks going their way, the Habs have built a five-point buffer over the ninth-place Rangers. After getting the start, and win, against the Bruins on Saturday, it looks like Jaroslav Halak will be Jacques Martin's go-to guy down the stretch. Last week: 3-0
12Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 8
Buffalo Sabres (36-21-10)
With the Calder race heating up, Tyler Myers proved he's a serious contender...and still a rookie. He was the best player on the ice in a 5-3 win over the Stars, leading the way with a goal and three assists. Three days later, he was wearing the goat horns after a last-minute delay of game penalty left him sitting in the box as Brian Rafalski scored the winner in Detroit's 3-2 victory. Last week: 1-1-1
13Nashville Predators
Last Week: 14
Toss out one really bad period against the Sharks and they have to be pleased with the sort of gritty, defensive-minded play that characterized their three-game swing through California. They'll need more as they head back to Bridgestone Arena for six of their next seven with a playoff spot dangling loosely in their grasp. Last week: 3-1
14St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 16
St. Louis Blues (32-27-9)
They're 7-2 in their last nine, but it's starting to feel like they ming have used up all their stretch run mojo last spring. They're seven points back of the final playoff spot and close the month against six of the eight against teams ahead of them. With the Red Wings and Flames playing so well, St. Louis has to hope for a pair of collapses to coincide with another miracle finish. Last week: 2-1
15Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 11
If you watched their 4-0 loss to Phoenix, you understood how badly they missed the intangibles provided by injured forward Brandon Sutter. The Canes outshot the visitors 29-20, but had no one willing or able to make life miserable for Ilya Bryzgalov. Sutter should provide that irascible presence when he returns to action against Boston. Last week: 1-1-1
16New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 20
It's a good thing they won't see any non-playoff teams in the postseason. One week after being humiliated by the Oilers, they rolled over like a fat seal for another pretender, losing 4-2 on Long Island. Even the afterglow of a big win over the Pens couldn't cover a lousy stretch from the power play and the kind of poor defensive containment that's hampered them throughout the second half. Last week: 2-1
17Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 12
Ottawa Senators (37-27-5)
They returned from the break atop the Northeast and fourth in the conference. Just 1-4-1 since, their only win against Edmonton, they've lost their grip on both positions. They were a couple of hit posts away from a better fate in a 2-0 loss to Calgary, but were completely embarrassed by the Canucks, 5-1. With the Leafs, Thrashers and Stars on deck, this team has a chance to turn it around, but needs to start driving the net with purpose. Last week: 1-2
18Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 13
Sandwiching the emotional win over the Blackhawks between a pair of listless losses to the Bruins and Rangers sort of spoils the fun, doesn't it? Sure, Chris Pronger's goal with just over two ticks left will go down as one of the season's highlights, but Peter Laviolette wasn't pleased to see his team outworked and outclassed by Boston and outfoxed by New York. With that kind of inconsistency, this looks like yet another one-and-done playoff run. Last week: 2-2
19Boston Bruins
Last Week: 18
Boston Bruins (30-25-12)
If Thursday's 5-1 win over the Flyers was a reflection of everything they hoped to be, Saturday's 3-2 loss in Montreal served to remind them of what they really are. In Philly, they offered up a near-perfect game, displaying the offensive flourish and pugilistic enthusiasm that's been missing all season. Against the Habs, they failed to drive the net, took ill-timed penalties and were ultimately flattered by the one-goal margin of defeat. If they make the postseason, they're going in as cannon fodder. Last week: 1-1-1
20Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 19
Minnesota Wild (33-29-6)
Their four-game losing skid was capped by a dismal performance in Detroit that pretty much put the kibosh on their playoff hopes, but the injury-riddled Wild showed some resiliency with impressive wins over the Sabres and Blues to close the week. Josh Harding rebounded nicely after a brutal effort against the Wings, making 43 stops in Buffalo and 36 vs. St. Louis in two of the team's better goaltending performances this season. Last week: 2-1-1
21Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 21
Anaheim Ducks (31-29-9)
So much for the team that looked like it was primed to carve out a playoff spot after the Olympic break. The Ducks lost their first five games -- their worst stretch of the season -- before snapping the slide with Sunday night's 4-2 win over San Jose. There's just not enough time left to make up their 10-point gap, especially with Teemu Selanne and Ryan Getzlaf sidelined indefinitely. Last week: 1-2-1
22Florida Panthers
Last Week: 25
Florida Panthers (28-29-10)
If this was mid-season, they could take some satisfaction from winning four of six, or rebounding from a dismal first period to win in San Jose. But down the stretch, with six points and four teams between them and eighth spot, it's must-win time. They need eight points out of their upcoming four-game home stand, but with Washington, Phoenix and Buffalo coming to town, they're probably out of luck. Last week: 2-1
23New York Rangers
Last Week: 23
Apparently, Sean Avery took his benching to heart. Unleashed against the Flyers, he was simply the best player on the ice, scoring two goals and goading Scott Hartnell and Braydon Coburn into retaliatory penalties that changed the game. Every shift had a purpose. Impossible for Avery to maintain that pace, but a lot of fun to watch. Hey, if every trip to the press box precipitated this kind of result, you'd see a lot more players given the chance to sample the free popcorn. Last week: 2-1
24Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 26
You have to admire the clear-headedness of Claude Noel. The easiest thing for the interim coach to do would be pad his win stats by rolling out Mathieu Garon (5-0-3 and 1.68 GAA at home). Instead, he gave franchise building block Steve Mason the start on Saturday despite his poor showing on Monday. Mason was lit up for five by the Blues, but that's not the point. He needs to be out there working on his game. Good on Noel for keeping an eye on the future. Last week: 2-2
25Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 24
Hard to believe that it was just over a week ago that they were in a playoff position. One six-game losing streak later and the talk in Atlanta has turned from the postseason to the draft lottery. Calling up Chris Chelios instead of Arturs Kulda to replace the injured Christoph Schubert shows how wrongheaded this franchise is. The present is lost. Time to focus on the future. Last week: 0-3-1
26Dallas Stars
Last Week: 22
Dallas Stars (28-23-12)
The logic of math may give hope to die-hards but a team that's gone 1-5-1 since the break, outscored 32-16 in the process, isn't fooling the few who bother to watch them. This stretch of ineptitude confirmed weaknesses in just about every aspect of their game. Unless a buyer with deep pockets steps up before July 1, Dallas fans can look forward to more of Tom Hicks' penurious approach next season. Last week: 0-3
27New York Islanders
Last Week: 28
Two things Isles fans can count on: a spring without playoff hockey, and free chili! Alright, the chili isn't a sure thing, but after wins over the Devils and Leafs, the team has scored at least three goals -- the threshhold for the Wendy's chili coupon -- in four of its last six home games. When you suffer with the white, blue and orange, you find solace in the little things. Last week: 2-1-1
28Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 29
Taking out Boston and Edmonton in OT meant more to the Leafs than their first three-game win streak of the season -- the victories all but ensured that the Bruins won't go into the lottery holding Toronto's pick and the best chance to draft first overall. A small victory, perhaps, but they also have the play of Tyler Bozak to celebrate. The free agent signee had two goals and five points last week and looks like a legit top-six forward. Last week: 3-1
29Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 27
So, where was this guy? Vincent Lecavalier has five goals in the last six games, and while his consistency still lags from time to time, he's playing closer to his pay grade than he has all season. Has to drive Bolts fans nuts seeing how competitive the team can be when he and Antero Niittymaki are going as well as they did in a pair of standout performances vs. the Caps and Pens. Last week: 1-2-1
30Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 30
Edmonton Oilers (21-40-7)
As this lost season draws closer to its merciful end, the first Taylor Hall Oilers jerseys are starting to pop up at Edmonton games...but you might want to hold off on that purchase. GM Steve Tambellini was quoted in the Edmonton Journal suggesting he's at least open to swap what should turn out to be the top pick. "I'll be interested in what kind of calls I get from other teams," he said. Yikes. Last week: 0-2-1

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