Tuesday March 23rd, 2010

Biggest jump: Atlanta Thrashers (14 from 25)

Biggest drop: Ottawa Senators (23 from 17)

A reminder: Rankings are based on many factors, and none are 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 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 color were worn during the tabulation of these rankings.

Want to send me a comment about the rankings 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
When Eric Fehr scored with 10 seconds left to tie Wednesday's game against Carolina, he became their seventh 20-goal scorer. Two wins in Florida made them the NHL's best road team. Jose Theodore's 16-0-2 mark since Jan. 13 makes him the game's most efficient stopper. I'm still in the "show me" camp when it comes to the playoffs, but I can't argue with a regular season that's about to end with their first-ever Presidents' Trophy. Last week: 2-0-1
 
2Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 2
Phoenix Coyotes (46-22-5)
It'd be easy to focus on their emotional shootout win over Chicago in front of a sellout crowd on Saturday, but it's more telling that they went on the road the next night and took two points out of Dallas with the same workmanlike precision. Sure, nine consecutive wins and first place in the Pacific are nice, but focus and commitment are what make Phoenix the most dangerous team in the West. Last week: 4-0
 
3Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 9
Forget Ken Kal -- the Wings need Bud Collyer behind the mic. The original host of Beat The Clock was the only element missing as Detroit secured a point in Edmonton and a win in Vancouver thanks to last-second goals by Brian Rafalski and Henrik Zetterberg. There's just no panic on this veteran-heavy squad, and that makes them the team no one wants to draw in the first round. Last week: 2-0-1
 
4Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 3
You have to give the defending champs a bit of leeway, but with the season winding down, shouldn't there be a hint of urgency? They've won just two of six and their transition game has been too easily bogged down by the trapping Devils and Canes. Evgeni Malkin returned after missing two games (ankle) and was their best player against Carolina, but injured his foot late in the contest and could miss some time. Last week: 1-1-1
 
5Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 6
The Ryan Kesler and Jordan Schroeder signings bode well for next season and beyond, but neither play defense, so there are plenty of questions about the immediate future. The Canucks allowed 54 shots -- most in three years -- and were often caught flat-footed in a 3-2 OT loss to the Wings. They didn't look much better allowing the Isles only 20 in a 5-2 defeat. Vancouver is still a top-two defender away from being a real contender. Last week: 1-1-1
 
6Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 4
A 3-0 smothering of the Kings was their first at Staples Center in nearly seven years, but that was small consolation for a team that's dropped four of five and is missing three key defenders. The heavy minutes and transitional skills of Brian Campbell, Kim Johnsson and Brent Seabrook were missed when they twice blew a two-goal lead in a 5-4 shootout loss in Phoenix. But hey, at least they killed on The Tonight Show. Last week: 1-1-1
 
7Nashville Predators
Last Week: 13
If there was any doubt as to which goalie they'd ride down the stretch, Pekka Rinne removed it by winning his last six starts, pitching three shutouts and allowing just seven goals. Defense remains the core of their success, but they're also finding balanced offense. Top prospect Colin Wilson scored his first, newcomer Dustin Boyd came up with a pair against the Blues and Patric Hornqvist moved closer to the franchise record with his 28th. Last week: 4-0
 
8Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 11
Their six-game win streak was snapped in am SO loss to the Leafs, but with a 7-1-1 mark since the break, the surprising Habs are the hottest team in hockey. Jaro Halak (2.10 GAA in seven March appearances) has solidified his hold on the No. 1 job, and front-line forwards Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta are on a tear. With Mike Cammalleri and Marc-Andre Bergeron set to return to action this week, Montreal looks healthy heading into the playoffs. Last week: 1-0-1
 
9New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 16
The offense is in a funk (one goal in back-to-back losses to the Leafs and Blues) with the power play stumbling through an 0-17 streak, but the Devils are ramping up for the playoffs with some old-school defensive hockey. They allowed just six goals on the week and, with Paul Martin back after missing 53 games, the blueline is deeper and more balanced than it's been all season. Now, if only that Ilya Kovalchuk deal would start paying real dividends. Last week: 2-1-1
 
10San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 5
San Jose Sharks (43-19-10)
Is it fair to ask if being lit up by Canada has gotten into Evgeni Nabokov's head. The once-reliable stopper hasn't been the only problem during a six-game free fall, but he's been the most obvious. It's not just his .863 save percentage during the skid. The timing and quality of the goals are truly alarming. Confidence can be difficult to rebuild when shattered. Right now, Nabokov looks lost. Last week: 0-4
 
11Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 12
Buffalo Sabres (39-22-10)
A 3-1 trip helped stretch their Northeast lead to what should be an insurmountable nine points, but wins over the Bolts, Cats and Canes won't convince anyone that the Sabres are a legit contender. They've been wildly inconsistent since the calendar turned, so their ability or inability to extend this streak could be telling. The red-hot Habs will provide a stiff test on Wednesday. Last week: 3-1
 
12Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 7
It's not panic time yet, but with only six goals in their last five games, and just four wins in nine since the break, they are sliding into the sort of funk that could put their playoff spot in jeopardy. Defenseman Matt Greene blames their slide on a lack of execution, but their seeming lack of killer instinct is more troubling. A home-and-home against the Avs this week will be revealing. Last week: 1-1
 
13Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 8
Is Craig Anderson wearing down? Their MVP has played 62 games, double his career high (31). The workload appears to be taking ia toll. In January, he was 7-4 with a 1.72 GAA. In February, 5-2 and a 2.15 GAA. So far in March? He's 4-5-0 with a 3.07 GAA. With just a three-point lead over the hard-charging Wings, the seventh-place Avs can't afford to rest him, but they may need to rethink how he's used next season. Last week: 1-2
 
14Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 25
Put the fork down. The six-game losing streak out of the break may yet be the death of them, but they showed plenty of life winning four straight against playoff-positioned foes last week. Sweeping a home-and-home with the Flyers earned a Tuesday night date vs. Boston with eighth place up for grabs. Watch for a quick start: they've jumped to a 2-0 lead in their last four games, the opening tally coming within the first three minutes each time. Last week: 4-0
 
15Calgary Flames
Last Week: 10
Calgary Flames (36-27-9)
Their fans may be cursing the Wings' last-second heroics, but the Flames have no one to curse but themselves if they fall short of a playoff berth. Allowing Detroit to come into the Saddledome and steal a four-point game was bad, but a 4-3 loss to the Wild was a knife to the heart. Vesa Toskala didn't give them a chance to win. Anyone surprised? Last week: 2-2
 
16Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 15
Wins over the division-leading Caps and Pens, for a second consecutive week no less, prove they can be effective when executing Paul Maurice's lockdown defense. They're getting impressive minutes out of Justin Peters, Zach Boychuk and Jamie McBain, whose first NHL goal was a buzzer-beating OT winner against the Pens. Keep this up and they can forget about drafting Taylor Hall. Last week: 2-2
 
17Boston Bruins
Last Week: 19
Boston Bruins (32-27-12)
How much do they miss Marc Savard? Their power play is literally twice as good when he's in the lineup. They're 0-17 with the extra man in their last six games, clicking at barely 10 percent with Savvy on the sideline. With their No. 1 center likely out for the season, they'll need a quick fix to hold off the hard-charging Thrashers. Last week: 2-2
 
18St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 14
St. Louis Blues (34-29-9)
Talk about gracious hosts. On Sunday, they gave free food to fans and two points to the Preds. The indignity of the 3-2 loss was another blown third-period lead, their ninth this season. Worse, it frittered the momentum they'd built with solid road wins over the Rangers and Devils earlier in the week. They're not out of it yet, but with five of their next seven at home, they must make home ice count. Last week: 2-2
 
19Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 21
Anaheim Ducks (34-29-8)
What do you call four straight wins after losing five in a row coming out of the Olympic break? Too little, too late. At least the Ducks have stayed above the fold with a couple of headline-making happenings: good guy Teemu Selanne's 600th career goal and the eight-game suspension handed to James Wisniewski for his little indiscretion against Chicago. Last week: 3-0
 
20Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 18
After watching them drop five of seven, including a pair to Atlanta over the weekend, is anyone willing to call them a safe bet to make the playoffs? The ride's only going to get tougher down the stretch with leading scorer Jeff Carter out 3-4 weeks with a broken foot and Michael Leighton lost for the regular season with a high ankle sprain. Last week: 1-2-1
 
21Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 20
Minnesota Wild (35-31-6)
A brutal road record left them no margin for error down the stretch, so it was appropriate that no-show losses in Nashville and Columbus essentially put an end to their flimsy playoff hopes. This team simply doesn't come to play with the same consistent intensity when it's away from home. Addressing that disparity is Job #1 for 2010-11. Last week: 2-2
 
22Dallas Stars
Last Week: 26
Dallas Stars (31-27-14)
When Radim Vrbata snapped a wrister over Marty Turco's slow glove hand on Sunday, it sealed their league-leading 10th shootout defeat and 14th extra time loss of the season. It's a cruel turn of fate from 2005-06, when they led the NHL with a 12-1 mark in the SO. For all the problems this team has, it's easy to see how a few more goals in the skills competition would have vaulted them into the thick of the playoff hunt. Last week: 2-1-1
 
23Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 17
Ottawa Senators (37-30-5)
Not too many ways to sugarcoat a three-loss week that saw them leak 15 goals and drop to 1-7-1 since the break. Still, the offense is coming around, chipping in seven goals against Atlanta and Dallas. Even the much maligned power play showed signs of life. If only someone would step up in net. Supposed starter Pascal Leclaire is 0-7-1 in 2010 and has been pulled in four of his last eight starts. Time for Brian Elliott to earn Cory Clouston's trust. Last week: 0-3
 
24New York Rangers
Last Week: 23
Even after dropping a pair at home to the Habs and Blues, they still had their fate in their own hands with a Sunday matinee against the Bruins. Then the offense came up snake eyes -- again -- in a 2-1 loss that dropped them five points off the playoff pace. Losing Ryan Callahan and Sean Avery (lower body injuries) in that game may have finally sealed the Blueshirts' fate. Last week: 0-3
 
25Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 28
Six of their last 10 games have gone to OT or the SO. Somehow, they've won five, breaking hearts in Boston and setting up the kind of tear that would have come in handy when their games actually meant something. The hot spell has been powered by excellent play from the top line, with Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel and Nikolai Kulemin combining for 12 goals and 26 points over their last seven games. Last week: 3-0
 
26Florida Panthers
Last Week: 22
Florida Panthers (29-31-11)
Losses to the Caps, Yotes and Sabres effectively put them into future-watch mode: 2008 second-rounder Jacob Markstrom is expected to leave Sweden and play in North America next season. Their next-best goaltending prospect, Denver University junior Marc Cheverie, is a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. He's expected to go pro this summer and spend next season in the AHL. Last week: 1-2-1
 
27Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 24
After flexing their offensive muscles with nine goals in wins over the Oilers and Wild, they were muzzled by the playoff-bound Preds, 1-0 -- a tough luck loss for Steve Mason, who has come close to recapturing his Calder Trophy from since Claude Noel took over behind the bench. Look for Mason to be the centerpiece of Canada's World Championship squad. Last week: 2-0-1
 
28New York Islanders
Last Week: 27
Will Aaron Ness become the latest prospect to defect from the Minnesota Gophers in order to turn pro? A second-round pick of the Isles in 2008 (40th overall), the Rafalski-sized defender is said to be in talks with the team. No surprise they want him out of Minnesota -- GM Garth Snow has been vocal in his distrust of Gophers' coach Don Lucia -- but Ness clearly needs more time to develop. If he signs with New York, he's likely ticketed for Utah of the ECHL. Last week: 1-1-1
 
29Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 30
Edmonton Oilers (23-42-7)
With six points in three games since joining AHL Springfield, top prospect Jordan Eberle is a step closer to bringing his magic show to Edmonton. Just don't expect his debut soon. Despite being ideally positioned to offer him a cup of coffee, the Oilers inexplicably have decided not to bring him to the NHL this season. At least they've got Aaron Johnson to cheer. Steady play as a depth defender has made him a fan favorite since his acquisition at the trade deadline. Last week: 2-2
 
30Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 29
Five straight losses have propelled them into their annual late-season slide into the abyss, but there are signs of hope on the horizon, thanks to new owner Jeff Vinik, who has made an impression with several morale-boosting changes. It's all behind-the-scenes stuff (free employee parking, improved food service), but hints at the sort of involved approach that Bolts fans have dreamed about for years. Last week: 0-4

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