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Bruins keep Rangers at bay

Happy holidays, eh? After a nice little two-day break, the NHL was back at it Monday night with a big slate of games. While we do not have a new No. 1 in our rankings this week, we do have a nice Boston-New York 1-2 thing going. When is the last time that happened in any sport besides baseball? Although the Rangers entered Tuesday with more points than Boston, we can't knock Claude Julien's club out of the top spot just because the schedule-maker gave them only one game last week.

A DISCLAIMER (of sorts): These rankings are based not just on each team's record at the moment, but an empirically tested formula that includes a) realistic near-term future expectations; b) consensus talent level and payroll considerations and; c) whatever the Magic 8-Ball I've had since I was seven years old tells me will happen. One more thing: Rest assured, I don't have it in for your team. OK, so I once hated the Philadelphia Flyers with a passion bordering on the psychotic, but that was 30-something years ago and Dave Schultz has long since retired. I welcome your emails to the link attached to my name above, and I always respond -- even to the ones that start with "Dear Idiot?")

Without further ado, this week's 1-30 list:

NHL Power Rankings
1Boston Bruins
Last Week: 1
Boston Bruins (23-9-1)
The Big, Bad Bruins keep exposing other teams as early pretenders to their throne. Florida was their latest victim, going into Boston and taking a mighty 8-0 pounding in the Bs' only game of the week. NHL First Star of the Week Brad Marchand scored a hat trick and rang up five points in the victory. He's having an incredible year -- PLUS-25 in his first 33 games of 2011-12, with 15 goals and 14 assists. A total of 70 players were taken before The Little Ball of Hate II in the 2006 draft, including Robin Figren by the Islanders at No. 70. Figren currently plays in Sweden and has yet to make his NHL debut. Last week: 1-0-0
 
2New York Rangers
Last Week: 8
They entered Tuesday ahead of Boston in the Eastern Conference standings, albeit with a game in hand. They took good advantage of the creampuff on their schedule (two games against the Isles) and got some easy points. All of their wins were impressive, though, with their tough defense (Marc Staal is now cleared for contact) and goaltending allowing only five goals in the four games. Henrik Lundqvist isn't a bad guitar player, either. A three-game road trip to Washington, Florida and Philly ? for the Winter Classic -- beckons. Last week: 4-0-0
 
3Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 2
Anybody who hasn't seen the Blackhawks' "Sing-Along Christmas Album" video needs to get on YouTube right now. CLICK HERE to thrill to Frolik Navidad or Lepisto, Lepisto, Lepisto and many more heartwarming classics. On the ice, the Hawks continue to make fun of others a lot, too. They're 13-2-3 at home, and Marian Hossa has quietly crept in to the top five in league scoring. Last week: 2-1-0
 
4Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 4
It was a really bad decision by Nashville to let defenseman Dan Hamhuis go as a free agent in 2010. Yeah, the Preds had/have small-market money issues, but they were pennywise, pound-foolish. Hamhuis entered Monday a combined plus-41 in his year-and-a-half with the Canucks, who at plus-32 (120-88) rank second-best in the west in goal differential, and it seems like they're still just getting warmed up. Last week: 2-1-0
 
5St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 7
St. Louis Blues (21-10-4)
This team is big, fast, hungry and has a great coach in Ken Hitchcock. The most interesting story figures to be who the main man in goal will be for the second half. Hitchcock doesn't much like platooning his goalies, so the battle between Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott for top dog status should be a good one. The Blues are 15-3-4 under Hitchcock, but a tough week, including two games with Detroit, lies ahead. Last week: 2-1-0
 
6Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 3
Claude Giroux had four points in his first game back from a concussion, which should make for some happy HBO "Road to the Winter Classic" viewing this week, unlike the last two where he was mostly shown on an examining table being treated by doctors. The Flyers are going to need to do something about replacing Chris Pronger, though. Their back end has looked a bit leaky without him. Last week: 1-1-0
 
7Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 5
They lost a couple games last week, but always seem to win when they need to. Jimmy Howard continues to play some great hockey in net, including a 31-save showing Monday night in Nashville. Valtteri Filppula might be one of the best, most unsung players in the league. While others get all the ink in Detroit, Filppula continues to put up close to a point per game. Last week: 1-2-0
 
8Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 10
While they continue to trudge along admirably without Sidney Crosby, his condition is more worrisome than ever. He hasn't practiced with the team since December 7 or spoken to the media since December 12. "I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about it," defenseman Matt Niskanen told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "There is always that scare, guys out there like (Boston's) Marc Savard, who probably aren't coming back. It's always a possibility." Last week: 2-0-0
 
9San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 13
San Jose Sharks (19-11-3)
They stubbed a toe -- or is it a fin? -- with a home loss to cellar-dwelling Anaheim on Monday night, but overall they've started to turn things around and nobody is going to want to play them in the second half. The loss of veteran Martin Havlat for 6-8 weeks (torn knee tendon while jumping onto the ice for a shift) means Joe Thornton and others must step up their offensive games. Now that Joe and the fish seem to have their minds into, look for that to happen. Last week: 2-1-0
 
10Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 6
Minnesota Wild (20-12-5)
Two weeks after being awarded the top spot in these here rankings, they have yet to win a game (0-5-2). Their latest loss came Monday at home to the Avs, who hadn't won their previous nine on the road. Devin Setoguchi wasn't having a great season while he was healthy (28 games, 13 points, -7), but his continued absence due to an ankle injury has hurt the Wild because they aren't very deep offensively. Last week: 0-3-0
 
11Florida Panthers
Last Week: 9
Add in OT/Shootout losses and this is really just a .500 team. Of course, you can say that about a lot of clubs in the Original 30. Their ugly loss in Boston did not do any favors for anyone who really wants to believe in these cats. They're also the team with the best record in the league despite allowing more goals than they've scored (94-98). Last week: 0-2-3
 
12Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 19
No joke here, these guys are actually playing some very impressive hockey. They took a team-record eight-game home win streak into Tuesday's tilt with Winnipeg. Not even the Sakic-Forsberg-Roy teams ever went on a roll like that. Center Ryan O'Reilly has been just tremendous (league-high 51 takeaways entering Monday) and 34-year-old Jean-Sebastien Giguere, the league's Third Star of the Week, is turning back the clock with great play in net. Last week: 3-0-0
 
13Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 16
Brian Burke is nothing if not loyal. The man who defended Todd Bertuzzi after his assault on Colorado's Steve Moore just gave coach Ron Wilson an extension, despite his never having taken to the Leafs to the playoffs. Wilson's record since last season's All-Star break is 36-22-10. "This is a coach who's earned this, a coach who's earned this extension," Burke said at the press conference on Monday. "It's not charity. It's not a gift." If you say so, sir. Last week: 2-0-0
 
14Dallas Stars
Last Week: 11
Dallas Stars (20-14-1)
They've done an admirable job of staying in the mix without their No. 1 goaltender, Kari Lehtonen (groin), who could return Thursday after a 12-game absence. But this is still a team with 95 goals scored, 101 allowed and there is a sense that it was never as good as its record. Lehtonen could change that. Last week: 1-2-0
 
15Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 15
Phoenix Coyotes (18-15-3)
Their leading scorer (Ray Whitney) is 39. Their third-leading scorer (Shane Doan) is 35. Amazingly, the Yotes keep dancing with Father Time, but even with these two productive old farts at play, Phoenix is only 4-6-0 in its last 10 games. Last week: 2-2-0
 
16Nashville Predators
Last Week: 12
The bumpy ride continues. If not for a couple of a semi-miraculous comeback wins over Columbus, this would be a sub-.500 team. The Preds have lost three of their last four and aren't playing the kind of stingy hockey they've been known for under coach Barry Trotz. It hasn't been Shea Weber's fault, though. The D-man scored a team-leading 29 points in his first 35 games was plus-14 before being taken out of the lineup indefinitely by a concussion. Last week: 1-3-0
 
17Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 22
While some called it folly, the Kings are 2-0-1 since Darryl Sutter began standing on the bench. None of the victories have been particularly outstanding, but the numbers are the numbers. Sutter seems to be getting highly talented D-man Drew Doughty to play better again: four points, all assists, in the three games under the new bench boss. Last week: 2-0-1
 
18Calgary Flames
Last Week: 24
Calgary Flames (17-15-4)
There are good things to say, which probably means there will be bad things next week. Putting two solid weeks in succession remains a problem for Brent Sutter's team. But make no mistake, that was a nice 3-1 win at Vancouver on Friday. And what's gotten into Curtis Glencross lately? He's scored goals in four straight games. Last week: 3-0-0
 
19New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 14
Their overall record is OK and they have some tremendous talent, but after scoring eight points in three games, forward Zach Parise has just one assist in his last four outings. A pretty solid beating at home by the Rangers continued to cement the feeling that this team is going absolutely nowhere, a sentiment that might be shared by the good folks in Newark, where the Devils' home attendance is 14,760 per game, good for 26th in the league. Last week: 1-2-0
 
20Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 21
Ottawa Senators (17-14-5)
With the All-Star Game in Ottawa on January 29, this team has five players on the ballot. And you think Daniel Alfredsson's best days are behind him, do you? The 39-year-old winger has nine points in his last five games, including a one-goal, two-assist, plus-4 performance against Pittsburgh last week. Kyle Turris has been a nice addition so far, with an assist in each of his first three games as a Sen. Last week: 2-0-1
 
21Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 17
Buffalo Sabres (17-15-3)
For the second time in a month, they snapped a three-game losing streak at the expense of the Capitals, with Brayden McNabb scoring his first career goal. Meanwhile, it continues to be rough going for the team with the minus-7 goal differential (96-103) and the league's second-highest payroll (behind Philly, according to Capgeek.com). Last week: 1-2-0
 
22Winnipeg Jets
Last Week: 18
Winnipeg Jets (16-14-5)
They've got weird schedule this week, with a one-game trip (to Colorado Tuesday), then back home Thursday against the Kings. If they're to be taken seriously, they need to start winning on the road, where they are 4-8-4 so far. Not many are calling Blake Wheeler a bust anymore. The top-5 draft choice (fifth overall by Phoenix in 2004) has 25 points in 35 games and is plus-10. Last week: 1-1-1
 
23Washington Capitals
Last Week: 20
Michal Neuvirth started his fifth straight game, a 4-2 loss at Buffalo on Monday, but neither he nor Tomas Vokoun has been able to hold the No. 1 job, and the Caps are 6-10-1 on the road. Thoughts of this being an "elite" team are rapidly fading. It desperately needs D-man Mike Green back (he returned to practice on Tuesday) and a return to form by Alex Ovechkin, who has a three-game point streak, with a goal in two of the tilts. Remember when three points in three games used to be a dry spell for good old No. 8? Last week: 1-1-1
 
24Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 23
Edmonton Oilers (15-17-3)
While the kids up front are still all right, the defense can't keep up. It hasn't helped that veteran Ryan Whitney has been hobbled by ankle woes even after undergoing surgery during the offseason. After putting up 27 points in 35 games last season, he's been able to squeeze out just three assists in his his first 17 games. Last week: 1-1-0
 
25Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 27
Vincent Lecavalier can still pass the puck, but he looks slow. He's only 31, but has been in the league since 1998, and there appears to be a fair amount of hockey mileage on his body. As for the Bolts, they just don't seem to have the motivation they had last season, and time is starting to become an issue. Then again, they are in the Eastern Conference, where you never seem to be too far out of eighth place. Last week: 0-1-1
 
26Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 28
Kirk Muller's boys entered Tuesday with a nice little two-game win streak. This constitutes big news for the ice men of Raleigh, and with goalie Cam Ward starting to look like a real NHL player again, maybe a strong second-half run isn't out of the question. Last week: 2-1-0
 
27Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 30
Anaheim Ducks (10-19-6)
Coach Bruce Boudreau and his new charges got a nice win at San Jose on Monday night, which is as good a reason as any to bump them out of the cellar here. There's still way too much offensive firepower on this team to ever take the Ducks lightly. Last week: 1-0-1
 
28Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 25
In whatever language you choose, the Habs have been downright terrible under interim coach Randy Cunneyworth. They've lost five in a row and the natives are more than restless around Saint Catherine Street. Who would have thought many fans would be clamoring for the return of Jacques Martin? Last week: 0-2-0
 
29New York Islanders
Last Week: 26
Just when you want to start buying in a little, these guys go out and get smoked a few times and you're back to feeling they're hopeless. And now goalie Al Montoya is out with a concussion. Does this team ever catch a health break with its goaltending? Last week: 1-3-0
 
30Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 29
Let's just get thee to the draft table already. After a brief bout with relative respectability, they have lost five in a row. While several NHL coaches with better records have already been booted this season, C-bus bench boss Scott Arniel continues to hold his post, as does GM Scott Howson. Last week: 0-2-0
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