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Here come the Rangers

The NHL is still the league of parity, but the big, silver Stanley Cup soup strainer is starting to lift the quality teams out of the thin broth as we hit mid-November. Most teams don't start fully assessing themselves until the 20-game mark or so, as far as identified strengths, weaknesses and wish lists go. So we still have a few more games before we get to our quarterpole take. For now, here is how your Original 30 stack up in this week's SI NHL Power Rankings.

NOTE: All records and stats through games of Monday, Nov. 14

NHL Power Rankings
1Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 1
They continue to exasperate the hockey media with their daily "No Change in Sidney's Status" Vigil, but the active Pens keep putting distractions aside and winning, their 5-3 loss to the Hurricanes in Raleigh on Saturday notwithstanding, though they did almost pull it off after climbing out of an 0-3 hole in the third period. Last week: 1-1-0
 
2Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 5
Jonathan Toews (four goals, two assists in his last three games) is heating up, a little earlier than usual. After the Hawks' 6-3 win Sunday night over Edmonton, he had seven shots on goal, won 12 of his 17 face-offs, and was given the coveted championship belt that has become a tradition in the Hawks' dressing room. This is a much hungrier team than last season. Says Toews, "We've got to put our foot on the gas pedal now." I'll go on a limb and say Chicago won't drop out of the top, oh, six teams in these Power Rankings for the rest of the season. Last week: 3-1-0
 
3New York Rangers
Last Week: 11
Hats off to the Rangers, who took a five-game win streak into this week, for jumping well up in our rankings. They took a five-game win streak into this week and are rubbing elbows with the elite teams. Like the Hawks with their championship belt, the Blueshirts have a black fedora (the "Broadway Hat") and Brandon Dubinsky was awarded his first for his breaking open last Friday's 5-1 win over the 'Canes. Speaking of firsts, Sean Avery scored his first goal of the season in that one. Last week: 2-0-0
 
4Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 9
Ilya Bryzgalov is getting his game together again. No more "I have zero confidence right now" from the congenitally honest goalie. Breezer has led the Flyers to at least a point in his last five starts, with a save percentage of .917 or better in each. Ever since his awful 9-8 loss to the Jets, the Russian netminder has said "Nyet" to almost every shot that's come his way. "I never run from responsibility," he stated after his 3-2 win over Florida on Sunday. "When I play bad, I tell everyone." Last week: 2-0-2
 
5Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 16
Speaking of getting your game back together, the Red Wings have won four in a row after losing six straight in a streak that looks more like the aberration most people thought it was. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are their normal selves again, but problems remain on defense where Ian White is out after taking a puck in the face and Mike Commodore is no Brian Rafalski, Senator. GM Ken Holland may have to make a couple of deals to fine tune this team, but for now, business is back to usual in the Motor City. Last week: 3-0-0
 
6Washington Capitals
Last Week: 2
In his first game back from an ankle injury, key defenseman Mike Green hurt his groin Friday and looks to be out at least a week, probably more. "You miss his speed most of all," assistant coach Bob Woods told The Washington Post. "He can skate with anybody in the league, and when we play faster teams, quicker teams, he's a guy that's a threat. Not having that there is an advantage for opponents." We were already a bit suspicious of the depth on the blueline, so Alex Ovechkin may have to carry the Caps for a while. Last week: 1-1-1
 
7Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 13
After a lopsided loss in LA on Saturday, I looked at the Wild closely the next night in Anaheim to see how they'd respond. Very admirably: a 3-2 win, the mark of a good team, one that bounces back quickly on the road after a bad outing. Coach Mike Yeo is probably the early favorite for the Jack Adams Award. Thing is: Yeo is winning despite getting little offense from top center Mikko Koivu. If and when the talented Finn gets his act together, Minny will be no ha-ha into April and beyond. Last week 2-2-0
 
8Boston Bruins
Last Week: 18
Why are the defending Stanley Cup champs ahead of teams with better records here? Take a look at Boston's goal differential. At plus-17 (52-35 entering Tuesday), it's the best in the NHL. And the B's are red hot again. Tim Thomas (three straight wins) has his save pct. back up to .930 and Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic (sorry, Buffalo) and Tyler Seguin (11 goals in his first 13 games, the same number of tallies and only two fewer points than he had in 74 games last season) are lighting the ol' lamp with some regularity. Last week: 2-0-0
 
9Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 12
I have no problem with coach Lindy Ruff sticking up for one of his players. It's a hallmark of hockey. (Even Brian Burke stuck up for Todd Bertuzzi in Vancouver, which, wrong as Burke was, it was admirable in a way.) But Ruff tends to whine over perceived officiating slights. Such was the case with his "It's open season on goalies" declaration after Brendan Shanahan failed to suspend Milan Lucic for running Ryan Miller on Sunday. Shanahan made the correct non-call, and Ruff probably knows it way down deep. Now, how is he going to deal with Miller's extended absence due to concussion symptoms? Last week: 3-1-0
 
10San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 4
Todd McLellan's hair seems to get a little more gray (or is that just a good frosting job?) every few games. This squad will blow you out one night, then drop a 3-0 stinker at home to Phoenix, a loss that prompted the coach to call his lads "lethargic between the ears." But the Sharks are still 8-2-1 in their last 11. Gotta look at the bright side. Last week: 1-1-0
 
11Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 14
Great story in The Arizona Republic on Monday by Coyotes beat man Jim Gintonio about Phoenix's secret weapon: video coach Steve Peters, a former goalie at North Dakota who coach Dave Tippett calls "the best in the business" at breaking down everything that goes on during a game. Given how well the Yotes are holding their own this season, how long will it be before Peters gets a big-time offer from a deeper-pocketed organization? Last week: 1-0-1
 
12Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 7
Until they get James Reimer back, this will be a .500 team at best. Ron Wilson is starting to sound a little paranoid since losing his top goalie to concussion symptoms after Reimer was hit by Montreal's Brian Gionta on Oct. 22. Netminder Ben Scrivens is now no longer available to the press before he plays. "Are you allowed to talk to starting pitchers before a game?" Wilson told the usual horde of Toronto reporters. "Why not? Because they have to get focused." He may be right, but when coaches start trying to make the media the enemy, you know things are getting a bit desperate. Last week: 1-2-0
 
13Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 8
They're still struggling to string together anything positive beyond a game or two. Their "internal" numbers aren't very flattering, either. Entering Tuesday, their goal differential was just 55-51, not good enough for a team that finished one win shy of the Cup last spring, but coach Alain Vigneault is undaunted. "I really think we are close," he said, after a 4-1 win over the reeling Islanders on Sunday. Last week: 2-1-0
 
14Nashville Predators
Last Week: 10
They've been pretty disappointing so far, but coach Barry Trotz believes that much better hockey lies ahead for his team, and do you think I'm going to disagree with him? No sir. Offense is always going to be something of a problem with these guys, but once Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter really tighten the screws defensively, that won't matter quite as much. Last week: 1-1-1
 
15Dallas Stars
Last Week: 3
Dallas Stars (11-5-0)
Their record's impressive, but after their losses to Pittsburgh and Detroit last week, I remain committed to believing these guys will be among the second tier come spring. There's still a bit too much age and unpredictability at key positions. Does anyone seriously believe that Sheldon Souray will have a second half comparable to the one he's had so far, or that castoff Eric Nystrom will keep scoring goals at his current clip: five in his first 11? I don't. But as Dennis Miller said, I could be wrong. Last week: 1-2-0
 
16Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 6
Like Skylab, the Oil has come back to Earth hard. They're finding out that that life on the road isn't as nice as it as at Rexall Place. They've lost their last three by a combined 15-6 after a hot start that had some writers, ahem, koff, ahem, starting to think this group just might compare favorably, ahem, to the rise of the old dynasty, koff. "Maybe we were a bit too ahead of ourselves," defenseman Tom Gilbert told The Edmonton Sun. Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin made up for some early defensive issues, but he can't do it all season, evidently. Last week: 1-3-0
 
17Florida Panthers
Last Week: 19
Just when we were ready to buy in (somewhat) to Panther Fever (or is that Cat Scratch Fever?), they go and lose a "prove it to me" at home to Philadelphia on Sunday. Until they can win those types of contests, Florida will remain more in the class of "not there yet" teams. But the fact that I'm calling them the 13th-best in the NHL even in mid-November is something to be proud of down in Sunrise, and the revamped Panthers continue to have winning weeks. Last week: 2-1-0
 
18St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 24
Is their fine start under Ken Hitchcock (2-0-1 since taking over for Davis Payne) going to last or is it just a MacGuffin? I'm certainly not going to start laying bets against Hitch, the man with something of a Rain Man mind for detail, a Stanley Cup, two Olympic gold medals and a playoff berth with the perennial doormat Blue Jackets under his belt. Seriously, how unbelievable does that look now: that Hitchcock is/was the only coach to take Columbus past the 82-game mark? The Blues acted very quickly and very smartly in getting him. Last week: 2-0-1
 
19Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 15
We can officially call them our most disappointing team so far. However, they did spank the Wild pretty good over the weekend, which saved us from labeling them "biggest bust so far." Third-line center Jarret Stoll has one, count 'em, one goal through his first 17 games after scoring 20 last season. And let's not even go there with Dustin Penner, who remained scoreless after his first 14 contests. Brad Richardson, with one point in 16 games, can't brag, either. Last week: 2-1-0
 
20New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 20
Here's another Eastern team with a winning record but losing goal-differential (37-41 entering Tuesday). Zach Parise has been good-to-great in the past, but his numbers after his first 15 games are ordinary with a capital O: (5-3-8, -5). Maybe his knee is taking some time to fully heal, so we'll give him that benefit of the doubt and expect bigger things as we move forward. Last week: 2-1-0
 
21Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 23
Their last three games have gone to OT or a shootout, and they won two. That says they're playing tight hockey all the way through games, which is good enough for now. The Habs have a dependable goalie, too many gamers up front (Brian Gionta, Max Pacioretty), and a defense that can scare you. (Just run the tape of PK Subban in last season's playoffs for proof of that.) If they squeeze in again, they'll be the same very tough-to-beat bunch. Last week: 2-1-1
 
22Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 17
Until they get their goal differential back into positive territory, they properly belong here in the lower tier. Frankly, these Bolts just don't look at all as good as the squad that nearly played Vancouver for the Cup last spring. The goaltending duo of Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon has been decidedly average, and the formerly valuable Steve Downie is having an utterly horrible season (one goal, two assists, minus-12 in 17 games) so far. Last week: 1-2-0
 
23Calgary Flames
Last Week: 21
If they could just play Colorado every game, things would be fine and dandy. After their 4-3 win in Denver on Sunday, the Flames had beaten the Avs eight straight times and in 10 of their previous 11 meetings. Three of Calgary's seven wins so far have come against them. That's the good news. The bad: they get to play the Avs only three more times the rest of the season. Last week: 1-2-0
 
24Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 22
A loss on Sunday to Calgary dropped them to 2-6-0 at home, so the Pepsi Center might as well be declared an official sanctuary for visiting teams, which are now 19-5-1 in the last 25 appearances at the PC. Coach Joe Sacco continues to mix lines with the fervor of a kid with his first chemistry set. Problem is, too many of his combos have given off that yellowy sulfur smell. Last week: 1-2-0
 
25Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 27
After that early six-game win streak, they're back in their proper out-of-the-playoffs spot. The return of Daniel Alfredsson is a good thing, but there too many holes here to get too excited about, or read too much into, the promise of that early run. Last week: 1-2-0
 
26Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 25
These guys continue to be tough to figure, winning games they shouldn't and losing games they should win. Their primary troubles arguably begin and end with Eric Staal, the tremendously talented forward who struggling through his worst season so far as a pro. Through his first 18 games, he was minus-17 with only four goals. "Clearly he's the driver of our offensive bus and we need to find a way to get him going," coach Paul Maurice said. Last week: 1-3-0
 
27Winnipeg Jets
Last Week: 28
Fans are pouring boos in Winnipeg as the Jets' honeymoon enters a new, hardly intoxicating phase. The sellout crowd showered their darlings with unbridled dissatisfaction as they left the ice after the second period of last Friday's match with Florida down 4-0. It's hard to keep feeling moony about a team that has surrendered 60 goals, tied with woeful Columbus for most in the league. Last week: 1-2-1
 
28Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 26
Top forward Bobby Ryan called losing to the Wild on home ice "embarrassing" though it was just a 3-2 final score. What's embarrassing about that? Ryan and the rest of this team know that things just aren't good enough right now at the Pond or on the road. Their goal differential (35-50), for one thing, needs fixing. Last week: 1-2-0
 
29New York Islanders
Last Week: 29
I was at their game last week against Colorado and they played a great first 49 minutes, going up 3-0 and looking dominant. Then they played a really dumb last 21 minutes of regulation before losing 4-3 in OT. They sat back way too much and started taking penalties because they lost their aggression. Young teams need to learn that sitting on a lead too often loses that lead, but what's more disconcerting is that coach Jack Capuano has been complaining about too many of his guys taking nights off. Not a good sign for a team that's supposed to be hungry. Last week: 0-1-1
 
30Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 30
They won a game last week, a 2-1 thriller over Winnipeg at home! So the assault on the world begins anew for coach Scott Arniel's beleaguered bunch as attendance continues to slide while jeers flow. (The Jackets heard it but good from the hometown faithful while being waxed 6-3 by Chicago last Thursday.) "We look like a group that's very fragile," Arniel lamented. Added Grant Clitsome: "Same old story, it seems like." Last week: 1-1-0
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