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Crosby keeps Penguins on top

It's always a good thing when one can start off a review of the NHL by talking about games in which Sidney Crosby played. So it was as the league's marquee attraction resumed play and helped keep the Penguins on top of our Power Rankings for the second straight week. You might not like seeing him play against your team, but any real hockey fan has to be happy that he's back. Let's hope he stays a while this time around. No more concussions, please.

A DISCLAIMER (of sorts): These rankings are based not just on each team's record, 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 that 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."

All stats and records through games of Monday, March 19

NHL Power Rankings
1Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 1
There was plenty of hope before Crosby. Now that El Sid has returned, however, the Penguins' old swagger is back. They went into New York and smacked the Rangers, a real statement victory as far as regulation ones go. Everything is going their way now. Crosby only put up five points in his first two games back. Geez Sid, scrape off the rust, will ya? Last week: 2-0-1
 
2St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 2
St. Louis Blues (46-19-8)
The Western title is looking more and more like a formality for Ken Hitchcock's squad (profiled in last week's SI by Michael Farber). There's still a "they haven't proven anything yet, wait 'til the playoff pressure gets them" feeling, though. But that's the kind of media skepticism faced by any team that has never won the Stanley Cup. This one has youth, speed, depth, defense and goaltending. What's not to like? Last week: 1-1-1
 
3New York Rangers
Last Week: 3
That was some good Olde Tyme Hockey on Monday night at the Garden. Gotta love three fights at the same time right after the opening face-off. OK, so I'm a goon hockeywriter, so what? The Blueshirts had lost five of six entering the game vs. New Jersey and had been outclassed by the Pens in Crosby's latest return. But after seeing them play in person on Saturday night, for the first time this season, I'll vouch: the Rangers play very hard and won't be easy to beat come playoff time. Last week: 2-2-0
 
4Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 4
I'm not putting a lot of stock in a few recent losses. They've got their division wrapped up and will become interested again when the playoffs start. That said, getting shut out by a team like Minnesota, as they did Monday night, wasn't very good. Roberto Luongo has lost his last three starts and was pulled early in the one before that. But I'm not worried -- yet. Last week: 1-2-0
 
5Nashville Predators
Last Week: 5
Hard to believe, but Alexander Radulov appears to be coming back. The Russian forward, considered by some to be the best player in the world not currently in the NHL, hasn't played in the league since scoring 26 goals for the Preds in 2007-08. He could be a potentially huge playoff boost. "Everyone knows what a good player he is and how dynamic he is and what he's able to do with the puck," captain Shea Weber told the Nashville Tennessean. "He adds another element and adds some depth and some exciting play." Last week: 1-1-1
 
6Boston Bruins
Last Week: 11
Boston Bruins (42-27-3)
Does a victory over Toronto count anymore as a reason to move up in the Power Rankings? When it's an 8-0 win like on Monday night, probably so. The defending champs enjoyed a laugher against the suddenly awful Leafs, but they'd been picking up their game some before that. Too bad the Leafs can't be on the schedule every night. The B's went 6-0 against Brian Burke's Finest and outscored them, 36-10. Last week: 2-2-0
 
7Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 9
Ilya Bryzgalov is red hot, humungous hot, one might say. He has been the NHL's First Star of the Week twice in a row now, and is 8-0-1 in his last nine starts, with a 1.20 GAA and .960 saves percentage. Delete those stories about him being a free-agent bust. Last week: 3-0-1
 
8Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 10
They've played well lately, but all anyone cares about in Chicago is the condition of captain Jonathan Toews, who's been out since Feb. 19 (concussion). Nobody knows when he'll be back. After skating four straight days, Toews felt recurring symptoms and hasn't been on skates since. It's time to really start worrying about the situation as the playoffs near. Besides, the Hawks still are not guaranteed of getting in, but they've managed pretty well without their best player. Last week: 3-0-0
 
9Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 6
Nick Lidstrom will be a Hall of Famer and probably still is the Wings' most important player. But his absence shouldn't have had this bad an effect on the team. After a 5-3 loss at home to Washington on Monday, Detroit had dropped five straight. There are injuries to other players too, though. Speedy forward Darren Helm is now out 4-6 weeks with a sprained MCL. With an older roster, injuries are always a worry. Last week: 0-3-1
 
10Florida Panthers
Last Week: 16
Florida Panthers (35-23-13)
They've been playing great lately, when it matters most. Winners of four in a row entering Tuesday, they are closing in on their first playoff berth since -- wow -- 2000 and readying those little plastic rats again, just like in ancient days. This could be fun. If they don't blow it in the last two-and-a-half weeks, that is. Last week: 3-0-0
 
11Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 17
Finally, they're getting the band back together, just in time. Darryl Sutter's team had won four in a row entering Tuesday's huge home game against the Sharks and Jeff Carter definitely appears to like playing in Southern California. He put up five goals and eight points in his first 11 games as a King. Last week: 3-0-0
 
12Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 13
GM Greg Sherman, whose moves were much-maligned for the past year or so, isn't taking much flak now. His deadline additions of Jamie McGinn (seven goals since coming from San Jose) and Steve Downie have looked like steals, and goalie Semyon Varlamov is one of the hottest players in the NHL. The Avs still face the problem of other bubble teams having games in hand, but they're making a strong push. Last week: 2-0-1
 
13Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 12
Phoenix Coyotes (36-26-11)
Coach Dave Tippett got his 400th NHL win in a huge come-from-behind effort at Edmonton. Only Detroit's Mike Babcock has won more games (415) since 2002-03, when Tippett coached Dallas. In his last seven games, superpest Raffi Torres has four goals, all of which have come in the final 20 minutes. Last week: 2-1-0
 
14New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 7
Decisive losses to the Pens and Rangers over the weekend exposed defensive problems. Rookie Adam Larsson, taken fourth overall in the 2011 draft, has been something of a disappointment for a while, with only two goals and a minus-6 rating. At least Martin Brodeur got his 118th career shutout, last week against Colorado. Last week: 1-3-0
 
15Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 14
Ottawa Senators (37-26-10)
Reports out of Canada's capital say starting goalie Craig Anderson, who sliced a finger a month ago, could be back by the weekend. That would be great news for a team still not guaranteed a playoff spot. "Obviously he's getting better," coach Paul MacLean told reporters on Monday. "He's practicing. It's four weeks on Thursday, which is a date the surgeons thought was important to get to, and we'll take it day-by-day and see how it goes." Last week: 1-1-1
 
16Dallas Stars
Last Week: 8
Dallas Stars (39-28-5)
They entered Monday in third place in their conference, thanks to their Pacific Division lead. But a loss Tuesday to Phoenix and they could fall out of the top eight. That's how tight things are in the Wild West. The Stars still have a minus goal differential (189-192), which makes you feel like they're not quite for real as a playoff contender. I think I goofed having them so high in the last rankings. Either that or I jinxed them. Last week: 1-2-0
 
17San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 15
San Jose Sharks (36-26-10)
They've looked somewhat uninspired of late, especially in a home loss to the hardly mighty Ducks on Monday. Yet, they still had at least one game in hand over the teams in front of them in the West and all it would take is a few wins in a row to bag another Pacific title. But there hasn't been much reason to believe that will happen. At least Martin Havlat is back in the lineup after a knee injury, and he's looked good. Last week: 2-1-1
 
18Calgary Flames
Last Week: 18
Calgary Flames (34-26-13)
As usual, they continue to baffle. They took a five-game win streak into the weekend against the bottom two teams in the West. Then they went out and gained just one out of a possible four points against Edmonton and Columbus. At least they get the Avs on Tuesday night. Calgary has won nine in the row over Colorado. Last week: 2-1-1
 
19Washington Capitals
Last Week: 19
They got a big win Monday in Detroit, with Alex Ovechkin scoring twice. But they have been just far too inconsistent for me to get very excited by it. It's been nice seeing classy veteran Mike Knuble get going, though. He has goals in three of his last four games, upping his total to six on the season. Last week: 2-2-0
 
20Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 20
Buffalo Sabres (34-29-10)
Is it too late to get Marcus Foligno on the Calder Trophy ballot? The rookie, and son of former Buffalo fan favorite Mike Foligno, has scored five goals and six points in his first seven career NHL games since being called up by the Sabres. He has even been honoring his father by doing dad's patented Foligno Leap after goals. CLICK HERE to watch. Young Marcus has been leaping a lot lately, in other words. Last week: 1-0-2
 
21Winnipeg Jets
Last Week: 21
Winnipeg Jets (34-30-8)
A three-game trip this week to Pittsburgh, Washington and Nashville could determine their playoff fate. They just haven't been very good on the road, where they are 11-19-4. No time like the present to improve on that. Last week: 2-1-0
 
22Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 24
It was surprising to see Jeff Skinner get suspended two games for kicking Blues veteran Scott Nichol last week. He'll return Wednesday against Florida. The Hurricanes' playoff hopes technically aren't dead yet, but their pulse is weak. Last week: 3-1-0
 
23Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 23
Anaheim Ducks (31-32-11)
They played the spoiler role nicely on Monday in San Jose, and will be that kind of team to playoff contenders down the stretch. Fans of other Western bubble teams were upset when the Ducks started goalie Jeff Deslauriers over Jonas Hiller, but the former second-round pick got his second win of the season without a loss. Last week: 2-2-0
 
24Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 22
Any last hopes of a playoff spot were shattered on Monday by a 7-3 home loss to Buffalo. It was most definitely a disappointing season for a team that came within one Game 7 win of going to the Stanley Cup Final last spring. Last week: 1-3-0
 
25Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 27
Minnesota Wild (30-32-10)
This much-beleaguered bunch showed some pride on Monday with a shutout win over division leader Vancouver. But the sooner this season ends for these guys, the better. It's been a horror show in the second half. The Dater Jinx strikes again. Last week: 1-2-0
 
26New York Islanders
Last Week: 26
Yet another dreary campaign - their NHL record fifth consecutive bottom five finish since 2000 -- slogs to a close. But with one more point, John Tavares will become the fourth Islander in team history to record 71 points by his 21st birthday. The other three: Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier and Denis Potvin went on to pretty decent careers. Last week: 1-1-1
 
27Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 25
Goodness, what a disgraceful showing on Monday night in Boston: an 8-0 loss. The Leafs have actually gotten worse under Randy Carlyle, who took over for the axed Ron Wilson around the trade deadline. This will mark seven straight years without a playoff spot for probably the sport's wealthiest franchise. Last week: 2-2-0
 
28Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 28
Good news, Habs fans: after leading the league in too-many-men penalties (14) last season, the Canadiens entered Tuesday with only eight. Then again, it might be said that at no point during this hideous season did it appear as if they were playing with too many men. Last week: 1-0-2
 
29Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 29
Edmonton Oilers (28-36-8)
During a brutal second half, the Oil at least got a little satisfaction in knocking off their hated Albertan neighbors on Friday night, slowing the Flames' playoff push. Taylor Hall suffered a concussion in the game and may not play the rest of the season, but the prized youngster said he is feeling much better than when it first occurred. Last week: 2-0-1
 
30Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 30
Goalie Steve Mason is 8-4-1 in his last 13 starts, with a .922 saves percentage. Any Jackets fan looking for hope for next season, there it is. Otherwise, let's get this season over already. Last week: 1-2-0
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