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Streaking Red Wings still on top

As Chicago Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery put it last week, February constitutes the "dog days" of the NHL season. It's getting closer to the end of the regular schedule, but we're still too far away to get too carried away -- as some teams do -- about every win and loss. Furthermore, it seems as if too many games go to three-point territory as the season gets later. In fact, 26.7 percent of NHL games in January (48 of 180) went to overtime or the shootout.

Most of the playoff teams have already been established. There is a fight for just a few spots, with the rest of the field jockeying for home ice in the first round. So many three-point games make it tough for teams to leapfrog one another. Then again, this is a strange game. Who would have thought Emery's Blackhawks would lose eight in a row?

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."

Without further ado, this week's list:

NHL Power Rankings
1Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 1
With a victory Tuesday night over the visiting Dallas Stars, this team will do something no NHL team has done before: win 21 straight games at home. Pretty remarkable when you think about it in this age of parity. What nobody seems to be able to answer is: how will this team be different than the excellent one of the last two seasons that had a similar record but nonetheless lost in the playoffs to San Jose? Almost everyone still believes that GM Ken Holland will do something significant at the trade deadline (big, physical D-man and/or another scorer) to address potential playoff shortcomings. Last week: 3-0-0
 
2New York Rangers
Last Week: 3
I'm starting to buy in a little bit more with this team, in the "OK, this really isn't a fluke, they're probably going to win the Eastern Conference" sense, anyway. I still don't know if these guys are built for the playoffs (too easy to shut down defensively perhaps; too susceptible to a hot goalie), but the record can no longer be sloughed off. The Rangers are all over the puck defensively, a credit to coach John Tortorella's constant mantra of personal accountability at both ends. Last week: 3-1-0
 
3Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 4
This team is exactly where everyone thought it would be: well ahead in the Northwest Division, wondering what areas, if any, need to be fine-tuned at the deadline. There was a wild rumor circulating Monday night: Canadian television analyst Patrice Brisebois said a Corey Perry for Cory Schneider-Mason Raymond-Keith Ballard deal with Anaheim was in discussion. That seems very unlikely, as the Ducks have Jonas Hiller signed for two more years, but it makes for good water-cooler talk at least. Last week: 3-0-1
 
4St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 6
St. Louis Blues (34-14-7)
Ken Hitchcock is my pick for Jack Adams Award. OK, a couple months remain, but what a job he's done since taking over early in the season for Davis Payne. The Blues are outshooting teams by wild margins, and they got an offensive boost over the weekend with the return of center Andy McDonald. David Perron, with six goals in four games, was the NHL's Third Star of the Week. The future is bright again in St. Louis. Last week: 4-0-0
 
5Boston Bruins
Last Week: 5
Boston Bruins (34-17-2)
If they don't beat the Rangers Tuesday at home, the defending Cup champs probably will forfeit any chance at a conference crown this year. There is a lot of talk about the Bs importing a veteran forward in the Mark Recchi mold by the deadline, with Washington's Mike Knuble a possibility, according to Comcast Sportsnet New England. Knuble is 39, but might have enough left in the tank for one more good playoff run. Last week: 1-1-0
 
6Nashville Predators
Last Week: 2
It was a tough week for the Preds, after reaching the No. 2 spot in these here rankings. They didn't win a game, though two of their three losses were in overtime. Coach Barry Trotz spent much of his media time Monday talking about how his troops might have "gotten too full of themselves." A home game Tuesday against a desperate Chicago team will be a good answer to that possibility. Last week: 0-1-2
 
7San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 7
San Jose Sharks (31-17-6)
A bad shutout loss at St. Louis was followed up by a good win Monday at Washington. Joe Thornton had three assists, and is back in the top-25 in NHL scoring. Thornton has reached at least 50 points for 12 straight seasons. The Sharks are really hoping Martin Havlat will return soon. That would alleviate the need for GM Doug Wilson to look for a bit more scoring. Last week: 2-2-0
 
8Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 9
Evgeni Malkin is definitely the front-runner right now for the Hart Trophy. The sublimely skilled forward was the NHL's Second Star of the Week and leads the league in scoring despite playing several fewer games than his nearest competitors. "[He's] not just racking up the points, but you look at the plays he's making, he looks like Mario Lemieux out there, just dangling [the puck] and doing what he wants to do," Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher said over the weekend. Last week: 2-0-1
 
9Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 10
The Flyers will make the playoffs, but there is just something uninspiring about them. This team just hasn't shown the ability to beat the best in the league and it keeps failing to show that it can be a serious player this spring. Last week: 1-2-1
 
10New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 8
After a five-game win streak coming out of the All-Star break, the Devils took a two-game losing skid into Tuesday's contest with the Sabres. Future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur will get the start, and why not? He's 2-0-1 with a 1.62 goals-against average and .929 saves percentage against Buffalo. Last week: 1-1-1
 
11Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 15
Phoenix Coyotes (27-21-9)
Just when their five-game win streak looked like it had been stopped cold Monday night, the Coyotes got a fluky Keith Yandle goal -- a wobbly shot from the blue line that Roberto Luongo simply missed ? and grabbed what could be a crucial point. The budget-conscious Yotes are right there again for a playoff spot. Last week: 3-0-1
 
12Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 13
What could have been a truly miserable six-game road trip was salvaged with a nice win at Dallas on Sunday. Offensive woes remain (of the top 16 teams in the NHL points-wise, L.A. ranks last with 124 goals), and there is a good deal of speculation that Kings GM Dean Lombardi will deal for a forward by the 27th. Last week: 2-1-1
 
13Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 11
Coach Joel Quenneville got votes of confidence from several players and GM Stan Bowman on Monday. But so did a lot of coaches not long before they were fired in this league. Fact is, Chicago backed into the playoffs last year and had lost eight in a row entering Tuesday's game in Nashville. The heat really is on Quenneville. A few wins before the trade deadline would almost surely save his job for the rest of the season, but if this losing streak goes on too much longer, something will have to be done and coaches almost always pay the price. Last week: 0-3-0
 
14Florida Panthers
Last Week: 19
Florida Panthers (27-17-11)
Coach Kevin Dineen has his team back on track, winners of three in a row and up by four points on the Capitals in the Southeast Division with a game in hand. Dineen should get some consideration for the Jack Adams, but I'll still take Hitchcock. Last week: 3-1-0
 
15Calgary Flames
Last Week: 21
Calgary Flames (26-22-8)
I've said it all along: these guys are just enough of a dangerously unpredictable team to not be counted out for anything. Goalie Miikka Kiprusoff is the main reason. He notched his 300th career victory in San Jose last week and is quietly having a very good season. Last week: 2-0-1
 
16Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 20
If you haven't seen it yet, CHECK OUT Ryan O'Reilly's amazing steal and overtime winner against Carolina on Friday night. The most amazing part: O'Reilly stole the puck at center ice with six seconds left and still beat Cam Ward with a long-range, short-side slap shot. Forward Matt Duchene stands a good chance of returning this week. Last week: 2-0-1
 
17Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 16
Ottawa Senators (28-22-8)
The Sens are skidding, with a 2-6-2 record in their last 10. Craig Anderson's goals-against average is high again (3.01) and he hasn't won a game since Jan. 19. But Ottawa's better-than-expected middle part of the season still has them seventh in the East. Last week: 1-1-1
 
18Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 12
Just when you were ready to buy in, the Maple Leafs went and dropped three games in a row, including a thoroughly horrendous 5-0 home loss to Montreal. Goalie James Reimer has allowed eight goals on the last 54 shots he's faced. Last week: 0-3-0
 
19Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 24
Anaheim Ducks (22-24-9)
The surge under Bruce Boudreau continues. The Ducks were red-hot entering Tuesday's tilt at Minnesota, with Corey Perry coming off the hat trick against Columbus. Do not, under any circumstances, count these guys out of the playoffs. Last week: 2-0-1
 
20Dallas Stars
Last Week: 18
Dallas Stars (28-24-3)
They are thoroughly mediocre and going nowhere this spring, but in a league where parity is king, the Stars still have a shot at the postseason. But this is a team that looks primed to fade and inspires its fans accordingly: Dallas ranks 28th league attendance, behind the Islanders and Coyotes. Last week: 1-2-1
 
21Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 14
Minnesota Wild (25-22-8)
After a brief surge, they're sinking again. They managed to lose twice last week to Columbus (Columbus!), and also lost super pest Cal Clutterbuck to a lower-body injury after he was hit by the Blue Jackets' Fedor Tyutin. Ouch. Last week: 0-3-0
 
22New York Islanders
Last Week: 25
Say what you want about this franchise, the fact is the Isles have been very respectable in the second half and still have a puncher's chance at the playoffs. If John Tavares could just get hot again (no points in five of his last six games entering Tuesday's tilt against Winnipeg) it would help the cause. Last week: 2-2-0
 
23Washington Capitals
Last Week: 17
They're edging closer to Buffalo as the league's most disappointing team of the season. They just don't play with enough passion, and their penalty-killing has been lousy (25th in the league). True, injuries are a valid excuse with Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green still out. But nothing has gone all that well, no matter who's been in the lineup. Last week: 1-2-1
 
24Winnipeg Jets
Last Week: 23
Winnipeg Jets (26-25-6)
They remain respectable, but as coach Claude Noel lamented to reporters on Monday, they can't seem to "get over the hump." This has been a strange team in many ways, one that can go through very dry offensive spells, then score eight goals, as it did against Pittsburgh over the weekend. Last week: 2-1-0
 
25Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 28
They suffered a critical loss Monday at home to Carolina, in a rough-and-tumble affair. Still, they've been looking better and Carey Price has won his last four starts. And, hey, Scott Gomez scored last week, for the first time in more than a calendar year. Maybe those prayers that a local church asked for are working. Last week: 3-1-0
 
26Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 22
Coach Guy Boucher's team hasn't quit, like I thought it might. But let's face it: it's been a lost season in Tampa Bay. The goaltending simply isn't good enough and there isn't much optimism that, barring a trade, it can be good enough to make a serious playoff run. Last week: 1-2-1
 
27Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 26
Buffalo Sabres (24-25-6)
Coach Lindy Ruff still hasn't been able to work from the bench the last few days due to the broken ribs he suffered in a practice collision with Jordan Leopold. He hopes to be back Tuesday against the Devils. "Even if I do go back, I'm going to need help because there's situations there where I can't vocalize loud enough, especially with the crowd, and react quick enough to have people ready," Ruff told The Buffalo News. Last week: 2-1-0
 
28Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 27
Kirk Muller's team is playing respectable hockey again, and could be a spoiler down the stretch. It's just too late for a playoff run, though. One of GM Jim Rutherford's trade-deadline bargaining chips, Tuomo Ruutu, was lost to a lower-body injury on Monday night. Last week: 1-0-2
 
29Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 29
Edmonton Oilers (22-28-5)
Sam Gagner failed to get a point on Saturday in a loss at Ottawa. That once qualified as everyday news, but not after his white-hot streak in several prior games. His eight-point game against Chicago continues to garner headlines wherever he goes. Last week: 1-1-0
 
30Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 30
Coach Todd Richards, fired by Minnesota over the summer, got two revenge-is-sweet wins over the Wild last week. Meanwhile, it remains a topic of heavy speculation whether the Jackets will deal a top player, with Jeff Carter much more likely than Rick Nash to go. Last week: 2-2-0
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