Tuesday December 15th, 2009

Biggest climb: Maple Leafs (29 to 11)

Biggest drop: Thrashers (11 to 20)

A reminder: These rankings are based on many factors, and not one is 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, and my uncannily intuitive gut calls on how each team stacks up against the rest of the Original 30. Please note that I, unlike most referees, do not have it in for your team. Also, stats and records are through Sunday, so keep in mind that Monday night's action doesn't factor into the equation.

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
1New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 6
Martin Brodeur grabbed a share of the all-time shutout record by blanking the Sabres, Patrik Elias scored his 300th career goal in a win over the Flyers, and Niclas Bergfors submitted his name for Calder consideration with a three-goal, four-point week that moved him into second place in the rookie scoring race. And the Devils, winners of eight of 10, just keep rollin' along. Last week: 3-1
 
2Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 2
They're 8-2-1 in their last 11, but it took just one goal on Saturday night to show how much more dangerous they could be. After going 0-5 on the power play during regulation, they needed just seven seconds with the man advantage to clinch an OT win over the Panthers. With their full lineup back, it seems like only a matter of time before their 29th-ranked power play regains its footing. The ease with which Evgeni Malkin potted that winner may give them some traction. Last week: 2-1
 
3Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 10
What a way for their long-suffering fans to start the week: first overall in the West. What separates the Kings from other teams is their ability to wring points from close games. They're 11-1-3 in one-goal affairs, thanks in large part to the play of Jonathan Quick. The U.S. Olympic candidate has been particularly sharp in the shootout. He bumped up his save percentage to .710, second best in the NHL, after blanking Dallas on four chances on Saturday night. Last week: 4-0
 
4Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 3
Antti Niemi may not be the answer to their prayers -- at least, not yet -- but the 26-year-old rookie has established himself as the game's hottest No. 2 by stepping in for Cristobal Huet eight times. After Sunday's 18-save win against Tampa Bay, he had shutouts in three starts, one goal-allowed on his last 94 shots, and was 6-1-1 with a .937 save pct. and 1.50 GAA. Chicago has a tough schedule ahead, so expect to see his workload increase. Last week: 2-1
 
5Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 9
Excellent goaltending (how about Patrick Lalime stopping 39 Chicago shots for his first win?) and a consistently gritty effort from their bottom six forwards keep games close, and that's exactly how the Sabres like 'em. They were 8-1-2 in one-goal games after taking down the Rangers and Hawks by that margin last weekend. Now imagine how good they could be if that top-six group found its groove. Last week: 3-1
 
6Washington Capitals
Last Week: 1
In back-to-back games against the NHL's two worst teams, the Caps needed OT to take out one and coughed up six goals to the other in the final two periods. Ron Wilson had an interesting take: "I don't think they're worried, at any point of the game, about defending," he said after his Leafs embarrassed the Caps 6-3 on Saturday. "They're thinking about scoring the next goal." I'm guessing that wasn't the first time Bruce Boudreau's heard that criticism of his talented but unfocused crew. Last week: 2-2
 
7Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 17
Maybe I was a little hasty in dismissing them as a contender in the West. After a string of porous performances, they rededicated themselves to the strong defensive posture that keyed their blistering start. Peter Budaj and Craig Anderson have allowed just six goals over their last five games. The Avs are still not scoring in bunches, but they are playing with more determination and aggression down low. Last week: 3-1
 
8Boston Bruins
Last Week: 7
Boston Bruins (16-9-6)
Too bad they can't play the Leafs every night, eh? After bouncing them twice by a combined score of 12-4, revealing the blueprint for eliminating Phil Kessel in the process, the B's were bested by the Isles in OT on Saturday. Boston was the better team that day, carrying the bulk of the play and generating more quality chances, but lacked the finish they had against the Leafs. You'd like to see more urgency against a lesser foe, but hey, they're 8-1-2 in their last 11. Last week: 1-0-1
 
9San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 5
So, they snagged a point in three of their last five? Big deal. Those are called loser points for a reason, and this team is too good to take solace from them. Or is it? San Jose lost five straight against Western teams, hinting at a more disturbing trend: just three wins in 15 against the seven other teams currently in playoff position in the West. Talented, sure, but the Sharks are still not working hard enough down low to create chances against elite netminders. Last week: 0-1-2
 
10Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 8
Phoenix Coyotes (19-11-2)
What's the secret to a home win streak that stretched to six Saturday against the Sharks? If you take coach Dave Tippett at his word, it's the same story every night. "Bryzzie was good and we got a couple goals," he said at his postgame presser. "I could send a tape recorder in here." It might be nice if the Yotes bought their goalie a little breathing room every now and then. The offense has been limited to just two goals in four of five games this month. Last week: 2-0-1
 
11Calgary Flames
Last Week: 4
"I thought tonight ... was a very, very important game," Brent Sutter said after his guys were worked over by the Avs in a battle for first in the Northwest. "But obviously it was just the coaches that thought that." Miikka Kiprusoff stopped 32 of 35 after a 44-save performance the night before against Minnesota, but isn't getting enough support. The offense is stagnant and a propensity for untimely penalties needs to be addressed as well. Last week: 1-2-1
 
12Nashville Predators
Last Week: 12
More off-ice drama in Nashville? Don't buy it. Despite another alarmist headline in the local paper suggesting the Preds could move, it's not going to happen. The only bad news is that they wasted an impressive comeback against Detroit, losing 3-2 in OT. Still, they took five of six points on the week with wins over the Canucks and Blue Jackets. No surprise, that last one. The Preds have 13 consecutive home wins over Columbus. Last week: 2-0-1
 
13Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 13
Todd Bertuzzi chipped in with two goals, including the OT winner, in back-to-back wins over the Ducks and Preds. Chris Osgood stopped 33 of 35 Nashsville shots to earn his first win in more than a month. The injury-riddled PK ran up a streak of 27 straight kills before Ryan Jones scored in the second period Saturday. Hey...could the Wings actually be turning this thing around? Last week: 2-1
 
14Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 16
Minnesota Wild (15-14-3)
If Jari Kurri was paying attention, Niklas Backstrom sealed his spot on the Finnish Olympic team with a trio of outstanding games: just three goals-allowed on 76 shots in a rare road win over Calgary, a shutout of Colorado, and a hard-luck loss in Phoenix. Meanwhile, his teammates continued to round into form. They're not scoring at will yet, but they're creating more chances: 85 shots on net over their last two games. Last week: 2-2
 
15Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 14
Not a bad run for the Sedins. Henrik has scored at least two points in six straight and seven of his last nine to move into a surprising tie for second in the NHL scoring race. Daniel has a six-game streak of his own, and was the week's second star, with five goals and seven points in his last three. But the rest of the team is struggling. Alain Vigneault and Mike Gillis appear to be running out of patience. The rest of their eight-game home stand could be telling. Last week: 2-1
 
16Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 23
Edmonton Oilers (15-13-4)
Guess that Hemsky guy was just dead weight, eh? Playing without their star winger (or No 1 goalie Nikolai Khabibulin), they managed a feat that even the great Gretzky-led squads couldn't: a five-game road swing sweep. They showed real character in Friday's capper over the Blues, fighting back from 3-0 to grab a game that would have been easy to blow off after winning the first four. Now the trick is to build on it with their next four games at Rexall Place. Last week: 3-0
 
17Dallas Stars
Last Week: 15
Dallas Stars (14-8-10)
If they fail to make the cut next spring, they may look back at last week and rue the missed opportunities. Playing just well enough to lose, they left a point on the table in three of their last four games and now lead the NHL with 10 losses in OT or the shootout. Pretty clear this team needs to nourish its inner Jason Voorhees and learn to finish off a foe when it has the chance. They blew a lead in each of those games before exposing their soft, white bellies. Last week: 1-0-2
 
18Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 29
Get this: fans in Toronto are starting to talk playoffs and they're not reminiscing about the good old days. The Leafs still have ground to make up, but after upping their intensity and committing to shoot more, a confident club has won seven of 10 and is just four points out of eighth. The trick now is to start winning divisional showdowns. After being blown out twice by Boston and once by the Sabres in the last two weeks, the Buds are just 1-5-3 against Northeast teams. Last week: 3-1
 
19Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 19
Ottawa Senators (16-11-4)
The power play is all dump, no chase. Marquee stars Jason Spezza and Alexei Kovalev have just 11 goals between them. Brian Elliott (who?) has started 15 games. Yet, the Sens are exceeding expectations. Credit Cory Clouston for pushing the right buttons. He gave the recently-benched Nick Foligno a chance with Spezza and Kovalev. The duo responded with four goals. Foligno's physical play opened the ice for the struggling vets and Ottawa won three of four to grab sixth in the East. Last week: 2-1
 
20Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 11
It's good they're getting their money's worth out of their goaltenders because the offense has flown south: more than two goals just twice in the last eight games, a slide that lines up with Ilya Kovalchuk's slump. The captain scored the OT winner against the Habs Saturday -- his first goal in five games. A bigger concern is he's not generating chances: held to one shot by the Flames and Leafs. Last week: 1-3
 
21St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 18
St. Louis Blues (13-12-5)
Already a hot mess on home ice, they channeled their inner Pete Doherty and discovered a whole new level below rock bottom. Up 3-0 in the second against the Oilers, they allowed a Gilbert Brule goal with 11 seconds left in the period, then surrendered four unanswered goals in the third. There's been lots of talk about hard work being the answer, but with nearly half their home schedule in the books, it's time to start delivering on promises. Last week: 1-2
 
22Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 26
Anaheim Ducks (12-13-7)
Lack of secondary scoring has hobbled them since cap issues cost them Andy McDonald back in 2007, so you'll forgive local exuberance about the new Saku Koivu-Bobby Ryan-Dan Sexton unit formed when Sexton was recalled from the minors to replace the injured Teemu Selanne. It has 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) over the last three games. Sexton has four goals in five games after his opening tally in Saturday's 3-1 win over Columbus. That was a big one, snapping a nine-game winless streak on the road. Last week: 2-0-1
 
23Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 24
They have to be satisfied with five of eight points, especially after sneaking out of Atlanta with one, thanks to another strong game by Carey Price. Jacques Martin has been critical of how little time they're spending in the offensive zone, and the numbers back him up. After a franchise record 13 shots against Philly on Monday, they were outshot 122-67 in their next three. At least the PK is clicking, killing 33 straight before Kovalchuk's OT-winner. Last week: 2-1-1
 
24New York Islanders
Last Week: 21
Sure, the OT win over Boston was nice, but don't overlook the big story: burly defender Brendan Witt sent flying by a SUV on Tuesday. "I'm a hockey player. I'm OK. No big deal," he said as he dusted himself off. "It was like seeing Clint Eastwood, but in hockey," one witness told Newsday. "Boy, is that guy tough!" admired another. Witt, who admitted to being a bit sore, didn't miss a shift in that night's loss to the Flyers. You gotta be a man to play this game. Last week: 1-2
 
25Florida Panthers
Last Week: 25
Stephen Weiss is playing the best hockey of his life: his 14 goals are six off his personal best. Steven Reinprecht is on pace for a career season. So is Nathan Horton, who finally seems to have figured out that his big body buys him plenty of space if used belligerently. So why have the Cats won just two of 12? The schedule's been rough (seven games in 11 days) and their depth, supplemented by as many as five AHLers subbing for injured vets, hasn't been up to the challenge. Last week: 1-1-2
 
26New York Rangers
Last Week: 22
Meet Chris Drury, the $7 million penalty-killer. He's lost offensively at even strength (no goals in his last 17 games) and his poor positioning and lack of hustle are hurting the team defensively (minus-10 over that same period). This is their captain? With leadership like that, it's no wonder they have just five regulation wins in their last 23 games. Last week: 0-1-1
 
27Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 20
It's never a good sign when a player you brought in over the summer to ignite the offense says, "I've forgotten how to play hockey." Sure, Alex Tanguay could use a confidence boost, but so could everyone else: three goals in four games last week; shut out by the Caps and Hawks. After being blanked on all three shootout attempts in a 2-1 loss to the Avs, the Bolts have converted just two of 22 this season. Both came in the same game. Last week: 0-3-1
 
28Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 27
Despite a miserable sophomore season, Steve Mason has the full faith of the organization. "Maybe he had it a little too easy last year," GM Scott Howson told Blue Jackets TV. "He'll be better for these struggles." They'll need him to be soon if they don't want to fall too far behind the pack. He stopped 32 Florida shots to earn his first shutout of the season, but the Jackets have won just two of their last 12 and continue to struggle with their defensive commitment. Last week: 1-1-1
 
29Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 28
Some teams play hard and lose. The Flyers just lose. No one expected a dramatic turnaround after the coaching change (1-4 under Peter Laviolette), but was it too much to ask for an improved effort from the sad-faced clowns who shuffled their feet and issued generic mea culpas after John Stevens was turfed? The spotlight is getting warmer on core players like Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Scott Hartnell, each of whom needs to find another emotional gear soon. Last week: 1-3
 
30Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 30
They finally earned their first win away from the friendly confines of the RBC Center (over the defending champs, no less), then quickly returned to their role as the NHL's most accommodating guests. But even in the face of three more road losses, the play of youngsters like Jiri Tlusty and Brandon Sutter gives the glass half-full demographic reason to believe. Expect the Albany shuttle to run frequently the rest of the season, offering glimmers of hope...if not wins. Last week: 1-2-1

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