Tuesday December 9th, 2008

Biggest Climb: New Jersey Devils (14 to 5)

Biggest Fall: New York Rangers (7 to 13)

A reminder: these rankings are based mainly on quality of play (with an emphasis on recent games), overall record and my gut instinct. Heck, if I went strictly off team records, these would be no different than the standings. Also: stats and records are through Sunday's games.

Note: Want to send me a comment about the rankings? 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 opinions -- I'll try to get back to you.

NHL Power Rankings
1San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 1
The scoreboard showed their nine-game winning streak had been snapped in OT by the Oilers, but Saturday's 3-2 loss was still another night of total domination. If they'd peppered anyone but nemesis Dwayne Roloson with the same 43 shots, the rout would have been on.
 
2Boston Bruins
Last Week: 2
Boston Bruins (18-4-4)
While the business-like Bruins dispatched the bottom-feeding Lightning and Panthers on the road with extreme prejudice, their long-suffering fans kept waiting for the bubble to burst. But there's something about these B's: the sum definitely is greater than the parts.
 
3Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 3
Who ticked off the schedule-maker? The Pens were saddled with three road games in less than 70 hours, and looked much worse for the wear with a flat performance in Saturday's finale against the Sens.
 
4Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 4
They continue to rack up wins, yet my faith still dwindles. Sure, they can score, but unless they get their own zone in order, they have zero chance of repeating. Limiting the Ducks to 16 shots and one goal on Monday proves they can tighten up, but they followed it by coughing up nine goals to the Canucks and Hawks in a pair of wins. This team needs a change of focus.
 
5New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 14
They're getting healthy (Brian Rolston and Bobby Holik are back; Andy Greene is close) and they're getting dangerous. Patrik Elias re-discovered his confidence and helped goose an offense that's led New Jersey to seven wins in its last eight games.
 
6Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 9
They've been looking to jumpstart their sputtering power play all season. Could the answer be Ilya Kovalchuk? Hard to imagine the Thrashers dealing their superstar winger, but the buzz suggests he's available and the centennial-obsessed Habs are in the hunt.
 
7Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 13
The best teams spread the offense around. Few do it better than the Hawks. Thanks to Andrew Ladd's hot streak (seven points last week), they boast eight skaters with at least 15 apiece. Only San Jose (10) has more.
 
8Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 6
Anaheim Ducks (15-10-3)
Jonas Hiller and J-S Giguere might be inclined to sue their teammates for non-support. The duo was blitzed for 88 shots in a pair of losses to the Wings and Hawks. The netminders face an average of 32.9 shots per game -- most in the conference.
 
9Calgary Flames
Last Week: 11
Calgary Flames (16-10-1)
With their PK humming at 92 percent in their last nine tilts, the surging Flames grabbed a share of first in the Northwest with a decisive 3-0 spanking of the Rangers on Sunday -- their seventh win in those nine.
 
10Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 5
Minnesota Wild (15-10-1)
The offense, so prolific for the past two weeks, finally ran into the wall in back-to-back losses to Vancouver and Nashville. The latter was a slice of hard luck for Josh Harding, who made a career-high 42 stops in his third start this season. Juicy rumor: Marek Zidlicky is on the block for a forward.
 
11Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 8
This hurts: After missing nine games, Daniel Briere lasted just 7:41 before he was back on the IR for at least a month with a groin strain. Bigger shock: statuesque blueliner Derian Hatcher is on course for a comeback. The veteran bruiser faces a team-imposed deadline of late February.
 
12Nashville Predators
Last Week: 15
Is Dan Ellis' starting job in jeopardy? Backup Pekka Rinne ran his record to 6-0 with three wins this week, including shutouts of Minnesota and Buffalo. The rookie, named First Star of the week, started four of Nashville's last five games and is 4-0 with a 1.24 GAA during that stretch.
 
13New York Rangers
Last Week: 7
You think Hank Lundqvist is tiring of carrying the mail? After being shelled for six goals on 39 shots against the Habs, he described the game as being like "An NHL team against ... a non-NHL team." Ouch. Unless New York juices its 29th-ranked offense, it'll be playoff roadkill.
 
14Washington Capitals
Last Week: 10
The frustration of coach Bruce Boudreau following Sunday's 3-1 loss to the Canes says it all about his expectations. Despite playing with an AHL defense, the Caps viewed this as a chance to bury their chief rival in December. The Caps might be able to put some distance between themselves and Carolina if Mike Green returns this week.
 
15Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 20
Edmonton Oilers (13-11-2)
Time to sell high on Dwayne Roloson? Despite being outshot 43-17, his stunning performance helped Edmonton hand the Sharks their first home loss of the season on Saturday. The Oilers went 3-0 on their jaunt through the Pacific and now play at Rexall for seven of their next 10.
 
16Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 12
Don't point at rookie Cory Schneider for last week's struggles. The blame belongs squarely on his teammates for the sort of abysmal defense that can send Roberto Luongo scrambling for the safety of free agency.
 
17Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 25
Ottawa Senators (10-10-4)
Maybe Craig Hartsburg is finally starting to get it: the Sens will only go as far as the Spezza-Heatley-Alfredsson line takes them. Backed last week by more gutsy goaltending from Alex Auld, the reunited trio combined for 12 points to power convincing wins over Atlanta and Pittsburgh.
 
18Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 16
After blowing a lead in each of their first three games, the Kings closed out their busy week by holding on to one in Saturday's 3-0 ripping of the Jackets. Jason LaBarbera is playing his way back into the starting job: he's given up two goals or fewer in six straight starts.
 
19Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 21
The Avs earned a pair of entertaining (read: sloppy) wins over the Wild and Canucks to continue their flirtations with .500, but the prognosis on Joe Sakic's back was grim: the captain will be out for another five weeks.
 
20Florida Panthers
Last Week: 27
Their three-game win streak was steamrolled on Saturday by the Bruins, but they might be ready to turn the corner. Craig Anderson has stopped 129 of the last 136 shots, and snot-nosed kids like Michael Frolik and Gregory Campbell are amping up the team's intensity.
 
21Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 17
Whether Paul Maurice is the right choice as the new man, give Jim Rutherford credit for finally recognizing that Peter Laviolette was not getting the job done. Big Mo may not have long to raise the Canes. Ron Francis's move behind the bench as associate coach suggests the head job will be his before long.
 
22Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 19
Buffalo Sabres (12-11-3)
The scoring has dried up because on too many nights Buffalo is too cute by half. Finesse and skill are fine, boys, but sometimes you just have to put your head down and charge the net. When you've won just three of 11, you might want to try something different.
 
23Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 18
What does the opposition take from their games with the Jackets? A healthy respect for their relentless work ethic . . . and two points. Effort keeps them competitive with strong squads like San Jose, but they've been unable to turn those moral victories into real wins against teams like Kings and Ducks.
 
24St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 22
St. Louis Blues (11-11-3)
You have to hand it to Andy Murray. Injuries forced him to ice a forward group that's essentially 12 checkers deep, yet the Blues have kept the .500 mark within reach. Rookie Patrik Berglund (three goals, six points in his last five games) is starting to live up to his preseason Calder hype.
 
25Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 23
Phoenix Coyotes (12-13-2)
On the plus side, Ilya Bryzgalov is working on a 32-minute shutout streak. Considering that he was lit for seven goals by the Hawks in his previous 28 minutes, that's something to build on, right?
 
26New York Islanders
Last Week: 24
Good news? With Joey MacDonald's return ticket from Dreamland now punched (he's given up at least four goals in four of his last five starts), Rick DiPietro began skating at practice last week. Bad news? Kyle Okposo's out for six weeks with a broken wrist. Worst news? Getting blown out by the stinkin' Thrashers!
 
27Dallas Stars
Last Week: 28
Dallas Stars (10-12-4)
Shorn of sweet-talker Sean Avery, the Stars finally put together a week with more ups than downs. Unforced defensive breakdowns continued to haunt them, but Marty Turco enjoyed a pair of performances where nary a beach ball floated past him. It's a start.
 
28Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 26
Sure, they're keeping things close. But the only thing that matters is winning, and with just two W's in their last 10, they aren't getting it done. Tomas Kaberle (NTC or not) and Pavel Kubina have bolted to the top of the pack-your-bags list. Expect one or both to be dealt after the Christmas break.
 
29Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 29
They responded to coach John Anderson's latest rip job with a 5-1 blasting of the reeling Islanders on Saturday. Signs of life? Not likely. Their desperation effort produced just 17 shots. This lineup still looks like something the cat coughed up.
 
30Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 30
When Matt Smaby made his debut Thursday against the Bruins, he became the 13th defenseman dressed by the Bolts this season. There may be an organization 13 blueliners deep, but it sure ain't Tampa. No. 14 will have to be pulled from section 101.

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