Tuesday December 1st, 2009

Biggest climb: Boston Bruins (9 from 18)

Biggest drop: Florida Panthers (24 from 11)

A reminder: These rankings are based on many factors, and not one is scientific in nature. 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, statistics and records noted 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
1Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 1
Losses to the Ducks (3-0) and Kings (2-1) left them with a 4-1-1 mark for their annual circus trip. Not the best finish, but you can't ignore the way they danced with the Sharks' dates in San Jose, laying down a 7-2 thrashing that eliminated all doubts about this team's ability to match up with established favorites. Add Marian Hossa, who scored a pair in his season premier, and it was enough to keep them on top on for another week. Last week: 1-1-1
 
2San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 3
They've compiled the NHL's best record despite playing a league-low 10 games at the Shark Tank. That lopsided stat's about to change: they play 20 of the next 27 games there, a stretch that gives them the chance to create separation from the pack. The returns of Devin Setoguchi and Rob Blake should help a team that's won four of five. And that Chicago game was just a hiccup, right? Last week: 2-1
 
3New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 6
It doesn't seem to matter how many bodies pile up in sick bay -- David Clarkson was the latest to stick out his tongue and say ahhh -- they keep finding ways to win. In a nice bounce-back after three straight losses, they limited all three opponents to just one goal. "Our veterans are taking charge" Jacques Lemaire said. "That starts with Marty (Brodeur), four D and the top two lines. Our two top lines are playing really well." Last week: 3-0
 
4Calgary Flames
Last Week: 7
Wins over Detroit and Columbus boosted their road mark to a sizzling 9-1-3 and vaulted them into a tie with Chicago for second place in the West. Now that their five-on-five play has found its groove, you wonder how good they could be if the special teams clicked. The power play (19th) and penalty kill (18th) inspire little fear in foes. Last week: 3-0-1
 
5Nashville Predators
Last Week: 2
The Blues derailed their seven-game win streak on Friday, but the Preds laid the groundwork for another run with a convincing 4-1 beatdown of Florida on Saturday. These low-scorers made hay in November, taking 18 of 24 points on the strength of a confident power play: 10 goals with the man advantage during the win streak. Last week: 3-1
 
6Washington Capitals
Last Week: 5
After dropping the first three of five games against Northeast teams, they finished strong, shutting out Buffalo and getting a last-second marker from red-hot Eric Fehr (four goals in five games) to set up a shootout win over the Habs. Both games featured goals from Alexander Ovechkin, moving their record to 9-0-3 when he lights the lamp. Last week: 2-0-1
 
7Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 9
Alex Goligoski and Kris Letang returned to the blueline after lengthy stints on the IR and immediately made their presence known in Saturday's 8-3 pasting of the Rangers. The duo's confident puck decisions jump-started the transition game that had stalled over the past couple weeks. Last week: 3-1
 
8Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 15
What did their three wins have in common? They netted the first goal in each, improving to a league-best 9-0 when they open the scoring. In two of them, that's all they needed: shutouts by Ondrej Pavelec (2-0 over Detroit) and Johan Hedberg (1-0 over Philadelphia) took care of the rest. Beating the Flyers was particularly gratifying as it ended a 14-game losing skid to Philly. Last week:3-0
 
9Boston Bruins
Last Week: 18
Boston Bruins (13-8-5)
Not that Tim Thomas needs to worry about his job, but the B's look safe in net whenever the Vezina-winner decides to call it quits. Backup Tuukka Rask led them to a season-high four-game win streak that finally lifted them into first in the Northeast. More good news: they should announce a contract extension for Marc Savard this week. Last week: 3-0-1
 
10Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 16
Tough not to notice what Dany Heatley is doing in San Jose, but his replacement is quietly putting together a pretty nice season. After netting a pair against the Bruins on Saturday, Milan Michalek leads the Sens with 13 goals. He's scored six times over the past seven games to power a 5-1-1 roll. Last week: 2-1-1
 
11Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 12
Ask a Sabres fan to name his/her pet peeve and chances are they'll say Lindy Ruff's incessant tinkering with his lines. After Saturday's game, maybe they should let the coach do what he does best. Sensing a lack of urgency midway through the tilt against Carolina, Ruff re-jigged all his lines except the second. The end result? Five third-period goals and a 5-1 win. Last week: 2-1
 
12Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 14
Ryan Smyth isn't close to participating in team drills. Looks like these losers of three of five are on their own for a while longer. They clearly miss his grit and net presence, scoring just nine times while he's been gone. His linemates, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams, are more likely to be seen on a milk carton than a score sheet. Each has just one assist over the last five games. Last week: 2-1
 
13Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 20
A couple of losses to the Hawks and Sharks demonstrated that they aren't quite ready to stay up late with the big boys, but they're certainly taking care of business against everyone else. They outscored their previous four opponents 24-8 thanks to a 24.3 percent power play. Last week: 2-1
 
14Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 13
Phoenix Coyotes (15-11-1)
Despite the best efforts of Dave Tippett, the inexorable slide into mediocrity is underway. They won just six of 14 November games, whittling away at their early success with a lackluster five-on-five scheme and power play that's connected just once in the past four games. Last week: 2-2
 
15Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 4
They've got their share of injuries, but that doesn't explain how a lineup that still boasts Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Nick Lidstrom gets shut out in consecutive home games for the first time since 1977. They went 175:57 between goals before Tomas Holmstrom scored in the third period to key a rally against the Blues. Though they won in the shootout, the Wings still have just two wins in their last eight games...and both came via the shootout. Last week: 1-3
 
16Dallas Stars
Last Week: 17
Dallas Stars (12-7-7)
They clearly miss the calming presence of Sergei Zubov at even strength, but they're getting along just fine without him on the power play. After scoring three times with the extra man in a win over Tampa, they were tied for the NHL lead with 26 PPG. Brad Richards has assumed Zubov's role on the point, piling up enough assists to trail only Joe Thornton, in the category. Stephane Robidas has five PP goals, tops among all defenders. Last week: 2-1-1
 
17Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 8
Losers of five of six, they are fighting injuries, inconsistency and an offense that's gone drier than the job market. And speaking of jobs, John Stevens may be fighting for his. With his team averaging just two goals per game in the skid, it may be his ability to kick-start underachievers like Jeff Carter and Claude Giroux over the next couple weeks that determines his tenure. Last week: 1-3
 
18Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 19
Even after a sloppy performance against the Leafs, they've lost just six times in regulation. Only Washington (five) has dropped fewer contests in 60 minutes. The secret? They may struggle with consistency, but they're resilient. The point earned in each of their last five losses in OT or the shootout came after a third period comeback. Last week: 1-1-1
 
19Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 25
Minnesota Wild (10-12-3)
So maybe this Todd Richards thing will work after all. Powered by the infectious efforts of newcomers Chuck Kobasew, Andrew Ebbett and Guillaume Latendresse, they're finally pulling in the same direction and enjoying their most productive stretch of the season (5-2-3). The success begs a question, though: how will the soft perimeter games of Martin Havlat and Petr Sykora fit into the mix when they return from IR? Last week: 2-0-1
 
20St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 27
After going 4-1-1, is it possible the NHL's most disappointing team is back on track? One Blues fan wrote to say his wife thinks so because "he's not yelling at the TV nearly as much." Guess that's an indicator. So's the solid netminding of Chris Mason, whose .930 save pct. during the streak would look better if not for a couple of unfortunate bounces. But they still need more scoring from veteran leaders, especially on a feckless power play, before they can start talking about a corner turned. Last week: 2-1-1
 
21Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 21
They dropped two of three, but there's reason to smile in Montreal. They've taken eight of 12 points over their last six games, Jaroslav Spacek is back in the lineup, and Andrei Markov has resumed skating and could return to service in early January. The best sign may have been a practice dust-up between Mike Cammalleri and Josh Gorges that signaled the renewed intensity that Jacques Martin had been asking for. Last week: 1-1-1
 
22Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 22
Beware of flying wheels. They've won just two of 10 and punctuated their tailspin by dropping both ends of a home-and-home to the Wild. This is a soft team takes too many lazy penalties and has too many veterans (John-Michael Liles, Tom Preissing, Darcy Tucker) making the sort of mistakes that would earn a rookie a trip to the press box. Losing leading goal-scorer David Jones (knee) for the season only adds to their woes. Last week: 1-1-2
 
23Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 28
Anaheim Ducks (10-11-4)
Corey Perry's earning plenty of ink for his franchise-record 18-game scoring streak, but credit for their season-best 3-0-1 roll belongs largely to J-S Giguere. Dead weight just two weeks ago, he re-asserted himself as a difference-maker by stopping 120 of the 127 shots he faced in those four games. May be tough to maintain that .944 save percentage, but if he continues to flash his old form, he may just get that trade he casually mentioned last month. Last week: 3-0-1
 
24Florida Panthers
Last Week: 11
Just when it looked like they'd found their footing, they lost four straight, including three at home. Injuries are a factor, they don't have the depth to cover the loss of David Booth, Cory Stillman, and possibly Tomas Vokoun, but the bigger issue may be the inability to close out games. The 2008-09 Cats were 29-3-3 when leading after two. After blowing a two-goal lead in a loss to the Pens, they're 4-2-3. Only the Canes earn the coffee less often. Last week: 0-2-2
 
25New York Islanders
Last Week: 23
What's the primary goal: a Cup or a new building? After reports that Garth Snow was authorized to bulk the squad in an effort to make the playoffs, it seems it's the latter. Not necessarily bad. A new arena could be an asset in constructing a contender, but fans surely don't want to see high picks or top prospects dealt just to make the derby. It'll be interesting to see how Snow handles this opportunity. His neck's clearly on the line now. Last week: 2-2
 
26New York Rangers
Last Week: 24
They slipped comfortably into the role of chew toy as they were crunched 13-4 in losses to the Pens and Bolts. Fair to say the scores were reflective of their lackluster defensive efforts. And while no one is going to pin their recent struggles on the backup goalie, you have to wonder if they have any faith in Steve Valiquette. He's allowed at least seven goals in two of his five starts and has a miserable .852 save pct. Last week: 2-2
 
27Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 10
If booting the final four of a five-game trip wasn't enough to send Ken Hitchcock scrambling for the Zestril, Saturday's meltdown at home did. Hitch tried to deflect blame from Steve Mason ("We're not as defined in front of him as we were last year," he said), but after watching him beaten twice in the final six minutes to waste a 3-1 lead and wave at three of Calgary's four attempts in the shootout, it looks like last year's Vezina runner-up needs an adjustment. Last week: 0-3-1
 
28Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 26
Edmonton Oilers (10-13-4)
Sure can't question Ales Hemsky's courage after learning the flashy winger played the last six weeks with a torn labrum. A hard hit last week finally forced him to shut it down for the season, a blow that removes the player who's led them in scoring every year since the lockout ended. The timing couldn't be worse for a team nearing the tipping point. After a 2-8-2 on start on the road, they play their next five away. A rough trip may force changes. Last week: 1-2-1
 
29Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 30
After sweeping a pair in Florida to earn just their second two-game winning streak of the season, they're finally starting to look like an NHL franchise. Much credit for the makeover goes to Phil Kessel, who has more goals in 12 games (eight) than his old team's leading scorer, Patrice Bergeron, has in 26 (seven). "The naysayers out of Boston said [Kessel] didn't score any important goals," Ron Wilson said. "For us, any goal is important and he's found a way." Last week: 2-0-1
 
30Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 29
After a loss to Anaheim, Paul Maurice said they were inventing new ways to struggle. You have to admit: blowing second intermission leads by allowing five third period goals on consecutive nights is pretty original. You hate to rule out a team before December, but is there any reason to believe they can turn this thing around? Last week: 0-4

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