Tuesday March 3rd, 2009

Biggest climb: Montreal Canadiens (24 to 12)

Biggest fall: Dallas Stars (14 to 26)

A reminder: these rankings are based mainly on quality of play (with a Vanilla Fudge-like heavy emphasis on recent games), overall record and my remarkably intuitive gut calls. Heck, if I went strictly off record, these would be no different than the standings, and you already know where to find those. Also worth noting: stats and records are through Sunday's games.

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 sage decisions -- I'll try to get back to you.

NHL Power Rankings
1New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 7
What's more amazing about Martin Brodeur's return: that he played three games in four nights or posted shutouts in two of them? Let's say the former, because he had plenty of help with the latter. They're playing ferocious defense, limiting shots and big chances. They also eased him back in with plenty of offensive support: 14 goals. Last week: 3-0
 
2San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 1
San Jose Sharks (42-10-9)
The loss in Montreal put an end to the dream of keeping regulation losses in single digits, but they were the superior team that night. Problem was Jaroslav Halak looked like Patrick Roy in stopping 46 shots, and Brian Boucher looked like, well, Brian Boucher in giving up goals on three straight sorties in the first. Last week: 2-2
 
3Washington Capitals
Last Week: 2
The win over the Bruins was big (think they're in Boston's heads yet?), but Bruce Boudreau is right to be frustrated with his charges. After getting hammered by Florida, they've lost three of five at home. He sees discipline -- they took seven penalties against the Panthers -- as an area to be addressed before the playoffs. Last week: 2-2
 
4Boston Bruins
Last Week: 8
Boston Bruins (42-12-9)
The OT loss to the Caps was a heartbreaker -- and made the Eastern race a little more intriguing -- but they can take solace in the return of Michael Ryder and a revitalized offense that cranked out 15 goals in three games. Last week: 2-0-1
 
5Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 3
They've feasted on the power play all season, and their 27.4 percent success rate makes them the most dangerous team with the extra man in nearly two decades. Keep that up, and they can afford to pooh-pooh that otherwise alarming goaltending. Last week: 2-1
 
6Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 4
They've won six of seven, and the one blemish -- a 3-0 loss in Montreal -- was arguably their best effort. They still managed to take three of four on the road, then returned home to limit the Bolts and Jackets to a goal apiece -- and just 41 total shots -- in a pair of wins. Last week: 2-1
 
7Calgary Flames
Last Week: 5
Calgary Flames (37-19-6)
They all but sewed up the Northwest despite Jarome Iginla's struggles. Now it looks as through the captain is ready to chip in. He went 5-6-11 during a four-game scoring streak, including his 400th career goal and 831st point, which moved him past Theo Fleury as Calgary's all-time leading scorer. Last week: 2-1
 
8Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 11
Danny Briere's back, but is it subtraction by addition? Can't argue with his impact potential, but his return cost them a couple of well-liked teammates: Glen Metropolit and Ossi Vaananen (on waivers), and rookie sniper Claude Giroux, who was returned to the AHL Phantoms. Last week: 2-1-1
 
9Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 6
Rumors are flying about a feud between Brian Campbell and Joel Quenneville, and there's some speculation that the prize free agent will be dealt by Wednesday. Bet against that. Campbell's a high-risk player -- hard to overlook that element of his game lately -- but he brings enough offensively (and has such a massive contract) that he's not going anywhere. Last week: 1-1-1
 
10Florida Panthers
Last Week: 10
It's amazing. They find themselves in sixth place despite alternating wins and losses over their past nine, playing without Tomas Vokoun for four games (flu) and icing a power play that's truly Gillooly-esque in its ineptitude. Last week: 2-2
 
11Nashville Predators
Last Week: 16
Even an 8-0 win over the Wings (featuring a franchise record five-goal first) couldn't vault them into the top eight, but they are knocking on the door. They're 11-5-1 since the All-Star break, powered by Pekka Rinne (six goals against in his last five) and a resurgent Shea Weber (three goals, five points in his last four). Last week: 3-0
 
12Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 24
Mathieu Schneider's impact on the moribund power play has earned plenty of attention, but the real hero of their four-game winning streak is Jaroslav Halak. He stole games against Vancouver and Calgary, but saved his best for last: a star-making 46-save effort that knocked off San Jose on Saturday night. Last week: 3-0
 
13Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 9
Scott Howson, the lonely eyes of Jackets nation turn to you. This team's wrung about as much out of its talent as it can. They work hard, but there's no finish -- evidenced by just a single goal in each of the last three games. Time to man up and bring in some help?and we're not talking depth here. It's gotta be a top-six forward. Actually, make it two. Last week: 1-2
 
14St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 18
St. Louis Blues (28-26-8)
Probably no surprise to learn that the most successful team in February was the Devils. But how many would have tabbed the Blues at No. 2? They picked up 20 of 28 possible points thanks largely to Chris Mason, who held foes to a goal or less in eight of his 14 starts. Last week: 3-0
 
15Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 19
Three straight wins? Points are points, but you may want to hold off on printing those playoff tickets. They struggled to beat the 30th-ranked Isles 1-0, stole a game, thanks to Marc-Andre Fleury, that Chicago dominated, and whipped a squad of George Romero extras dressed in Dallas sweaters. Chris Kunitz was a nice add, but Ray Shero can't be completely satisfied with this roster. Last week: 3-0
 
16Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 17
Anaheim Ducks (31-28-5)
So, Scott Niedermayer met with GM Bob Murray on Monday about his future intentions and essentially told him he hasn't decided yet. That's his prerogative. But if Murray's smart, he tells Niedermayer they humored him once. This time, there's a hard deadline to do business or get off the pot. Last week: 2-1
 
17Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 20
Edmonton Oilers (31-26-5)
If they're going to stake their claim on a playoff spot, the next two weeks could tell the tale. Seven of their next eight opponents are on the outside looking in, and the way Dwayne Roloson's playing, they have to be believe there are at least 12 points to be had. Last week: 2-1
 
18Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 13
Teams that narrowly fail to make the cut inevitably have late-season games that haunt them all summer. If they miss the dance, they'll rue blowing a 3-1 lead to one of the worst teams in hockey on Saturday. Atlanta scored four in last 9:35. Last week: 1-2
 
19Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 12
Minnesota Wild (30-26-5)
So. . .Doug Risebrough's counting on Marian Gaborik's return to be all they need for the stretch run? The guy's delusional. Gaborik only this week begins on-ice rehab on the hip injury that sidelined him for all but six games and is still two, maybe three weeks away. With 12 of their next 15 on the road, and after being swept in Alberta, Minny may be out of the hunt before he returns. Last week: 0-2-1
 
20Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 15
Buffalo Sabres (31-25-7)
They've fallen out of a playoff berth since losing Ryan Miller, but you can't blame backup netminder Patrick Lalime. He's played well enough to keep them in three straight games, but the offense has given him just three goals of support. Where is this team's sense of urgency in the offensive zone? Last week: 0-2-1
 
21New York Rangers
Last Week: 21
They gave John Tortorella a taste of Tom Renney's frustration, scoring just two goals in his first two games behind the bench before exploding for six against the Avs. Probably best not to read too much into it that, though. Colorado isn't dressing Terry Sawchuk, and the Blueshirts scored just 25 goals during a dismal 3-6-4 February. Last week: 1-1-1
 
22Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 22
Ottawa Senators (23-28-10)
So much for the Brian Elliott experiment. Rumor has the struggling netminder headed back to the minors after being pulled in twice in his last four starts. Rumor No. 2 is good news for the team's scouting department. If Martin Gerber is again recalled from Binghamton, they can look forward to an even higher draft pick come June. Last week: 1-1-1
 
23Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 23
Sure, they appear dizzy. Swirling around the bowl has a way of affecting your equilibrium. L.A.'s lost five of six (scoring just 10 goals in the process) to pretty much put the boots to their faint playoff hopes. At least the kids are getting the experience they need to mount a more consistent challenge in 2009-10. Last week: 1-3
 
24Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 28
Here's a little perspective on that four-game winning streak: They've been gangbusters the last few years during February and March, but all those wins came without the pressure of, you know, actually competing for anything. If they had the stomach to compile those victories earlier, they might actually get to participate in a playoff race. Last week: 3-0
 
25Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 26
The question Don Waddell asks should be simple: "What's it gonna take, Ilya?" He should follow Kovalchuk's response with, "Let me get my checkbook." Atlanta is likely to hear a few offers for the superstar, but first priority should be to re-sign the NHL's Player of the Month (13 goals, 21 points in 14 games). Last week: 2-1
 
26Dallas Stars
Last Week: 14
Dallas Stars (29-26-7)
Hard to tell what was more telling about their playoff chances: that they played with the intensity of 20 Steven Wrights in losing four straight at home or that five Stars needed to check their skate laces while Steve Ott, the team's heart and soul, was mugged by four Ducks in the dying seconds of Saturday's loss. Right now, this is a gutless team. Last week: 0-4
 
27Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 25
Tough to put a positive spin on a team that was outscored 19-6 while losing four straight. Despite the return of star center Paul Stastny, this looks like a group that long since mailed it in. All that's left is for Francois Giguere to (finally) make a deal or two and build towards a future that has to be better than this. Last week: 0-3
 
28Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 27
Phoenix Coyotes (27-31-5)
A season that began with so much hope is heading into another big sell-off after a league-worst 3-9 mark in February. Not once were they able to extract a loser point by extending a game to OT, and fully half saw the punchless Desert Dogs limited to a single goal. At least this stretch has been a huge financial boon for companies selling paper bags to disgruntled fans. Last week: 0-3
 
29Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 29
If, as expected, they make a few moves before the deadline, expect Mark Recchi to be among those filling out change-of-address cards. The veteran winger improved his marketability with a four-game scoring streak, highlighted by five assists against Calgary Sunday night. Last week: 1-2
 
30New York Islanders
Last Week: 30
Media reports out of New York paint a picture of a dressing room being turned into hockey's version of Logan's Run by Scott Gordon, with youth pampered and veterans shunned. Chris Campoli and Mike Comrie have already been exiled, and Bill Guerin and Doug Weight aren't far behind. So how exactly are they going to bring any vets on board next season to help guide the kids? Last week: 1-1-1

Allan Muir's Mailbag
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