Scott Wraight
Tuesday October 21st, 2008

Biggest Climb: St. Louis (28 to 8)
Biggest Fall: Anaheim (8 to 28)

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 record, these would be no different than the standings. Also: statistics 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.

NHL Power Rankings
Last Week: 17
A few things you can pretty much book each season: Alex Ovechkin will net at least 40 goals, Nicklas Lidstrom will continue to amaze, and the Wild will start the season ablaze. For the third consecutive year, Minnesota has started 4-0 -- having gone 5-0 in 2007 and 6-0 in 2006. One of the big reasons for the latest hot start is Mikko Koivu, who with nine points is on pace to blow past his career high of 54 in 2006-07.
Last Week: 3
It took them just three games to exact some sweet revenge. Montreal on Monday scored four third-period goals to stun the Flyers, who ousted the top-seeded Habs in the second round of last season's playoffs. After beginning the new campaign with a tough shootout loss to the Sabres, Montreal has reeled off five straight wins behind strong goaltending from both Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak.
Last Week: 11
For the second time in the last three years and third in franchise history, the Sabres have opened a season with four straight victories. Thomas Vanek has been a major spark in the impressive start is. The 24-year-old winger already has seven goals; he didn't reach that mark last season until the 24th game. Vanek even notched a rare short-handed goal on Monday. How rare? "That was my first short-handed goal at any level of hockey," he said.
Last Week: 6
By busting out of the gate 5-0, the Rangers matched their best start, set in 1983. What makes this team a hard cover is that everyone chips in (six players with two or more goals). Backup netminder Steve Valiquette turned in an impressive 1-0 shootout victory over the Leafs on Friday. Three of his 11 career victories have come against Toronto.
Last Week: 24
This should make Oilers fans grin: I may have been wrong about this team. It's still way too early to jump on the bandwagon, but it's hard to ignore their start -- Edmonton's best since going 4-0 in 1985-86. It could be time for me to study up on youngsters like Denis Grebeshkov and Andrew Cogliano. But I'm still not fully convinced that Mathieu Garon is the answer between the pipes for an entire season. Of course, I've been wrong before.
Last Week: 1
Marian Hossa made his first tally with the Wings count. In overtime of Saturday's game against the Rangers, the team that Hossa and the Penguins elminated from last year's playoffs, the veteran winger notched his 300th goal. "It doesn't get any better than this," he said. Mike Babcock might disagree with regard to the defending champs' slightly wobbly start. Coach was not pleased by the OT loss to Vancouver two nights earlier in which his squad committed 13 turnovers.
Last Week: 5
Let's stick with the early-impression theme. With new coach Todd McLellan leading the way, the Sharks at 4-0 got off to the best start in franchise history. McLellan became the first coach to open his debut season 4-0 since Peter Laviolette did it with the Islanders in 2001. Of course, the offense has been making the job easier on the new man behind the bench by scoring three or more goals in four of six games.
Last Week: 28
OK, Blues fans, I may have been wrong about your team, too. St. Louis' blueliners have four goals in five games. Not too shabby considering that unit notched just 15 all of last season. But a bigger surprise may be veteran Keith Tkachuk, who already has six and is well on his way to 40-plus for the first time since the 1997-98 season. Another vet off to a blazing start: Paul Kariya (one goal, eight assists).
Last Week: 10
The Caps' 3-1-1 mark may not seem that impressive, but consider this: Michael Nylander (6) and Brooks Laich (4) have more points so far than Alex the Great (3). Just think where this team would be if its superstar were playing like, well, a superstar. But when all is said and done and the Caps saunter into the playoffs as the No. 3 seed, A.O. will have pocketed another 90-plus point season.
Last Week: 14
With his first shutout of the season, Marty Brodeur moved within three of joining Terry Sawchuk (103) as the only goalies in league history to reach 100. As for the Devils, they continue to struggle against the cross-river rival Rangers, who earned a 4-1 win on Monday and were 7-0-1 last season against New Jersey. "It is what it is," Jamie Langenbrunner said. Gotta love those say nothing, mean nothing quotes from athletes.
Last Week: 18
Despite a good start to the season, Friday's game was especially painful. Not only did the 'Canes squander a two-goal lead en route to an OT loss to the Kings, they lost backend Frantisek Kaberle for 2-4 weeks to a hairline fracture of his foot. But after that tough loss, Carolina showed guts two nights later by upending the Ducks in Anaheim.
Last Week: 13
New season, same old trouble handling the Canadiens, who on Wednesday won their 12th straight regular-season game over the Bruins. But enough with the negatives. I'm ready to anoint Marc Savard as the most underrated stud in the league. The 31-year-old pivot has managed 90-plus points in two of the last three seasons, and is on pace for a ridiculous 148 this season. Yeah, I know -- early-season projections are a bit unreliable -- but I'm still putting Savard down for yet another 90 points.
Last Week: 4
Before scoring his first goal of the season -- the 100th of his career -- Sidney Crosby had gone five straight games without lighting the lamp. It's all but a sure thing that the kid will catch fire soon and pocket another top-notch season. But I can't help noticing that this team looks like a lost puppy when Crosby isn't up to his usual great self. In fact, only one player -- Miro Satan -- has more than two goals at this point.
Last Week: 12
Not everyone agreed with the early firing (four games) of Denis Savard. "He was my first coach in the league," Patrick Kane told the Chicago Tribune with tears in his eyes. "Just the situations he brought us in, he played us a lot last year, upcoming rookies, 18 and 19 years old. It's difficult to see him go." It's somewhat ironic that one of the reasons Savard was axed was a disagreement over the playing time, or lack thereof, that he was giving 21-year-old Jack Skille.
Last Week: 20
It's not yet November, but there might be a goalie controversy brewing. Andrew Raycroft on Saturday beat the Stars to improve to 2-0, matching his win total last season in Toronto (2-9-5). So what's the secret to his early success? "I'm on a much better team than I was on last year," he said. "Scoring five goals a game makes my life much easier."
Last Week: 27
Kings fans should take a snapshot of these rankings, as this may be as high as your team gets all year. There are two reasons L.A. is off to a relatively good start: the penalty kill is a perfect 19-for-19 and Michal Handzus has four points, a total he didn't reach until game No. 16 last season. Of course, there's still room for improvement, considering standouts Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown have combined for just two goals.
Last Week: 19
Don't doubt Daniel Alfredsson's toughness. Just 11 days after having knee surgery, the Ottawa captain was back on the ice -- having missed just one game. "I thought maybe two weeks," he told the Ottawa Citizen. Maybe Alfie can suit up at goalie since Martin Gerber has been mediocre at best (1-2, 3.46 GAA). Sorry, Sens fans, but I still have my doubts that this team will make the postseason.
Last Week: 21
In their first four games, the Panthers have scored more than two goals just once. Their misfiring offense has only one player (David Booth) with more than two tallies. Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss, the team's No. 2 and 3 point-producers last season, have combined for two goals. Tomas Vokoun is a solid goaltender, but he'll have to be nearly perfect every game with this sort of support.
Last Week: 22
The departure of Alexander Radulov was supposed to affect the offense ... in a negative way. But after six games, the Preds are ninth in the league with 3.33 goals per game, compared to 2.77 (12th) last season. What gives? Look no further than a healthy Shea Weber. After injuries limited him to just 54 games in 2007-08, the 23-year-old blueliner is off to a blazing start with three goals and seven points. If he keeps this up, he'll shatter his career-high of 40 points set in 2006-07.
Last Week: 2
Dallas Stars (1-3-1)
A healthy scratch in their first two games, Fabian Brunnstrom became the third player in league history to score a hat trick in his debut, joining the Habs' Alex Smart ('43) and the Nordiques' Real Cloutier ('79). Swedish heroics aside, it's hard to figure what's going on with the Stars, a defensive-minded club that has given up 23 goals in its first five games. All-Star goalie Marty Turco has an ugly 4.70 GAA.
Last Week: 9
Another All-Star goalie who is struggling: Miikka Kiprusoff, who is off to another slow start with a 1-3-1 record, 4.37 GAA and .851 save percentage (allowing three or more goals in every game). If you're a Flames fan, this has to be a troubling sign considering Kipper's slipping play of the past two seasons. Is it time for Calgary to acquire a reliable backup like Nik Khabibulin?
Last Week: 23
It's surprising that they're even .500 considering the issues on special teams (23rd PK, 29th PP). And after an opening-night shutout, Roberto Luongo has surrendered three or more goals in four straight starts. Of course, it doesn't help that eight of Vancouver's first 10 games are on the road.
Last Week: 26
Like Vancouver, Atlanta's having problems on special teams, going 21 straight power plays without a score. But not everything is negative: Bryan Little, 20, has four goals and six points. Maybe some of his production can trickle down to top-four backends Mathieu Schneider and Tobias Enstrom, who have combined for zero goals and two points.
Last Week: 25
You may have skipped over the Columbus-Nashville boxscore last week. But something very rare happened. The Jackets' 5-3 victory ended the Preds' string of 16 consecutive games of earning at least a point against Columbus (15-0-1). It was the longest such active streak in a regular-season series. Of course, the Preds got revenge the next night with a 6-3 win.
Last Week: 16
Are Coyotes fans already getting anxious after a three-game road losing streak? Well, four straight at home couldn't have come at a better time, though it won't be an easy homestand: Washington, Calgary, Pittsburgh and Minnesota. There will be some bumps along the way for the youngest team in the league, but I'm still confident the Coyotes will find a way to sneak into the playoffs.
Last Week: 7
Daniel Briere and Simon Gagne (big sigh of relief if you're the Flyers) are off to solid starts. And yet Philly is winless through five games for the first time since the labor-shortened '95 season. Making the situation more cloudy is a possible goalie controversy. Antero Niittymaki (2.84 GAA) is outplaying current No. 1 Martin Biron (0-3, 5.75 GAA).
Last Week: 29
In their three losses, the Isles have combined for two goals. In their two victories, they have managed nine. This is a classic case of an all-or-nothing squad with a popgun offense that fattens up on the charity of opposing goalies, but maybe the Isles' margin for error will increase now that Rick DiPietro is back in net. And it's only a matter of time before Kyle Okposo starts to pot some goals.
Last Week: 8
It's hard to pinpoint the cause of the near-worst start in franchise history. Chris Pronger has one goal; Teemu Selanne, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf have combined for one and three points; and J-S Giguere has a 3.03 GAA. But Anaheim showed glimpses of breaking out with an impressive 4-0 win over the then-unbeaten Sharks. Let's see how they handle their upcoming four-game road trip to Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Columbus.
Last Week: 30
After an impressive opening-night win over Detroit, the Leafs wilted with four straight losses (two via shootout). The biggest culprit: the anemic offense, with just one player (rookie Nikolai Kulemin) scoring more than one goal. It'll be a long, frustrating season for this relatively young team.
Last Week: 15
Five games, five one-goal losses for new coach Barry Melrose. But don't point the finger at the goaltending, which has allowed just 12 total goals for a 2.40 GAA (eighth-best). What's most surprising is the lack of punch from Martin St. Louis, Vaclav Prospal and Jussi Jokinen, who have combined for two goals and eight points. Heck, Vinny Lecavalier only has two goals and an assist.

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