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Soaring Blackhawks rise to top

Biggest Climb: Nashville Predators (2 from 14), Florida Panthers (11 from 23)

Biggest Drop: Colorado Avalanche (22 from 12), Vancouver Canucks (20 from 10)

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 (unless you happen to be a fan of the London Knights -- then you might have a case). Also, statistics and records noted are through Sunday, so keep in mind that the heavy slate of action on Monday night 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: 7
Forget the circus. They're the greatest show on earth. With the United Center occupied by elephants and acrobats, the Hawks took their show on the road and swept the Flames, Oilers and Canucks to stretch a win streak to seven. The defense allowed just 11 goals in that span, but the offense has everyone excited. Already a top-10 unit, it'll be bolstered by the season debut of Marian Hossa this week. Last week: 3-0
 
2Nashville Predators
Last Week: 14
No one suggests they are the best team in hockey, but not many are hotter. Barry Trotz and his merry band of overachievers dispatched the conference-leading Sharks and Devils in a span of three nights to highlight a streak of five wins and nine in 11. Though they remain the NHL's lowest scoring team, they're taking steps to remedy that. They averaged just a hair under 40 shots per game during the winning streak. Last week: 3-0
 
3San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 2
If Dany Heatley's spot with Team Canada wasn't already locked down, he probably earned his sweater with a gritty performance Friday against Philadelphia. He netted his second hat trick of the season in a 6-3 win and not one of his goals traveled more than three feet, proving again that few go to the net as effectively as Heater. Of course, it helps when he's getting fed by Joe Thornton, who made a decent case for his own all-expenses trip to Vancouver with a four-assist night. Last week: 2-1
 
4Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 6
Interesting observation from The Detroit News: of the 20 players who wore the winged wheel last weekend, eight weren't with Detroit at the start of last season. That number's likely to escalate to nine now that a strained knee has blueliner Niklas Kronwall shelved for four-to-six weeks. It's a credit to the steady hand of Mike Babcock that the Wings have managed to tread water, let alone win seven of 10. Last week: 1-1-1
 
5Washington Capitals
Last Week: 5
Probably best not to panic about the top team in the East, but they have dropped three of four, including a pair to soft touches Toronto and Montreal. Both games featured a continuation of two disturbing trends: they've failed to capitalize on scoring first in each of their last nine losses and continue to play down to the level of opponents. On the plus side, Semyon Varlamov looks ready to assume the No. 1 job (1.60 GAA and a .946 save pct. in his last five starts). Last week: 1-1-1
 
6New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 1
The team that loved to travel now can't wait to get home. After coming within one game of tying the NHL record for consecutive road wins to start the season, they've dropped three straight, a skid greased as much by the letdown factor as a sick bay population that grew to six after Dainius Zubrus blocked a shot in Nashville on Thursday. The good news? Plenty of home cooking on the horizon. They play 10 of their next 12 at the Prudential Center. Last week: 0-2-1
 
7Calgary Flames
Last Week: 4
Hard not to notice the penalty kill was lit up for four goals in a 7-1 pasting by Chicago on Thursday, including three straight chances in a five-goal second period, but recovered nicely in Saturday's win over L.A. Calgary blanked the Kings on three bids and banked a shorthanded game-winner from Daymond Langkow. The bounce-back win made for a strong start to a stretch that sees the West's top road team (7-1-2) play eight of nine away from home. Last week: 1-2
 
8Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 8
Alright, giving up nine goals in weekend losses to the Sharks and Coyotes pretty much silenced that "Ray Emery for Team Canada" talk. Yet, his play over the first quarter suggests Paul Holmgren made a wise bet on the free-agent stopper. Emery has played in 18 of Philly's 20 games, won 11 and posted a 2.42 GAA and .914 save percentage. Not bad...and those numbers would look even better if the Flyers could stanch the bleeding on the penalty kill. Last week: 2-2
 
9Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 11
Not many fingers were pointed at Marc-Andre Fleury during a brutal stretch that saw him lose seven of 10. After all, most nights he was being defended by at least four AHL call-ups. Still, he was brutal in Ottawa on Thursday, allowing five goals on 24 shots before being pulled. How did he respond? With a real confidence-builder in Atlanta. Among his 31 stops were a couple of three-alarm specials on Ilya Kovalchuk and the red-hot Max Afinogenov. Last week: 2-1
 
10Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 18
No surprise to this corner when they severed ties with Nikita Filatov -- perhaps permanently -- but at least one young player might be finding his stride. It's hard to characterize Derick Brassard as anything but a massive disappointment through the first quarter, but the center has lately been more involved and generating chances like he was before a shoulder injury curtailed his rookie season. Last week: 2-0-1
 
11Florida Panthers
Last Week: 23
Blame their 2-7-1 start on growing pains associated with a blueline rebuild, but that group is starting to gel...and so is the team. I won five of six, including an impressive road sweep of the Sabres, Wings and Rangers during which they allowed just five goals. They still need to cut down on shots-allowed, and red-hot Cory Stillman's injury will test an offense that isn't particularly deep. It will help to put a few more pucks on net. Last week: 3-0-1
 
12Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 3
If only they could finish what they start. They dominated in the first period against divisional rivals Boston and Ottawa, but lost both when they failed to maintain their intensity. Untimely penalties were part of the problem -- Henrik Tallinder's foul less than a minute into the second turned the tide in favor of the Sens -- but both games saw them abandon their discipline when they failed to cash in on good scoring chances. Last week: 0-2-1
 
13Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 15
Rumors has it they may be running out of patience with Peter Mueller. The eighth overall pick of 2006 has the size and wheels to play a significant role, but hasn't battled with the same courage since his concussion last season. They should have no problem finding a taker for a player who scored 22 goals as a rookie, but must get help for their injury-riddled blueline or another more reliable scorer. Last week: 2-1-1
 
14Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 13
Five losses in eight games quieted all that talk of being ahead of the rebuilding plan. Ryan Smyth's injury exposed a glaring hole: not enough net presence. The goals they generated inthe first 10 games by heading into the trenches aren't coming anymore. Here's hoping a couple of grueling practices Sunday and Monday reinforced the basics. With nine games in 16 days, they can't afford to let bad habits snowball. Last week: 1-2
 
15Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 9
Amazing what a change of scenery can do. Cast to the scrap heap, it looked like Max Afinogenov was bound for the KHL. Instead, he accepted a last-chance, one-year $800,000 deal from Atlanta, rediscovered his passion on a line with Ilya Kovalchuk and Nik Antropov, and played the best hockey of his career. Mad Max has 17 points and is +11 over his last 15 games. His next phone call could be from Don Waddell to talk extension, or Vladislav Tretiak offering a spot on Team Russia. Last week: 0-1-2
 
16Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 21
No one was more surprised than Mike Fisher to hear he'd was the NHL's Third Star of the Week after his six points helped the Sens win three straight home. Rebounding nicely from a subpar 2008-09 campaign, Fisher gave credit for his hot start to girlfriend Carrie Underwood. "She expects me to score every night now," he told the Ottawa Sun. Add own punch line here. Last week: 3-0
 
17Dallas Stars
Last Week: 17
Dallas Stars (10-6-6)
Knocking off the Devils and Wings would earn most teams a solid bump, but until this group stops bookending big wins with lousy performances like the one against Columbus, they're stuck in the middle of the pack. Maybe they could string a couple W's together if the first line was more of a factor. Too often Mike Ribeiro stops moving his feet once he gets the puck in the offensive zone. Brenden Morrow simply hasn't found his rhythm since returning from knee surgery. Last week: 2-1
 
18Boston Bruins
Last Week: 20
Boston Bruins (10-8-4)
Tuukka Rask was up to the task of filling in for injured starter Tim Thomas, rebounding from a loss to the Isles by stopping 32 of 35 as the B's topped Atlanta in a shootout. Then he outdueled Ryan Miller in a 2-1 OT victory over Buffalo. More good news: Milan Lucic and Marc Savard have returned from the IR to give the B's a full complement of forwards. Last week: 2-1
 
19Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 22
Next time Antero Niittymaki is looking for a job, don't be surprised to see someone from Atlanta outside his door with a big bag of cash. He ran his career mark against them to 15-0 (1.86 GAA and .935 save pct.) with Sunday's 4-3 win. Not that the Thrashers are his only recurring victims. Nitty has a 15-game win streak against Southeast foes. Last week: 2-1-1
 
20Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 10
They still struggle with inconsistency, but there's hope. After missing 18 games with a broken foot, Daniel Sedin is back to take some of the goal-scoring load off brother Henrik. On the back end, Robert Luongo seems to have rediscovered his form. Since returning from the IR on Nov. 10, he's rocking a 1.94 GAA and a .928 save pct. Last week: 1-1
 
21Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 24
No subtle jabs from Alan Walsh this week? Of course, what would Jaroslav Halak's social media-happy agent tweet? "Congrats to Carey Price on his 1.95 GAA and .943 save percentage over his last five starts" seems unlikely...but then, so does Price's remarkable play of late. Coach Jacques Martin credits the turnaround with finding a balance between his casual nature and the necessary intensity. More likely, Price was tired of being outplayed by his backup and finally found his focus. Last week: 2-0-1
 
22Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 12
Memo to Avs: until further notice, please assume that all games require your participation in a third period of play. That gentle reminder seems necessary after watching them blow leads in consecutive games by allowing seven -- 7! -- third period goals to the Canucks and Oilers. With just three wins in their last 10, the bloom is off Colorado's rose. Last week: 1-2
 
23New York Islanders
Last Week: 19
It's tough to get too down on them, even when they wet the bed in losses to the Wild and Blues. The kids are coming through, not just John Tavares and Matt Moulson. After being benched for indifferent play, sophomore Josh Bailey has three points in his last four games. Defender Jack Hillen looks comfortable filling in for the injured Radek Martinek. No need to don shades yet, but the future has a definite glow to it. Last week: 1-2
 
24New York Rangers
Last Week: 16
They can't be happy to see Tampa and Florida on the schedule this week. They've lost three straight to Southeast teams, including a pair at home last week to the Caps and Panthers. More troubling: they've won just four of their last 14 and have plummeted past the Isles to the bottom of the Atlantic. If John Tortorella isn't officially on notice, he will be soon. Last week: 0-2
 
25Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 25
Hard to say whether it was the blistering practice on Thursday or the pre-game pep talk from that little kid who apes the Herb Brooks speech from Miracle, but they finally snapped a soul-sucking four-game losing streak with a 3-2 win over the Isles on Friday. It was a nice result for a team absent so many regulars (six) that it employed shot-blocker Greg Zanon on the power play. Mikko Koivu (18 points in his last 17 games) continued his impressive run. Last week: 1-1
 
26Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 26
It's tough to get an accurate gauge on a team that leads the NHL in man-games lost. Deals made in a period of desperation often turn out poorly. Still, their season is in danger of getting away as they spend to the cap while winning just two of 10. A bold move -- involving, say, Sam Gagner or Andrew Cogliano -- could be made to address an over-reliance on inexperienced players and a need for a tough, defensive-minded third line center. Last week: 1-1-1
 
27St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 29
Maybe Dave Checketts' paint-peeling diatribe sunk in after all. Knocking off the Isles and Coyotes gave them their first back-to-back wins since their season-opening series in Sweden and, just as important, doubled their victory total at Scottrade Center to four. Last week: 2-0
 
28Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 27
Anaheim Ducks (7-11-3)
If only they showed as much fight as their bloggers. They managed to skate away with two points in a 4-3 win over Tampa, but lost five of six to dig even deeper into the Western basement. The big problem: the defense allows too many shots (33.3 per game) and fails to control the front of the crease. On the plus side, the power play is clicking: five goals in 11 chances over the last two games. Last week: 1-2
 
29Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 30
Saturday's win over Tampa Bay was just their second in regulation, but with points in five straight, they're starting to right the ship. Tuomo Ruutu (two goals and seven points in that span) is setting the tone with consistent two-way effort and a reliably physical approach to puck retrieval. With Eric Staal back at practice and Brandon Sutter proving his value on a nightly basis, it's almost safe to remove the paper bag and admit you're a Caniac. Almost. Last week: 2-0-1
 
30Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 28
Knocking off the Caps for their first win in seven OT/SO decisions ended the week on a high note, but didn't quiet talk of an impending shakeup in Hogtown. It could be as simple as dumping a veteran (Jason Blake? Lee Stempniak?) to the minors, but the presence of Chicago's assistant GM at Saturday's game has rumors swirling of a deal involving a high-dollar vet and draft picks coming in for an impending UFA. Last week: 1-1-1

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