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Red Wings rise to No. 1, Caps sink

A reminder: These rankings are based on many factors, and not one of them is scientific. They're heavily influenced by early play, rather than how I expect a team to perform in April. I take into account expectations versus achievement, quality of opponents, injuries, hot or cold streaks, lucky bounces, bad breaks, official malfeasance, travel schedule, and my uncannily intuitive gut feelings. Please note that I, unlike some referees, do not have it in for your team and no homer glasses of any color were worn during the establishment of this list.

Want to send me a comment about the rankings or maybe a cool video clip that cries out to be shared? My Mailbag link is at the top of this page. 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
1Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 3
Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg were the stars of a sloppy, inconsistent win over the Ducks on Saturday night, but second-line scoring has as much to do with the early success of the league's top team as the first line's heroics. The trio of Todd Bertuzzi, Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula has chipped in eight goals and 21 points through the first seven games. Last week: 2-0
 
2Nashville Predators
Last Week: 4
This isn't just a good team for the money. This is a good team. The Preds are the last club standing without a regulation loss -- and they rank first overall in the NHL -- because they're doing all the little things well. Seven of their eight games have been decided by one goal and they're coming out on top because they protect the puck, clog the lanes and limit opposition opportunities. They're also getting great goaltending, including a shutout of the Stars by Pekka Rinne on Saturday and a 42-save performance from Anders Lindback in Sunday's win over Tampa. Last week: 2-0-2
 
3Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 5
It's a pretty simple game: score more often than the other team and you go home with a win. No team is scoring more often in the early going than the Bolts, who've used their 3.38 goals per game average to power their early stint atop the Eastern Conference. That said, they might need to buckle down in their own end. When you're giving up 3.38 goals as well, odds are you'll be a .500 club before long. Last week: 2-1-1
 
4St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 18
Why did they miss the playoffs last season? Simple -- they were patsies at home. They knew that had to change. It's early, but it's already looking like the Scottrade Center will be far less hospitable to visitors this year. St. Louis is now 4-0 there after knocking off the Hawks and Pens in a span of just 27 hours. Last week: 2-0-1
 
5Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 12
The Blues derailed their four-game win streak, but it took a 31-save shutout from nemesis Jaroslav Halak to bring it crashing down. The Pens are getting plenty of good goaltending themselves...at least when Brent Johnson is in net. Dan Byslma gave Marc-Andre Fleury a spot start last week, and while he got the win, Fleury didn't inspire much confidence by allowing three goals on just 24 shots against Nashville. Last week: 2-0-1
 
6Boston Bruins
Last Week: 13
A rough start -- and a serious roughing up -- led to a 3-2 loss to the Rangers on Saturday and stalled the momentum gained earlier in the week from the sweep of a home-and-home series with the Capitals. The B's also lost Johnny Boychuk for a month to an arm injury after he was slashed by Brandon Dubinsky. The rapidly maturing No. 2 defender will be sorely missed. Last week: 2-1-0
 
7New York Islanders
Last Week: 9
A nice week was highlighted by a pair of hard-fought OT road wins over the Maple Leafs and Lightning. Saturday's 4-3 loss to the Panthers was a sloppier affair, but it did feature the first career hat trick by John Tavares and another strong performance from Rangers' cast off P.A. Parenteau (nine points now in eight games). Rough night, though, for Rick DiPietro, who handled the puck like it was ticking. Last week: 2-1-0
 
8Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 2
The two points will come in handy, but they can't be happy with blowing three leads before finally putting down the Avs 6-4 on Saturday night. The Kings did manage a pair of power play goals to triple their total for the season, but their play with the extra man is still trouble. So, too, is the early performance of Jack Johnson, who needs to start minimizing his mistakes or have his role diminished until he does. Last week: 2-1
 
9Washington Capitals
Last Week: 1
Does a little bit of Alex Ovechkin go a long way? Going by some nifty research done by the Washington Post, that seems to be the case. Ovechkin's shifts have stretched far too long lately and the Caps have suffered for it. Case in point: three shifts over 1:50 -- two of which ended with penalties to Washington -- in Thursday's loss to the Bruins. The Post also noted that as Ovechkin's TOI rises, Washington's winning percentage drops. Might be a good idea to shorten his leash, eh? Last week: 1-2-0
 
10Dallas Stars
Last Week: 7
Dallas Stars (5-2-0)
Even with 10 points already in the bank, the surprising Stars need to cash in on a six-game home stand over the next two weeks. A 1-0 loss to Nashville on Saturday night wasn't the ideal opener, but it did highlight the consistent effort, and outstanding goaltending from Kari Lehtonen, that have been the hallmarks of the Stars' hot start. Last week: 1-2-0
11Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 21
Crazy times for the Canes, who made a guest appearance during Jimmy Kimmel's monologue on Friday. They finally get to enjoy their home opener this week after starting with seven on the road, returning to the RBC Center after picking up two points in Phoenix, albeit after blowing a three-goal lead in the third that forced the contest to overtime. Not the sort of shutdown performance the situation required, but at the tail of an extended road trip, the two points are all that matters. Last week: 2-1-0
 
12Calgary Flames
Last Week: 26
Hard to believe after that rough start, but the sun is shining in Calgary. The Flames have won four of five and they've done it in a fashion that their fans have been demanding all along. Calgary has simply outworked the opposition and is taking advantage of the scoring opportunities it creates. Their sharpest shooter, Rene Bourque, earned NHL First Star of the Week honors after scoring five times in the last two games. Last week: 3-1-0
 
13Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 8
If coach Joel Quenneville is griping in the room about his team's lack of defensive commitment, he has plenty of ammo to make his point. The Hawks have wasted third period ties in each of their four regulation losses, and they blew a 2-0 first period lead on Saturday in a 3-2 loss to Columbus. That's four losses now in six Central Division contests. Last week: 2-2-0
 
14New York Rangers
Last Week: 23
When the Blueshirts string together three wins, you can bet a good part of the credit belongs to Henrik Lundqvist. He's been good -- as has backup Martin Biron -- but the Rangers are seeing the results of playing John Tortorella hockey. The effort has been consistent and honest, and they're becoming a miserable bunch to play against. Last week: 3-1-0
 
15Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 10
Splitting a pair with struggling teams isn't much to brag about, but give them credit for bouncing back from a disappointing 3-0 loss to the Devils with a more disciplined 3-0 win over the Sens on Saturday. It was the first shutout for goalie Carey Price in nearly two years, but the power play continued to struggle, going 0-for-4. The team is now 1-for-24 on the season with the extra man. Last week: 1-1
 
16San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 16
Their uneven start has been characterized by "poor decisions and poor execution" according to defenseman Dan Boyle. Consistent effort has been lacking as well. San Jose looked like world beaters against the lowly Oilers, but couldn't come up anything approaching that the next night against Calgary. Coach Todd MacLellan is refusing to pin any blame on his goaltenders, but he's being kind. They just haven't been good enough to this point. Last week: 2-2-0
 
17Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 17
Not to play the part of Debbie Downer here, but Canucks fans might want to dial back the joy after Saturday night's 5-1 thumping of the Wild. Sure, it probably tasted pretty good after they manhandled Vancouver earlier in the week, but the Wild looked like a tired team after playing in Edmonton the night before and were ripe to be slapped around. One point worth celebrating: another solid outing from backup Cory Schneider, whose play so far suggests he deserves more than the occasional spot start.Last week: 1-1-1
 
18Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 24
Fascinating to watch how they are handling prodigal son Nikita Filatov in the early going. After a couple games skating alongside fellow first-rounders Jake Voracek and Derrick Brassard, Filatov has seen his ice time cut -- partly because of a chemistry issue with the other two, and partly because his effort and production (just two assists in seven games) were deemed insufficient. Coach Scott Arniel proved he hasn't lost faith by shipping Filatov to the fourth line rather than Springfield. Let's see how the kid responds.Last week: 2-1
 
19Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 25
The good news? Off to an 0-4-1 start at home, they play their next three on the road. Their woes at HSBC Arena continued last week with another loss to the Sens. Give the Sabres credit, though, for polishing off New Jersey and Atlanta on the road. Sure, they took advantage of a pair of teams in near total disarray, but when you're struggling for results, you take 'em as they come. Last week: 2-1-0
 
20Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 15
Wouldn't be surprised to see they call up a defenseman from the minors (Kevin Shattenkirk or Colby Cohen, perhaps?) or try to swing a minor deal to alter the chemistry because, to this point anyway, the blueline just hasn't been good enough. Craig Anderson's numbers are way up (.907 save percentage, 3.15 GAA), a good indication that he's not being afforded the protection he was last season. Last week: 1-2-0
21Florida Panthers
Last Week: 11
After posting back-to-back shutouts of the Flames and Bolts, the defense fell back into old patterns while giving up seven goals to the Stars and Isles. The effort was better in Saturday's 4-3 win over New York, but the Panthers can't afford to wait for Tomas Vokoun to bail them out every night. A bit more commitment to corralling his rebounds would be a nice start. Last week: 1-1
 
22Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 19
It took seven games, but on Saturday, captain Mike Richards finally notched his first goal of the season to help them break a three-game losing streak with a 5-2 win over the Leafs. The win took some of the sting out of a brutal stretch in which Philly lost three straight at home despite playing teams that were on the tail end of back-to-back games. Key stat from that win over Toronto: the Flyers blocked more shots (18) than the Leafs landed on net (14). Last week: 1-1-0
 
23Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 20
The power play's been silent since the opener in Prague, and the team's most dangerous forward is Eric Belanger. Yikes. No need to panic just yet, but these Yotes will continue to stumble along if they don't find some consistent offense. Last week: 1-0-1
 
24Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 6
There's not quite so much talk about the playoffs in Toronto after the Leafs dropped three in a row, including a mistake-filled 5-2 loss to the Flyers on Saturday that recalled all the miseries of last season. Turnovers, stupid penalties and the lack of two-way commitment are all creeping back into Toronto's game. Looks like coach Ron Wilson has some work to do. Last week: 0-2-1
 
25Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 22
A floundering power play and a propensity for coughing up the puck have them scrambling for answers. Anaheim is on an 0-for-14 skid with the extra man and had plans to try out a new look (moving Bobby Ryan off the point of the first unit), but couldn't hold onto the puck long enough to draw penalties against the Wings. Actually, they couldn't hold onto the puck period, with turnovers leading to a pair of blown leads and a final-minute loss. Last week: 1-2-0
 
26Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 28
The struggling Sens managed to claim their second victory of the season, outlasting the equally inept Sabres, 4-2, on Friday, but the win did little to calm Bryan Murray. The GM already is talking about trades to address flaws that, to paraphrase Ken Warren of the Ottawa Citizen, "can't defend, can't hit and can't stop the puck from getting past their goaltenders." Other than that, the Sens look pretty good. Last week: 1-2-0
 
27Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 29
Back-to-backs on the road are tough enough, but when undisciplined play forces you to kill off 10 minor penalties in the opener, chances are you won't have much left in the tank for the next night. The Wild survived that sloppy game thanks to a brutal Oiler penalty kill, but their leaden legs couldn't keep up with the Canucks in Saturday's 5-1 lambasting. Last week: 1-2-0
 
28Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 14
Sometimes a team can run up three consecutive losses just with bad breaks. Most times, however, it's because a club is getting what it deserves -- and that's exactly what's going on in Atlanta. The Thrashers have looked hopelessly out of sync the last few games. Could be that they're having trouble grasping the system of new coach Craig Ramsay, or maybe they're just not executing it consistently. Either way, this just isn't a very good team right now. Last week: 0-2-1
 
29Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 27
Two games, 10 goals allowed, two losses. If anyone was looking for an immediate turnaround from the very young Oilers, this past week should have brought those expectations back to reality. Their inexperience (and talent shortage) is especially evident on a penalty kill that has given up nine goals in its last 18 chances. San Jose lit the Oil PK up for three goals in Saturday's 6-1 loss. Last week: 0-2-0
 
30New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 30
We don't know yet what motivated John MacLean to bench Ilya Kovalchuk for Saturday's game against Buffalo, but you don't need a degree to do the math. If there's a quarrel between the two, it'll be the coach, not the $100 million star player, who is sent packing...and probably in short order. Just ask ex-Boston coach Steve Kasper how that works. Last week: 1-2-0
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