Tuesday October 27th, 2009

Biggest climb: Vancouver Canucks (11 from 20)

Biggest drop: Columbus Blue Jackets (19 from 5)

A reminder: these rankings are based on many factors, but none are based in science. They're heavily influenced by recent play, taking into account expectations versus achievement, quality of opponents, injuries, 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, stats and records are through Sunday, so Monday night's action isn't part of the equation.

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

NHL Power Rankings
1Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 1
The Devils mucked up their seven-game win streak, but the bigger loss was defenseman Sergei Gonchar. The top blueliner will be sidelined at least four weeks with a broken wrist suffered in Tuesday's win over the Blues. That'll put the onus on Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski to step up, especially on a power play that's been fairly tepid so far. Last week: 2-1
 
2Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 2
Craig Anderson looked a bit worn around the edges while making his 10th straight start Friday night against Carolina, but with Peter Budaj out (flu), Anderson had to dress for No. 11 on Saturday: his best effort of the season, stopping 48 Detroit shots to steal a 3-1 win. But you have to think this workload will catch up to him soon. Last week: 2-0-1
 
3Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 9
Stats show them to be the NHL's best five-on-five team by a mile, and their methods are fairly simple. Their breakouts involve shorter, safer passes and their forecheck is doing an effective job of boxing the opposition in its own zone and creating a lot of shots down low. If they ever get the engine to turn over on that sputtering power play, they could be really dangerous. Last week: 2-0
 
4San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 6
Interesting call by coach Todd McLellan to go with Thomas Greiss in the final game of a six-game Eastern swing. The backup was solid in his first start, stopping 37 shots in a 4-1 win over the Flyers. With Evgeni Nabokov struggling with his consistency, Greiss may not have to wait so long for his second start. Last week: 3-1
 
5Washington Capitals
Last Week: 10
All good news: They're rolling with a four-game win streak; Alex Ovechkin is off to his best start ever (17 points in 10 games) and he avoided a suspension for slewfooting Rich Peverley. Jose Theodore is playing like a No. 1 and crafty winger Tomas Fleischmann could be back in the lineup this week. Last week: 2-0
 
6Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 5
Ilya Bryzgalov won't repeat as First Star of the Week, but probably didn't deserve it last week, either. That's not a shot at the man with the NHL's best numbers, but a nod to the team play in front of him. When the defensive commitment falters as it did Saturday against the Kings, he looks suspiciously like the guy who had a 2.98 GAA and .906 save percentage last season. Last week: 1-1
 
7Calgary Flames
Last Week: 12
Is there a forward giving more bang for the buck right now than Rene Bourque? He ranks among the top-10 in scoring, has a cap hit of $1.35 million, and is coming through when it matters most. With two goals and seven points against the Oilers, he may be the biggest reason the Flames are 3-0 in the Battle of Alberta. Last week: 2-0
 
8New York Rangers
Last Week: 3
They haven't quite burned through the goodwill generated by their 7-1 start, but in losing three straight and allowing at least four goals in each, they played like they thought they'd earned a few shortcuts. Each loss featured an inability to protect the puck, with critical giveaways in a 5-4 loss to Montreal leading to the benchings of Chris Higgins and Brandon Dubinsky. Look for John Tortorella to set them straight. Last week: 0-2-1
 
9New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 13
Watching them churn the neutral zone into a gummy sludge against the Penguins on Saturday, I was reminded of Johnny Rotten's infamous quote: "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" I can't believe I fell for it when Jacques Lemaire said he wouldn't revert to the trap. It's as interminable as ever, but there's no arguing with the results. They moved to 5-0 on the road, best in the NHL. Last week: 2-0
 
10Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 7
Blanking a kittenish offense like Nashville's won't silence the criticism of Cristobal Huet, but at least Saturday's 2-0 win gave him something to build on. Adjustments to his mechanics? Could be. He made a number of stops look easy by virtue of better positioning of his stick and by closing up a five hole that's been gaping like a Bobby Clarke grin. Last week: 1-1
 
11Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 20
After repeatedly saying he feels good, Roberto Luongo finally looked it. The Canucks won three straight largely on the back of their slow-starting stopper who limited foes to three goals in that span. On Sunday, he set the franchise record with his 21st shutout, but was better stealing a win when his team was soundly outworked by Toronto on Sat. Last week: 3-1
 
12Dallas Stars
Last Week: 17
Dallas Stars (5-2-4)
If not for a sizable dent in revenue, they might offer to spend the season barnstorming around the league. Just 1-3 at home, they're a best-in-the-West 4-0-3 on the road. The keys? Limiting shots-allowed and a strong effort from Marty Turco, who had a .945 save percentage in wins over the Ducks and Blues. Last week: 2-1-1
 
13Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 11
Going by Einstein's definition of insanity, it's time to put John Stevens in touch with Raymond Teller's tailor. Despite another brutal effort by Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn (combined minus-6 against San Jose), the coach says he sees no reason to split them up. Coburn has real potential, but he's dragging Timonen down. Time to redefine his role and give Timonen a break. Last week: 2-1
 
14Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 22
Hannah Montana isn't the only one enjoying the best of both worlds. Anze Kopitar bought into Terry Murray's system last season, sacrificing offense to meet the demands of the team's new defensive concept. He's carried over that disciplined approach this season, and it's paying off at both ends of the ice. After going 6-3-9 in four wins last week, Kopitar emerged as an unlikely Art Ross contender. Last week: 4-0
 
15Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 14
That they mounted two fierce comebacks against Nashville before losing in OT could count as a moral victory if not for the fact that they allowed six goals to a team averaging just 1.2 coming into the game. Against Boston, they frittered a two-goal lead with 88 seconds left and lost in a shootout. May not seem like much now, but those squandered points come back to haunt a borderline playoff team. Last week: 0-0-2
 
16Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 19
Whether it's Pat Quinn's coaching, a commitment to off-season conditioning, or just the light finally going on in his head, this is the Dustin Penner that Kevin Lowe thought he was buying when he swiped the RFA from under the Ducks in 2007. Penner's efforts in a 6-4 win over Columbus (2-3 -5, 11 shots on net) were a career high and the most dominating individual performance of the young season. Last week: 2-2
 
17Boston Bruins
Last Week: 21
They will be without two-thirds of their opening night top line for the next month or so as Marc Savard (foot) and Milan Lucic (finger) went on IR. The loss of Savard creates an opportunity for Patrice Bergeron, whose offensive talents have been muted by his third-line responsibilities. If he exceeds expectations, it sets the B's up for an interesting decision regarding the UFA this summer. Last week: 2-0-1
 
18Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 8
Hard to say what was worse: losing three straight or seeing Ilya Kovalchuk leave Saturday's game with a foot injury. He'll be out two-four weeks, which won't make it easier to address the skid. The last two losses, both at home, required goalie changes and saw the team dig unsurmountable three-goal holes. Bad puck habits are creeping in. Last week: 0-2-1
 
19Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 4
Really no way to sugarcoat a disastrous four-game road swing that saw them drop three of four and give up a staggering 22 goals. Steve Mason offered his best Jean-Francois Labbe impression, fishing pucks out of the net early and often as his road save percentage plunged to .836. The penalty kill was just as bad: seven goals in its last 13 chances. Last week: 1-3
 
20Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 26
They're starting to play like a team under Jacques Martin's influence, and the look suits them. Since being lit up 7-1 by the Canucks on Oct. 7, they're allowing the fewest shots-against in the NHL. They've also cut back on penalties (they were short just twice Saturday against the Rangers) and killed 17 of the last 18 power plays they've faced. Last week: 3-0
 
21St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 16
A torpid start didn't submarine their playoff bid last season, but it's probably not a habit they want to get into. This year's struggles seem to be the result of a team not yet comfortable with its identity as a playoff favorite. Although they played well at times in splitting a pair with the Wild and Stars, this group has been too inconsistent to gain any traction. Last week: 1-2
 
22Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 15
Bounced twice by Colorado, they've dropped three straight and four of their last five. It's fair to say they were the better team in Saturday's 3-1 loss, but the hot goalie excuse only goes so far. Too early to say whether the chemistry's funky or they really are missing all those lost UFAs, but at some point, the guys who are still here have to deliver, especially on the road. Last week: 0-1-1
 
23Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 18
They've dropped three straight at the Honda Center and were outscored 15-6. The players are trotting out the "we're not getting any bounces" trope, but the truth is they're squandering early chances and spending too much time playing catch-up. No surprise the calls for Randy Carlyle's head are growing in volume. Last week: 0-2
 
24Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 23
Rick Tocchet used a four-day break to hold an extended training camp. Early returns suggest the hard work and attention to detail paid off to an extent. They waxed the Sharks, 5-2, with Mike Smith earning his first win since Jan. 27, but wasted Vincent Lecavalier's first goal, and a 2-0 lead, in a shootout loss to Buffalo. They're now 0-3 in shootouts, and their shot selection in that game showed how deeply they're feeling the pressure. Last week: 1-0-1
 
25Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 29
You get your money's worth when you buy a ticket to see them. After Saturday's thrilling win over Carolina, they're 3-0 at the Xcel Energy Center with each win coming in OT or the shootout. On the other hand, they've proven to be the NHL's most accommodating visitors, dropping all seven games on the road. Until they turn around that league-worst five-on-five play, expect the trend to continue.Last week: 2-1
 
26Nashville Predators
Last Week: 28
After exploding for six goals in a win over Ottawa, the offense returned to its familiar comfort zone of inadequacy. Placing Steve Sullivan alongside David Legwand and Martin Erat didn't generate much. The two-game experiment yielded no points and a combined minus-10. Last week: 1-2
 
27New York Islanders
Last Week: 27
Apparently no lead is safe when it's in the hands of this bunch. They've already blown three third-period leads, a resounding testament to their youth and inability to maintain Scott Gordon's go-go system for 60 minutes. No question these guys work hard, but it falls on Gordon to adjust the approach when they start to wear down. Last week: 1-1-1
 
28Florida Panthers
Last Week: 25
If they again fall short of the playoffs, it'll be another yet brutal start to blame. They have just one win in eight tries since opening night. No wonder: they're allowing 10 more shots than they take each night. Losing Radek Dvorak (knee) and David Booth (possible concussion) for a prolonged period won't make the next W easier to come by. Last week: 0-2-1
 
29Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 24
Is there such a thing as Eastern Conference Final hangover? They sure look like they're afflicted: just one regulation win and six straight losses. Still, it's hard to judge their potential until they address their discipline problems. No team has been shorthanded more often (58). Last week: 0-1-2
 
30Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 30
There could be one rake in a field and the NHL's version of Sideshow Bob would find a way to step on it. They outplayed the Canucks in Vancouver, but were foiled in their bid for win No. 1 by a lack of discipline: five straight minors in the first. That's as good a reason as any to explain why they're off to the worst start in team history. Last week: 0-1

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