Tuesday November 10th, 2009

Biggest Climb: Columbus Blue Jackets (15 from 23)

Biggest Drop: Chicago Blackhawks (16 from 8)

A reminder: Rankings are based on many factors, none scientific in nature. They're heavily influenced by recent play, 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, statistics and records noted are through Sunday, so Monday night's action is not 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
1San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 2
Their six-game win streak was snapped by a 2-1 shootout loss to Detroit, but they quickly reasserted their dominance with a 5-0 pasting of the Penguins. The bad news only gets worse for the West: Sick bay is clearing out (Joe Pavelski is back, Devin Setoguchi and Torrey Mitchell are close) and Evgeni Nabokov is locking it down so hard that a Score-O board would have trouble matching his numbers (0.96 GAA and .965 save pct. over his last six). Last week: 2-0-1
2New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 7
Doesn't matter who wears the sweater, they keep rolling. The defense is down to three regulars (Johnny Oduya and Bryce Salvador joined Paul Martin in the popcorn line), but the reinforcements still shut down the Capitals, Islanders and Senators to make it five straight wins and run their road record to 8-0, two shy of the all-time best start. Last week: 3-0
3Washington Capitals
Last Week: 5
Fast starts are becoming their signature. They've scored first in 14 of 17 games, including each of their last six, and lit up foes 20-6 in the first stanza. Early jumps helped them sweep the home-and-home set against the Panthers despite playing without Alex Ovechkin, Jeff Schultz and Mike Green. Last week: 2-1
4Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 4
Not many in Denver have noticed (what's up with the lousy attendance at The Can?), but the first-place Avs have dropped three of five. Injuries to Milan Hejduk, John-Michael Liles and T.J. Galliardi crippled their special teams and Craig Anderson is showing signs of fatigue. But the most pressing concern may be Matt Duchene. Pointless (and minus-4) in his last four, the promising rookie appears to be losing confidence in his game. Last week: 2-1
5Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 12
Other teams have been staggered by the flu, but the Flyers kept fighting. With almost half their players battling it and three (Danny Briere, Ryan Parent, Simon Gagne) sidelined by injuries, Philly still strung together a season-high four-game win streak. The key to success: a willingness to shoot often and go hard to the net, with the third and fourth lines setting the pace. Last week: 3-0
6Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 9
Getting outworked by the shorthanded Preds probably ruined the weekend for Terry Murray, but the sky isn't falling on a team that just mauled the Cup champs. Prior to the Preds loss, L.A. had taken points in eight straight (6-0-2), a run that included handing the Pens their first road loss of the season. Last week: 2-1
7Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 1
After losses to the Kings and Sharks, it's clear they have issues. The power play is just 3-for-32 since Sergei Gonchar was injured, Sidney Crosby (pointless in four) isn't getting much help and, perhaps most troubling, they're getting outworked. Still, the defeats marked the first time in 42 games under Dan Byslma they've gone consecutive games without a point. That's astounding. Last week: 1-2
8Calgary Flames
Last Week: 14
After scoring two goals, including the OT clincher, against the Stars, Jarome Iginla was eager to explain why his season finally was on track. "I was just waiting for the calendar to change to November," he joked. The captain scored in the next two matches as well, both wins, but a hot hand isn't the only difference in his game. "He's hitting, he's battling down low," said Craig Conroy. "You can tell he's back in the groove." Last week: 3-0
9Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 3
A balanced offensive approach has defined their early-season success, so they won't be veering from that trail any time soon. Still, the absence of a game-breaking scorer was evident in a pair of losses over the weekend. Struggling to find footing against Philly and Boston, there was no Sabre capable of providing a course-correcting spark. Last week: 1-2
10Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 11
Turns out they didn't much miss Roberto Luongo after all. They were ably backstopped during his six-game convalescence by Andrew Raycroft (4-1, 1.60 GAA) and top prospect Cory Schneider, who looked NHL-ready in a 45-save performance Friday against Dallas. Bobby Lu could return this week...if he gets over the flu. Vancouver also expects leading goal scorer Daniel Sedin back in the lineup Tuesday. Last week: 2-1
11Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 13
Three steps forward, one step back. Just as they regained their swagger -- winning three straight while allowing just two goals -- they turned in their worst performance in a 5-1 loss to the Leafs. That kind of blip can be overlooked, but Jason Williams' broken leg can't. Losing another key contributor won't help a power play in a 3-for-29 skid. Last week: 2-1
12Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 6
Has the clock already struck midnight on these early-season Cinderellas? The players have spoken out about a lack of intensity in the first period -- an issue that bedeviled Dave Tippett's Stars last season -- as being the key to dropping three of four. Injuries to defenders Ed Jovanovski, Zbynek Michalek and Kurt Sauer aren't helping. Last week: 1-3
13New York Rangers
Last Week: 10
They lost more than two of three on their Western Canada swing. They'll be without Brandon Dubinsky (4-6 weeks, broken hand) and Chris Drury (indefinitely, suspected concussion). Both have struggled, but their absences will challenge the team's depth. Could be an opportunity for Artem Anisimov and Evgeny Gratchev to step up. Last week: 1-2
14Dallas Stars
Last Week: 15
Dallas Stars (7-4-6)
Where's Oscar Wilde when you need him? He could have pointed out the positive spin on Nicklas Grossman's week. The young defender was in the box (on a phantom delay of game call) when the Flames scored in OT on Wednesday, then he banged the decisive goal behind his own Alex Auld to seal Saturday's win for the Wild. The bright side: at least people are talking about a player whose vastly improved play had gone largely unnoticed. Last week: 1-1-1
15Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 23
It's just 16 games, but it's still a bit of a shock to see them holding first place in the Central. The struggling defense was bolstered by the returns of Jan Hejda and Mike Commodore, but Ken Hitchcock gives the credit to Steve Mason. ""This is four games in a row now that he's been outstanding," the coach said after a win over Carolina. "The saves he made in the second period -- oh my god. He's really tracking the puck well right now." Last week: 2-0-1
16Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 8
The return of Jonathan Toews should help address one woe: a power play in a 3-for-35 slide. But it'll take more than the captain to address a longer-term issue: this team is softer than a sackful of kittens. The trades of James Wisniewski and Matt Walker and an injury to Adam Burish left the Hawks too easy to play against. A little sandpaper would go a long way with this group. Last week: 0-1-1
17Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 16
Only in Montreal (alright, maybe Toronto, too) could a blurb on Twitter generate as much controversy as the one Saturday by Alan Walsh, the agent for stopper Jaroslav Halak, who thought it "interesting" that Carey Price was 10-32 in his last 42 starts. While his intentions likely weren't innocent, as he later protested, it's not like Walsh broke news to anyone...least of all the guys in the dressing room. Despite two strong starts by Price last week, Halak is the better option over the short term...and maybe longer. Last week: 1-2
18Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 17
Blowing a 2-0 lead at home by allowing three power play goals to New Jersey underscored continuing struggles with discipline. The Sens average 20.2 minutes per game shorthanded, worst in the NHL and twice as many as the victorious Devils. For a team that will need a few breaks to grab a playoff berth, a little self control might be a difference-maker. Last week: 1-1
19Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 18
With Ilya Kovalchuk on IR, they need scoring from unlikely sources, but no one expected they'd get most of it from the blueline. Since losing their captain six games ago, they've scored 19 goals; 12 off the sticks of defenders, including each of the last seven. Credit coach John Anderson for not only switching up his pairings, but demanding his D fire more pucks at the net. Last week: 2-2
20Nashville Predators
Last Week: 21
More evidence they can never be taken lightly: they waltzed into Staples Center and slapped down the high-flying Kings to make it four wins out of five. They've snatched half the points available this season despite playing nine of 15 away, failing to settle on a No. 1 goalie, and trotting out an injury-riddled lineup further depleted by the losses of Shea Weber and J.P. Dumont. Last week: 1-1
21New York Islanders
Last Week: 19
It's time for Radek Martinek to officially change his moniker to Bad Luck Schleprock. The defender added a torn ACL, suffered in a 2-1 loss to the Devils, to the lengthy list of injuries that have come to define his starcrossed career. He's out for the season, putting the Isles in tough to replace his nearly 23 minutes of ice per night. Last week: 2-2
22Boston Bruins
Last Week: 22
You have to wonder which event from Saturday's 4-2 win over the Sabres will have a greater impact on the sagging B's: snapping an 0-for-20 slump with a pair of power play goals or having someone drop the gloves for the first time since a win over Ottawa on Oct. 24. Last season's team loaded up at the extra man buffet, but it could be argued that toughness brought them together as a team. Clearly, they could use a little more from both columns. Last week: 1-2
23Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 27
He may not be the No.1 goalie (Rick Tocchet insists that's Mike Smith), but Antero Niittymaki sure looks the part: one goal allowed in four of his last five outings (including 33 minutes of mop-up duty in Philly on Monday) and stands atop the league in save pct. (.940) and third in GAA (1.95). His positioning is flawless and he looks more confident than ever. Too bad he can't pass some of that mojo on to Martin St. Louis (no goals in 10 games). Last week: 2-1-1
24Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 26
Not to overvalue Corey Perry's hot streak (seven goals and 10 points in his last six games), but he needs to be part of Team Canada. Nobody in the league is more willing and able to score the kind of ugly goal that will be so critical in a short tournament. Last week: 2-1
25Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 29
Phil the Thrill lived up to his nickname in his debut Tuesday, launching a career-high 10 shots and using each dynamic shift to give Leafs fans reason to believe that maybe they hadn't been hamstrung by Brian Burke's win-now approach. With points in each of his next two games, including his first goal as a Leaf, Kessel helped propel the Buds to consecutive triumphs, including their convincing (and first) home win Saturday over the Wings. Last week: 2-0-1
26Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 28
After what may have been their best performance of the season in snuffing out the Stars 3-2 on Saturday, they'd won three of four. Fans might not yet be sold on Todd Richards' system, but the players seem to be getting the picture. If they could only get Martin Havlat (two assists in his last 11 games) and James Sheppard (pointless) on track, this program might yet be a hit. Last week: 1-1
27Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 20
It was just one win, but after dropping six of their last seven, Sunday's 5-3 smackdown of the Avs was exactly what they needed. It made for a good start to a critical five-game road trip that the Oil are undertaking without Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff and J-F Jacques, all hobbled with injuries. Last week: 1-2
28Florida Panthers
Last Week: 24
Not to belittle straight shutouts of struggling St. Louis and Carolina, but giving up 11 goals in back-to-back losses to the Ovechkin-less Caps is probably more telling of where this team is right now. The coverage down low was spotty and the special teams continued to struggle. When a team coughs up five goals in the third (Saturday) or spends most of a five-minute power play in its own end (Friday), you have to question the commitment of the guys on the ice. Last week: 1-2
29St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 25
With just four goals in their last five games, they are sinking faster than Jay Leno's ratings. Too many well-paid players are trotting out the old "working hard/not getting breaks" speech, including Paul Kariya (one goal in 10), Brad Boyes (one in 12) and David Backes (one in 15). If results don't improve on the six-game home stand starting Tuesday, expect changes. Last week: 0-3
30Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 30
A pair of one-goal defeats to the Leafs and Jackets extended the franchise-record slide to 12. With Cam Ward (lacerated thigh) on the shelf indefinitely, the road back to respect just got steeper. Manny Legace was airlifted in for temporary relief, but it's hard to believe that's all GM Jim Rutherford has in mind. He already surprised observers by returning top prospect Zach Boychuk to Albany on Sunday. Seems like the energy provided by Boychuk and Brandon Sutter is exactly what the Canes need. Last week: 0-3

Allan Muir's Mailbag
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