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St. Louis Blues still No. 1 as Metropolitan Division rises

Photo: Keith Gillett/Icon SMI

In a white hot spotlight, Blues goalie Jaro Halak answered his doubters with three strong outings.

After six weeks of being the league's red-headed step-child, the Metropolitan Division is done being bullied. Powered by three teams that have at least six wins in their last 10 games—only the mighty Central can top that—the Metro is shaping up to be as competitive as we all thought it would be before the season started.

The Rangers are leading the charge, going 9-4 during the last month on the back of goalie Henrik Lundqvist, a rejuvenated defense and a forward corps that looks a lot more dangerous with Rick Nash and Chris Krieder driving the net.

The Devils are getting terrific goaltending from both Martin Brodeur (5-2 in his last seven) and Cory Schneider, who is playing lights out despite a criminal lack of run support, to power a 6-3-1 tear that has them back in the thick of the divisional race.

And then there are the Flyers. Written off for dead a month ago, they've gone 6-2-2 over their last 10—the sixth-best record in the league during that stretch—thanks to some All-Star caliber play from Steve Mason in goal and a defense corps that's proving it's not quite ready for the scrapyard after all.

The overall record suggests it's still the worst division in hockey (thanks, Islanders), but the Metro won't be pushed around anymore.

Here's how the rest of the league stacks up after Week 8.

Notable rise: Philadelphia Flyers (25 to 11)

Notable drop: Phoenix Coyotes (3 to 9)

NHL Power Rankings
1St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 1
Who says the Blues need an upgrade in goal? Rebounding nicely from its wobble against Washington a week ago, St. Louis rang up four straight wins largely on the performance of Jaroslav Halak (three wins, .961 save percentage, one shutout). And how about that bruising shootout win in Boston? Stanley Cup Final preview, perhaps?(Last week: 4-0-0)
 
2Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 2
They slept through their alarms in that 5-1 loss to the Avs in the opener of their seven-game road trip, then took out their frustrations on the Jets, Canucks and Oilers—more proof that when they want to use it, the Hawks have an extra gear that other teams can't match. (Last week: 3-1-0)
 
3San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 5
After dropping three straight during their last homestand, San Jose made the Shark Tank inhospitable again with a pair of wins over the Devils and Lightning. The key was tightening up on the back end—the Sharks allowed just a single goal in each game. The return of Brent Burns from IR should revitalize a power play that struggled in his absence. (Last week: 2-0-0)
 
4Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 8
The young Avs passed their first real test of the season with flying colors, snapping out of a three-game losing streak with showy wins over the Hawks, Coyotes and Kings. Semyon Varlamov was all-world, stopping 96 of 100 shots during the streak, but you have to wonder how the filing of assault charges against him last week will affect him and the team. (Last week: 3-0-0)
 
5Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 6
Anaheim Ducks (17-6-3)
They can't shake the injury bug—goaltender Viktor Fasth, the latest victim, is out for a month with a lower-body injury—but they keep finding ways to win. Getting something going on the power play helped. They potted a pair against the Coyotes after scoring just three on the road on their first 46 chances. (Last week: 2-0-1)
 
6Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 7
So much for Jonathan Quick's MVP dreams. The Kings are doing just fine without him, going 5-0-2 since his injury. Backup Ben Scrivens will have to stay sharp, though. The offense is struggling (just 15 goals during that stretch) and Quick will be out until Christmas, at the earliest. (Last week: 2-0-2)
 
7Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 4
They were on a 9-1-1 tear before running head first into the brick wall that is the St. Louis Blues on Monday night. So why worry? Their schedule is about to get really nasty (Colorado three times, Sharks twice) and both Josh Harding and Zach Parise are hurting. This will be a real test for Mike Yeo's boys. (Last week: 2-2-0)
 
8Boston Bruins
Last Week: 9
Boston Bruins (16-6-2)
Even their most die-hard fans would have to admit that the Bruins easily could have gone 1-3 last week if not for a couple of sensational efforts by netminder Tuukka Rask. If Team Finland GM Jari Kurri saw that 43-save performance against the Rangers, he's already penciled Rask in as his starter in Sochi. (Last week: 3-0-1)
 
9Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 3
The lack of attention to defensive detail is starting to catch up with the Coyotes, who finally dropped their first home game in regulation this season to the Ducks on Saturday. They've allowed 20 goals over their last five games, going 1-3-1 in the process. Addressing their 28th ranked penalty kill might help turn things around. (Last week: 0-2-1)
 
10Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 11
James Neal returns and Evgeni Malkin is named the NHL's First Star of the Week. Coincidence? Yeah, right. Malkin had eight points during the week, including his first goal in a month, and Neal scored four straight for a team that desperately missed their magic. (Last week: 2-1-1)
 
11Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 25
Since their franchise-worst 1-7 start, they've gone 9-4-2, thanks in large part to a team-wide commitment to strong defensive work. Their five-on-five play has been significantly better as well. (Last week: 3-1-0)
 
12New York Rangers
Last Week: 15
Remember that brutal stretch on the road that nearly finished New York's season before it started? The Blueshirts finally figured out how to win away from MSG, taking six straight before getting thumped in Tampa Bay on Monday night. Full marks to the defense, which allowed two goals or fewer in seven straight on the road before giving up five to the Bolts. (Last week: 2-2-0)
 
13Dallas Stars
Last Week: 12
Dallas Stars (11-9-2)
The Stars probably deserved better last week. They outplayed the Rangers by a wide margin, but were stymied by a classic performance from Henrik Lundqvist, then had a strong effort against the Blues sabotaged by an off night by otherwise stellar netminder Kari Lehtonen. But moral victories aren't enough for a team that's already fading from contention. (Last week: 0-2-0)
 
14Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 10
They might be relying too much on their kids. The Bolts have seven rookies on their roster and dress between as many as nine players who spent part of last season with their Syracuse farm team. Ondrej Palat and Richard Panik and the like are giving it their all, but lack of experience is catching up to them. (Last week: 1-2-1)
 
15Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 23
Some line juggling lit a fire under the sputtering offense, and the power play continues to deliver, especially on the road where it has converted at least once in each of Montreal's 10 games, a franchise record for the start of a season. (Last week: 3-0-0)
 
16Washington Capitals
Last Week: 14
Coach Adam Oates let the boys have it with both barrels after a sloppy performance in Montreal last Friday night. The Caps responded by firing a season-high 50 shots while putting together a better defensive effort against the Maple Leafs on Saturday, but it wasn't enough to snap a three-game losing skid. (Last week: 0-2-1)
 
17Nashville Predators
Last Week: 17
Just when the Preds needed a hero most, here comes goalie Marek Mazanec. A virtual unknown when he stepped in for the faltering Carter Hutton, the Czech rookie has won four of his last five starts, allowing two goals or fewer in each while posting a .946 save percentage. Nashville might be able to survive the loss of Pekka Rinne after all. (Last week: 3-1-0)
 
18Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 13
Frustration is mounting in Vancouver, where the Canucks have just two wins in their last 10 games and an offense that's stuck in neutral. They've been held to just one goal in five of their last eight matches. Coach John Tortorella has kept his cool under the mounting pressure, but how much longer can that last? (Last week: 1-1-2)
 
19Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 16
So much for that hot start. The Leafs have just two regulation wins in November, and that paltry total has put them back in the middle of the Atlantic pack. Terrific goaltending will only take them so far. The offense needs a boost—and it's not Tyler Bozak. (Last week: 2-2-0)
 
20New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 20
They brought a little pride back to the Metropolitan after taking two of three on their California road trip. They're slowly earning back their identity as a tough defensive team, allowing just 15 goals in their last 10 games. (Last week: 2-2-0)
 
21Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 19
The good news? The Wings finally won a game at home, beating the 'Canes to snap an incomprehensible eight-game losing streak at the Joe. The bad news? They went right out and dropped their next game to the Senators. The path to the playoffs is not paved with four wins in 14 home dates, fellas. (Last week: 2-2-0)
 
22Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 21
Maybe we shouldn't be so quick to count Cam Ward out of the mix for Team Canada. Finally getting comfortable after a long stretch on the IR, he made 35 saves in each of his weekend starts. He stole a point in Boston on Saturday before crushing the spirits of the Sens on Sunday. (Last week: 1-1-1)
 
23Winnipeg Jets
Last Week: 18
Winnipeg Jets (11-11-4)
After dropping three straight at home, it's probably just as well that the Jets are out on a six-game road trip. If they hope to turn things around, they need more of what they got in Monday night's opening win in Newark: goals from slumping forwards Evander Kane, Mark Schiefele and Devin Setoguchi. (Last week: 1-1-1)
 
24Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 22
These Sens can't seem to handle prosperity. In the past 10 days they've followed up solid wins over the Bruins and Red Wings with deflating losses to the Blue Jackets and Hurricanes. Guess that's not a big surprise—they've won as many as two in a row just twice this season. (Last week: 1-3-0)
 
25Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 26
They finished their longest road trip of the season with a 3-2 record, capped off by a 6-0 throttling of the Leafs. But as sweet as it was to ring up their largest margin of victory in three years, no one in Columbus is kidding himself. This team lacks the consistency to be taken seriously. (Last week: 2-2-0)
 
26Florida Panthers
Last Week: 27
They finished their five-game road trip with a respectable 2-2-1 mark, then got their five-game homestand off to a good start with a 3-1 win over the Flyers. Goaltender Tim Thomas is starting to get on a roll, with four quality efforts in his last five starts. He looked Olympian on Monday night, stopping 38 of 39 shots against Philly. (Last week: 2-1-1)
 
27Calgary Flames
Last Week: 28
So the secret to winning games in Calgary is get to the shootout and send Sean Monahan to center ice. The dazzling rookie potted the game clincher in each of the Flames' last two wins. That's the hint of promise that'll keep their fans happy through this rebuilding season. (Last week: 1-0-1)
 
28New York Islanders
Last Week: 24
How bad are things on Long Island? Through 24 contests, New York has won just five games in regulation. Only Buffalo (three) has fewer. Might be time for GM Garth Snow to look for a veteran to spell beleaguered netminder Kevin Poulin. The rookie allowed 12 goals on 74 shots last week. (Last week: 0-3-0)
 
29Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 30
Finally, the 2013-14 Oilers entered the franchise record book in non-pratfall fashion. Edmonton scored 14 consecutive goals without yielding one to their opponents last week, tying a mark set by the 1985-86 team, on the way to a three-game winning streak. (Last week: 2-1-0)
 
30Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 29
They were whipped three times last week by a combined score of 11-3, but there's joy in Buffalo because in each of the losses they managed to score first, a trick they'd managed just twice through their first 22 games. Hey, it's something. (Last week: 0-3-0)

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