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Roenick: Nashville Predators are getting lazy
1:16 | NHL
Roenick: Nashville Predators are getting lazy
SI Staff
Tuesday February 24th, 2015

Welcome to the newest installment of our 2014–15 NHL Power Rankings. For the third straight week, the Predators hold the top spot, the second time in a row they've been our unanimous choice. But there's been some scuttling about below, particularly the rise into the top 10 of the reigning Stanley Cup champions who seem to making one of their patented late season charges after sleepwalking through much of the schedule.

Our three sage scribes—Allan Muir, Sarah Kwak and Sam Page—lovingly submitted their detailed choices for the top 10 and ranked all 30 teams. Our final order has been carefully weighted according to results on the ice during the week, strength of competition, a quick glimpse at the tea leaves (future schedule, injuries), spiritual guidance from The Great Beyond via our ouijaboard handcrafted from old WHA sticks, a coin toss or two, and how high each club came in on each of our writers’ ballots. In some cases another purely intuitive, wholly unscientific and certifiably criminal method was used to break ties, rank teams that were chosen by only one or two writers, and make veins bulge on your forehead and neck.

We’ve presented the 30 teams in groups, with the Top 10 receiving the most trenchant commentary. Overview paragraphs precede both the Middle 10 and Bottom 10. Weekly movement up or down has been duly noted. So without further ado, commence to stew!

THE TOP 10
 
  • 1
    1Nashville Predators
     
    last week: 1
    record: 40-13-7
    MUIR (1): That 2-1-1 record last week reminded us that the Predators aren't quite a machine, but they're still the most dangerous team in hockey—especially on the back end. Nashville has picked up 152 points from its blueliners, tops in the league. And now that they've added Cody Franson to a group that already includes Shea Weber and Roman Josi, they have three of the top 25 defensive scorers. In a league where the ability to effectively move the puck is everything, that's an incredible advantage.
     
    KWAK (1): A bump on the road—losing to the Islanders and in a shootout to the Flyers last week—still can’t derail the Preds, who have built a six-point lead on the rest of the league with just about 22 games left to go in the season. Nashville’s depth is beginning to come through, as winger Craig Smith scored four times in the team's last five games. He leads the Preds with 188 shots on goal, while starting the majority of his shifts in the defensive zone.
     
    PAGE (1): The Preds played their worst hockey of the season against non-conference opponents (Isles, Flyers, Sabres). Still, they managed to take three out of six points and keep a decent lead in the Presidents Trophy race. Franson and Mike Santorelli finally dressed for the game against Philly, and in Buffalo they contributed a key assist and a shootout goal, respectively.
     
    Last week: 2-1-1

  • 2
    2St. Louis Blues
     
    last week: 2
    record: 38-17-4
    MUIR (6): This team has played too well for too long for anyone to push the panic button just yet, but there has to be some growing concern about the play of Brian Elliott, doesn't there? In his past six appearances, the All-Star keeper has allowed 18 goals on just 146 shots. That .876 save percentage won't cut it down the stretch ... and it would look even worse in the first round where another showdown with Chicago seems almost inevitable. Don't be surprised to see Jake Allen (.946 save percentage and 3-0 mark in his past five appearances) draw a heavier workload during the next few weeks.
     
    KWAK (2): Dropping two of three this week, the Blues have been stymied by slow starts. They were outscored by opponents 5-0 and outshot 27-19 in the first periods of all three games. Standing second in the Central Division with a five-point lead over Chicago, and third in the West behind Nashville and Anaheim, St. Louis better make a habit of beating teams from the opening draw.
     
    PAGE (2): Good news: Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (abdominal injury) is skating! Bad news: Kevin Shattenkirk is still a ways away from playing hockey. More bad news: The Ducks have lost two of their last three and remain three points ahead for second in the West. More good news: The Blackhawks (fourth) played worse!
     
    Last week: 1-2-0

  • 3
    3Montreal Canadiens
     
    last week: 3
    record: 38-16-5
    MUIR (5): The Habs aren't just winning. They're doing it with one of the youngest lineups in the NHL. For last Thursday night's win over Florida, coach Michel Therrien dressed seven rookies. Nathan Beaulieu, pressed into action by Sergei Gonchar's head injury, has been particularly impressive. The 22-year-old has shaken off his early season jitters and emerged as Montreal's most creative and confident puck mover not named P.K. Subban. Beaulieu has averaged better than 24 minutes per night during the past three games, a sign of Therrien's growing confidence in him.
     
    KWAK (3): Goalie Carey Price has been carrying the Canadiens for most of the season, leading the league with a .935 save percentage and 1.91 GAA (both career numbers for the 27-year-old netminder). But he’s getting some help from his offense, namely from wingers Brendan Gallagher and Max Pacioretty, who have combined for six goals in Montreal’s last four games.
     
    PAGE (3): That the Habs have averaged only 2.38 goals during their past eight games and still managed to go 5–1–2 over that span tells you everything you need to know about this team. Price runs the show and is their only hope for winning the Stanley Cup. GM Marc Bergevin may very well swing a big move at the deadline in an effort to get Price some help, but unless he can trade for a new coach, it probably won't prove to be that transformative.
     
    Last week: 1-1-1

  • 4
    4New York Rangers
     
    last week: 5
    record: 36-16-6
    MUIR (4): I'm more bullish on the Rangers than my cohorts, but I have to respect a team that's lost only once in regulation this month (8-1-2) while pulling within two points of top spot in the Metro. Have they always looked sharp in the process? No, especially during their past couple of games where third-period leads have been treated a little too cavalierly. But for a team that's playing in front of a struggling Cam Talbot instead of the steady Henrik Lundqvist, the Blueshirts have shown remarkable resilience.
     
    KWAK (6): Lundqvist (neck injury) can take his time, it seems, as the Rangers’ offense has simply caught fire, leading the league in scoring since the All-Star break. Rick Nash has obviously led the charge with nine goals in his last 14 games, but the offensive well looks deep in New York. Mats Zuccarello, Carl Hagelin and Kevin Hayes each have five goals and at least 10 points since the break while New York has gone 9-3-2.
     
    PAGE (7): Hank who? An explosive offense (4.71 goals per game) during their last seven games has the Rangers powering through Lundqvist's rehab. Never mind that their 9.3% even strength shooting percentage is the biggest fluke in hockey. Long live King Cam!
     
    Last week: 2-0-1

  • 5
    5Anaheim Ducks
     
    last week: 8
    record: 38-16-7
    MUIR (8): The Ilya Bryzgalov Experiment behind them, the Ducks may have shaken off their early-February blahs thanks to John Gibson. They've won three straight with the rookie in net, including Monday night against Detroit when they came back from a three-goal third period deficit to knock off the Red Wings, 4–3 in the shootout. Look for GM Bob Murray to reward them with reinforcements ahead of the deadline.
     
    KWAK (7): A pair of road wins could be just what the Ducks need to wake them from a lackluster February, when they went 3-4-1 before beating Calgary and Edmonton last week. They hold a 10-point lead in the Pacific, but a middling finish could lead to some trepidation come mid-April.
     
    PAGE (5): Five is as high as the Ducks go on my list. Beating up on the Alberta teams en route to embarrassing a rusty Jimmy Howard does not qualify as bouncing back in my stern, unforgiving book.
     
    Last week: 3-1-0

  • 6
    6Tampa Bay Lightning
     
    last week: 7
    record: 37-19-6
    MUIR (10): No, they haven't won more than two in a row since the middle of January, but then again they've managed to keep their heads above water during an absolutely brutal stretch of the schedule. It helps that Steven Stamkos is heating up again after a long dry spell, scoring four goals in his past six games.
     
    KWAK (4): Ondrej Palat, a gem who was picked from the depths of the seventh round in 2011, has been the less heralded force on the Lightning’s excellent second line. But the 23-year-old winger is making waves of his own, with four goals and seven points during Tampa Bay’s grueling five-game Western Conference swing.
     
    PAGE (6): The Lightning in a nutshell: They scored an average of four goals per game in three games this week and went 2–1. Apparently my calls for Andrei Vasilevskiy to challenge Ben Bishop's starting gig were premature.
     
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 7
    7Chicago Blackhawks
     
    last week: 4
    record: 35-20-5
    MUIR (12): It's not just the 6-2 thumping they suffered at the hands of the slumping Bruins that knocked Chicago down to the second tier of my rankings. The Hawks have just one regulation win in their past seven games. We all know what they can do, but until they start doing it it's hard to justify handing them a top 10 spot.
     
    KWAK (9): The 6-2 shellacking at the hands of the Bruins on Sunday afternoon, their third straight loss, could serve as a warning bell for the Blackhawks, who have just eight regulation wins in their last 23 games. Their power play has been a middling 18.4% this season.
     
    PAGE (4): While fans of other Western Conference powers rightly fear the resurgent Kings as a sleeping giant, should the same not be true of the Hawks? After three straight losses — the latest two were totally abysmal — they sit 12 points behind the Predators. Yet few, I suspect, would pick Nashville over Chicago in a Western Conference final.
     
    Last week: 0-2-1

  • 8
    8New York Islanders
     
    last week: 6
    record: 39-20-2
    MUIR (13)
     
    KWAK (5): Center John Tavares, on pace for a career-best 83 points, has become an absolute force for the Islanders, particularly in the prolonged absence of injured winger Kyle Okposo (eye). Fourth in the NHL with 62 points, the former No. 1 pick has had a hand in half of the Islanders’ last 22 goals.
     
    PAGE (8): Pyrrhic victory of the week goes to the Isles, who impressively beat the league's best team, 5–2, at home, but lost Mikhail Grabovski indefinitely after a big hit from Eric Nystrom. Figures that Mr. Islander's kid would be amped up and out for blood in his last game in Nassau Coliseum.
     
    Last week: 2-1-1

  • 9
    9Los Angeles Kings
     
    last week: 14
    record: 28-18-12
    MUIR (2): Two weeks ago, the Kings were five points out of the wild card race and fading fast. Now? They've morphed into a black and silver steamroller, grinding out seven straight wins to seize third spot in the Pacific Division. Their offense, led by a revamped That 70s Line, is starting to click, the defense is tightening up, and Jonathan Quick is back in all-world form, compiling a 1.86 GAA and .934 save percentage during the hot streak. Fear them.
     
    KWAK (12)
     
    PAGE (11)
     
    Last week: 2-0-0

  • 10
    10Washington Capitals
     
    last week: 11
    record: 33-18-10
    MUIR (9): Outside of failing to match the desperation of the Flyers—twice—the Capitals have strung together a pretty sturdy February, winning eight of 12 to solidify their hold on a playoff berth. Braden Holtby continues to excel (.932 save percentage this month), but how about the play of Nicklas Backstrom, who has quietly assumed a share of the league scoring lead with 14 points in those 12 games? Are we seeing the emergence of a darkhorse MVP candidate?
     
    KWAK (8): A big game against the Penguins on Wednesday could shake up the Metropolitan standings, vaulting the Capitals into third and out of the wild card spot for the first time since October. The odds are good for Washington, which has won all three meetings against Sidney Crosby’s group this season.
     
    PAGE (10): Barry Trotz has always been a "second half" coach, but that's an easier distinction to earn when a player like Alex Ovechkin can score eight points in three games. Washington will occupy the last spot on my rankings as long as I'm bored of writing up Pittsburgh.
     
    Last week: 3-1-0

[pagebreak]

Sidney Crosby is averaging 1.09 points per game this season, a career low for the vaunted Penguins captain, and his 49.2 face-off percentage hasn’t been lower since his rookie season in 2005-06. And the Penguins’ season has mirrored his—inconsistent and frustrating for a perennial power. Crosby frustration of late seemed to reach a boiling point when the star dropped the gloves in a 2-1 loss to Columbus last week. A light week—just two games until March 4—should give Pittsburgh a chance to regroup. But maybe the best thing that could happen to the Penguins would be sliding into a wild card spot and a possible first-round meeting with an Atlantic Division foe. Pittsburgh has devoured the Atlantic this season, running its mark to 14-2-3 after crushing the Panthers on Sunday. Then again, it might not matter who the Pens face. Patrick Hornqvist scored in consecutive games last week to wake a dormant power play. If they start clicking with the extra man, watch out. 

NHL
David Krejci's injury could sink Bruins' playoff hopes, force GM's hand

What more can you say about the Wild? They are 13-2-2 since the trade to acquire Devan Dubnyk from Arizona, and 11-1-1 since the All-Star break, they're the hottest team in the game right now. Granted, they've faced a creampuff schedule, but you can only beat the teams the schedulemaker puts at the other end of the ice. And while Dubnyk is getting all the credit, here's a tip of the cap to coach Mike Yeo whose decision to break up his top line a week ago has resulted in a more balanced and effective offense.

Detroit's Jimmy Howard has looked pretty poor since his return from injury. And his breaking-in period needs to comes to an abrupt halt on Tuesday night as he stares down the ultra-hot Kings. Meanwhile, someone tell coach Mike Babcock to #FreePulkkinen.

The Bruins finally snapped their six-game winless streak with an emphatic win over Chicago, but they are still a far cry from where they want to be. And with David Krejci back on injury watch, Boston will have to fight hard to hang onto the second wild card spot—or make a move to fill in gaps in their uncharacteristically iffy defense.

THE MIDDLE 10
 
  • 11
    11Pittsburgh Penguins
     
    last week: 10
    record: 34-17-9
    MUIR: 7
    KWAK: 10
    PAGE: 12
    Last week: 1-2-0

  • 12
    12Minnesota Wild
     
    last week: 15
    record: 31-21-7
    MUIR: 3
    KWAK: 14
    PAGE: 13
    Last week: 3-0-0

  • 13
    13Detroit Red Wings
     
    last week: 9
    record: 33-14-11
    MUIR: 11
    KWAK: 11
    PAGE: 9
    Last week: 2-0-1

  • 14
    14Vancouver Canucks
     
    last week: 16
    record: 34-22-3
    MUIR: 18
    KWAK: 13
    PAGE: 14
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 15
    15Winnipeg Jets
     
    last week: 13
    record: 30-20-11
    MUIR: 17
    KWAK: 15
    PAGE: 15
    Last week: 0-1-1

  • 16
    16Calgary Flames
     
    last week: 12
    record: 32-23-4
    MUIR: 15
    KWAK: 16
    PAGE: 18
    Last week: 0-1-1

  • 17
    17San Jose Sharks
     
    last week: 17
    record: 30-23-8
    MUIR: 16
    KWAK: 17
    PAGE: 17
    Last week: 1-2-0

  • 18
    18Philadelphia Flyers
     
    last week: 20
    record: 26-23-11
    MUIR: 14
    KWAK: 21
    PAGE: 19
    Last week: 2-1-1

  • 19
    19Boston Bruins
     
    last week: 18
    record: 29-21-9
    MUIR: 20
    KWAK: 18
    PAGE: 16
    Last week: 1-1-1

  • 20
    20Florida Panthers
     
    last week: 19
    record: 26-21-12
    MUIR: 19
    KWAK: 20
    PAGE: 20
    Last week: 2-2-0

NHL
NHL playoff expansion proposal is a winner for fans and owners

And it's pretty much church for the Stars, sports fans. Needing to win two-of-three over the weekend to remain in playoff contention, Dallas managed to grab just a single point against the Red Wings—and it only earned that one after a third-period collapse so epic that nothing like it had been seen in the NHL since 1934. Expect the Stars to go into sell mode this week, moving Erik Cole, Shawn Horcoff and possibly even the recently acquired Jhonas Enroth.

With the March 2 trade deadline just around the corner, Carolina could make for an alluring trade partner. Defenseman Andrej Sekera’s name has been tossed around, as has forward Jiri Tlusty. But reports suggest that center Jordan Staal is attracting some serious interest from his former team, Pittsburgh. Though Staal has just 14 points in 22 games this season, his former team knows his worth. The Penguins have missed the two-way center since trading him in 2012. 

THE BOTTOM 10
 
  • 21
    21Colorado Avalanche
     
    last week: 22
    record: 26-23-11
    MUIR: 21
    KWAK: 22
    PAGE: 21
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 22
    22Dallas Stars
     
    last week: 21
    record: 27-24-9
    MUIR: 24
    KWAK: 19
    PAGE: 23
    Last week: 1-2-1

  • 23
    23New Jersey Devils
     
    last week: 26
    record: 25-26-9
    MUIR: 22
    KWAK: 23
    PAGE: 22
    Last week: 4-0-0

  • 24
    24Ottawa Senators
     
    last week: 23
    record: 24-23-10
    MUIR: 23
    KWAK: 26
    PAGE: 24
    Last week: 2-0-0

  • 25
    25Columbus Blue Jackets
     
    last week: 24
    record: 26-28-4
    MUIR: 25
    KWAK: 24
    PAGE: 25
    Last week: 2-1-1

  • 26
    26Carolina Hurricanes
     
    last week: 25
    record: 21-30-7
    MUIR: 26
    KWAK: 25
    PAGE: 27
    Last week: 1-2-0

  • 27
    27Toronto Maple Leafs
     
    last week: 29
    record: 24-31-5
    MUIR: 28
    KWAK: 28
    PAGE: 26
    Last week: 1-2-0

  • 28
    28Phoenix Coyotes
     
    last week: 27
    record: 20-33-7
    MUIR: 29
    KWAK: 27
    PAGE: 28
    Last week: 1-2-0

  • 29
    29Edmonton Oilers
     
    last week: 28
    record: 17-34-10
    MUIR: 27
    KWAK: 29
    PAGE: 29
    Last week: 1-2-0

  • 30
    30Buffalo Sabres
     
    last week: 30
    record: 17-38-5
    MUIR: 30
    KWAK: 30
    PAGE: 30
    Last week: 1-1-2

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