By Allan Muir
December 29, 2009

Biggest climb: Montreal Canadiens (14 from 25)

Biggest drop: Edmonton Oilers (28 from 22)

A reminder: These rankings are based on many factors, and not one is scientific. They're heavily influenced by recent play, taking into account expectations versus achievement, quality of opponents, injuries, hot or cold streaks, lucky bounces, bad breaks, travel schedule, 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 noted are through Sunday, so keep in mind that Monday night's action doesn't factor into the equation.

Want to send me a comment about the rankings or maybe a cool video clip that cries out to be shared? 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
1 Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 2
They've won seven of eight, including consecutive shutouts of the hated Red Wings and a home-and-home smackdown of the hard-charging Predators. Their 55 points are the most they've accumulated after 38 games since 1982-83 when they had 56. And don't look now, but their oft-maligned goaltenders lead the league with a 2.00 GAA. Last week: 2-1
2 Washington Capitals
Last Week: 4
Things couldn't get much better. Third-stringer Michal Neuvirth steps in and bests Ryan Miller and Martin Brodeur. Alex Ovechkin has at least three points in three straight. GM George McPhee smartly buys himself time by signing Alex Semin to a one-year extension, then creates valuable cap space by foisting Chris Clark and Milan Jurcina on Columbus. Shoot, even their AHL and ECHL farm teams are in first overall. Last week: 2-0
3 New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 1
Washington on Saturday stopped their five-game win streak. Jacques Lemaire blamed the distracted loss on his team's four-day layoff, but you'd think the Caps would be the sort of opponent they wouldn't have trouble getting up for, right? The return of power forward David Clarkson, who missed a month with a broken fibula, should provide the grit they need to get past that bump. Last week: 1-1
4 San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 8
San Jose Sharks (23-8-7)
If you're playing them, prepare to be under seige in the second period. San Jose has scored 56 goals, by far the most in the league, in that frame. They padded their totals last week, breaking open games with Dallas and Anaheim with five middle stanza tallies. Joe Thornton continued his domination of the Ducks with three assists. He now has 11 points in four games against Anaheim this season. Last week: 3-0
5 Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 3
A schizophrenic week. They were shut out by the Devils 4-0 on Monday, blasted the Sens 8-2 on Wednesday, then shambled through a loss to the Leafs on Sunday. Keep an eye on Evgeni Malkin, who is starting to look a bit flustered. His penalty against Toronto was his 11th minor in his last 15 games. Last week: 1-2
6 Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 10
Phoenix Coyotes (24-13-2)
Wins over the Jackets, Ducks and Kings boosted their streak to nine straight at home, equaling the franchise record set in 1992-93 when they still played in front of an oversized picture of the Queen. Looks like the fans are starting to take notice. The crowd for the L.A. game was estimated at 15,000, the largest since the season-opening sell-out. Last week: 3-0
7 Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 9
You won't see many meltdowns worse than the one on Tuesday. After shutting out the Ducks with a crisp, controlled game for 52 minutes, they allowed four goals in the final eight and fell 4-2. The loss was emblematic of their play with the lead of late. Sit back and let the opposition dictate the play too often and it'll catch up to you. To their credit, the Avs rebounded nicely against the Stars, thanks to 39 saves from seldom-used backup Peter Budaj and 29-year-old rookie Chris Durno's first NHL goal. Last week: 2-1
8 Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 6
Buffalo Sabres (23-11-4)
After making just three appearances in the first two months, Patrick Lalime's been called on three times in the past two weeks to spell Ryan Miller. He's responded well, going 2-0-1 with a 1.62 GAA and .949 save percentage, and was exceptional in Saturday's 5-3 win over the Blues. With Miller likely to get additional rest as the Olympics approach, Sabres fans shouldn't have to worry if Lalime sees more action. Last week: 2-1-1
9 Boston Bruins
Last Week: 12
Boston Bruins (19-11-7)
Tim Thomas' up-and-down season continues. In his last four games, the reigning Vezina-winner has held Florida to one goal and shut out the Sens, but he's also been lit up for four by Atlanta and Chicago. Meanwhile, backup Tuukka Rask hasn't allowed more than two goals in his last eight outings (5-1-1 over that stretch). Goaltending controversy? Maybe not yet, but Rask is pushing the veteran toward obsolescence with each solid start. Last week: 3-0
10 Nashville Predators
Last Week: 5
With a home-and-home series offering a chance to close the gap on the first-place Hawks, they came out inexplicably flat in a 4-1 loss on Saturday, then allowed four third-period goals in a 5-4 loss in Chicago on Sunday. Unusual to see them beat themselves with turnovers and soft defensive play. On the bright side, Martin Erat's stayed hot. The winger scored in both contests, giving him 10 so far in December. Last week: 0-3
11 Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 7
An eight-day layoff didn't help salvage a disappointing four-game road trip. They went 1-3 against conference foes, scoring just seven times. The goals might not come any easier as they return home. Though Ryan Smyth is back after missing 15 games with a rib injury, they lost first-liner Justin Williams for up to three months with a broken leg. Last week: 0-1
12 Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 14
They took 12 of 16 points from their extended eight-game home stand, but Sunday's win in Calgary was big news. With the worst road record in the conference, a decisive win in a barn where they'd been knocked around twice this season was something to celebrate. With their next three on the road, they need to build a little momentum away from GM Place. Last week: 3-0
13 Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 11
Minnesota Wild (19-16-3)
Through his first 24 games, Martin Havlat set himself up as one of the season's biggest disappointments, scoring just two goals and 11 points while playing at a dismal minus-17. Over the last nine games, however, the Wild are starting to get their money's worth out of their key offseason acquisition. Havlat's gone 5-5-10 and is a plus-7. Last week: 2-1
14 Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 25
If the last four games were intended to showcase the talents of Jaroslav Halak for potential trade partners, it's hard to imagine his stock getting much higher. The backup has been sensational since shutting out the Isles on Dec. 19, stopping 180 of 186 shots while powering the Habs to a four-game win streak. Just checking, Bob: are you sure this is the guy you want to deal? Last week: 3-0
15 Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 15
Where would they be without Todd Bertuzzi and Jimmy Howard? They got a pair of goals from Big Bert to top Columbus 2-1 on Saturday and snap a three-game losing skid. Bertuzzi, left to carry the offense on his own with nine regulars sidelined, has eight goals in his last eight contests and gave the team its first power play marker in seven games. Howard, who stopped 28 shots, continues to look like best option in net. Last week: 1-1
16 Calgary Flames
Last Week: 13
Calgary Flames (20-12-5)
How bad's December been? At the start, they had a nine-point lead on the Canucks. After being whipped 5-1 by them at the Saddledome on Sunday, they now trail their divisional rival by a point. No wonder Brent Sutter is promising changes. If Olli Jokinen (just two third period shifts in that contest) doesn't find a way to earn his keep, the change that gets made may be him. Last week: 0-1-1
17 New York Rangers
Last Week: 24
New York Rangers (18-16-4)
The Christmas break -- and maybe the physical challenge posed by the Isles -- snapped the momentum of their four-game win streak, but they proved they can play with a little intensity when properly motivated. Chris Drury finally showed his C-worthiness with three goals, and Ryan Callahan chipped in with six points to help power the surge. Now if only they could get something out of the comedy team of Redden and Rozsival. Last week: 2-0-1
18 Dallas Stars
Last Week: 18
Dallas Stars (16-11-11)
It's weird. They have the eighth-ranked offense and 11th-rated power play, but watching them leaves the impression that this is the most snake-bitten team in the league. If the NHL kept stats on posts hit and open nets missed, Dallas would probably pace the circuit. The Stars score, but rarely when they need it most -- and that's why they remain mired in the middle of the pack. Last week: 1-2
19 Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 16
It's bad enough that they've surrendered the extra point in overtime or the shootout on nine occasions, but after dropping a 3-2 decision to the Habs on Saturday, they've given away five of those points to divisional opponents. With three of the remaining four points going to conference foes, the Leafs are digging themselves a deep hole. Last week: 1-1-2
20 Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 19
Ottawa Senators (19-15-4)
A shootout win over the Sabres on Saturday put a positive finish on a pretty lousy week. Shut out by the Bruins on Monday and blown out 8-2 Wednesday by the Penguins (despite outshooting them 47-36), Ottawa learned that captain and leading scorer Daniel Alfredsson would be lost four-six weeks with a shoulder injury. Last week: 1-2
21 Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 17
If the whispers are accurate that Ilya Kovalchuk is gunning for the max cap hit of $11 million-plus in his next contract, then Don Waddell doesn't have much choice, does he? Atlanta's a middle of the road team now, and a crippling contract would strand them there for a decade. The question: do you trust the man who has failed to build a solid support group during Kovalchuk's seven-year tenure to acquire enough in return to make a trade worthwhile? Last week: 0-2-1
22 Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 20
Anaheim Ducks (15-16-7)
Worried about the leg laceration that sent Ryan Getzlaf to the sidelines with Teemu Selanne and Joffrey Lupul? Here's a little sunshine: There's lots of talk about Boston owning Toronto's first pick next year, but how about Anaheim holding on to Philadelphia's? The way the Flyers are going, the Ducks could easily end up with Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin. Certainly would make the pain of this aggravating season easier to stomach. Last week: 1-2
23 Florida Panthers
Last Week: 21
Florida Panthers (16-17-7)
They meekly turned the other cheek when star forward David Booth was knocked senseless by a Mike Richards hit in October, but served up a piping cold dish of revenge on the Flyers on Monday. Bryan McCabe challenged Richards in one of four bouts, and Florida smacked the dispirited Flyers in Philly, 4-1. That sort of character-builder should have rolled over into the next game, but they dropped that one to the Rangers and another on Sunday to the Bruins. Tough to figure this team out. Last week: 1-2
24 Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 28
A listless effort at home against Florida on Monday extended their losing slide to four, but they showed signs of life on the road, taking the first three of a six-game swing by knocking off the Bolts, Canes and Isles. While each had its moments of drama, they found the confidence to respond. They're getting solid netminding from Michael Leighton, who won three in a row for the first time in his career. Last week: 3-1
25 Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 27
After winning just one of nine to start the month, they've rebounded with solid hockey to take three of four. They didn't take out Cup contenders in the Blues, Isles and Thrashers, but this team needs to bank wins (and gain confidence) where it can. They might make it easier on themselves if they could get off to better starts. They've allowed the first goal in seven consecutive games. Last week: 2-1
26 St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 23
St. Louis Blues (17-16-5)
They responded to an R. Lee Ermey-style tongue lashing from owner Dave Checketts with big road wins over Calgary and Edmonton, then washed away what good will they'd earned with brutally disappointing weekend losses. They allowed three third period goals to seal home defeats to the Wild and the Sabres and have won just once in their last seven at Scottrade Center (6-12-2; NHL's worst home record). Andy Murray points to poor effort one night, poor execution the next, but the excuses are becoming less palatable as the losses mount. Last week: 2-2
27 New York Islanders
Last Week: 26
It's tough to win when you don't score, and no team is having a harder time lighting the lamp. The league's 30th-ranked offense has managed to score as many as three goals just twice in the last 12 games. One required OT and the other featured an empty-netter. John Tavares has just one goal and two points in his last nine. Last week: 2-2
28 Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 22
Edmonton Oilers (15-19-4)
They've been decent five-on-five, but their losing streak stretched to six thanks to a steady stream of bad penalties and poor special teams play. Saturday's 4-1 loss to the Canucks was decided by two power play goals allowed in an 18-second span and they conceded four PP goals to the Blues in Monday's 7-2 blowout. "We're not executing like we should," said Ethan Moreau, slipping into the cape and tights of Captain Obvious one last time in 2009. Last week: 0-3
29 Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 30
When there aren't many real wins to celebrate, it's okay to take a little comfort from the occasional moral victory. After getting smoked by the Rangers and Habs, scoring just once in each loss, they showed some resilience against the Flyers, fighting back from down 3-0 late in the third before losing in the shootout. Last week: 0-2-1
30 Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 29
The lifeless Jackets were winless in nine (0-7-2), tying a franchise record, and 2-12-5 in their last 19, another mark for futility. After backing up coach Ken Hitchcock, GM Scott Howson had little choice but to shake up the room. His big move? Chris Clark and Milan Jurcina from the Caps for Jason Chimera. Meh. Clark hasn't been the same since a pair of long-term injuries, and traffic was snarled around the Verizon Center as fans battled for the right to drive Jurcina to the airport. The recipe may have changed, but this is still one foul-smelling stew. Last week: 0-3

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