By Allan Muir
December 08, 2009

Biggest climb: Phoenix Coyotes (8 from 14)

Biggest drop: Philadelphia Flyers (28 from 17)

A reminder: These rankings are based on many factors, and not one is scientific in nature. 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, 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 Washington Capitals
Last Week: 5
Even without Alex Ovechkin -- no doubt a wiser, more considerate soul after serving two-games for his hit on Tim Gleason -- their power play is more dangerous than an angry mistress with a direct line to TMZ. The NHL's top unit (24.6 percent) clicked seven times on 18 chances to key blowout wins over the Flyers and Panthers and help stretch the Caps' season-high streak to five games. Last week: 3-0
2 Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 7
Sure, their shambling power play is proving tougher to fix than the economy, but how critical can you be of a club that's 8-2-1 in its last 11? It became the first team to 20 wins with Thursday's 4-1 drubbing of the Avs. Sidney Crosby's two goals and assist gave him seven goals and 11 points in his last three contests. When he's clicking at that pace, it doesn't much matter if the points come with a man in the box or not. Last week: 2-0-1
3 Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 1
Fans of teams in perpetual rebuild must look at the work of Stan Bowman (and predecessor Dale Tallon) with slack-jawed envy. Not only did the duo construct a Cup contender in short order, but the long-term signings of core players Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith threw down the gauntlet to win now. They'd best take him seriously. If they fail, cap restrictions ensure it'll be a different and likely less talented group next year. Last week: 2-1
4 Calgary Flames
Last Week: 4
Calgary Flames (18-7-3)
Don't dismiss more points on the road than any other team has at home as the product of an imbalanced schedule. Their 11-2-3 mark (4-1 on their current road swing) allowed them to bank points that other teams have, or will, fritter away. No surprise that goaltending has been a mark of their road rage. Miikka Kiprusoff stopped 123 of 126 shots in his four starts, including this see-it-to-believe-it gem. Last week: 2-1
5 San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 2
San Jose Sharks (19-7-5)
A 3-3 mark in their last six drew them back to the West pack and bad habits are creeping in. Stop me if you've heard this before: coach Todd McLellan chastised his first power play unit for its Globetrotter-esque tendency to play pretty rather than hard. The Sharks have scored once in their last 17 PP chances at the Tank and given up four shorties. Expect them to simplify the attack, and commit bodies to the crease this week. Last week: 1-1-1
6 New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 3
While all eyes are focused on the Caps and Pens in the East, the industrious Devils continue to fly under the radar despite a 5-1 record in their last six games. It hasn't been a clean run -- they blew a late two-goal lead before taking out Detroit in a shootout -- but the recent discharge of Rob Niedermayer, Johnny Oduya and Jay Pandolfo from sick bay should strengthen their defensive integrity. Last week: 2-1
7 Boston Bruins
Last Week: 9
Boston Bruins (15-9-5)
Outside of an ugly loss to Montreal, they're back on track (seven wins in last nine) and re-establishing the determined two-way play that defined their 2008-09 success. No coincidence their centers are playing their best hockey. Marc Savard showed he's more than an Olympic-class passer with a hat trick against Toronto. Patrice Bergeron's passion at both ends of the ice and dominance in the face-off circle set him up as a legit depth option for Team Canada. Last week: 2-1
8 Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 14
Phoenix Coyotes (17-11-1)
Dave Tippett was unhappy with the quality of the chances Ilya Bryzgalov has faced lately ("I'd rather see Bryz have to clean up less of those chances and us do the right things in front of him," he said), but the Yotes are doing a great job limiting the quantity. Only two teams are allowing fewer shots (27.1), and Bryzgalov is stopping most of them. He's allowed just seven goals over the last four games, all wins. Last week: 2-0
9 Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 11
Buffalo Sabres (16-8-2)
Their win streak was derailed by Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers before it reached a season-high five on Saturday, but they're still on a roll. The offense has come alive, scoring 19 goals over the past five, and the penalty killing unit has emerged as a game-breaker. It thwarted 41 of the last 44 chances-faced to rocket up to third on the charts. Last week: 2-1
10 Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 12
"I'm concerned," coach Terry Murray told local media with regard to MIA Anze Kopitar. "When you go a dozen games [without scoring] a goal and you're getting the amount of minutes [and] special situations that [he's] getting, that's a concern. Kopi ends up, in overtime, with the puck on his stick on a breakaway, and he loses it. That's not like him." The Kings are 4-1-1 in their last six, but with a growing sense of urgency. Don't be surprised if they deal for a veteran forward to shake up the chemistry. Last week: 2-0-1
11 Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 8
Most fans will cut Ilya Kovalchuk slack, partly because the captain is probably still nursing a broken foot. Still, would it kill him to mix in a little defense? Watching him peel off from Matt Moulson not once, but twice before the Isles' sniper scored in a 4-1 New York win was just the latest example of his growing indifference. Kovy earns his millions at the other end of the ice, but he wears the C by setting the tone. With so many kids here, he needs to be a better example. Last week: 2-1
12 Nashville Predators
Last Week: 5
Aside from a thorough beating of the Hawks, wins and quality defense have been hard to come by since their seven-game streak was snapped on Nov. 27. Dan Ellis and Pekka Rinne have been lit up, but Barry Trotz aimed his criticism at the blueline instead, noting that three goals in a 5-3 loss to the Wild came on tip-ins and the other two were uncontested shots from the slot. Alexander Sulzer was called up on Monday to add spark to the unit. Last week: 1-2-1
13 Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 15
As Nick Lidstrom (no goals in 26 games) and Pavel Datsyuk struggle, young netminder Jimmy Howard is proving Detroit wise for not seeking a veteran backup. Nervous and mistake-prone earlier, he is now giving them their best chance to win. But the ninth-place Wings -- let that settle in for a moment -- remain an underachieving amalgam of ill-fitting parts. There's still time to get the house in order, but it's fair to ask if this is all they'll be. Last week: 2-1-1
14 Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 13
Sometimes, numbers don't add up. How else to explain a team ranking fifth in offense (3.07 goals per game) and a respectable eighth defensively (2.59 allowed) stands 10th in the West? Their sorry play on the road, and a power play that's connected in just one of the last seven games, greased the skids to mediocrity, but they could get turned around quickly. They're a dominant 10-4 at home and, after Tuesday's game in Nashville, return for eight straight. Last week: 2-1
15 Dallas Stars
Last Week: 16
Dallas Stars (13-8-8)
If they hope to emerge from mediocrity, they'll have to loosen the goal strings. In 10 of their last 15 games, they've been limited to two or fewer, and their inability to stretch a lead puts pressure on a young defense that could use breathing room. Their lack of finish is also killing them in the shootout. After Saturday's loss to Edmonton, they're 1-6 in the shootout, scoring on just four of 24 chances. With the talent on hand, that's inexcusable. Last week: 1-1-1
16 Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 19
Minnesota Wild (13-12-3)
They stretched their win streak to five, aided by the persistent presence of Guillaume Latendresse. Since arriving from Montreal, the big winger has established himself as one of their most effective players, using his size and strength to wreak havoc down low. Can he keep it up? If Todd Richards can motivate him to consistent play, Latendresse could develop into an impact player. Last week: 3-0
17 Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 22
Joe Sacco hasn't figured the solution to all his problems -- an abysmal face-off percentage, struggling penalty kill, and the NHL's worst shots for/against ratio could use attention -- but he seems to have found the on switch for floundering forwards Matt Duchene and Chris Stewart. The duo has discovered a potent chemistry, combining for seven goals and 13 points since Sacco paired them the day after American Thanksgiving. Last week: 2-1-1
18 St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 20
St. Louis Blues (12-10-5)
Let's get this straight. With a 30th-ranked power play at a woebegone 12.8 percent, Andy Murray stops coaching the unit. Smart. But does he hand it off to a bright new mind or veteran with an established track record? Nope. It goes back to Ray Bennett, whose system led it to a 30th ranking in 2007-08. No coach is will cure all ills -- not like a legit bomber on the point and consistent crease presence -- but a fresh voice seems like a better bet for a stale unit. Last week: 2-1
19 Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 10
Ottawa Senators (14-10-4)
A shootout win over Anaheim saved them an empty five-game trip. The players were quick to point out the positive impact of the win, but overlooked the obvious. Not only did they need extra time to beat the West's worst team, they allowed the equalizer less than a minute after they'd scored each of their three goals. Hard to correlate that with Cory Clouston's claim that the team showed a lot of "character" in the game. Last week: 1-3
20 Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 18
Sure, Rick Tocchet appears to have no idea what to do with Vincent Lecavalier (hence the earlier-than-usual trade rumors) and their 4-0 smoking of the Isles doesn't come close to eliminating the odor of the four-game winless streak it stopped. But a year after finishing 29th overall, the Bolts are in the playoff hunt. Inconsistency is the hallmark of rebuilding, so wild swings are no surprise. With Steven Stamkos (17 goals) and Victor Hedman (whose ice time is being moderated), they're headed in the right direction. Last week: 1-3
21 New York Islanders
Last Week: 25
It may be Matt Moulson's fate to settle back into obscurity, but he's sure doing a nice job of stretching his time in the sun. The free-agent winger, 26, that nobody wanted got his first NHL hat trick in a 4-1 whipping of Atlanta, giving him a team-leading 14 goals. Not bad for a kid who was coveted more by the National Lacrosse League (37th overall, 2004) than the NHL (263rd overall, 2003). Last week: 1-1
22 New York Rangers
Last Week: 26
New York Rangers (14-14-1)
Their offense's pilot light is still out -- just 10 goals in the last six games -- but they made good use of four days off, addressing a porous defense. Henrik Lundqvist was in top form during the weekend split, stopping 64 of 67 shots, but it helped that he wasn't on his own. "It feels like we are more in control and we are not running around too much," he said after losing 3-1 to Detroit. "We've calmed down a little bit. You don't feel like you have to cover up for anyone else." Last week: 1-2
23 Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 28
Edmonton Oilers (12-13-4)
Modest as it is, victories over Detroit and Dallas gave them their first road win streak of the season, not to mention their first back-to-back wins in more than a month. Jeff Deslauriers rebounded nicely after being pulled in the first period of a 7-3 loss to Vancouver, stopping 64 of 68 shots in the wins. Last week: 2-0
24 Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 21
Colleague Michael Farber aptly described this team as "playing as if it had a lampshade on its head," but their worst recent sins were washed away, for a night, by the culmination of the Centennial celebration and 5-1 win over traditional foils from Boston. For all the naked avarice of retro jerseys and 15 months of self-aggrandizement, there was enough magic in Patrick Roy and Ken Dryden taking warm-ups or Gordie Howe presenting Rocket Richard's sweater to make everything right. Last week: 1-2
25 Florida Panthers
Last Week: 24
Florida Panthers (11-13-5)
Some losses a coach can live with, but it's unlikely Pete DeBoer counts many when his team as lost seven of its last eight. They dropped a pair to Atlanta after giving up last-minute goals and were blown out by the Ovechkin-less Caps. Even their lone win of the week (6-5 win over the Avs) required a shootout after blowing a two-goal lead in the final 53 seconds. Looks like DeBoer has a ways to go before shaking the well-established culture of losing. Last week: 1-2-1
26 Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 23
Anaheim Ducks (10-13-6)
Five straight losses mired them in the West's cellar. Their defenders will note they were competitive (four losses by one goal), but undermined by blowing games in the third period. They allowed three late goals to the Stars, then blew a two-goal lead to the Wild with five minutes left. No team has given up more third period tallies (42). Adding injury to insult: Teemu Selanne will be out 4-6 weeks after surgery on a broken hand. Last week: 0-2-2
27 Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 27
I brought this up in a column last week, but it bears repeating: after being embarrassed by the Leafs 6-3 on Thursday, they've given up at least six goals in seven of their 29 games. Not that they have to get lit up to lose. They've dropped eight of nine because of an inability to finish, a propensity for brutal giveaways, and an evident lack of focus. Sure feels like Ken Hitchcock is losing this room. Last week: 1-2-1
28 Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 17
Peter Laviolette is in and the losing continues. Hard to imagine things getting much worse than the 8-2 drubbing by the Caps in the new coach's debut, but this team may be a long way from turning it around. Losers of seven of eight, outscored 31-14, they're suffering from self-inflicted wounds. Lousy goaltending, ineffective special teams, little net presence and less personal discipline provide an interesting challenge, even for a former Cup-winner like Laviolette. Last week: 0-2
29 Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 29
Alright, so the Phil Kessel's return to Boston didn't quite live up to whatever revenge fantasies he may have had, but the flashy winger more than proved his worth in a 5-2-1 streak. Outside of one nervous effort, he has five goals and seven points in his last seven games and even had his first NHL tilt with Columbus' Kris Russell. Yeah, teammate Jason Blake called it a "pillow fight," but at least the kid is showing some commitment to the cause. Last week: 2-2
30 Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 30
They finally survived a third-period lead, beating Vancouver 5-3 to snap a five-game skid. The trick will be building on it. The only team yet to win a game on the road plays its next four away. "Safe to say we're overdue," said Erik Cole. Might help if they continued to counterattack instead of laying back the next time they get a lead. Could also help to get Cam Ward back. He's to return Wednesday after a month out (seems longer, right?) with a lacerated leg. Last week: 1-1

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