By Allan Muir
November 17, 2009

Biggest climb: Atlanta Thrashers (9 from 19)

Biggest drop: Colorado Avalanche (12 from 4)

A reminder: These rankings are based on many factors, and not one of them 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, statistics and records noted are through Sunday, so Monday night's action isn't 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
1 New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 2
They may share top spot in the East with the Caps, but these two teams are anything but equals. New Jersey has won all three meetings this season, including an impressive 5-2, come-from-behind win on Saturday that emphasized the superiority of the Devils' approach. No team executes more effectively and consistently at both ends of the ice than Jacques Lemaire's boys. Last week: 3-0
2 San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 1
San Jose Sharks (14-4-4)
Safe to assume that Todd McLellan was a little frustrated Sunday night after his team blew a two-goal lead on the way to a shootout loss for the second time in a week. Clearly, there's room for improvement in managing letdowns. Still, it's tough to be critical of a team that hasn't lost in regulation in 12 straight and has the best goal differential (+20) in the league. Shoot, if there were an All-Star Game this season, the Sharks would field five of the six starters. Last week: 2-0-2
3 Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 9
Buffalo Sabres (12-4-1)
The second game of Friday/Saturday back-to-backs had been their bête noire in the early going: they've lost all three by a combined 13-4. So after a tightly contested 2-1 shootout win over Calgary on Friday, they were set up for a let down on Saturday against the Flyers. Instead, Lindy Ruff flashed some coaching magic and installed a trapping scheme. The payoff: a 3-2 win to extend their winning streak to three games. Last week: 3-0
4 Calgary Flames
Last Week: 8
Calgary Flames (12-4-2)
Their secret recipe for success -- they've won five of six -- is simple: a double scoop of Miikka Kiprusoff and Jarome Iginla. Coach Brent Sutter has been vocal about spotty commitment away from the puck and stretches of soft play, but can't complain about Kipper (who stopped 157 of the last 162 shots; a .969 save pct.) or the captain (five goals in his last five games and some inspiring physical play). Last week: 2-0-1
5 Washington Capitals
Last Week: 3
A four-game win streak propelled them to the top of the conference, but they were reminded of their deficiencies with book-ending losses to the Devils. They're turning over the puck too often and allowing too many odd-man rushes. Wouldn't hurt if their starting goalie mixed in a few stops. Jose Theodore has been beaten on eight of the last 23 shots he's faced, opening the door for Semyon Varlamov (7-1) to assume the bulk of the minutes. Last week: 2-1
6 Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 11
They rebounded from an abysmal showing in Toronto with three wins, outscoring foes 19-6. With so many key players in civvies, they're succeeding by spreading the offense (11 different players scored last week) and getting a sizable return on the power play. They've scored on six of their last 12 chances. Last week: 3-0
7 Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 16
Want to quiet the doubters? Knock off three of the West's top teams in one week. The Hawks reasserted themselves as a contender by taking down San Jose, Colorado and Los Angeles. A strong penalty kill (18 straight before the Sharks snapped in on Sunday) played a key role as did Cristobal Huet making big stops when needed most. After flubbing too many of those in the past, his save on Scott Nichol in the dying moments of the San Jose game had to be a huge confidence-builder. Last week: 4-0
8 Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 5
A five-game win streak was derailed by the Sabres on Saturday, but they're starting to show some swagger. The league's second-best power play (26.4 pct.) is getting a lot of attention, but don't overlook their discipline. After playing shorthanded 393 times last season, they're on pace to be at a disadvantage just 311 times. Last week: 1-1
9 Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 19
It's good to have the captain back. After missing six games with a foot injury, Ilya Kovalchuk's unexpected return (and eight points) helped them stretch their winning streak to four games. Also lending a hand: sophomore Zach Bogosian, whose eight goals lead all defenders, and a power play that tops the charts. Last week: 3-0
10 Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 10
With the offense in hibernation (one goal in each of three previous games), they woke it up the old-fashioned way: by going hard to the net. In their biggest outburst in nearly four years, they blasted eight past a pair of Avs goalies. Four were gimme putts. The big night put a happy ending on an otherwise tough road trip and let them skate into the upcoming five-game homestand on a high note. Last week: 1-2
11 Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 7
If Evgeni Malkin ever felt any insecurity about his importance to this team, its struggles of the last two weeks took care of it. The Pens were 2-5 while he rehabbed a shoulder strain and failed to score a power play goal in 26 chance, but the offense looked decidedly more lethal in his three-assist return against Boston. Now if only they weren't dressing four AHLers on the blueline... Last week: 1-2
12 Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 4
Wonder what Joe Sacco does now. Critical of his team's diminishing intensity, the coach called Saturday's game against Vancouver a must-win. The Avs responded in epic fail fashion, losing 8-2. They've won just two of seven and allowed 16 goals in their current three-game skid. Guess that makes Tuesday's game in Calgary a must-must-win. Last week: 0-1-1
13 Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 6
Given how well they've played, it's easy to forget they're still a young team in rebuilding mode. They offered a stark reminder of that Friday with a 7-0 loss to Atlanta, the worst suffered by the franchise since 1985, then re-asserted their character with a gutsy, physical effort against Tampa Bay. They caught a break with a non-goal call in OT, but that doesn't diminish the efficacy of their approach. Hard work like that will take them a long way. Last week: 2-2
14 Nashville Predators
Last Week: 20
Wait a minute...they've won seven of 10? The team that's scored the fewest goals in the NHL and ices a power play that wouldn't rattle Tommy Hanrahan? Hard to believe, but it goes to show how far a concerted effort will take you. They set a club record with 55 shots on the Habs and though they got just two past Carey Price, they controlled the puck long enough to prevent a comeback. Last week: 2-1
15 Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 12
Phoenix Coyotes (11-8-0)
They'd dropped four of five to start November, so winning one for Dave Tippett over his former team was timely and appreciated. They're struggling with key injuries on the blueline that are shoehorning some players into larger roles for which they're ill-equipped. No surprise that's leading to costly mistakes. They've taken seven delay of game penalties in the last seven games. Last week: 1-1
16 New York Rangers
Last Week: 13
They'd dropped five of six on the road before heading to Ottawa and were playing without Chris Drury and Brandon Dubinsky, so even a shootout win had to feel like a series clincher. They are just 4-7-1 since that blazing 7-1 start, and their flaws were apparent even in victory. For a team that's supposed to be playing a puck possession game, they don't actually possess the puck often enough. Last week: 1-1
17 Dallas Stars
Last Week: 14
Dallas Stars (8-5-6)
The only consistency: inconsistency. Sure, there's something to be said for avoiding losing streaks (they've dropped two in a row just twice), but inability to build on a win is maddening. Rallying from two down in the third in Thursday's 3-2 shootout win in San Jose should have been a springboard to extended success. Instead, they spent most of Saturday night chasing the struggling Yotes. Finish is part of the problem (James Neal has to lead the league in hit posts). So is the lack of a reliable forecheck that creates chances off turnovers. Last week: 1-1
18 Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 15
Steve Mason bought himself a spell on the bench, but it's hard to say what sealed the deal. Was it the eight goals he allowed in Detroit's 9-1 horsewhipping (happy 1,000th game, Hitch!) or his unflattering assessment of his teammates afterward. Nothing wrong with holding the boys accountable, but you need to gain a little more weight before you do it in public, Steve-O. Mathieu Garon looked sharp in a 3-2 bounceback win Saturday and earned another start Monday. Last week: 1-1
19 New York Islanders
Last Week: 21
Bottom line-types will be more than satisfied that they managed to take four of six points on the road, but the big picture is a little more unsettling. They coughed up a lead of at least two goals in each of the games and seem a little too easily satisfied. A young team has a lot of lessons to learn. This group has to figure out how to put the boot on the other side's throat. Last week: 1-0-2
20 Boston Bruins
Last Week: 22
Boston Bruins (8-7-4)
They finally found their scoring touch, but might have been better off if it stayed lost. Nearly flawless defense, and a couple of spectacular performances from Tim Thomas, allowed them to squeeze three of four points from the Pens and Panthers early in the week. But they got into a track meet in the re-match with Pittsburgh and, no surprise, came up short despite scoring five times. When it comes to style, it's pretty clear which look best suits this bunch. Last week: 1-0-2
21 Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 18
The locals have been hard on goalie Pascal Leclaire, criticizing his inconsistent play. Fair enough -- his numbers won't dazzle -- but it's tough to win when a team doesn't score. Their offense is lodged between the Haagen-Dazs and the frozen peas, and it's clear the new guys aren't doing enough to thaw it out. Alexei Kovalev has one goal in his last 10 games. Milan Michalek, two in 10. Jonathan Cheechoo may as well leave his stick on the bench. It's time for one, or all, to start living up to the old pay grade. Last week: 1-1-1
22 Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 23
Four of their last five have gone to extra time, including a pair of shootouts, but this time, their shooters actually came through. After losing their first four SOs (amassing a stunning 0-14 slump), they finally won a skills competition, against the Wild. "It was big to get the monkey off our backs," said Steven Stamkos, who scored the winner. "Next time we get in one, we know we can win." Sure enough, they found themselves in another one just two nights later against L.A. ... and lost. Last week: 1-0-1
23 Florida Panthers
Last Week: 28
They haven't solved all their problems, but are on the verge of putting a couple big ones behind them. Wins over the Bruins and Isles moved them to 4-1 in the shootout, a marked improvement over last season's 3-8. Better yet, word came down that managing partner Alan Cohen will step aside this week, allowing a pair of hockey-savvy minority owners to assume control. You won't see immediate evidence on the ice, but the turnaround officially starts here. So does the party for long-suffering Panthers fans. Last week: 2-0
24 Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 17
Embarrassing. No other way to describe their play of late, especially in that 2-0 loss to Nashville in which they allowed Carey Price to be hammered by 55 shots (just two off the franchise mark). When the puck spends that much time in their zone, it's little wonder they aren't scoring. They've been shut out in two of their last three games and have just seven goals in their last five. Last week: 1-2
25 Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 26
Minnesota Wild (7-11-2)
They were riding high, winners of four of five. Then they came crashing back to reality, losing a trio that were there to be won if not for one sleepy period in each. A 60-minute game may be asking too much, but they have to start doing better than 40. The bright side: they play six of their next seven at Xcel Energy Center, where they're 5-2. Last week: 1-1-2
26 Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 27
Edmonton Oilers (8-10-2)
They've won just two of their last 11, and Pat Quinn's comments after a 3-2 loss to Atlanta sum up the streak: "We had ourselves some troubled moments in our defensive zone coverage." Bumps and bruises have played their part: 11 names were on the injury report at one point last week. But even a healthy lineup will struggle when the blueliners make so many mistakes with the puck and blow so many coverages. Last week: 0-2-1
27 Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 24
Anaheim Ducks (6-9-3)
Tough week for GM Bob Murray. First, he has to read about former starter J-S Giguere pouting that he'd "rather retire than be a back-up" in Anaheim. Then a New Jersey paper revealed that captain Scott Niedermayer thinks "it's a possibility" that he could be dealt this season. Oh, and his Ducks lost three straight to complete their descent into last place in the conference. I'm glad I'm not Murray's dog. Last week: 0-2-1
28 Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 25
They played as though they'd turned some significant corner with a pair of wins in the previous week. Clearly, they hadn't. This team fails to play with urgency, a fact borne out by their consistently poor starts. They've scored first in just one of 18 games and are a league-low -14 in first period goals for/against. Last week: 0-3
29 St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 29
Dave Checketts says his team has "premier coaching...great young talent...terrific veteran leadership...and great goaltending." A show of faith to smooth over nerves in the midst of a 1-7 skid? More like he's setting up the pins. Any time the owner holds an impromptu press conference to rip his team for a lack of effort, you have to think everybody from the GM on down is officially on notice. Last week: 1-2
30 Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 30
A 5-4 shootout win (achieved only after blowing a 4-1 lead) doesn't exactly herald the start of a bright new era in Raleigh, but it had to feel pretty darn sweet. But even as Michael Leighton's pad stop on a nice Marek Zidlicky move put that 14-game losing streak on ice, this hard-luck team still found a way to suffer. Both Joni Pitkanen and Scott Walker were injured in the contest and are out indefinitely. Last week: 1-1-1

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