By Brian Cazeneuve
March 16, 2011

NOTE: All stats and records through games of Monday, March 14.

NHL Power Rankings
1 Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 1
Sizzling, they won six straight and forged their first sweep of a five-game road trip since January 1992. Daniel Sedin has been leading the charge with three-point efforts against Phoenix and San Jose and 11 total points during the streak. "With the depth we have, we aren't always going to have to play at 100 percent," says Daniel's twin, Henrik. That's a scary thought for the rest of the league. Last week: 4-0-0
2 Washington Capitals
Last Week: 4
In what could be one more sign that this is the Caps' year after all, they may have found their go-to goalie for the postseason. The NHL named rookie Braden Hotlby its First Star of the Week. In his last four games, Holtby has four wins, a .965 save percentage and a 1.05 goals-against average. In all, he has lost only twice in 12 starts. "He's playing with all kinds of poise," says coach Bruce Boudreau, "and it's something you don't always see in a 21-year old." Last week: 3-0-0
3 Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 3
Coming off three losses, they grabbed five a possible six points from Edmonton, Toronto and Atlanta, three teams that may miss the playoffs. Still, the 2010 Stanley Cup finalists received the tough news that captain Chris Pronger will miss three or four weeks ? likely the rest of the regular season ? because of a fracture in his bothersome right hand. Doctors will insert a screw to stabilize it. Erik Gustafsson was recalled from the minors for insurance. Last week: 2-0-1
4 Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 6
With the playoffs looming, two veterans are nearing their returns: goalie Chris Osgood and defenseman Brian Rafalski. Osgood passed the 400-win plateau before missing 27 games with a sports hernia. Rafalski, who topped the 500-point mark, has been out since Feb. 24 with a sore lower back. Both have won multiple Stanley Cups, including Rafalski's with New Jersey. Surely their savvy and experience will be a plus. Last week: 2-1-0
5 Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 10
It was only for a practice, but Sidney Crosby skated for the first time since leaving the lineup in early January because of concussion symptoms. He shot pucks and stick-handled around cones without incident. The captain was leading the NHL with 32 goals and 66 points, but has missed 29 games. As well as the Pens have played without him, he is essential to a deep playoff run. The crucial question now: when will he be ready for game action? Last week: 2-1-0
6 San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 5
San Jose Sharks (39-23-8)
Despite dropping four of five after a hot streak, they remain a tough out: two of their losses were in OT and one to Chicago was only their fourth in regulation in their last 25 matches. Yet there were danger signs in that 6-3 waxing by the Hawks: "We were looking for a win the easy way," coach Todd McLellan groused. "I don't know why we chose that route tonight, but it's not the recipe we've followed for success." On a positive note, key defenseman Dan Boyle returned after six games out with the ever-nebulous "upper-body injury." Last week: 1-1-2
7 Boston Bruins
Last Week: 2
Boston Bruins (38-21-9)
After a seven-game win streak, they dropped four in a row and were engulfed in the Zdeno Chara-Max Pacioretty furor. Coach Claude Julien lamented his team's inability to control games. "I think the other teams are simply playing with the puck more than they should," he said. Mindful of his team's recent sweep of a six-game road trip, Julien was actually happy to be leaving Boston again. "We have to turn this around, hopefully on this trip. Maybe that's what we need this time of year." Last week: 0-2-1
8 Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 3
The goal strapped Bolts had won once in seven outing before raking the Leafs, 6-2. With their top line still struggling and scoring just once, other players chipped in, as they'll need to do down the stretch. "The message was you can't have Stamkos, St. Louis and Lecavalier and wait for them to score goals while you defend well on the other lines," coach Guy Boucher wisely noted. Last week: 2-2-0
9 Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 7
They fashioned an impressive 3-0 shutout in Pittsburgh with a fallen teammate in mind. Virtually every Hab said after the game that he still had Max Pacioretty in his thoughts as the injured forward began the long recovery from the concussion and fractured vertebra he suffered against Boston. "It was an emotional period for a couple of days," said Mike Cammalleri, who scored against the Pens. "That might have had something to do with it." Last week: 2-1-0
10 Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 14
They thrust themselves back above the playoff cutoff with a perfect week, but they'd surely be out of the mix without leading scorer Anze Kopitar. Watch him play and note his willingness to go to the net and skate into traffic. That makes it all the more remarkable that he was one game away from setting the franchise mark for consecutive games-played (325, one more than Marcel Dionne). The price? An 18-stitch cut in his mouth. "It was painful," he said, "but I'm not skating with my face." Last week: 3-0-0
11 Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 13
Phoenix Coyotes (36-23-11)
They may not be long for Arizona, thanks to the folks at the Goldwater Institute, but they've gamely taken seven points out of their last eight while getting contributions across the board. "The fun thing about being on this team is that we count on every single guy," captain Shane Doan said after downing the Ducks, 5-2. Still, after a wave of streaks ? eight straight wins, followed by five games without one ? the Yotes aren't a playoff lock in the spandex-tight West. Last week: 2-0-1
12 Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 8
During their visit to the White House, President Obama had some advice for one of their stars. "I don't want to jinx anything," he said, "but with the Blackhawks having won eight of the last 10, it's about time for Patrick Kane to start growing the playoff mullet ? I thought that looked pretty sharp ? because I want to see you back here next year." Without the 'do, Kane had a point in seven straight games before meeting the prez. Last week: 1-1-2
13 Dallas Stars
Last Week: 12
Dallas Stars (37-24-8)
Playing up-and-down hockey, they face uncertain fortunes smack in the middle of the eight-team pack that was within five points of each other. "It's the closest race with the most teams I can remember," says captain Brenden Morrow. "We're going to need our veteran guys from here on out because every game is like a playoff game. Win and you could be in; lose and that could be the one that sends you home." Last week: 1-1-1
14 Nashville Predators
Last Week: 16
Not only did they chisel five crucial points out of three games, this bubble bunch can look forward to a healthy stretch of home cooking: 11 of their last 14 games in Nashville. "Just try to enjoy this time of the year," goalie Pekka Rinne said in the true "What, me worry?" spirit. "It's so much fun, and obviously it's fun to play now that we have a chance to play at home in front of our fans. Obviously, I think that's going to boost our confidence." Last week: 2-0-1
15 Calgary Flames
Last Week: 11
Calgary Flames (36-26-9)
Statistically they and Vancouver have been the NHL's two hottest teams since mid-January, but now the Canucks are soaring and the Flames are are flickering, cursed no doubt by my colleague Adrian Dater's recent praise of GM Feaster (CLICK HERE). Calgary suffered only its second losing week in its last 10, but both have come in the last month. And before taking a 2-0 lead in the first four minutes against the Canucks, they'd gone 111 minutes without a goal. Ominously, they lost the lead -- and the game -- anyway. Last week: 1-2-0
16 Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 15
Anaheim Ducks (37-27-5)
An especially strong week for forward Corey Perry, who produced seven points in three games and now stands third in the league in goals (36), fifth in game-winners (seven), fifth in power-play goals (11) and fifth in total points (75). "Some people overlook him," says coach Randy Carlyle, "but we'd be in a heap of trouble this year without him." Last week: 2-1-0
17 Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 19
Buffalo Sabres (34-27-8)
Gassed by a seven-game trip that ended with precious points flushed by coughing up a third-period lead to the Leafs, they dug deep in emotional circumstances on Sunday. How ironic that they beat Ottawa thanks to a slapper by Nathan Gerbe from the left circle. Hours before the game, a Sabres great famous for doing that very thing died in a car accident at age 59. After honoring Rick Martin, the left wing on the famed French Connection line who amassed 701 points in a Buffalo sweater, the Sabres settled in for six of their next eight games on home ice. Last week: 2-2-0
18 Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 17
Minnesota Wild (35-28-7)
They've scored more than two goals only once in their last eight games. While being whitewashed by Dallas, they squeezed out a paltry 14 shots on goal and wheezed through a pair of eight-minute stretches without one. "No sugarcoating, it's tough," sighed center Matt Cullen. "This is going to be a good test for our team. We have to respond. We can't sit here and complain and whine." Last week: 1-3-0
19 New York Rangers
Last Week: 18
New York Rangers (36-30-4)
After a tough loss in Anaheim on their brief two-game Western trip, they responded with a 3-2 win in a six-round shootout against the Sharks. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist made his 14th straight start and stopped five of six shots in the skills session. "This was a good team and we did this on their ice," sayeth The King. "We had four lines working. We need to save this effort and use it again." True. The Sabres and 'Canes remain hot on their tails for the seventh and eighth seeds with the red hot Devils lurking not far behind. Last week: 1-1-0
20 Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 23
If they needed to snap a seven-game winless streak, an Eastern foe was sure to provide the remedy. With a 3-2 win against Carolina, the Jackets improved to 10-2-1 vs. the conference. "It's great," said goalie Steve Mason, after his mates had made a pair of key 5-on-3 kills. "You really forget how it feels to win after seven losses in a row." They better get in the habit of remembering real quick as the eighth seed in the west is slipping over the horizon. Last week: 1-1-1
21 St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 24
St. Louis Blues (31-29-9)
Their OT win over Columbus felt like a loss as defenseman Barret Jackman (broken finger) and forward Alex Steen (ankle sprain) went down for the rest of the regular season. Jackman has been a steady presence. Steen leads the team with 30 assists and is second in points (48). As their playoff hopes dwindled, the desperate squad beat Montreal, 4-1, the next night. "Playing back-to-back, we needed a big effort," said Andy McDonald, who had a goal and two helpers. "We're aware of the situation. We have injuries, younger players being called was a great overall effort." The kind they'll need every night the rest of the way. Last week: 2-1-0
22 Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 25
Atlanta Thrashers (29-28-12)
They played four straight games that ended with an overtime goal and won three. Yet it was goalie coach Clint Malarchuk whose words inspired the skaters who rallied the team from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Flyers in OT. (The Flyers hadn't lost in such fashion since 1987.) "These guys (goalies) give us a chance every night," Malarchuk told them. "Can we not just gut up and do it for teammates? We are a family and we have to understand that when one guy is down or the other guy is down, you fight, you push." Push they must as they remain a playoff longshot. Last week: 3-0-1
23 New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 22
The resurrection continues. Their last four wins have come in OT or a shootout. In fact, 14 of the their last 15 contests have been one-goal affairs. Since Jan. 14, this team has dropped just two games in regulation; one by a goal and the other by two. And they hit .500, a mark even coach Jacques Lemaire felt was out of reach. "Never," he said. "You can get a ride winning some games in a row and quite a few, but never enough to get to .500. The hill was too high to even think about it." Last week: 2-1-0
24 Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 20
Poor execution, especially with the extra man, threatens to excute (in the electric chair sense of the word) their playoff chances. "The power play has got to find its way to get the puck in the net and get some confidence," coach Paul Maurice said. "There are good power-play people out there and they're squeezing it. You can just see them hanging onto it a half-second too long." Last week: 0-2-1
25 Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 21
Maybe not a deathblow, but after a great run to within striking distance of the playoffs, they looked out of fuel in a 6-2 loss to Tampa Bay. Goalie James Reimer, who has been so solid down the stretch, was pulled after giving up five goals on 29 shots. "I think he looked tired," coach Ron Wilson said. "We didn't stop their forwards from getting to the front of the net. We didn't box out and made it hard on Reims." And that makes it hard on the Leafs faithful who have gotten their hopes up. Last week: 1-2-1
26 New York Islanders
Last Week: 26
New York Islanders (27-32-11)
This competitive bunch of whippersnappers played 12 games in a row without losing by more than a goal, and went 10-4-3 in their last 17, that embarrassing drought of 20 losses in 21 outings fading in the rearview mirror. Why the turnaround? "Confidence and belief in one another, for sure. We've got a young group in there," coach Jack Capuano said. "Their attention to detail is excellent. When you do those things, you have a chance to win hockey games." Last week: 2-0-1
27 Florida Panthers
Last Week: 29
Florida Panthers (28-32-9)
They don't win many games and defenseman Jason Garrison doesn't score many goals. So how about this stat? Of his four tallies this season, his last three have been game-winners, including one last week with 16 seconds left in OT to beat state-rival Tampa Bay, 4-3. He also victimized Buffalo in December and San Jose in February with gamers. No Panther has more than four. For Florida, that's a statistical bright spot in yet another dreary season. Last week: 2-1-0
28 Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 30
Ottawa Senators (25-35-9)
Before last week's 6-4 loss to Buffalo, they'd played in seven straight games in which the losing team scored one goal or less, a tribute to both their improving defense and their scoring malaise. Before Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis scored on them, the Sens had killed off 33 straight penalties in a 10-game span. "We're giving the goaltenders that lead to play with," coach Cory Clouston said. "It's easier to play when you've got the lead." Last week: 3-1-0
29 Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 27
The bottom has fallen out and the Avs have given up 34 goals during an eight-game winless skid. At times it just looks like they've given up. In all, they're 1-16-2 in their last 19, marking the worst stretch in franchise history. "There were a couple of individual mistakes that have cost us," said coach Joe Sacco, sifting through the wreckage for a bright side. "That has kind of been a little bit of the story lately here. Mistakes end up in the back of our net. We have to do a better job cutting down on those mistakes." You think? Last week: 0-3-0
30 Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 28
Edmonton Oilers (23-38-9)
They lit the ol' lamp all of three times in four games last week, an expected slump for a team that is playing without its top defenseman (Ryan Whitney) and three top scorers (Taylor Hall, Ales Hemsky and Sam Gagner). That didn't stop coach Tom Renney from getting his bloomers in a knot about his squad's effort or lack thereof. "We came out this game as spectators," he grumped after a 5-1 loss to the Pens. "There were enough (people) in the stands. We didn't have to join them." Last week: 0-3-1

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