By Allan Muir
January 05, 2010

Biggest climb: Tampa Bay Lightning (19 from 25)

Biggest drop: Minnesota Wild (18 from 13); Atlanta Thrashers (26 from 21)

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'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: 1
The offense is firing on all cylinders (almost five goals-per over the last six), but they're forging a championship pedigree in the ability to pin foes once they're on the mat. They last week allowed just 16 third-period shots while crushing the comeback hopes of the Devils, Blues and Ducks. Now, that's how it's done. Sunday's win over Anaheim ran their mark in the second game of back-to-backs to an impressive 8-0-2. Last week: 3-1
2 San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 4
San Jose Sharks (27-8-7)
After knocking off the Caps, Coyotes (twice) and Oilers, their win streak was at eight, tied for NHL-best this season and third-longest in franchise history. They converted two penalty shots (first team since 1982) to thwart the Caps, but defense has been the real key (just 14 goals-allowed during the streak). Tip o' the hat to Douglas Murray, who's quietly building a rep as one of the game's premier shutdown defenders. Last week: 4-0
3 New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 3
Poor Jacques Lemaire. He returned to Minnesota on Friday and even a 5-3 win, Jamie Langenbrunner's first career hat trick, and a touching video tribute from the team he coached for the last eight seasons couldn't brighten his mood. "It was terrible," he said. "Just a bad game. No puck control. No good thinking. We turned the puck over many times. Many times. And many times." So, execution-wise it was a bit of a stinker, but it's okay to stop and smell the roses when you're atop the East. Last week: 3-1
4 Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 8
Buffalo Sabres (26-11-4)
Probably not a good idea to get into the habit of falling into 3-0 holes, but they managed to climb out of a pair to beat the Pens and Thrashers 4-3. The points were nice, helping them stretch their Northeast lead to five, but the sloppy starts can't continue. Sunday's disciplined 1-0 win over Montreal was a step in the right direction. Last week: 3-0
5 Washington Capitals
Last Week: 2
They've feasted on their quick-strike capability, lighting up foes 49-19 in the first period of their first 38 games. But in dropping three last week, they showed their vulnerability when they stumble out of the blocks. In road losses to the Sharks, Kings and, gulp, Canes, they were outshot 34-11 and outscored 6-0 in the opening stanzas. Last week: 0-3
6 Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 6
Phoenix Coyotes (25-14-4)
The Desert Dogs stretched their franchise-record home winning streak to 10 in a shootout over the Canucks on Tuesday, then dropped the next two at Arena to the Sharks and Wings. Disappointing on the ice, not at the box office: the Detroit game was their first sellout since the season opener. Winning and aggressive marketing is starting to catch the attention of the town's backsliding fan base. Last week: 1-1-2
7 Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 5
Five straight losses? Oh no! A power play ranked 30th? Yikes! Time to panic? Hardly. They're a flat, lifeless bunch, but this is just the sort of midseason ditch defending champs often drive into. They know they're just biding time until the real season starts. The challenge now for Dan Bylsma is to get them to commit to little things and get back on track asap. Last week: 0-4
8 Nashville Predators
Last Week: 10
Aside to David Poile: I understand money's tight, but it's time to bring in a little help. Now. I'm not talking Ilya Kovalchuk. Maybe something as simple as a better fit for third-line center or a boost for one of the sagging special teams. Just do something that shows you understand your guys are wringing every last drop of their talent and that winning now matters as much to you as it does to them. They've earned that much. Last week: 3-0
9 Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 7
They're getting serious mileage out of top prospects, but how about their long shots? Undrafted defender Ryan Wilson (gotta love those Windsor boys) has seen his playing time grow thanks to smart positioning and a reliable physical game. Ninth-rounder Brandon Yip (two power-play goals in a 4-2 loss to Detroit) has four points in seven games playing alongside Matt Duchene on a retooled second line. Last week: 2-1
10 Boston Bruins
Last Week: 9
Boston Bruins (21-12-7)
Time to figure out how to score a few goals. Miro Satan was yanked from his couch and given a prime slot alongside Marc Savard. As long as the punchless B's don't expect much D, Satan can help. So will Milan Lucic's return in the next week. But they really need more from Blake Wheeler (goalless in 14) and Mark Recchi (one in 10) or Peter Chiarelli will have some serious tinkering to do down the stretch. Last week: 2-1
11 Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 12
After watching them skate the Stars into the ground on Saturday, a long-time NHL source restated a point he'd made earlier this season: "That team is a serious [Cup] contender. I don't think anyone in the West has two better centers with the way [Henrik] Sedin and [Ryan] Kesler are playing now." Heady praise, but accurate. NHL Player of the Month Sedin became more dangerous as soon as he started thinking shoot as often as pass. Kesler's emerged as a top two-way forward. Last week: 2-0-1
12 Calgary Flames
Last Week: 16
Calgary Flames (24-12-5)
Jay Bouwmeester, Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr may be stung by Team Canada's snub, but they can take solace in their NHL club, which bounced back after being thrashed by the Canucks. Four Sutter-pleasing defensive efforts held the Leafs, Kings and Oilers (twice) to a goal apiece. The offense isn't exactly blazing, but they are creating more chances by taking care of their own zone and amping up the physical game. That suggests this may be more than a temporary turnaround. Last week: 4-0
13 Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 15
Chris Osgood can grouse, but he better get used to pine. The Wings have been more effective with Jimmy Howard leading them onto the ice the past month. To be fair, they bought into Mike Babcock's defensive re-imagining to compensate for diminished firepower, but wouldn't be as successful without Howard's reliable play. There isn't much buzz (yet), but the rookie moved into Calder contention by allowing two goals or fewer in nine of his last 11 starts. Last week: 2-0-1
14 Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 11
Frustrating one-goal losses to the Wild and Flames extended their skid to a season-high four. Character games from Olympians Jon Quick and Drew Doughty keyed wins over the Wild and Caps. If they hope to match their first half success, the Kings need more from their first line. Ryan Smyth has a pair of goals since returning on Dec. 28, but Anze Kopitar has just two assists in his last seven games. Where's that early-season magic? Last week: 2-2
15 Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 14
They closed their season-high seven-game road trip with a sterling 6-1 mark after solid wins over the Lightning and Panthers. The trick now is putting together a consistent effort at the Bell Centre (9-10-2 after a flat 1-0 homecoming loss to Buffalo). At least they can count on solid goaltending. Carey Price gave up just one goal in each of his last two starts. Jaro Halak compiled a sick .948 save percentage on the roadie. Last week: 2-2
16 Dallas Stars
Last Week: 18
Dallas Stars (18-12-11)
They've been kneecapped more than once by the soft goal-against, so it had to feel good to see the guy at the other end of the ice with his pants down. They caught Cristobal Huet in a surprise win over the Hawks, then took advantage of Jonas Hiller miscues to down the Ducks. Loui Eriksson's on fire: five goals in his last three games after netting just three in his previous 18. Last week: 2-1
17 Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 20
Ottawa Senators (22-16-4)
No surprise that a team forced by injury to rely heavily on its backup has battled through mediocre goaltending, but now that Pascal Leclaire is back, he has to be better than he was in allowing three goals on 10 shots to the Flyers on Sunday. With six of their next eight on the road, stability between the pipes will be key to staying in contention. Last week: 3-1
18 Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 13
Minnesota Wild (20-19-3)
A gritty road win in LA gave them a share of the franchise mark for wins (10) and points (20) in a month, but they spit the bit against the Kings and Ducks in their last two December games. Those home losses, and an entertaining but pointless January opener vs. the Devils, cost ground they'd gained in the playoff race and left them eight points out. With a brutal month ahead, it may not be long before trade rumors involving Marek Zidlicky and Kim Johnsson become the top story in St. Paul. Last week: 1-3
19 Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 25
The offense still isn't scaring anyone -- only Boston and Carolina have scored fewer than their 102 -- but a renewed commitment to defense and an impressive stretch from Mike Smith (89 saves on 93 shots in wins over the B's and Pens) led them to a 5-1-1 mark in their last seven. Last week: 2-0-1
20 Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 24
They may get turned around, but there won't be any quick fixes. Sensational play from waiver wire castoff Michael Leighton (1.56 GAA. .944 save pct.) helped them go 4-0-1, but that ugly 7-4 meltdown in Ottawa on Sunday shows there's still work to be done. It's gonna take Mike Richards (-4), Simon Gagne (-5) and Claude Giroux (-6) a while to get over that one. Last week: 1-1-1
21 New York Rangers
Last Week: 17
New York Rangers (19-17-5)
Where would they be without Marian Gaborik? Probably challenging Carolina for first crack at Taylor Hall. Even with the NHL's leading goal scorer, they're a pitiable bunch offensively (two or fewer goals in 22 of their last 29 games). They hit five posts in Saturday's 2-1 loss to the Canes, but at least Gaborik netted his 27th to tie the game midway through the third. It was their first goal on home ice in five-and-a-half periods. Last week: 1-1-1
22 Florida Panthers
Last Week: 23
Florida Panthers (17-18-7)
They've never been very stingy in their own end, but geez, 90 shots-against in two games? Tomas Vokoun was at his larcenous best to stop 46 of 48 in a 6-2 win over the Pens, but the Habs game was there to be won with a bit more defensive zone effort. David Booth's possible return -- he's begun skating -- offers a glimmer of hope. Last week: 1-1
23 Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 19
Hate to keep bringing up Phil Kessel, but as he goes, so goes the offense. Despite Brian Burke's enthusiastic words of support last week, The Thrill has gone missing (one point and -8 in his last eight games). Burke may call that terrific, but Kessel's energy and effort seem to be flagging along with his results. Last week: 0-2
24 Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 22
Anaheim Ducks (16-19-7)
Three more road games, three more losses. No surprise. They've won just five of 21 away, the fewest of any team in the West. The likely returns of Ryan Getzlaf and Teemu Selanne this week should improve life, but don't assume they're just a hot streak away from the playoffs. With 39 points through 42 games, they'll need to finish 25-9-6 to be in contention. Even with the talent on this team, that ain't gonna happen. Last week: 1-3
25 New York Islanders
Last Week: 27
All eyes were on Saskatoon where a big chunk of the future was in the World Juniors. Travis Hamonic emerged as the bull of Canada's defense before separating his shoulder in the semis against the Swiss. There's a good chance he'll be ready for NHL action next season. The wait will be longer for Canadian blueliner Calvin de Haan, who missed action (concussion) but showed puck skills and smarts in pre-tournament play, and Kirill Petrov, who dazzled with speed and finishing ability as one of disappointing Russia's few bright spots. Last week: 2-0-1
26 Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 21
When you've claimed one win your last 10, stealing a couple points in extra time should count as a moral victory. Still, they don't have much to crow about after Friday's 4-3 loss to Buffalo, in which they frittered a 3-0 lead. Saturday's 6-5 loss wasn't much better. Sure, they fought back from down three, but still gave up six to the capgun Isles. Until they figure out how to cut down on goals-against, they are irrelevant to playoff conversation. Last week: 0-2-2
27 St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 26
St. Louis Blues (17-18-6)
So Andy Murray, a coaching genius when he was a finalist for the 2009 Jack Adams Award, was deemed incompetent to lead this group just 40 games later. Makes sense. Look, this team struggled because young players like David Perron, Patrik Berglund and Erik Johnson were forced into roles for which they weren't fully ready. That falls on management for failing to surround them with enough veteran help. Davis Payne isn't any more likely to succeed without a rebalancing of the roster. Last week: 0-2-1
28 Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 29
Just when it seemed like the offense had sputtered to life, scoring three late goals against the Flyers and lighting up the Caps for six, it slid back into neutral in a home-and-home series with the Rangers. Eric Staal (five points vs. the Caps; 20 points in his last 16) has been a one-man wrecking crew. Last week: 2-1
29 Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 28
Edmonton Oilers (16-22-4)
They snapped a dismal seven-game slide at the expense of the sad-sack Leafs, but any turnaround was snuffed by road losses in Calgary and San Jose. Jeff Deslauriers has given up too many softies, but they can't expect to win by generating one goal in five of six games. And that restaurant incident? Hard to figure what was worse: not paying what they owed, stiffing the wait staff with a crappy tip, or thinking it was smart to go Bacchanal during an embarrassing stretch. Last week: 1-3
30 Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 30
They're finally playing the responsible, shutdown game that Ken Hitchcock has preached, limiting foes to five regulation goals in their last four games, but an impotent offense extended a miserable stretch to 20 losses in 23. It's no longer a question of salvaging this season, but how they prepare for the next on. And is Hitchcock part of the plan for moving forward? Last week: 1-1-2

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