Caps bust loose

Tuesday December 16th, 2008

Biggest Climb: Washington Capitals (14 to 3)

Biggest Fall: Minnesota Wild (10 to 17)

A reminder: these rankings are based mainly on quality of play (with an emphasis on recent games), overall record and my gut instinct. Heck, if I went strictly off record, these would be no different than the standings. Also: stats and records are through Sunday's games.

Note: 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
1San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 1
The Big Teal Machine kept rolling with a pair of wins. No, neither resulted in Patrick Marleau carrying the Stanley Cup around the Shark Tank, but enough talk about how this means nothing until he does. It's worth taking the time to simply enjoy the best team in hockey.
2Boston Bruins
Last Week: 2
Boston Bruins (21-5-4)
The B's finally dropped a game, victimized by the red-hot Caps, but got back on track with a pair of convincing wins at home. Their streak at the Garden is now 11 -- their longest since 1983 -- with an average margin of victory of nearly three goals.
3Washington Capitals
Last Week: 14
It's tempting to wax poetic about Brett Leonhardt's 10 minutes of fame, but that overlooks the real story. Despite a rising body count -- Nicklas Backstrom and Sergei Fedorov are the latest casualties -- the Caps are using miserly goaltending and a power play on an 11-of-29 roll to assert themselves among the best in the league.
4Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 11
They won a lot of close ones during their current 10-1-2 run, outscoring foes by just nine (42-33), but good teams find a way to win the tight ones. Safe to say now that these gritty Flyers are a very good team.
5Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 4
As Cup hangovers go, this one's only mildly debilitating. Still, these Wings shouldn't need extra time to knock off the Hawks, Flames or Coyotes, or let the rapidly dimming Stars hang around long enough to squeak out a win. Where's the killer instinct?
6Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 7
The story circulating about them skipping a chance to head home last month in order to attend the funeral of GM Dale Tallon's father instead tells you more about what kind of team this is than does their four-game winning streak. This group is building something special.
7New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 5
No Martin Brodeur? No problem ... yet. Scott Clemmensen is crafting a great story, but he looked shaky in giving up five to the Rangers. You have to wonder how much longer the career minor leaguer can carry the mail.
8Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 6
They finished their franchise-record seven-game home stand by losing three of four, thanks in part to a power play that's almost worth declining. The 2-for-33 skid won't be easy to break with bodies piling up on IR, including Chris Higgins, Mathieu Dandenault and Saku Koivu.
9Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 3
Putting up nine on hockey's version of the Washington Generals buffed up some stats, but losses to the Devils, Sabres and Flyers exposed the stress fractures left by so many injuries. With Dany Sabourin cracking, the Pens need Marc-Andre Fleury in top shape, quick. He's likely to return Thursday.
10New York Rangers
Last Week: 13
Another week, another defensive meltdown. After giving up eight to the Devils -- the Devils! -- on Friday, Henrik Lundqvist saw his GAA balloon to nearly four over the last month. Now they're talking about dumping a defenseman to take on Mats Sundin's salary? This could get really ugly.
11Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 8
Anaheim Ducks (17-11-3)
An elite team? Hardly. They've played three measuring-stick games this month against the Sharks, Wings and Hawks and dropped 'em all. The defense held in those games, but the forwards haven't answered the call.
12Calgary Flames
Last Week: 9
Calgary Flames (16-11-3)
They've won just two of their last six, but this team is much tougher to take points from than it was earlier in the season. The PK has become one of the game's top shutdown unit, and the discipline that was clearly missing during their early struggles has returned to become a strength.
13Nashville Predators
Last Week: 12
They played pond hockey and came out .500 early in the season, but clamped down defensively over the last month (at the expense of offense) and are still playing .500, so if the results are to be the same, I'm casting my vote for the more entertaining style.
14Florida Panthers
Last Week: 20
The Cats scratched out three wins on a four-game swing through Canada to boost their record to 7-1-2 over their last 10. Pete DeBoer is working Brooksian miracles, morphing a shapeless group into one of the most disciplined. They'll benefit this week from the returns of David Booth, Nathan Horton, Rostislav Olesz and Richard Zednik.
15Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 16
So GM Mike Gillis thinks Roberto Luongo's latest setback means the goalie will be fresher for the playoffs. That sounds swell ... but it assumes they'll actually make the playoffs. The Canucks are a .500 team without their captain, and that's not good enough.
16Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 22
Buffalo Sabres (15-12-3)
Thomas Vanek was first to the 20-goal mark -- he had five in three games to give him 24 on the season -- and is on pace for 60. Credit his improved defensive play, which has allowed Lindy Ruff to trust him with more ice time and created more offensive opportunities.
17Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 10
Minnesota Wild (15-13-1)
The swirling sound? The Wild circling the drain. They've scored just five goals in their last five games and shown little fight in losing them all. Marian Gaborik is practicing and may return as early as Wednesday, but after 26 games on IR, his immediate value may be more emotional than physical.
18Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 18
It's a little early to declare Kyle Quincey the season's most impactful pickup, but he's building a nice case, isn't he? A waiver wire claim from the Wings, he's not only chewing up minutes, he's leading the team in assists and mentoring new partner Drew Doughty.
19Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 15
Edmonton Oilers (14-12-2)
I'll say it again: it's time to sell high on Dwayne Roloson. The impending free agent is on a roll, shutting out the Canucks and stopping 64 of the last 66 shots he's faced. It'd help if they could cash him in for someone who could jumpstart their listless power play.
20Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 19
No word on what sort of hit Joe Sakic took in the stock market, but surely things aren't so bad that he can't afford to hire someone to clean his driveway. Already sidelined by back woes, the captain wiped out the next three months after smushing three fingers in a snow blower mishap.
21Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 25
Phoenix Coyotes (14-13-3)
The return of veteran Olli Jokinen (three goals) helped, but the real story is the breakout play of youngsters Martin Hanzal, Mikkel Boedker and especially Peter Mueller, who finally has his game in order after being severely hampered by a hip flexor early on.
22Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 23
Not to toss a wet blanket on a two-game win streak, but this looks like a tough week for the Jackets: four straight against Pacific opponents, a group that's beaten them in eight of nine already this season.
23Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 17
Ottawa Senators (11-12-5)
Are they showcasing Martin Gerber or simply trying to give the visibly tiring Alex Auld a rest? After going more than a month between starts, Gerber is scheduled to go Tuesday for the third time in four games. He's earned the chance by giving up just three goals in his last three starts.
24Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 21
It's obvious that Rod Brind'Amour's play has slipped dramatically. So why is Paul Maurice playing him like it's 2004? His problems are only magnified under the strain of the 26-minute workload he carried last week. It's time to cut back -- waaaaay back -- on the captain's duty.
25Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 28
You don't have to sit in the Air Canada Centre's purple seats to appreciate a folk hero in the making. Undersized defender Jamie Sifers, rescued last week from obscurity with the AHL Marlies, made an immediate impact with booming hits and savvy PK play. But can he keep it up?
26St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 24
St. Louis Blues (12-14-3)
Another week of defensive de-pantsing for the young Blues, who gave up 18 goals in just four games. But there was good news as the team learned it would have six prospects heading to the WJCs, including WHL leading scorer Brett Sonne and Alex Pietrangelo for Canada, and Cade Fairchild, Ian Cole and Aaron Palushaj for the Americans.
27Dallas Stars
Last Week: 27
Dallas Stars (11-14-4)
The team that was two wins shy of the Cup final last season finally showed up on Friday night, dismantling Detroit with ruthless efficiency. A corner turned? Hardly. They reverted to their season-long haplessness in a 3-0 loss to the Preds the next night.
28Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 29
I'm ready to admit I may have been wrong about Ron Hainsey. The free agent has been a solid addition to the blueline. Problem is, the rest of the group (especially Toby Enstrom and Niclas Havelid) seems to play in full panic mode. That's how you end up averaging a league-worst 3.69 goals-against per game.
29Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 30
Their best effort of the season, in Thursday's 3-1 win over the Habs, was followed by an abysmal 2-0 loss to the Sens that prompted coach Rick Tocchet to say, "If I was a fan, I'd ask for my money back." At least there was a step forward before the inevitable two steps back.
30New York Islanders
Last Week: 26
Does anyone really think this battered mess is going to turn around when Rick DiPietro returns? He'll be plagued by the same bulb-nose-and-clown-shoes defensive coverage that led to four losses last week and turned the GAAs of Joey MacDonald and Yann Danis into halfway decent credit scores.

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