By Allan Muir
December 02, 2008

Biggest Climb: Buffalo Sabres (26 to 19)

Biggest Fall: Chicago Blackhawks (5 to 13)

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: statistics and records are through Sunday's games.

Note: Want to send me a comment? 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 rankings -- I'll try to get back to you.

NHL Power Rankings
1 San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 1
San Jose Sharks (20-3-1)
Sure, they ran their winning streak to seven, but how about the signing of Claude Lemieux, who had an assist in his debut with Worcester on Saturday? The 43-year-old agitator now has a two-game AHL scoring streak . . . if you count the goal and two assists he put up in his last minor league appearance: on March 24, 1986.
2 Boston Bruins
Last Week: 2
Boston Bruins (16-4-4)
The last time they had netminding like Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez was the tandem of Reggie Lemelin and Andy Moog, who took them to the Stanley Cup Final in 1990. That may also have been the last time the B's played a regular season game as must-see as their 4-1 thrashing of the Wings that wrapped up an 11-1-1 November.
3 Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 4
The Bruins may be rolling, but don't rule out the Pens as favorites to emerge from the East. The defending conference champs went 9-2-1 on the month with frequent bussers Dany Sabourin and John Curry in net. Guess it helps to have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin combine for 44 points.
4 Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 3
Why just three points out of a possible eight? It's all about getting the stops. Both Chris Osgood and Ty Conklin dug deep holes by whiffing on a series of stoppable shots. It has to be a concern that Osgood has leaked at least three goals in 11 of his 14 appearances.
5 Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 8
Minnesota Wild (14-7-1)
Forget blowing a two-goal lead to the sadsack Stars and consider the season's greatest stat line: Saturday's 6-2 shellacking of the Preds saw Derek Boogaard skate for just three seconds, plenty of time to earn five minutes in the box. Didn't notice if he bothered taking a stick out for his shift.
6 Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 12
Anaheim Ducks (14-8-3)
Jonas Hiller earned a nod as the NHL's second star of the week by allowing just one goal in a pair of appearances while J-S Giguere was visiting his gravely ill father in Quebec. Don't take that to mean there's a goalie controversy here. Giguere's still No. 1 and will be in net as soon as he regains his focus and game shape.
7 New York Rangers
Last Week: 11
They've won five of their last eight to hold on to first place in the Atlantic, but curb your enthusiasm. Four of the wins required the shootout to get the extra point, they struggled against Sunshine State bottom-feeders last week, and Henrik Lundqvist was pulled twice in the last five games.
8 Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 7
Daniel Briere's return from nine games on the shelf should improve the outlook after ending the week with losses to the Canes and Leafs. But so much for the comforts of home, where they'll play seven of the next nine. They've lost 26 of 52 at Wachovia Center since the start of last season.
9 Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 9
After getting past the junk kick of Ryan O'Byrne's own-goal against the Isles and being whitewashed by former whipping boy Jose Theodore, the Habs started a seven-game homestand -- the longest in franchise history -- with a gutsy win over the Sabres on Saturday. Andrei Kostitsyn may have vacated Le Chateau Bow Wow with a strong performance.
10 Washington Capitals
Last Week: 10
You think that ugly 3-0 loss at Columbus was an aberration? Uh-uh. While the Caps have stockpiled points at the Phone Booth, they've been throwing them away on the road. Discipline is the biggest problem. They lead the league in penalties-taken and power play goals-allowed away from home.
11 Calgary Flames
Last Week: 16
Calgary Flames (14-9-1)
A home-and-home sweep of the Canucks brought them within a point of the Northwest leaders and ran their winning roll to five of their last six. Big ups to the renewed defensive posture. They've given up just seven goals in those five wins.
12 Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 6
The upside of dropping a home-and-home to Calgary is that third-stringer Cory Schneider impressed in net despite losing his debut. With six straight on the road ahead, expect him to split time with Curtis Sanford.
13 Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 5
This is why it was a good idea to hold off on planning the parade rout. Young teams go through rough patches, and the Hawks are in deep, thanks to the inability to generate secondary scoring. And doesn't it look like that C is weighing heavily on Johnny Toews?
14 New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 13
Despite piddling away a five-game win streak with arguably their worst performance of the season (a 4-1 loss to the Pens), they have reason to look ahead with hope. Brian Rolston and John Madden return to the lineup Thursday. Bobby Holik isn't far behind.
15 Nashville Predators
Last Week: 14
Shea Weber has a big heart and a big bag of knuckles in front of the net. The NHL's top-scoring defenseman was willing to drop the mitts to defend a teammate in Saturday's loss to the Wild. The Norris campaign starts now.
16 Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 20
Don't start camping out for playoff tix just just yet, but the Kings finished November with a record of 7-4-2. A nice run, but the 15-game December sked will be key to their postseason dreams. With nine at home and six against fellow fringe-dwellers Columbus and Phoenix, they need to create some separation.
17 Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 15
They brought in Joe Corvo and Joni Pitkanen to wind up the power play. How's it worked out so far? Carolina ended the month on an 0-for-25 skid with the extra man, and the QBs have just six PP points between them. Might help if the Canes could plant a couple redwoods in front of the net, but these two need to make better puck decisions.
18 Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 18
Steve Mason's play is gluing Pascal Leclaire's skinny behind to the bench. Rick Nash finally is providing leadership on (12 goals) and off the ice. But the Jackets may as well leave on the skate guards if they don't get their befuddled power play on track. Two-for-49 is no way to go through life, son.
19 Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 26
Buffalo Sabres (11-9-3)
This is how well things are going for Thomas Vanek: The sniper added to his league-leading goal total while sitting in the airport. After a pair against the Habs on Saturday, Vanek was awarded his 18th after the league reviewed Drew Stafford's third-period marker in a 4-3 win over the Pens on Friday.
20 Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 17
Edmonton Oilers (10-11-2)
Kevin Lowe reiterated that Craig MacTavish doesn't have to worry about the long knives coming out. The question is, why not? When a team's key issue is the lack of a consistent effort, shouldn't that put the coach's head on the block? The Oilers have the talent. What they lack is competitive fire?and that falls on MacT.
21 Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 19
Uh-oh. Joe Sakic's return from injury on Wednesday lasted just 28 seconds. He's out indefinitely now with back woes . . . and this doesn't sound like a short "indefinitely" either. Without him, the Avs lack the focus and energy to make a legitimate run.
22 St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 24
St. Louis Blues (10-10-2)
During a .500 week, Manny Legace burned some bridges in the wake of Saturday's 4-2 loss to the Oilers, calling out his blueline in the local press for a series of brutal breakdowns. Looks like the Blues are about to become Chris Mason's team.
23 Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 21
Phoenix Coyotes (10-11-2)
They won a pair on the week, but the reality is they're lucky not to be mired in a nine-game losing streak. The offense has gone drier than Steven Wright, scoring just 17 times over that span. Peter Mueller needs to check his ankles for snake bites. Last year's Calder contender is goalless in 10.
24 New York Islanders
Last Week: 25
Wins over the Habs and Sens were good for the short-term bottom line, but the real boost came in the form of Josh Bailey. The rookie center not only earned a full-season vote of confidence, he validated his controversial selection at last June's draft.
25 Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 22
Ottawa Senators (8-10-4)
There have been plenty of questions about their character. Now it's time to point a few fingers at GM Bryan Murray in the wake of his gutless non-response to Bobby Clarke's skewering of Jason Spezza on TSN last week. Put up a little fight yourself if you want the same from your troops.
26 Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 23
The best line in Brian Burke's introductory press conference on Saturday? "We require, as a team, proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence. That's how our teams play." Translation: Alexei Ponikarovsky and Nik Antropov might want to hold off on their New Year's Eve in Hogtown plans.
27 Florida Panthers
Last Week: 29
They've got their share of issues -- a string of injuries that now includes top forward David Booth -- but you can't complain about the goaltending. Craig Anderson's league-leading .948 save percentage and 1.87 GAA is making a good argument for cutting into Tomas Vokoun's ice time.
28 Dallas Stars
Last Week: 30
Dallas Stars (8-11-4)
They weren't pretty -- in fact, Sunday's win over Edmonton was played at a level only slightly less choppy than the Texas/Texas A&M game that followed at the AAC -- but they managed to pick up four points on the week and straggle out of the NHL's basement.
29 Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 28
With just one win in their last seven, coach John Anderson is not in the holiday spirit. He dropped Ilya Kovalchuk to the fourth line, and is talking about the need for significant roster adjustments. Guess that's something less than a ringing endorsement of GM Don Waddell's efforts, eh?
30 Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 27
Have to give Rick Tocchet credit. With just one win in their last 10 games, he's not letting the Lightning off the hook on the basis of close calls. "This is a results-oriented business," he said, adding that he needs to start getting some. On the hot seat: Vinny Lecavalier. The captain is getting by on talent. Where's the passion?

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