By Adrian Dater
January 24, 2012

Get those Motor City references warmed up. We have a new team at the top of our latest Power Rankings. It's certainly one that's familiar with being No. 1. The Detroit Red Wings, what a story they are, when you think about it. Really, they've been excellent for nearly 20 straight years, and they're a lock to get 100 points for an incredible 12th straight season -- which would extend their own NHL record. There are some skeptics who doubt these Wings are any better than the team that has bowed out in the second round of the playoffs against San Jose the last two years. For now, Detroit is the best in the league again. We'll see what happens this spring. NOTE: Due to the All-Star break, Power Rankings will return on Tues. Feb. 7.

A DISCLAIMER (of sorts): These rankings are based not just on each team's record, but an empirically tested formula that includes a) realistic near-term future expectations; b) consensus talent level and payroll considerations and; c) whatever the Magic 8-Ball I've had since I was seven years old tells me will happen. One more thing: Rest assured that I don't have it in for your team. OK, so I once hated the Philadelphia Flyers with a passion bordering on the psychotic, but that was 30-something years ago and Dave Schultz has long since retired. I welcome your emails to the link attached to my name above, and I always respond -- even to the ones that start with "Dear Idiot."

NHL Power Rankings
1 Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 2
I knew these guys would eventually top these rankings again. You did too. Admit it. They outclassed the Blues on Monday, making it 17 straight home wins and three in a row overall against St. Louis. About the only thing Wings haters can look to for solace right now is their road record (13-13-0). Otherwise, it's just business as usual in Hockeytown -- which means lots of winning. Last week: 4-0-0
2 Boston Bruins
Last Week: 1
Boston Bruins (31-13-2)
Like a lot of people, I spent a good part of Monday trying to fathom Tim Thomas's one-man publicity stunt: boycotting the Bs' White House visit, followed by a bizarro public explanation on his Facebook page. His political beliefs aren't surprising -- he's known as a staunch Tea Party guy, and, hey, this is America -- but he knew, or should have known, this would become a big story and potential distraction for his team. Now, Thomas is the biggest right winger in Bruins history, bigger even than Cam Neely, who expressed "disappointment." On the ice, the B's lost to the Rangers in OT, but remain even in points and still have a far better goal differential. Last week: 2-1-1
3 New York Rangers
Last Week: 4
New York Rangers (30-12-4)
Yeah, the win in Boston was nice. But it was far from a dominant one -- in a three-point game, let's not forget -- and there is still a nagging feeling among many skeptics that these guys aren't as good as their record. One suspects that this team is a Marian Gaborik groin pull away from not being be able to score a goal anymore. This knock will persist until the Blueshirts start really blowing some teams out on a consistent basis and/or win a couple of playoff rounds, probably both. Last week: 2-1-0
4 Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 5
They've kind of been treading water of late, but they're still in the fancy part of the pool. Sami Salo near returning after that Brad Marchand cheap shot, and he'll help at both ends of the ice. After a six-week stint on the injured list with a knee ailment, David Booth has six points in his last five games. That's the kind of production GM Mike Gillis was counting on after giving up a lot to get him from Florida. Last week: 1-0-1
5 St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 3
St. Louis Blues (29-13-6)
You could see in their faces that they really, really wanted that game Monday against the Wings. By the end, you could also see they knew they weren't quite on Detroit's level. The Blues still aren't scoring enough goals. That 3-1 loss marked the third time in their previous four contests they were held to a lone tally. They have a lot of good young skill up front, but no Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg, or a Sedin twin. Last week: 2-1-0
6 Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 6
Captain Jonathan Toews will miss Tuesday's game vs. Nashville, and the All-Star extravaganza, with the dreaded "upper body" injury. Fortunately, ace reporter Tim Sassone still covers the Hawks for the Arlington Heights Daily Herald. He found that Toews' injury is from a slash to the left hand or wrist and isn't considered overly serious. Phew. Meanwhile, Corey Crawford starts in goal against the Preds as Chicago continues to hope he regains his second-half form of last season. Last week: 2-1-0
7 Nashville Predators
Last Week: 8
Barry Trotz's band of steel-toed skaters is officially red hot, quietly climbing to the elite level of the standings. Adding to the good news: defenseman Ryan Suter is back after two weeks on the injured list. There's the usual speculation that the small-market Preds may need to trade the All-Star by the deadline, but I'll go on record as saying GM David Poile would commit a grievous mistake by doing so. This team could win the Stanley Cup this year, but only if Suter is on the roster. Sometimes you have to just go for it now and stop worrying about the unknown. Last week: 3-1-0
8 Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 9
After a couple of good wins over Minnesota and New Jersey, Ilya Bryzgalov gave up a "humongous" number of goals in a 6-5 OT loss to Boston Saturday. His saves percentage (.895) continues to stick out like a big pimple on the face of a Miss America contestant. Let's face it: Flyers fans have been chewing their nails over their team's goaltending pretty much since Bernie Parent retired, and nothing has changed even with 51 million of Ed Snyder's dollars committed to The Breezer. Last week: 2-1-1
9 San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 7
San Jose Sharks (26-14-5)
They're still putting up the requisite number of points to keep anybody from saying they've slipped too much. The condition of winger Martin Havlat remains a bit worrisome. He needed surgery on the hamstring he partially tore while coming over the boards on a line change and still can only walk with the aid of a cane. Can he be ready -- and effective -- come playoff time? Last week: 1-2-0
10 Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 11
Los Angeles Kings (24-16-10)
They finally got a big-scoring game (four goals!) in a solid home win over the Senators on Monday. Otherwise, goals continue to come at a puzzling premium for a club you'd think would score a lot more, especially on the power play, given the talent on hand. Any team with Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson at the PP points shouldn't have the 14.7-percent success rate it did entering Monday. Last week: 2-1-1
11 Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 16
Just when you wanted to write these guys off as caught up in a death spiral of injuries and other bad luck, they win six in a row. Evgeni Malkin simply willed them to a gutsy win over the Capitals Sunday afternoon and continues to lead the league in scoring -- all the more impressive when you consider Sidney Crosby is still out. Right now, it says right here, Malkin is the best player in the game. Last week: 4-0-0
12 Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 15
Goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere was supposed to be more washed up than old sea shells, just a geezer trying to hang on another year or two as a backup. Instead, "Jiggy" is with it again. He's turned into the Avs' workhorse in net, and will start his fourth straight game, on Tuesday in a big tilt against Minnesota. "I felt like I still had plenty left coming into this year, because I felt healthy again," he told The Denver Post. People forget: this guy won the Stanley Cup only four years ago with Anaheim and is only 34. Last week: 2-1-0
13 Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 10
Ottawa Senators (27-18-6)
They are not as good as their record suggests ? evidenced by the fact they've allowed more goals than they've scored. But these guys looking like a good bet to make the playoffs says it all about the job first-year coach Paul McLean is doing in Canada's capital city. Still, back-to-back losses in Southern California last weekend dimmed some of the fervor that had suddenly gripped Sens fans. Last week: 2-3-0
14 New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 12
This is another Eastern team with a winning record that, well, just isn't all that impressive. It's only 2-6-1 against the top four teams in the conference, including successive 4-1 home losses to Boston and Philly. But the Devils do have a very good penalty-killing unit: second in the league at 89.2 percent. Last week: 1-2-0
15 Washington Capitals
Last Week: 14
They blew a win Sunday in Pittsburgh, and have to play their next three without Alex Ovechkin, who was suspended Monday by the NHL for his hit on Zbynek Michalek. You want to applaud Ovie for his old-school, rough-and-tumble style of play. On the other hand, you can't condone that kind of hit at all, and now it puts his team at a disadvantage right when it was starting to show signs of life again. It's just been that kind of season for the Caps, but they do remain in the East's top eight, which is better than a couple weeks ago. Last week: 1-2-1
16 Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 18
Jonas Gustavsson got a nice shutout, his third of the season, Monday night against the Islanders. His 15 wins are just one short of his career best. Maybe the Swedish import isn't the big bust some had proclaimed after he was heavily courted by several NHL teams in 2009. And for a guy who was voted the most overrated player in the league in SI's NHL player poll, defenseman Dion Phaneuf's numbers aren't bad: 28 points in 48 games, and plus-1. Last week: 2-2-0
17 Florida Panthers
Last Week: 13
Florida Panthers (22-15-10)
Things are starting to break down a bit. While we won't use the word fluke, their red-hot start seems pretty far away right now. Kris Versteeg's personal slump (no goals in eight games) is beginning to badly affect the team's fortunes, and players such as Tomas Fleischmann and Brian Campbell have gone cold, too. Still, it's too soon to give up on these guys. There's some good talent on that there bench. Last week: 1-1-1
18 Calgary Flames
Last Week: 22
Calgary Flames (23-20-6)
I still can't find it in me to totally give up on these guys. They're still a potentially dangerous team with Miikka Kiprusoff in net and Jarome Iginla up front. Thanks to Kipper, who has five wins in his last seven starts, they had a week with no losses in regulation. Newcomer Mike Cammalleri scored in his first game as a Flame, but has been blanked in his last three. Last week: 2-0-1
19 Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 19
Minnesota Wild (23-18-7)
They stopped some of the hemorrhaging with a much-needed win over Dallas Saturday and have a chance to get back into the top eight in the West with a win at Colorado Tuesday. Still, having to do without Mikko Koivu (shoulder) for the next few weeks figures to be a daunting mission. Last week: 1-2-0
20 Dallas Stars
Last Week: 21
Dallas Stars (24-21-2)
They've been dreadful of late, but get a bit of a pass because of the injury factor. However, help is on the way with Mike Ribeiro set to return on Tuesday against Anaheim. One of the league's more underrated players, he'll be under a lot of pressure to score right away, as forwards Brenden Morrow and Jamie Benn remain sidelined. Last week: 0-2-1
21 Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 17
Phoenix Coyotes (21-20-8)
Veteran Ray Whitney said it best about his team: "We're going the wrong direction. While everybody's going north, we're going south," he told the Arizona Republic Monday. The directionally challenged Yotes had lost three in a row entering Tuesday's home contest with Ottawa, and are 2-4-4 in their last 10. But they're still a team nobody likes to play. If they get a lead, they'll trap you to death. Last week: 0-2-1
22 Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 24
Anaheim Ducks (18-22-7)
They're starting to put it all back together. It's probably too late for a legitimate playoff shot, but the fact that they have any hope at all right now would have seemed laughable a couple of weeks ago. They've won five in a row entering Tuesday's contest with Dallas, and the top line of Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry is looking very scary again. Last week: 3-0-0
23 Winnipeg Jets
Last Week: 20
Winnipeg Jets (22-21-6)
The big worry isn't so much the skidding of late, but the absence of Evander Kane (concussion) from the lineup. The youngster was having a breakout season until he became the NHL's latest victim. (There are just too many right now.) Then again, the Jets had trouble scoring even with Kane in the lineup. Last week: 1-2-1
24 Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 25
Time is running short on making that big playoff run, though thankfully these guys play in the East, where you're never quite out of it. GM Pierre Gauthier was spotted in Southern California press boxes quite a bit over the weekend, leading to plenty of speculation he's trying to cook up a deal with a team like Anaheim (Bobby Ryan anyone?). Last week: 1-1-1
25 Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 26
Jeff Skinner is back in the lineup after 16 games with -- you guessed it -- a concussion. The speedy youngster has scored in his last two games and the Canes are playing better (5-3-2 in their last 10). With Cam Ward in goal, a healthy Skinner and Eric Staal getting back on track, there is still hope for the playoffs. But, as noted above with Montreal, time is of the essence. Last week: 2-0-2
26 New York Islanders
Last Week: 28
John Tavares' career-best 12-game point streak ended Monday night in a dismal loss to Toronto. This week's The Hockey News had him on the cover with the headline "Stranded" -- a not so subtle shot at the Islander organization. But the team did have a good week overall. Yet, you know they're not going to make the playoffs. Last week: 3-1-0
27 Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 30
The Bolts had a good week, but there have just been too many bad ones. Old standbys Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier each have five-game point streaks. Maybe these guys still have a shot at the playoffs. They were Eastern Conference finalists last year, let's not forget. Last week: 3-0-0
28 Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 23
Buffalo Sabres (19-24-5)
They'd lost five in a row heading into Tuesday's game at in Jersey against the Devils. The return of expensive free-agent D-man Christian Ehrhoff to the lineup should give them some positive energy. Lord knows they can use it. Last week: 0-3-0
29 Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 27
Edmonton Oilers (18-26-4)
The Oil continues to leak, with losses in 12 of their last 13 on the road entering Tuesday's game in Vancouver. Good luck with that. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins continues to be sidelined with a left shoulder injury. Hard to believe things went bad so fast for what appeared to be a team ready to escape the lower levels of the conference standings. Last week: 1-3-0
30 Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 29
They're back to being positively dreadful again, losers of three in a row heading into a contest with the Bolts. The season has been a total bust and there are no signs that anything will change soon. These guys almost certainly will finish last in the league points-wise, so at least there is the draft lottery to look forward to in C-Bus. Last week:1-2-1

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