By Adrian Dater
March 13, 2012

A little more than three weeks remain, still plenty of time for bubble teams to climb off their slippery surfaces and get into the terra firma of Playoffland. As for Thursday's premier game between the Penguins and Rangers, we can only hope the possible return of Sidney Crosby leads to his being healthy through a playoff run. With that said, we give you this week's NHL Power Rankings.

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."

All stats and records through games of Monday, March 12

NHL Power Rankings
1 Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 5
I can't wait for Thursday's game at Madison Square Garden. That goes whether or not Sidney Crosby returns from his concussion symptoms. The Pens are playing the best hockey of any team in the NHL, having won nine straight, and none have been fluky. Barring the unexpected, Evgeni Malkin will win the Hart Trophy. Marc-Andre Fleury has been tremendous. Even Matt Cooke is getting good press, as our Michael Farber explained last week. And just think: they've done all this without the player who is generally acknowledged as the best in the world. Last week: 3-0-0
2 St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 4
St. Louis Blues (45-18-7)
If you score on these guys, go get the puck and save it for a museum. That's how rare goals-against have become with this team. Ken Hitchcock totally turned it around with a layered defensive structure that emphasizes pushing all the play to the sides of the ice. If the puck gets to the middle, a swarm of Blues ensues. They've has killed their last 47 short-handed situations, and a five-game win streak gave them a decent lead in the West standings. Oh, and they've signed a super-skilled forward in Colorado College's Jaden Schwartz. Last week: 4-0-0
3 New York Rangers
Last Week: 2
New York Rangers (43-18-7)
They officially entered the first hiccup phase of an otherwise outstanding season, though their three-game losing skid was stopped on Sunday by Marian Gaborik's overtime goal against the sinking Islanders. The Blueshirts get to stay at Madison Square Garden, where they play their best, for the next couple of weeks. But the fact is they're not playing real well right now. Last week: 1-3-0
4 Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 1
It's my theory -- not exactly an original one -- that they are hurt badly by being in a division where they have no real challengers, and thus are susceptible to late-season malaise. It seems like that's the issue now -- or it could be the dreaded Dater Jinx (I wrote a glowing profile of them here on Feb. 26) -- as they are just waiting for the playoffs to begin. Their recent funk has cost them the top spot in the West, which could be costly if they have to play any Game 7s late in the postseason. Last week: 1-2-0
5 Nashville Predators
Last Week: 6
A big problem with NHL coaches is they try to milk the clock when they have a third-period lead, often leading to unnecessary white-knuckle finishes. Case in point: the Preds sat back with a two-goal lead in the third period at Phoenix on Monday and had to go to the shootout to get the win. At least they knocked off Colorado and Detroit in regulation last week, and winning in Phoenix isn't easy. Beating the Wings marked the seventh season in a row that the Preds have achieved 40 wins. Only Detroit has done that. Of note: Mike Fisher entered Monday's action with 27 points in his last 30 games. Last week: 3-1-0
6 Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 3
For all the rhapsodizing over Mike Babcock's savvy ways, he's not much better than your average coach without his top players. The Wings stumbling down the stretch without Pavel Datsyuk and Nick Lidstrom ? and Babcock's record in the playoffs after injuries have struck -- is the proof. Detroit is 16-18-1 on the road, a real concern as the playoffs near, and home ice won't mean much except in seventh games. These Wings look just like the team of the last two years that peaked too soon and got banged up in the end. Last week: 1-2-0
7 New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 11
A dominant win over Philadelphia on Sunday established them as a postseason lock and we can all knock off the digs at Ilya Kovalchuk now -- at least until the playoffs, where he has never been on a winning team. Kovy, the NHL's Second Star of the Week, entered Tuesday with nine points in his previous four games. I'll be the first to admit that I thought Martin Brodeur was too washed up to play anymore, but his numbers (25-17-3, 2.43 GAA, .905 save pct.) say otherwise. Last week: 4-0-0
8 Dallas Stars
Last Week: 10
Dallas Stars (38-26-5)
Jamie Benn and Mike Ribeiro are tearing it up, and how about Michael Ryder? He was deemed expendable by the Bruins after winning the Stanley Cup, so he signed a free-agent deal in Big D. Anybody think Peter Chiarelli should have a do-over on that decision? Ryder now has 30 goals. Plus, Brenden Morrow just came back from injury. The Stars look like a shoo-in for the postseason. Last week: 3-0-0
9 Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 9
They're 7-3 in their last 10, so things are much better than they were. But that loss to the Devils on Sunday showed that there are still some problems to address in Philly. Ilya Bryzgalov's saves percentage (.907) continues to rise and his 3-0-0, 0.65 GAA performance earned him the NHL's First Star of the Week honor. He and Philly get another crack at the Devils on Tuesday. Last week: 3-1-0
10 Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 8
They've done an admirable job of staying afloat without captain Jonathan Toews (concussion), who missed his 10th straight game over the weekend. Toews is practicing regularly again, though, and could return later in the week. Problems remain with depth scoring and the defense once you get past Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Last week: 1-1-1
11 Boston Bruins
Last Week: 7
Boston Bruins (40-25-3)
They won't be calling themselves the defending champs for long if they don't start getting it together. Not to dump on a role player, but Brian Rolston was a bad pickup at the deadline by GM Peter Chiarelli, the type of move that screams: "We didn't do enough." Now Tuukka Rask is hurt and, gasp, Marty Turco is the backup to struggling Tim Thomas. Right now, the Bs are a very beatable team. Last week: 2-2-0
12 Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 16
Phoenix Coyotes (34-25-11)
Things are getting a little tougher for the Yotes, who did well to salvage a point on Monday vs. Nashville, but they've been a .500 team for about three weeks now. Radim Vrbata's suddenly cold stick ? no points in 10 straight games, the clear result of the dreaded Dater jinx (I wrote a glowing profile of him here on March 1) -- hasn't helped. Still, the Coyotes are scratching out points and staying in the West's top eight. The finish line can't come soon enough. Last week: 1-1-2
13 Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 17
They lost Matt Duchene (ankle), possibly for the rest of the regular season, last week. But newcomers such as Jamie McGinn (five goals since coming from San Jose) are helping them stay alive for the playoffs. Goalie Semyon Varlamov has been outstanding during the last month, silencing the critics who said the Avs were fleeced in trading two high draft picks to get him from Washington. He's 7-2 in his last nine starts, with a .955 saves percentage. Last week: 3-1-0
14 Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 18
Ottawa Senators (36-25-9)
They got a really nice win over the Rangers last week, and have done a fine job since goalie Craig Anderson went out with a hand injury. The week ahead looks rosy with a home-and-home against the trainwreck Canadiens followed by a tilt with the falling Leafs. Erik Karlsson remains in the Norris Trophy conversation. Last week: 2-0-1
15 San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 13
San Jose Sharks (34-25-9)
Todd McLellan's team got a critical win in Edmonton on Monday. Despite some very poor play of late, the good news is that they have three games in hand over eighth-place Colorado and two over seventh-place Phoenix while trailing those two clubs by one and two points, respectively. The odds are that the Sharks, with their considerable talent, will sneak into the postseason. Last week: 1-1-2
16 Florida Panthers
Last Week: 12
Florida Panthers (32-23-15)
Thank goodness for three-point games and the Carolina Hurricanes, otherwise these Cats would probably be in trouble. They're still not assured of a postseason berth, but their fourth straight win over the 'Canes, on Sunday, kept them clinging to the lead in the mediocre Southeast Division. Last week: 1-1-3
17 Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 14
Los Angeles Kings (32-25-12)
Time's getting short and they simply have not shown they are capable of any sustained consistency. They won 5-4 in Nashville last week, then lost to the Blue Jackets, 3-1, two nights later. At least Jeff Carter, four goals in eight games as a King, has proved to be a good pickup so far for beleaguered GM Dean Lombardi. LA will need that kind of production and maybe more to get into the postseason. Last week: 2-2-0
18 Calgary Flames
Last Week: 19
Calgary Flames (32-25-12)
They are just one of those teams that seems to win when you think it won't, and loses when you think it's not possible, but the Flames are still right there in the hunt for a playoff spot, entering Tuesday as the winners of three straight. Alas, it has been at this kind of moment -- when you think they'll go on a real roll -- that they don't. Last week: 3-0-0
19 Washington Capitals
Last Week: 25
Speaking of teams that are always up and down, the Caps have quietly gotten themselves back into the East's top eight. A gutsy win in Boston over the weekend did wonders for morale. If Alex Ovechkin (one goal in his last six games) could ever get cranked up, they could still easily win the Southeast title. Last week: 3-0-1
20 Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 21
Buffalo Sabres (33-29-8)
You had a feeling they had one good run in them, and so here they are: 7-2-1 in their last 10 and close to catching Washington and Florida. Beating one of those two teams in the final three weeks is what it will likely take to get into the playoffs, which were an unthinkable proposition just a few weeks ago. Last week: 3-1-0
21 Winnipeg Jets
Last Week: 15
Winnipeg Jets (32-29-8)
Until they show they can win some tough games on the road, where they are 11-19-4, the playoffs will have to wait at least another year. Fortunately, their next game, against the tough Stars, is at the MTS Centre on Wednesday. Last week: 0-2-0
22 Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 20
Steven Stamkos has done all he can, entering Tuesday's game with Boston at 48 goals. The Bolts made a nice little late-season run, but the wheels came off in a 7-3 rout by Ottawa, a frustrating 3-2 OT loss to Washington, and a galling 4-2 defeat by Carolina, so it's pretty much "wait 'til next year" at this point. Last week: 0-2-1
23 Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 23
Anaheim Ducks (29-30-11)
It's just about over for their playoff hopes. After a huge run under coach Bruce Boudreau, the Ducks seem to have run out of gas. They are 4-5-1 in their last 10, and Corey Perry is hurt. The problem always was found in their overall depth: once you get past that killer first line, there's not much left. Last week: 0-2-1
24 Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 27
They could be a prime spoiler down the stretch. With Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner and Cam Ward playing with nothing to lose, the 'Canes will be tough against any team that might feel skittish. Just ask the Lightning about it. Last week: 2-1-1
25 Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 22
They've been playing awful hockey for a while now, and the natives most certainly are not happy about it. The talk shows in Toronto have been burning up with disparaging chatter about GM Brian Burke's moves -- or lack thereof -- at the trade deadline. And despite their coaching change to Randy Carlyle, the Leafs are 1-7-2 in their last 10. So much for it all being Ron Wilson's fault. Last week: 0-3-1
26 New York Islanders
Last Week: 24
New York Islanders (28-31-10)
Another disheartening stretch for long-suffering Isles fans. Hope for a playoff spot was alive again until it became clear that this one-line team can't hold leads or win big games, so the Islanders will miss the playoffs for the fifth straight season. And what disappointing campaigns by Nino Niederreiter (1 measly point and -19 in 44 games), Josh Bailey (19 points, -12 in 67) and Michael Grabner (15 goals after scoring 34 last season, and -15). Last week: 0-2-1
27 Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 26
Minnesota Wild (29-30-10)
It has been quite a spectacular freefall for the Wild, thanks no doubt to the dreaded Dater Jinx. (I wrote a glowing profile of him here on Feb. 3.) Things started going bad even with Mikko Koivu and Niklas Backstrom in the lineup, but since they and others have gone down with injuries? This looks more like an AHL team right now. Last week: 1-2-0
28 Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 28
Montreal Canadiens (27-32-11)
It figures to be a summer of change in their coaching and GM departments. And there appears to be no alternative other than buying out the remainder of Scott Gomez's onerous contract, too. The Habs can't afford to go another year with Gomez (two goals, 11 points) gomezing through the motions like this. Last week: 2-1-1
29 Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 29
Edmonton Oilers (26-36-7)
A team with a similar season arc as the Wild, the Oilers have been left to play out the string again and wonder how things got so bad despite having so much young offensive talent on hand. There is plenty of grumbling lately in Edmonton about the job GM Steve Tambellini has done, especially that bizarre two-year, $10 million contract extension he forked over to badly underachieving veteran Ales Hemsky at the trade deadline. It's not just the Flames' official Twitter feed that's ridiculed that deal. Last week: 1-2-1
30 Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 30
Hats off to the lowly Jackets, who have have at least been playing hard after all that turmoil near the deadline. Before he hurt his left hand last week, goalie Steve Mason had won four straight starts. Last week: 2-2-0

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