By Adrian Dater
November 22, 2011

How about that dynamic return in Pittsburgh on Monday night? Yes sir, Zbynek Michalek playing his first game since Oct. 22 really had a tremendous effect on the Penguins. All those TV cameras, all those extra reporters, and still Michalek was able to put all those distractions aside and play a great game.

Your power rankings (all stats and records through games of Monday, Nov. 21) for this week:

NHL Power Rankings
1 Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 1
OK, so Michalek wasn't exactly the marquee comeback. Nothing I can write here will adequately sum up just how great Sidney Crosby looked in his first game since Jan. 5. I was there when Mario Lemieux returned from a nearly three-year absence in 2000, and I didn't think that could be topped. Granted, the Isles were the equivalent of the Washington Generals, but it was still a breathtaking performance. It's clear, after one game at least, that Crosby did the right things in preparing for his return. The NHL feels whole again. Beware the Penguins. Last week: 2-0-0
2 Boston Bruins
Last Week: 8
Boston Bruins (12-7-0)
Nine straight wins, after their defeat of Montreal on Monday night. Their goal differential remains the best in the league. Rumors of their demise -- or at least a severe Cup Hangover -- were greatly exaggerated (and I have my hand held high among the early Doubting Tim Thomases). Zdeno Chara is quietly having a great season at plus-12 and 14 points entering the game with the Habs. He'd win the Norris Trophy if voting were held today. Last week: 4-0-0
3 San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 10
San Jose Sharks (12-5-1)
They just make things look so easy, at least in the regular season. "We're a quarter of the season in and the separation {between teams] is minimal," coach Todd McLellan soberly noted after the Sharks' seventh road win of the season Sunday night at Colorado. "We're in the playoff picture, but lose two or three in a row and you're out of the playoff picture." They'll be in the picture come April, we feel safe in predicting. Last week: 3-0-0
4 Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 2
Despite a lost weekend (outscored by a combined 13-4 in Calgary and Edmonton), they've still got the best "starting five" in the league. Yes, there are some worries about those bottom five or 10, but that's what the trade deadline is for. The absence of reliable defenseman Brent Seabrook (dreaded lower-body injury) is being felt. The sooner he returns, the quicker things will return to normal. Last week: 1-2-0
5 Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 7
Minnesota Wild (12-5-3)
Let's make one thing perfectly clear: these guys aren't this good. They're going to slip at some point. But they did enter Monday with the NHL's best record, so we'll give them some time to enjoy it while it lasts. They're still deadly dull to watch many nights. Witness their 1-0 win over Colorado last week. I'm only sorry I can't get back those two-and-a half hours I spent witnessing it. But goalie Nik Backstrom is having a tremendous bounce-back season. When Mikko Koivu gets going, maybe these guys will stick around. Last week: 3-0-0
6 Florida Panthers
Last Week: 17
They might slip too, but for now let the good times roll in Sunrise! While the natives are staying away in droves (21st in attendance entering Monday), Dale Tallon's crew is looking good, especially Kris Versteeg, who scored his 10th and 11th goals in a 4-3 win over New Jersey Monday as the Cats came back from 3-0 down. Tomas Fleischmann has 20 points in 20 games. Going back to last season, before the Avs foolishly let him go for nothing, he has 41 points in his last 42 games. Last week: 3-1-0
7 Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 5
A couple of excellent Southern California road wins renewed faith in the Winged Wheel. Pavel Datsyuk looks to have shaken some early-season doldrums. Jimmy Howard continues to be one of the NHL's more under-appreciated goaltenders (that tends to happen in Detroit). Coach Mike Babcock threw down the challenge to his team before going into Los Angeles and Anaheim, questioning whether it was "choosing" to be just average instead of the usual victory factory. Datsyuk and company responded. Last week: 2-2-1
8 Nashville Predators
Last Week: 14
Barry Trotz gets all the ink on the staff, but goalie coach Mitch Korn should get more. All he does is develop great players in the creases of Nashville. He's supplanted Francois Allaire as the league's top goalie "guru", but you've probably never heard of him. He's been there 14 years, with Pekka Rinne his latest creation. Rinne had three shutouts in the first 19 games, with one of the league's better save percentages (.932). The Preds have gotten their game together, which means miserly goal allowances to foes and just enough offensive output to get the W. Last week: 2-0-1
9 New York Rangers
Last Week: 3
Coach John Tortorella made his players do push-ups at center ice during Monday's practice, penance for their 4-0 loss Saturday in Montreal in which they put only 17 shots on net. "We were late in everything we did," he told reporters. "It was one of those games. We were never involved in any battles because we didn't get there for the battle. We were in-between, all over the place." It's a good thing Torts is "over" the game. Wonder what he'd have done to his team if he wasn't. Last week: 1-1-0
10 St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 18
St. Louis Blues (10-7-2)
They still haven't lost in regulation under new coach Ken Hitchcock (4-0-2). It may be true by season's end that the best move made by any team was importing Hitch to the bench. No offense to Davis Payne, who probably didn't get as fair a shake as he deserved. But Hitchcock was the right call to take over a young, talented team that needed more of an authoritative voice. One of the NHL's better stories this year, too, has been the comeback of goalie Brian Elliott, who was one of the worst netminders last season. Last week: 2-0-1
11 Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 4
Back-to-back losses to lowly foes Winnipeg and Carolina had coach Peter Laviolette steaming. After falling at home to the Canes, he told Philly reporters: "The game is about competition and getting to the hard areas, and once you get there it's about getting numbers and support there. And when you're inside of it, it's about winning the battles. We didn't have it." Philly has allowed five powerplay goals in its last two games, and the PK unit is just 13th in the league (83.7 percent), which is actually two spots better than it finished last season. Last week: 1-2-0
12 Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 9
Buffalo Sabres (12-8-0)
Goalie Ryan Miller is still upset the NHL didn't sit Milan Lucic for the hit that has sidelined him with whiplash-like effects. And third-year defenseman Tyler Myers is gone for 4-6 weeks after wrist surgery. These dinged Sabres will be challenged to hold on with their depleted defense and well-stocked sick bay. Luckily, after a game vs. Boston, this week's schedule offers the awful Blue Jackets and struggling Caps. Last week: 1-2-0
13 Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 11
Phoenix Coyotes (10-6-3)
Dave Tippett's unheralded squad lost a tough one to Washington Monday night, but still had a nice 3-2-0 road trip that started in San Jose and ended in D.C. It included the nice story of tough guy Paul Bissonette (@biznasty to his multitude of Twitter followers) scoring a goal in Buffalo with his mother watching him play an NHL game in person for the first time. His mom, Yolande, has been ill the last two years, but managed to make the 25-mile journey from their native Welland, Ontario, to watch the game. Last week: 3-2-0
14 Washington Capitals
Last Week: 6
They eked out a win over Phoenix, but it left them only 4-5-1 in their last 10 games. Rumors are starting to swirl about looming changes if things don't get better fast. Forward Alex Semin, a healthy scratch Monday for the first time since his rookie season of 2003-04 is widely believed to be on the trade block, though getting a team to bite will be tough with his $6.7 million cap hit. What peeves coach Bruce Boudreau isn't just Semin's four goals and nine points in 18 games, it's his 14 minor penalties (tied for second-most in the league). "He was taking penalties seven games in a row. At some point you have to be accountable for your errors," Boudreau groused to reporters. Last week: 1-3-0
15 Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 13
Speaking of teams who should have a better record, they keep winning one, losing one. They'll get it together at some point ?- we think ?- but that probably won't happen until two-way center Ryan Kesler feels fully healthy again. After offseason surgery for a torn labrum, he admitted he's still feeling the effects, and he's struggled with just seven points in his first 14 games. But he's too good a player to stay at that level for long.Last week: 1-1-0
16 Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 19
The numbers have been too average so far for this much talent. They're 4-5-1 in their last 10, and they've scored only one more goal than they've allowed (49-48). A team with Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Jonathan Quick and Mike Richards should be better. But they're in the playoff mix at least, and for a brief time last week even led the Pacific Division. Last week: 2-1-0
17 Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 12
They need goalie James Reimer to return as fast as he can. But with whiplash -- or maybe concussion -- symptoms still lingering, no one knows for sure when that will be. Now coach Ron Wilson will have to make do without veterans Mike Komisarek and Matthew Lombardi for at least three weeks with various injuries. At least Phil Kessel (running away with the goal-scoring race: 16 so far) is still going strong. Last week: 1-2-1
18 Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 16
Edmonton Oilers (10-8-2)
Beating Chicago 9-2 on Saturday night, with rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins bagging four points, it seemed like the Oilers were on their way back to their torrid early-season ways. But they followed that game with a desultory showing Monday in Dallas, and are 4-6-0 in the last 10. We may have overestimated just how quickly this young team might develop. Last week: 1-2-0
19 Dallas Stars
Last Week: 15
Dallas Stars (12-8-0)
The good news of their sale last week to businessman Thomas Gaglardi has masked some very mediocre play of late. They couldn't even beat the Avalanche in Denver, which almost everyone does these days. But Gaglardi, a Vancouver native with strong Texas roots, is thrilled to have a chance to get the Stars back among the league's elite. Rehiring Jim Lites as team president was a good move. Lites is now in his third stint with the team. Last week: 1-3-0
20 New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 20
Zach Parise clearly isn't the player he was before he tore up his knee last year. His stats through 18 games (6-5-11) are ordinary by his standards. Hockey people often say it takes two full years to completely recover from a knee injury like Parise's. The Devils' captain can be an unrestricted free agent next summer, so one wonders if pressure to have a big contract season is getting to him as well. Last week: 2-2-0
21 Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 21
Despite losing to the Bruins at home Monday, the Habs are still a respectable 5-4-1 in their last 10 and they outshot Boston 33-18. Goalie Carey Price has allowed only one goal in his last three starts, which is bad news for the rest of the Eastern Conference. When he's hot, he's hot. Blueliner P.K. Subban's stick hasn't been too warm, however. After scoring 14 goals last season, the kid with a big slap shot has just one so far. Last week: 2-2-0
22 Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 22
Many people picked them to win the Southeast and even the regular-season conference title. Right now, the Bolts aren't even the best team in Florida. The goaltending and defense haven't been good enough, but they're clinging to a winning mark because of Steven Stamkos and a band of other good forwards. Third-year blueliner Victor Hedman isn't helping. The second overall pick in the 2009 draft has only two points in 16 games and is minus-1. Last week: 1-1-0
23 Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 25
Ottawa Senators (10-9-2)
They've been better than many thought, but even while playing over their heads a little, they're still just a .500 team. The recent return of Daniel Alfredsson has spurred them to snare at least a point in their last four games. I probably should have ranked these guys a little higher here, but you know once you start to buy into a team like this, things often immediately go the other way. Last week: 2-0-1
24 Winnipeg Jets
Last Week: 27
Winnipeg Jets (8-9-3)
Jets fever continues to be contagious in the 'Peg, but the football team -- the Blue Bombers ?- are the big story in town this week. They'll play Saturday for the Grey Cup against the B.C. Lions in the CFL's answer to the Super Bowl. Jets coach Claude Noel said he's been texting Blue Bombers coach Paul LaPolice all week, wishing him well. Meanwhile, Noel's team has won three straight. Last week: 2-0-0
25 Calgary Flames
Last Week: 23
Calgary Flames (8-10-1)
Monday's hideous 4-1 loss at Columbus is sure to fire up the rumor mill again, especially with GM Jay Feaster making no bones about his intent to make changes if the team's record doesn't start to flip. Before it was burned by the Jackets, coach Brent Sutter said he was fed up with his team's underachieving. "I'm tired of all the excuses -- slow starts in seasons, everything like that," he told reporters. "We're (two games) below .500 and, bottom line, it's because we've had individuals not play to the standards that's expected of them." Last week: 1-2-0
26 Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 24
Coach Joe Sacco put his charges through the dreaded "bag skate" Monday at practice ? euphemistically named for the little bags in airline seat pockets in case one gets violently ill. Whether it had any effect on his listless squad won't be known until Wednesday when it plays Vancouver at home. If the Avs, 3-7-0 at home, could petition the league to play the game on the road, they might have a chance. After three straight games in which he served as J-S Giguere's backup, Semyon Varlamov should be back in net. Last week: 1-2-0
27 Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 26
After plenty of whispers about coach Paul Maurice's job security being in serious trouble, the 'Canes rebounded with wins over Toronto and Philadelphia. Eric Staal even managed to cut down to minus-15 from minus-18. GM-for-life Jim Rutherford's job remains safe, and so does Maurice's -- for a few days at least. Last week: 2-2-0
28 Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 28
Anaheim Ducks (6-10-4)
When you're a one-line team and the one line isn't doing what it's supposed to, problems ensue. The Ducks may be more than that -- the great Teemu Selanne is still around on the second line, we won't forget ? but they look like they just haven't kept up with the faster, younger ways of the league. They look slower than many opponents and keep losing games because of too many turnovers. Last week: 0-2-1
29 Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 30
They are out of the Power Rankings cellar because of more spirited play of late, which has produced an almost-respectable 4-5-1 mark in the last 10 games. They dusted off Calgary on Monday night, and hey, they're only 11 points out of a playoff spot. Last week: 2-1-1
30 New York Islanders
Last Week: 29
Really, they disgraced the game their last two outings. In getting outscored 11-0 by the B's and Pens, the Isles looked like quitters before the first periods of those debacles were even over. John Tavares is in a huge slump, with zero goals in his last seven games. Remember, this was the guy some dared to compare to Sidney Crosby coming out of the 2009 draft. But watching Sid blow by slow-footed Tavares all night Monday, it only proves how wrong those comparisons were. Last week: 1-3-0

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