By Adrian Dater
January 03, 2012

We have a new No. 1 team this week. You're it, New York Rangers. Uneasy has been the head that's worn this crown, so let's see how long the precious jewels stay aloft on your collective dome. But ye Blueshirts deserve the recognition, especially after Monday's Winter Classic win in freezing Philly.

A DISCLAIMER (of sorts): These rankings are based not just on each team's record at the moment, 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, 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".

Let's begin the latest roll call for the NHL's power pack (all stats and records through games of Jan. 2:

NHL Power Rankings
1 New York Rangers
Last Week: 2
I don't care if it was a gimmicky game or not, that was an impressive victory in the Winter Classic. Down 2-0 to Philly in an enemy stadium, John Tortorella's Blueshirts fought their way to a really nice two points. Oh, and Marc Staal returned from his concussion and played really well. Add him and maybe a good stick to this mix at the deadline at you're talking a real team here, worthy of the No. 1 spot, at least for this week. Last week: 2-1-0
2 Boston Bruins
Last Week: 1
Boston Bruins (24-10-1)
They finished a road trip in less than impressive fashion in Dallas with former Bruin Michael Ryder scoring a goal against them in the Stars' win. But we'll give the Bs a break for the travel part of their week and keep them in the top two. Their plus-minus in goals so far this season (plus-55, 123-68) is phenomenal. Of note: passionate Bruins announcer Jack Edwards finally has his own Twitter account -- @realjackedwards. This could be really good. Last week:1-1-0
3 Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 3
A Monday night loss at home to Edmonton stopped some of their momentum, though they still have the most points in the Western Conference. You have to wonder how many more chances netminder Corey Crawford will get to grab the starting job back from notoriously fickle coach Joel Quenneville. Crawford, considered the goalie of the future for Chicago just a few months ago, didn't help his cause with a mediocre outing vs. the Oilers. Last week: 1-2-0
4 Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 4
As soon as Roberto Luongo started feeling good again, this team took right off just like we knew it would. It's a solid plus-33 in goal differential and getting consistently productive showings from the Sedins every night. Henrik is rapidly closing in on the league scoring lead, and Daniel is right behind him. Last week: 2-1-1
5 Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 7
While they continue to have some troubles proving they are still the best in their division, they proved last week that St. Louis still isn't in their class by beating the Blues twice. The Wings are 15-2-1 at home, including a 3-0 win over St. Louis Saturday night. "I think the way we've been scoring goals, it makes it easier on everyone at home," goalie Jimmy Howard sagely noted. Last week: 2-1-0
6 Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 6
Come on, Ilya Bryzgalov should have played in the Winter Classic. The "Carl Sagan of the Crease", as my colleague Michael Farber calls him, should have been in there. Peter Laviolette grabbed the mantle of "killjoy" and stuck Sergei Bobrovsky in there instead, trying to turn the Classic into just another hockey game. Way to have that dramatic flair, Lavy. Oh, and how did it work out for you? Breezer should have started. Last week: 1-2-0
7 St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 5
St. Louis Blues (21-12-5)
As noted above, until they get over that Red Wings hurdle, we can't safely classify them as an elite team. Getting shut out Saturday was not a good response from a previous whipping by Detroit a couple days before. Rugged winger Chris Stewart continues to go too many games in succession without points. But look, these guys are still well up there in the playoff chase. Last week: 0-2-1
8 San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 9
San Jose Sharks (20-11-4)
They got a big two points on Monday night by beating Vancouver, but teams such as Minnesota and Colorado, who rank beneath San Jose in this week's rankings, were ahead of them in the Western standings. Why? Well, for starters, the Sharks had SIX games in hand over both clubs and are only a couple of points back. The schedulemaker has been their best friend so far. Last week: 1-0-1
9 New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 19
Make way for the Devs, who are playing very well, led by the much-maligned Ilya Kovalchuk, who had a three-point game against Pittsburgh in a 3-1 win. Zach Parise has finally gotten his game together again, entering Monday with 30 points, and rookie Adam Henrique has entered the Calder discussion. Last week: 2-0-0
10 Nashville Predators
Last Week: 16
These guys just don't stay in slumps for very long. Despite a couple of times when the sledding got rough and doubt crept in, the Preds just went to work and found a way to get some Ws. The absence of Shea Weber (concussion) remains a major worry, but "we're not going to rush it," coach Barry Trotz said about his star defenseman. Without Weber, the Preds have won their last three games. Last week: 3-0-0
11 Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 17
They're 4-0-3 in their first seven matches under new bench boss Darryl Sutter. Yeah, some games have gotten away -- like the one Monday against Colorado in which they had a 1-0 lead with under six minutes left and lost 2-1 in the shootout. But overall, this has been just the kind of turnaround Sutter-watchers envisioned. He has the Kings playing a tougher, more relentless game. Last week: 2-0-2
12 Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 12
They lose Matt Duchene for a month (knee injury), but go on the road and beat Anaheim and LA over New Year's weekend. Whatever you do, don't get these guys in a shootout. The Avs are 18-1 in their last 19! Ryan O'Reilly is fast turning into one of the best two-way centers in the league. Last week: 3-1-0
13 Winnipeg Jets
Last Week: 22
Winnipeg Jets (19-14-5)
Evander Kane has become the real deal, has he not? He scored two goals in the Jets' snapping of Colorado's eight-game home winning streak and followed up with an OT game-winner against LA at home two nights later. Kane has 18 goals so far -- one shy of his career high. Jets fans are going nuts right now. Last week: 3-0-0
14 Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 8
Dan Bylsma doesn't have quite the won-loss record he once did with Sidney Crosby on board. Phil Jackson didn't make the NBA Finals in the two years Michael Jordan didn't play for him in the '90s. What am I saying here? Coaches are only as good as their best players, that's what. The loss of Crosby is finally taking its rightful chomp out of the Penguins' hopes, and nothing will get better until he gets back. Last week: 1-2-0
15 Florida Panthers
Last Week: 11
Florida Panthers (20-12-7)
An ugly incident the other night, where Florida's Krys Barch allegedly made racial comments to Montreal's P.K. Subban, who is black. Barch has denied them, and NHL VP Colin Campbell is investigating. These are the kinds of distractions that hurt a team, and Florida had already been struggling for a bit, at least compared to their great start. Goalie Jose Theodore will miss some time now with a knee injury. Time to see what top prospect Jacob Markstrom can do. Last week: 2-1-0
16 Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 20
Ottawa Senators (20-15-5)
This has become one of my favorite teams, just for the purely random good record the Sens have posted. They were awful the first week of the season, but hats off to new coach Paul McLean for rounding these guys into a competitive bunch. The Sens were a lottery team last year, but here they are right in the playoff mix. Last week: 3-1-0
17 Washington Capitals
Last Week: 23
They were down 2-0 to Columbus after two periods on Saturday night. Then Alex Ovechkin went into a phone booth, and though he didn't emerge as Superman, just being the old Ovie was good enough. The Caps got a 4-2 win, just the kind that shows character and toughness. But their slow start means they'll have many more such nights ahead that have to go a similarly fortuitous way. Last week: 3-0-0
18 Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 10
Minnesota Wild (21-13-6)
It's been a steep fall from the top. They are 1-6-3 in their last 10 games, and their goal-differential is back to even (95-95). They lost a bad game to Phoenix at home last week, and now they play six of their next seven on the road against some pretty good teams (Vancouver, Philly, Chicago among them). Last week: 1-1-1
19 Dallas Stars
Last Week: 14
Dallas Stars (21-15-1)
They lost 4-1 on home ice to Columbus last week, which automatically drops them down a few spots, no matter what else they did. But wait ? they beat Boston at home after that. That should matter more than the hiccup against the C-bus, right? Not in my book. Can't be losing to last-place teams at home. OK, so you got a good win against a tired Bruins team, but you can't let those gimme wins get away, and that's kind of been Dallas's problem all season. Last week: 1-1-0
20 Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 13
Ever since coach Ron Wilson got that extension, the Leafs haven't done much. Granted, they've got a lot of injury problems, including John-Michael Liles becoming the latest good player out with a concussion. Goalie James Reimer's numbers are far less impressive than last season, and the reason is probably a concussion as well. It's starting to look as if this team is too banged up to go anywhere. Last week: 0-2-1
21 Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 15
Phoenix Coyotes (19-16-4)
They snapped a season-high four-game skid on Saturday by taking advantage of the reeling Wild and continue to hang tough in the West, where they entered Tuesday night's battle with the Blues tied with the Sharks for 10th in the conference. As of this writing, they're in the middle of a four-game road swing, which isn't a disadvantage in that they've played well away from their digs (12-8-1). Maybe Radim Vrbata, their leading goal-scorer (18) is heating up again after snapping his five-game schneid without one. Last week: 1-1-1
22 Calgary Flames
Last Week: 18
Calgary Flames (18-17-5)
Right on cue after a good week, they hit a bit of a tough patch (three straight losses) on the road and now have the Capitals and Bruins looming before they can go back home. Their defense has sprung leaks and no lead is safe, and this crew ranks dead last in the league when it comes to winning face-offs. On the plus side, Jarome Iginla needs one more goal for 500 in his career, all of them coming with a Calgary sweater on his back. Last week: 1-2-1
23 Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 25
Are the Bolts starting to get things together? They've won three in a row, and coach Guy Boucher no longer looks like he wants to destroy something on the bench. That was a nice, solid 5-1 win against the Flyers last week and it carried over into triumphs against the Habs and Hurricanes. As they showed last year, the Lightning are capable of putting some big runs together. Last week: 3-0-0
24 Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 21
Buffalo Sabres (17-17-4)
The NHL's most underachieving team so far in my book (based on payroll) is starting to run out of excuses for why it can't get going. Even coach Lindy Ruff is looking in the mirror. "Right now we all understand that we haven't been good enough and I stand at the forefront of all that," Ruff told The Buffalo News on Monday. "From goaltending to some of our defensive play to the lack of scoring, it really just falls on my shoulders." Last week: 0-2-1
25 Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 24
Edmonton Oilers (16-19-3)
A win over the Blackhawks in Chicago on Sunday night gave some hope to this young, talented bunch that it is capable of having a strong second half. After suffering a shoulder separation, Taylor Hall looks like he's finally starting to be himself again, but there's a lot of ground to make up in the unforgiving West. Last week: 1-2-0
26 New York Islanders
Last Week: 29
PA Parenteau has taken over the team scoring lead, and given great hope to all future hockey players who are named PA. Like Matt Moulson, Parenteau is a good "unlikely" story ? drafted 264th overall, signed as a free agent by the Isles after playing for a bunch of teams, and finally blossoming. He's worked through all that adversity to become a good player. The Isles need a few more like him. Last week: 2-0-0
27 Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 26
Well, they're 4-4-2 in their last 10 under new coach Kirk Muller, so while there has been nothing what one might call a "surge" on his watch, at least things seem to have stabilized. This team has really missed Jeff Skinner, who is still out indefinitely with a concussion, but on a bright note, he returned to no-contact practice on Monday. Last week: 1-2-0
28 Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 28
Mon Dieu, what a mess. The hiring of Randy Cunneyworth looks worse by the day, especially since he can't climb over -- as SI colleague Michael Farber so well put it -- the team's Berlitz Wall with regard to speaking French. (GM Pierre Gauthier actually issued an apology to the Montreal masses who are readying bags of feathers and cauldrons of tar for the interim coach.) Just hire Patrick Roy already and get this thing turned around. Last week: 1-2-0
29 Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 30
Man, this team sure loves to blow leads. The latest meltdown of the season came against Washington on Saturday night. Up 2-0 at home after two periods, the Jackets were beaten 4-2, leaving coach Scott Arniel to take some swipes at the Columbus media -- "just keep piling on", he whined. What a mess. Last week: 1-1-1
30 Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 27
Anaheim Ducks (10-21-6)
Someone wished Bruce Boudreau a Happy New Year after his Ducks lost to the Avalanche at the Honda Center. He merely let out a little grunt and walked away. It's been that kind of scene for Gabby among the palm trees since he took over this team. No wonder he's grumpy. Ryan Getzlaf has only two goals in 28 games -- yikes. Last week: 0-2-0

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