By Allan Muir
December 22, 2009

Biggest climb: Nashville Predators (5 from 12)

Biggest drop: Edmonton Oilers (22 from 16)

A reminder: These rankings are based on many factors, and not one is scientific. They're heavily influenced by recent play, taking into account expectations versus achievement, quality of opponents, injuries, hot or cold streaks, lucky bounces, bad breaks, travel schedule, and my uncannily intuitive gut calls on how each team stacks up against the rest of the Original 30. Please note that I, unlike most referees, do not have it in for your team. Also, stats and records noted are through Sunday, so keep in mind that Monday night'a action doesn't factor into the equation.

Want to send me a comment about the rankings or maybe a cool video clip that cries out to be shared? 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 decisions -- I'll try to get back to you.

NHL Power Rankings
1 New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 1
Yeah, the first rule of the Power Rankings Club is Monday's games don't count, but who wants to wait a week to talk about the greatness of Martin Brodeur? It seems like a month doesn't pass without him smashing another mark, but this was the big one: 104 shutouts. Never thought I'd see the day. The most telling aspect: 48 of his whitewashings came in 2-0, 1-0 or 0-0 games. If there's been a better goalie in pressure situations, I haven't seen him. Last week: 3-0
2 Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 4
Cristobal Huet hasn't yet convinced everyone that he's capable of carrying this team to the Cup, but he's doing his best to put doubters at ease. The NHL's First Star of the Week stopped all 47 shots he faced to shut out the Blues and Wings and help the Hawks regain top spot in the West. That gives him 11 wins in his last 15 games while dropping his GAA to a very respectable 2.01. Last week: 3-0
3 Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 2
If Team Canada finds itself in a shootout in Vancouver, count on Sidney Crosby being the first name on Mike Babcock's list. Sid's not perfect -- he was stymied by Buffalo's Patrick Lalime after scoring on his first five chances -- but he's among the most confident, unpredictable snipers in the game. And Canada could do worse than Marc-Andre Fleury in net. He's allowed just one goal on 13 attempts, leading the Pens to a 6-0 mark in the postgame skills contest. Last week: 3-0
4 Washington Capitals
Last Week: 6
A dramatic come-from-behind win over the Oilers on Saturday allowed them to end a brutal road stretch -- 13 of 17 during the last month -- on a high note, having earned 22 of 34 points to stay on the heels of the Pens and Devils in the battle for the East. Though Michal Neuvirth and Jose Theodore had their moments in net, the Caps have to be looking forward to the return of Semyon Varlamov after Christmas. Last week: 2-1
5 Nashville Predators
Last Week: 12
Maybe you wrote off their seven-game win streak in November as a team punching above its weight. Now it's on a 6-0-1 roll. May be time to recognize it's a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Surprising stat: the Preds scored at least one goal in each of the 12 periods they played last week while racking up a grand total of 23. Last week: 4-0
6 Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 5
Buffalo Sabres (21-10-3)
You can't say enough about Ryan Miller, but save superlatives for Tyler Myers. Buffalo's No. 1 defender was the NHL's top rookie this month. "There's a lot made of his skating and that's understandable," a scout from a team that passed on Myers at the draft told, "but the rest of his game is just as impressive. He gets the most minutes every night and he goes up against the other team's top players. He limits his mistakes and keeps his intensity up every shift. I shake my head every time I watch him play." Last week: 2-1-1
7 Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 3
They would have liked to enter their eight-day break in the schedule with a win, but their effort in a 2-1 road loss to Calgary is something to build on. After 10 games in a 17-day stretch when healthy bodies were scarcer than Tiger Woods, they displayed a surprising level of depth and commitment. "It's just a tribute to the guys in here and the belief system we have going into games," captain Dustin Brown said after the Flames game. "That's something we've never had in the past." Last week: 1-2
8 San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 9
San Jose Sharks (20-8-7)
Todd McLellan broke up the first line, replacing the slumping Dany Heatley with Devin Setoguchi, and the new unit accounted for all four goals in a 4-1 win over the Ducks. Just as key, the Sharks managed to win one at home. They lost just nine games at the Shark Tank last season, but have already dropped seven there. Last week: 1-0
9 Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 7
They rebounded nicely from a 6-1 shellacking by the Caps, outworking the Jackets in all three zones during Saturday's 5-2 win. Looked like the boys were trying to take out their frustrations on someone. They opened the scoring just 21 seconds in, with Chris Stewart's eighth goal setting a new franchise record for fastest tally from the start of a game, then popped in three more by the 8:02 mark to chase Steve Mason. Last week: 1-1
10 Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 10
Phoenix Coyotes (21-13-2)
Maybe Shane Doan needs to watch tape with red-hot Keith Yandle. Not to ignore the passion and effort the captain brings, but this team needs him to chip in more than the goal and assist he's offered in December if it wants to stay in the mix. Yandle's produced a goal and five assists, thanks to a little creativity and willingness to take chances. Doan needs to open up his bag o' tricks and show us what he's got. Last week: 2-2
11 Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 14
Minnesota Wild (17-15-3)
Blame for their 4-1 loss to the Sens falls more on effort than the fire that destroyed much of their equipment. Their consistency slipped the last week, but they are finding ways to win games that would slip away. Defense is carrying them (Mikko Koivu is plus-13 over his past 16 games) and they're starting to get something out of Martin Havlat, who finally has a bit of jump in his step. They're 7-3 this month despite playing seven on the road. Last week: 2-1
12 Boston Bruins
Last Week: 8
Boston Bruins (16-11-7)
Tough week on the injury front. Starting defenders Dennis Wideman, Derek Morris and Mark Stuart were relegated to civvies, and the lack of experience of the backend showed in losses to the Flyers, Hawks and Leafs. A bright spot: Johnny Boychuk. Pressed into heavy service, the rookie impressed, scoring a nice goal against Chicago and laying out Matt Stajan with one of those hits that hurts just to watch. Last week: 0-2-1
13 Calgary Flames
Last Week: 11
Calgary Flames (20-11-4)
This column generates more mail from Flames fans than any others. Last week's batch showed growing frustration with a team perceived as underachieving by some and overrated by others. "This is what happens when Kipper doesn't stand on his head," wrote Leigh Rinaldo after a 5-3 loss to the Preds. "If he doesn't steal it, they don't win." A little harsh, but it's fair to say that the crumbling defense puts the onus on the goalie too often. Too many giveaways and blown assignments are making Mikka Kiprusoff's life miserable. Last week: 1-2
14 Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 15
Alain Vigneault turned on the media after his team was handled by two West lightweights. "I don't know how anybody could suggest the [Blues are] not a good team," he said. "And I don't know how anybody can suggest Anaheim is not a good team. There are some good teams in our conference and people should give them a little more credit." That's nice, AV, but if you don't beat the teams you're supposed to, you end up sitting home in April. Last week: 2-2
15 Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 13
The Millennium Falcon used less duct tape and baling wire than these patchwork Wings, so the fact that they've held together this long is impressive. But after watching Chicago hand them their fourth shutout in the last 15 games, it's clear they're running out of cheap fixes. With Henrik Zetterberg added to the eight-deep IR, they're no longer dangerous enough to draw penalties or capitalize on them when they do. The power play is 0-14 over the last five games. Last week: 2-2
16 Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 18
The great Rosie DiManno was right: they may as well change their nickname from the Maple Leafs to the Sybils. Inconsistency is to be expected from a marginally talented squad, but these guys change personalities from period-to-period. Two things are clear: aggressive is a better look than passive; second, as long as Jonas Gustavsson provides the confidence he displayed in shutting out the Bruins, the Leafs are more likely to battle for eighth place than last. Last week: 2-2
17 Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 20
Ondrej Pavelec stopped 23 of 24 first-period shots in Saturday's 5-4 loss to the Devils as Atlanta continues to over-rely on its goaltenders. Just four wins in 10 December games and all four came after they were pushed to OT or the shootout. "It has to be addressed," defender Ron Hainsey said after his team gave up 42 shots to New Jersey, 47 to Dallas and 48 to the Rangers. "Bad stuff is going to happen when you give up 45 shots." Last week: 2-2
18 Dallas Stars
Last Week: 17
Dallas Stars (15-9-11)
The young defenders continue to struggle with Marc Crawford's edict to jump into the play at the right moment, but Karlis Skrastins showed them how it's done with two savvy goals in Saturday's 4-3 win over the Wings. The veteran suggested he had a bit of luck, but smart reads allowed him to exploit lapses in the defense and get in position to score. With Trevor Daley and Mark Fistric out until after Christmas, this team could use a few more plays like that. Last week: 1-1-1
19 Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 19
Ottawa Senators (18-13-4)
Did I miss where they hired Dr. Kananga? Sure seemed like they had a little bit of voodoo working last week. On Wednesday, they took advantage of a Buffalo squad that had seven players weakened by nasty food poisoning. Saturday they skated past a Minnesota side breaking in new equipment after a van carrying its gear caught fire. Next thing you know, Jarkko Ruutu will start dating Solitaire and then all hell will break loose. Last week: 2-2
20 Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 22
Anaheim Ducks (14-14-7)
Solid wins over Vancouver and Phoenix, points in seven of their last eight quieted calls for Randy Carlyle's head and pulled them, at least temporarily, out of the West basement. As a group, they seem to be settling into their skin but the key to their success has been Jonas Hiller's revival. The Swiss stopper appears to have retaken the starter's job by going 3-0 with a 1.67 GAA and .953 save percentage in his last three starts. Last week: 2-1
21 Florida Panthers
Last Week: 25
Florida Panthers (15-15-7)
They sent the opposing goalie to the showers twice last week, chasing Dwayne Roloson in a 7-1 win over the Isles on Monday and Cam Ward in a 6-3 victory on Friday. The routs highlighted a tough schedule of six games in nine nights that saw them bank nine of 12 points. Last week: 3-1
22 Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 16
Edmonton Oilers (15-16-4)
So much for the momentum of their record-breaking five-game road win swing. Three dispiriting home losses, none more so than blowing a 2-0 third period lead and falling 4-2 to the Caps. Jeff Deslauriers, starter of 14 straight, had another night that suggests he's got a long way to go before he can be trusted with a No. 1 job. The rookie made a few sensational stops, but tempered them with three critical errors. Last week: 0-3
23 St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 21
St. Louis Blues (15-14-5)
GM Larry Pleau finally unleashed his best Howard Beale impression after Friday's listless 6-3 loss to Vancouver. The upshot? Andy Murray isn't going anywhere and the answers to inconsistencies will have to come from within the room. It's the right move -- Murray's a solid coach -- but management and fans may need to rethink expectations. As I wrote prior to that game, the Blues have plenty of promising talent, but need time to work through growing pains. Last week: 2-2
24 New York Rangers
Last Week: 26
New York Rangers (16-16-3)
John Tortorella backed up his "no entitlement" speech by benching underachievers Wade Redden, and Ales Kotalik and demoting Chris Drury to the fourth line. No need to starting sizing anyone for rings just yet, but it looks like they got the message. They responded with wins over the struggling Isles and Flyers. Neither suggested they were out of the woods, but both featured significantly better efforts than this team has made since October. Last week: 2-1-1
25 Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 23
Returning from an injury suffered in the season opener, Andrei Markov ignited the stagnant power play with two goals in a 3-0 smackdown of the Isles that snapped a five-game losing skid. But even with their best player back, the Habs couldn't correct their biggest problem. They've been outshot in 10 of their last 11, often by a wide margin. You might sneak a win occasionally, but their record shows it won't happen often. Last week: 1-3
26 New York Islanders
Last Week: 24
They dropped four straight at home and the offense has gone colder than Rita Morgan (knowing nod to Dexter fans). Guess that's what happens when you rely on one line to provide pop. John Tavares is pointless in five, Matt Moulson has one goal in his last nine, Kyle Okposo hasn't scored in 16. That's not the only problem. The penalty kill has given up 10 goals in its last 17 outings. Last week: 1-3
27 Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 27
A six-goal explosion against the equally ineffective Blues allowed them to break a six-game slide, but the outburst couldn't have been much solace to their chapfallen fans. The Bolts have won just two of 12, and fingers are pointing at an offense limited to one goal or fewer in half of those games. If Brian Lawton won't change the chemistry, you have to wonder how many more buttons Rick Tocchet has left to push. Last week: 1-2
28 Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 29
The most surprising thing about their swoon? How about they've shown a stunning indifference for competing? Sure, they'll give you 15 or 20 minutes of effort, like the third period on Saturday when they outshot the Rangers 16-5, but this frat house on skates seems incapable of focusing for the duration. While everyone in Philly dreams up deals for a savior in net, they better look for someone who can score. The Flyers have just 10 goals in their last seven games. Last week: 1-2-1
29 Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 28
After pulling Steve Mason for the fifth time this season, Ken Hitchcock finally decided that it's win and you stay in. Considering the Jackets have taken just two of their last 17 games, that shouldn't make for too many back-to-back assignments for Mason or Mathieu Garon. Last week: 0-3-1
30 Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 30
They've played just three home games in December, but won 'em all, spanking Dallas and edging Florida last week. The points are big, but the top story was strong effort from kids who've been pressed into action. Patrick Dwyer scored a pair over the weekend and was their best forward against the Cats. Brett Carson, Jay Harrison and Brian Rodney made good impressions as blueline fill-ins. It may not seem like much now, but the confidence the kids are building will pay off. Last week: 2-1

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