By Adrian Dater
November 29, 2011

It was a week that saw two coaches fired, with the likable Bruce Boudreau getting the sharp axe in Washington and Paul Maurice leaving Carolina for the second time. Let's give each a moment of silence before we move on to this week's NHL Power Rankings.

NOTE: All records and stats through games of Monday, November 28

NHL Power Rankings
1 Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 1
He was no one-game wonder, but you knew that would be the likely scenario with Sidney Crosby. After four points against the Islanders in his first game in nearly a year, he was blanked by Blues in his next outing, then put up four more points against Ottawa and Montreal. It all added up to NHL First Star of the Week honors, quite a return indeed for the game's best player, by any measure of argument. Oh, and Evgeni Malkin ain't bad, either. He's bagged two points in each of his last four games entering Tuesday. Last week: 2-0-1
2 Boston Bruins
Last Week: 2
Boston Bruins (14-7-1)
Their 10-game win streak came to an end Friday in the Thanksgiving Showdown, but they still got a point in the shootout loss to Detroit and coach Claude Julien deserves much credit for shooing the Cup Hangover away from his team after a very worrying start. Their best game of the week was a comeback at Buffalo in which Milan Lucic was immediately challenged by the Sabres' Paul Gaustad. Lucic won the fight and the B's won the game, which no doubt bothered Buffaloans who wanted their pound of flesh for Lucic's hit on Ryan Miller. Last week: 2-0-1
3 Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 4
They just finished a six-game road trip 3-3, so look for some proverbial hay to be made at home now with Jonathan Toews making an early case for his first Hart Trophy. Entering Saturday's game in Los Angeles, he had 12 goals, 24 points and an NHL-leading 61.8 percent face-off success rate. Against the Kings, Captain Serious scored the gamer in a 2-1 win. I'll take him right now over Alex Ovechkin (the old Alex) as the game's next-best player after Crosby. Last week: 2-1-0
4 Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 7
After challenging his team to "choose" if it wanted to become elite again, it appears the Red Wings voted "yea." They're playing great hockey again in all phases. If the voting were held today, goalie Jimmy Howard, who has started 15 straight games, might get some votes for the Vezina Trophy. His 1.86 goals-against average is among the league leaders, and his wins (13) and shutout (3) totals are tied for first. Last week: 3-0-0
5 Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 17
Hats off to coach Ron Wilson for not just keeping his team afloat without starting goalie James Reimer, but moving it up the conference standings. The Leafs went on the road and got great wins in cities in three time zones: Tampa Bay, Dallas and Anaheim. Forward Clarke MacArthur had a goal in all three and is quietly turning into one of the league's more consistent points producers. He had 62 (on 21 goals) last season for Wilson, and has scored nine goals so far. Last week: 3-0-0
6 San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 3
San Jose Sharks (12-7-1)
Goalie Antti Niemi had won five in a row before a tough 3-2 setback at home against Vancouver on Saturday. Then he got no support in a 2-0 loss to the Kings on Monday. His health problems appear to be over for sure, as he's been excellent for the last month, as evidenced by his 34-save, 1-0 shutout of Chicago last week. "He's the reason we got two points tonight," captain Joe Thornton told reporters. "He played great. For whatever reason, he likes playing against his old team." Last week: 1-2-0
7 Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 5
Minnesota Wild (14-7-3)
After back-to-back losses, they grounded the Lightning in an ugly 1-3-1 snoozer on Monday night. (Aren't you glad you chose that one, O ye Versus schedule-makers?) While some cracks are beginning to show in rookie coach Mike Yeo's team, these guys are probably the league's most surprising squad. Goalie Niklas Backstrom continues to post impressive numbers (8-5-2, 2.09 GAA, 0.932 save pct.) and center Mikko Koivu got a couple of points in the win over Tampa Bay. When/if Koivu really gets going, the Wild could be legit. Last week: 2-2-0
8 St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 10
St. Louis Blues (13-8-2)
Ken Hitchcock for the Jack Adams Award? What a turnaround he's orchestrating: 6-1-2 in his first nine games. And what a story goalie Brian Elliott is turning out to be. He'd probably win comeback player of the year in a landslide right now with his amazing 10-1-0 record, .951 saves pct. and 1.31 GAA. Of the two teams that gave up on him last year, Ottawa and Colorado, at least the Senators got something for him (Craig Anderson). The Avs let Elliott go for free. Last week: 3-1-0
9 Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 15
Cory Schneider grabbed the starting job from Roberto Luongo with a sensational week in goal: a shutout in Phoenix on Friday and anchoring his tired team's 3-2 squeaker in San Jose for their fourth straight win. How long Luongo remains one of the league's highest-paid backups remains a top storyline in Vancouver. Looks like center Ryan Kesler is starting to get back to speed after offseason hip surgery, and guys like Manny Malhotra are chipping in again. Last week: 3-0-0
10 New York Rangers
Last Week: 9
The Blueshirts got a nice 2-0 win at Philly on Saturday in a warm-up for next month's Winter Classic. John Tortorella's bunch doesn't score a lot of goals, but goalie Henrik Lundqvist makes it so they don't always have to. Tortorella clearly has gotten this team to buy in to a five-man defensive concept. No more big gaps between the forwards and defense like old Ranger teams used to have, and not many bad turnovers anymore. Brad Richards has played well so far and is a quiet leader in the dressing room. Last week: 2-1-0
11 Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 11
No question, Father Time is catching up to Chris Pronger, one of only two players left in the NHL who played for the Hartford Whalers (J-S Giguere is the other). The captain will be on the shelf for a month with a knee injury, but things are still good here -- mostly. Peter Laviolette called a timeout and nearly blew out a lung screaming at his players after their slow start against Montreal last Friday. They got the message and won handily. Doing without Pronger will be tough, but Laviolette will make sure nobody in orange and black feels sorry for themselves. Last week: 2-1-0
12 Florida Panthers
Last Week: 6
Their goal differential (64-59) isn't all that impressive, but their record is. This week they go West for a couple of tough games against the Kings and Sharks, so it will be interesting to see if they can keep living up to their early-season "most surprising" team status. Kris Versteeg has certainly regained his old form under GM Dale Tallon, with 26 points in his first 23 contests. Last week: 1-1-1
13 Dallas Stars
Last Week: 19
Dallas Stars (14-9-1)
Goalie Kari Lehtonen will be lost for at least three weeks with a knee injury, but so far they are surviving his absence. Backup Andrew Raycroft went into Denver on Monday night and got the Stars a victory over the moribund Avs. Center Jamie Benn continues to be one of the league's most unappreciated players, averaging a point per game with strong defensive skills. Winning without Lehtonen will be a chore, so Benn and Co. will need to up their offensive production. Last week: 2-1-1
14 Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 13
Phoenix Coyotes (12-7-3)
They're deadly dull to watch, but coach Dave Tippett won't care as long as their Ws exceed their Ls. He's gotten his players to buy into a disciplined system (the Yotes average the fewest penalty minutes per game in the league), and when they're down a man, they take care of business (fourth in the league on the PK). Unfortunately, the fans in Phoenix still don't care: the Coyotes rank last in attendance (10,671 per game). Last week: 2-1-0
15 Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 16
They have yet to play their best hockey, so their record is a testament to how much talent is here. If coach Terry Murray can just find a way to get his two top lines going on a more consistent level, things should be real good for the second half. Then again, too many more little slip-ups and just making the playoffs could be a worry. Yes, the playoffs are still WAY too far off to start talking about the Western horse race, but you really can't afford a four- or five-game losing streak in that conference. You go from "in" to "out" of the postseason picture in a hurry. Last week: 2-1-1
16 Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 12
Buffalo Sabres (13-9-1)
Goalie Ryan Miller faced some shots on Monday and hopes to be back at practice full-time on Wednesday. With concussions giving NHL teams what they hate the most -- uncertainty -- a quick return by Miller would be tremendous news indeed for the Sabres, though his problems appear linked more to whiplash than a brain injury. "Talking to the doctors, they felt it was important to let it settle down. I'm trying to improve some strength in that area," he told The Buffalo News. Last week: 1-1-1
17 Nashville Predators
Last Week: 8
It's strange to see their goal differential in debit territory (60-62), and there are real worries about their talent up the middle. On Monday night, the Preds picked up their first win since Nov. 17 with a 2-1 triumph at Edmonton in a game that saw their defense give probably its best showing of the season (18 shots-against). "I thought we played with a lot more of the things you need to do to win," coach Barry Trotz said. "I thought we played with a lot more intensity. I thought we played with a lot more structure." Last week: 1-3-0
18 Washington Capitals
Last Week: 14
Yes, Bruce Boudreau endeared himself to Caps fans with a good run, but in the poetic lyrics of Miss Janet Jackson: "What have you done for me lately?" So the Dale Hunter Era begins with his NHL debut on Tuesday night against a team that recently made a coaching change of its own. The Caps can only hope that things go as well for Hunter, who spent most of his playing career in Washington, as they have for the St. Louis Blues under Ken Hitchcock. Last week: 1-2-0
19 Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 18
Edmonton Oilers (12-10-2)
With Taylor Hall on the shelf for 2-4 weeks (shoulder injury), we'll see more what rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is made of. Chances are these guys are going to keep gradually slipping as they've done since their sizzling start. The Oil showed it can do things like score nine goals on Chicago ... then lose to one of the NHL's worst home teams, Colorado, a few nights later. But this remains a team that nobody looks forward to playing. Last week: 2-2-0
20 New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 20
They are kind of skulking around after splitting a weekend series with the punchless Isles before heading West for a Wednesday date with the woebegone Avs. Hard to believe it was nearly 10 years ago that those two proud franchises played for the Stanley Cup. Now each is just trying to get into the playoff hunt. Last week: 2-1-0
21 Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 21
Andrei Markov's return from his knee injury can't come soon enough. The Habs haven't had the veteran D-man's big body and two-way presence for more than a year and they badly need him. The good news: he could be back this week, maybe Wednesday at Anaheim. "Marky is awesome," goalie Carey Price told the Montreal Gazette. "With him in the lineup, the puck will be moving really quickly." Last week: 1-1-1
22 Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 22
GM Steve Yzerman, seeking a motivational card to play with his listless team, issued a warning to Versus. "We reserve the right that we may not cooperate in the future," he told The St. Petersburg Times, if the network's broadcast crew keeps attacking his Bolts unfairly, as he believes the Versus talking heads did for Tampa's 1-3-1 defensive system against the Flyers a couple of weeks ago. Stevie Y ought to know that assailing the media for one's troubles on the ice is the last resort of a loser. He did add that his team is "losing no sleep" over what Versus thinks of it. Neither are those who have to watch that 1-3-1. Last week: 2-2-0
23 Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 23
Ottawa Senators (11-10-2)
Rookie coach Paul MacLean deserves credit for having these guys anywhere near a playoff spot, even at this point in the season. But let's face it, the Sens aren't going anywhere for a while. Craig Anderson's 3.44 GAA ranks 61st overall, not quite what GM Bryan Murray had in mind when he signed the netminder to a four-year deal late last season. Last week: 1-1-0
24 Winnipeg Jets
Last Week: 24
Winnipeg Jets (9-10-4)
They play 13 of their next 15 games at the MTS Centre, starting with a Tuesday tilt against the Sens, so if coach Claude Noel's team is to make any kind of move up the standings, this figures to be one of its best opportunities. "We've been on the road pretty much all of whatever it is, month-and-a-half," forward Nik Antropov told the Winnipeg Free Press. "It's nice to have a home stretch. We're going to take advantage of it, hopefully." Last week: 1-1-1
25 Calgary Flames
Last Week: 25
Calgary Flames (9-12-1)
Coach Brent Sutter had something of a "Jerry McGuire" moment last Wednesday, launching into a 15-minute soliloquy in the hallway of Detroit's Joe Louis Arena about the importance of teamwork and what it will take for his lads to be winners again. Then his troops went out and dropped a 5-3 decision to the Wings, following it up with a 2-0 loss in St. Louis. Might have just taken four days for Sutter's words to sink in, though. The Flames went into Minnesota and beat the upstart Wild, 5-2, Sunday. Last week: 1-2-0
26 Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 26
Things continue to be mostly dismal around the Pepsi Center. Against Dallas on Monday night, in front of their smallest crowd of the season (12,015), the Avs floundered around in a 3-1 loss while making previously winless Andrew Raycroft look like a star, not just a Star. Colorado's highest-paid player, Paul Stastny, has porduced a mere 14 points in 24 games and is -6. Last week: 1-2-0
27 Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 27
Now that Paul Maurice is out again as bench boss, Kirk Muller will try his hand at the wheel. Muller, known as an excellent specialty teams coach, will have much work to do in those departments. The 'Canes' power play ranks 29th and its PK is not much better: 22nd. Last week: 0-2-1
28 Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 29
They're a respectable 4-4-2 in their last 10 games, including a solid spanking of the Sabres. Jeff Carter appears to slowly be rounding into better form, with four points in his last five outings. If only goalie Steve Mason would ever return to his Calder Trophy form. Last week: 1-1-1
29 New York Islanders
Last Week: 30
John Tavares entered Tuesday's action without a goal in 10 straight games, inspiring renewed roundtable discussions about whether he is one of the league's most overhyped No. 1 picks of recent memory. That's almost certainly not the case (he did score 29 goals last season), but the sooner he gets out of his funk, the better for the beleaguered Isles who need every last point they can get. They've already been shut out five times at home. Last week: 1-1-1
30 Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 28
Anaheim Ducks (6-13-4)
We thought these birds looked stale entering the season, and we've been proven right so far. Coach Randy Carlyle is starting to shuffle his lines, even breaking up the vaunted trio of Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Ryan is now skating on the third line with Niklas Hagman and Ben Maxwell. Forget about any reports of Carlyle's job being in imminent danger if the losing continues. He's got a contract that runs through 2013-14. Last week: 0-3-0

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