By Adrian Dater
December 20, 2011

The games leading up to the Christmas holiday always seem to have a light feel, with a lot of Eastern teams getting in their Western travel. That situation lends itself to less contentious but often very entertaining games, such as the Philly-Colorado contest on Monday night that saw a tying goal in the final minute and then a shootout. And how about the Rangers' last-second win in Phoenix on Saturday? After the holidays, the games will turn more serious with the stretch drive drawing near.

A DISCLAIMER (of sorts): These rankings are based not just on each team's record at the moment, but on empirically tested formula based on 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.And 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 thirty-something years ago and Dave Schultz has long since retired. I welcome your emails to the link attached to my name here, and I always respond -- even to the ones that start with "Dear Idiot?")

And now, here are your NHL Power Rankings for this week:

NHL Power Rankings
1 Boston Bruins
Last Week: 3
Boston Bruins (22-9-1)
After a one-week hiatus, they're back, having blanked a banged-up Philly squad 6-0 followed by a strong 3-2 win over the Habs on Monday night. Brad Marchand may have started the season slowly, but he's certainly gotten his game together with that Pat Verbeek "Little Ball of Hate" thing going on. His late third-period goal was the game-winner against Montreal, giving him 12 tallies overall. The best thing about the B's: they can play any style but more often make teams play theirs, which probably can best be described as hard and fast. Last week: 4-0-0
2 Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 7
Is this Ray Emery's team? Under fickle coach Joel Quenneville, it is for now. Emery entered Tuesday with a personal five-game win streak that put Corey Crawford firmly at the end of the bench, the classic backup outfit of baseball cap and towel around the neck. Quenneville rides the hot goalie until he is no more, but it's worked. The Hawks' win over Calgary was the 600th of his coaching career. Last week: 3-0-0
3 Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 2
Injuries are take a toll on their won-loss record. After losing Claude Giroux (concussion), Philly was outscored by a combined 9-2 by Boston and Colorado. The good news: Giroux may return as soon as Wednesday in Dallas or perhaps around Christmas. Of course, the news that Chris Pronger (concussion) is gone for the season was terrible, but this team may have enough talent and moxie to overcome it. Last week: 2-1-1
4 Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 6
Monday's shutout of Minnesota served cold, hard notice that they aren't going to hand over the Northwest title to just anyone. Roberto Luongo, as we knew he would, is getting his game back. He looked top-notch in his 33-save whitewash of the Wild, and the Sedin twins each put up three points. The Canucks were always just too talented for me to think they wouldn't bubble back to the top before long. Last week: 2-1-1
5 Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 5
Their goal differential (+36, 107-71) is the best in the West. Even with a mediocre road record (8-8), these guys are on pace for another 100-point season. Pavel Datsyuk is heating up, his wicked backhand goal at Pittsburgh part of a solid win. Last week: 3-1-0
6 Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 1
Minnesota Wild (20-9-5)
I warned you, Wild fanatics. I made your team No. 1 last week, but said there was a distinct chance of the semi-legendary Dater Jinx coming into play. Their record since: 0-2-2. The suspicion all along has been that the Wild rely far too much on goaltending and just don't possess the puck enough. Some of those suspicions were confirmed, but, hey, they're No. 6 with Christmas nearing. This has still been a great story. Last week: 0-2-2
7 St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 9
St. Louis Blues (19-9-4)
They're 13-2-4 under Ken Hitchcock while allowing only 30 goals, and their top line of T.J. Oshie, Alex Steen and David Backes is just a big, tough handful for opposing teams. "We're all hard workers," Oshie told the News-Democrat of Missouri."I've been fortunate enough to get a couple goals in these last couple weeks. But on every goal we score, it's all three of us working." Last week: 2-0-1
8 New York Rangers
Last Week: 4
It was fun watching the first HBO Winter Classic lead-up show and all, but the producers might want to steer clear of the yawn-inducing moments with Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan. On the ice, the two are much more exciting. Witness the goal Richards scored with 0.1 left to pull out a win in Phoenix on Sunday. "It's never a good feeling to wait because it's not in your control, but it worked out," Richards told reporters. Last week: 1-2-0
9 Florida Panthers
Last Week: 10
Everybody keeps waiting for them to go into a rut, but it isn't happening. They're 6-2-2 in their last 10, and just keep getting good, balanced scoring and decent goaltending. After a torrid start, Tomas Fleischmann has gone four games without a point, but Kris Versteeg is making up for it with points in six of his last eight games. If the Flyers could have one move back, do you think it might be holding on to Versteeg? I do. Last week: 2-0-1
10 Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 8
Suddenly, overachieving without Sidney Crosby (out since Dec.5; on injured reserve indefinitely) is a lot harder the second time around. But it's not just Sid who the Pens really miss right now. Defensemen Kris Letang and Paul Martin are big holes in the fill on the blueline. Last week: 1-2-0
11 Dallas Stars
Last Week: 14
Dallas Stars (19-12-1)
To me, these guys still are the league's most surprising team. They continue to win with castoffs such as Sheldon Souray and Eric Nystrom, and rookie Richard Bachman in net while Kari Lehtonen recovers from a knee injury. Lehtonen resumed skating Monday and said he felt good. He should be back a little after Christmas. Last week: 3-1-0
12 Nashville Predators
Last Week: 17
They're on a five-game win streak, but trade rumors keep popping up about star defenseman Shea Weber, who can be a restricted free agent next summer and has just this season left on his deal. Philly and Vancouver lust after him, but as GM David Poile told the Nashville Tennessean, "Who's going to trade a top player for a draft choice? That's not what I want to do right now. I want to improve our team." Last week: 3-0-0
13 San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 11
San Jose Sharks (17-10-3)
They're not winning very impressively, but they're putting up points. There was even a Martin Havlat sighting the other night against Edmonton when the veteran winger scored goal No. 2 for the season only to hurt his leg while jumping over the boards for a shift. The injury may be serious. He'll miss Wednesday's game, maybe more. Last week: 2-0-1
14 New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 23
Well look what's gotten into these guys. Four straight wins to jump back into the playoff picture. Even Martin Brodeur won a couple in a row, beating Montreal and Florida on the road. Still, he seems to know the end of his career is near, and he told The New York Post he won't embarrass himself in his final days, whenever those come. Last week: 3-0-0
15 Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 18
Phoenix Coyotes (16-13-3)
They traded Kyle Turris to Ottawa, wins are starting to get harder to come by and they seem play better on the road (9-6-2 as opposed to 7-7-2 at home). No wonder about that last point. Only 12,000-plus showed up for a game against the Original Six Rangers on Saturday. Last week: 1-2-0
16 Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 12
Things are starting to slide. They're giving up too many goals (108 overall) and too many guys aren't playing well offensively. At least goalie James Reimer was solid in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Kings on Monday, so maybe the Leafs will start to turn it around. They need Reimer fully healthy again to calm things down. Last week: 1-2-1.
17 Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 15
Buffalo Sabres (16-13-3)
Uh-oh. After their 8-3 home loss to the Crosby-less Pens, new owner Terry Pegula said his own daughter couldn't have done much worse in goal. A team official quickly told a reporter the comment was off the record, but Pegula just as quickly jumped in and said it wasn't. The goalie in net that night: Ryan Miller, who has not responded to the owner. He probably shouldn't, seeing as how he's making $6 million and has a 3.12 GAA and .902 save percentage. Last week: 1-1-1
18 Winnipeg Jets
Last Week: 21
Winnipeg Jets (15-13-4)
After their awful start, maybe it's time to start giving Claude Noel some consideration for the Jack Adams Award. Seriously, the Jets' bench boss has these guys playing some pretty good hockey that includes knocking the Wild off their pedestal last week. It was also very touching to see all the emotion Jets fans poured out for Teemu Selanne in his return to the city over the weekend. Last week: 2-1-0
19 Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 25
If not for a third-period giveaway in San Jose, these guys would be back over .500. Oft-maligned coach Joe Sacco has his team playing better fundamental hockey, and 34-year-old goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere is turning back the clock with fine play. He was excellent in wins over Washington and Philadelphia. Last week: 3-1-0
20 Washington Capitals
Last Week: 13
Despite getting the late goal in a 1-0 win at Winnipeg, Alex Ovechkin simply isn't making his tremendously talented presence felt enough. Ten goals and 22 points through the first 31 games are great numbers for an average player, but very mediocre numbers for someone who was once considered the game's most dynamic forward. So far, new coach Dale Hunter doesn't seem to be able to get much more out of him than Bruce Boudreau did. Last week: 1-2-0
21 Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 24
Ottawa Senators (15-14-4)
The big news was GM Bryan Murray's acquisition of Kyle Turris. Sorry if I'm not as electrified as some in the media seemed to be with their daily, breathless updates of his previous situation in Phoenix. Yeah, he was the third pick in the 2007 draft. He also has 46 points in 137 career games and is minus-22. He's one of those "Herbert Hoover" players where prosperity is just around the corner. Last week: 2-1-0
22 Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 22
Let the Darryl Sutter Era begin. He may possibly be the least Hollywood guy on the planet, bit he will get this team back on track and make it tougher to play against, or so it says here. Yes, there is some concern that he hasn't coached in several years. His primary interest in the last year or so has been tending to his farm in Alberta. But anyone who thinks he wasn't watching hockey all the time is certainly mistaken. Last week: 2-2-0
23 Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 19
Edmonton Oilers (14-16-3)
I don't quite get why this team has slipped so badly of late. Sure, it lost Taylor Hall for a while to injury, but he's back and they Oil are still losing at an alarming clip after a great start that had me scrambling to get on the bandwagon. I think I'm about ready to jump off now. Look for Ales Hemsky to be moved by the trade deadline. He needs a fresh start somewhere else, and Edmonton could use a good D-man in return. Last week: 0-2-2
24 Calgary Flames
Last Week: 16
Calgary Flames (14-15-4)
These guys will simply drive you crazy with their teasing inconsistency. They beat a good team one night, lay a total egg against a mediocre one the next. Jay Bouwmeester remains one of the bigger busts in recent memory. Fact: Only once in his pro or junior career has his team ever made the playoffs. That was the AHL's Chicago Wolves in the lockout season of 2004-05. In 18 playoff games, he didn't register a single point. Last week: 0-2-2
25 Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 20
What's with all the teams losing after they get a new coach? Used to be you could count on a nice little winning honeymoon, but the Habs don't look any better under interim bench boss Randy Cunneyworth (0-2) than they did under the newly-fired Jacques Martin. The howling at some of Martin's decisions -- such as the inexplicably high amount of ice time he gave to unproductive winger Mathieu Darche -- became intense, but many people believe the person who should have been fired is GM Pierre Gauthier. That could happen soon, too. Last week: 1-3-0
26 New York Islanders
Last Week: 26
Streaky, streaky. They're 5-3-2 in their last 10, but after a 4-0-1 run that showed signs of life, they needed a 2-1 win over the Wild (the second time they've beaten Minnesota this season -- go figure) to snap a four-game losing skid. They're nine points out of a playoff spot, but have games in hand over the five teams ahead of them. Still feels like a big mountain for this bunch to climb. Last week: 1-2-0
27 Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 27
Opponents are obviously starting to figure out Guy Boucher's once-vaunted 1-3-1. Only two teams in the Eastern Conference have allowed more goals than Tampa's 107. Poor goaltending hasn't helped, but the Bolts did string a couple of wins together to stop a serious slide. Still, they're 3-7-0 in their last 10 and they've got Western time zone games coming up in San Jose and Colorado. Last week: 2-0-0
28 Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 30
They've picked up a couple of points under new coach Kirk Muller at least, but losing Jeff Skinner and Joni Pitkanen (concussions) was a blow. Still, they have become more competitive and we think that will continue. Goalie Cam Ward is starting to show signs of emerging from hibernation. Last week: 1-0-2
29 Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 28
Rick Nash looks lazy and uninspired too much these days, a big reason why things have gone so bad this season in C-Bus. Ten goals and 22 points in 31 games is good for Joe Sixpack, but not for Nash. Oh yeah, he's also minus-18. He hasn't had a plus game so far in December. Last week: 1-3-0
30 Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 29
Anaheim Ducks (9-19-5)
The magic of Bruce Boudreau has yet to work in Anaheim, which only serves as proof that GM Bob Murray might have made a bad, panicky move replacing Randy Carlyle with a guy who had been fired by Washington only two days earlier. The Ducks, frankly, look as bad now as they ever did this season under Carlyle, who at least had a proven history of getting his team to play better in the second half. Last week: 1-3-0

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