Surging Sharks rise to No. 1

Tuesday January 26th, 2010

Biggest climb: Ottawa Senators (14 from 21)

Biggest drop: Calgary Flames (20 from 15)

A reminder: 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 some referees, do not have it in for your team. Also, stats and records are through Sunday, so keep in mind that Monday's action doesn't factor into the equation.

NHL Power Rankings
1 San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 2
San Jose Sharks (35-10-8)
A statement week as they won four games, outscored foes 22-5 and overtook Chicago for first place in the West. They set a franchise mark when eight Sharks lit the lamp in a 9-1 smackdown of the Flames, then fended off sturdier challenges from the Kings, Ducks and Sabres, who actually managed to get two past Evgeni Nabokov -- the first time in seven starts he'd been beaten more than once. Last week: 4-0
2 Washington Capitals
Last Week: 4
Was Bruce Boudreau listening when the Reverend Lovejoy preached the value of "sweet, sweet constancy?" The coach settled on four lines for a Jan. 5 tilt vs. the Habs and stuck with 'em. Since: a 9-1 tear and nearly five goals per game. The Caps are also displaying a newfound levelheadedness. It was interesting to see the normally ebullient Alex Ovechkin's subdued reactions during a 6-3 win over the Pens. Maybe this team is starting to get a sense of the bigger picture. Last week: 3-0
3 Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 1
Former Hawk Jeremy Roenick ruffled feathers by suggesting their goaltending may not be championship caliber. "They are good goaltenders," he said of Cristobal Huet and Antti Niemi, "but I don't know if they could do it for the full 16 wins." Neither did much to prove him wrong. Huet allowed four goals on 18 shots in a loss to Ottawa on Monday and Niemi was lit up for five on 24 shots by Vancouver on Saturday. Last week: 1-2
4 Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 9
It's telling about their growth that Roberto Luongo hasn't had to carry them this season. But with three regular defenders sidelined, and the Hawks in town, he had to be at his larcenous best in a 5-1 win. Bobby Lu stopped 43 of 44 shots while his teammates were badly outplayed, and blocked 94 of 100 on the week while extending their win streak to four. Last week: 3-0
5 Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 3
Buffalo Sabres (30-13-7)
Before a tough, seven-game trip, coach Lindy Ruff expected to bring home at least nine points. After three straight losses on the West Coast, no dice. The Sabres played well in stretches, but too many defensive breakdowns (13 goals to the Ducks, Kings and Sharks) and the inability to cash in on high-end chances (a pair of posts within eight seconds against San Jose) were the difference. Last week: 1-2-1
6 Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 6
They rode another outstanding week by Craig Anderson to extend their season-high win streak to six and hold the top spot in the Northwest. Anderson earned the NHL's Second Star of the Week honor at 3-0, 0.33 GAA, .988 save percentage and two shutouts at the expense of the Stars and Oilers. Last week: 3-0
7 New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 7
Good news for staggering Devils: Dainius Zubrus, out for 30 games (broken kneecap), is set to make an early return Tuesday night. His timing couldn't be better. The offense has produced just eight goals in the last five games, and the power play's in a 1-24 tailspin. With tough contests against Ottawa, Buffalo and LA this week, they need someone other than Martin Brodeur to step up. Last week: 2-2
8 Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 10
After being torched for 16 goals in three games, they rediscovered their own zone and ground out an impressive 2-1 win in Philly on Sunday. Nice, but it didn't quite cover the bruises administered by the Caps in a 6-3 beating on Thursday. Defensive breakdowns and ineffective special teams plagued them in that loss and were persistent problems as they stumbled through a dull 6-6 January. Last week: 2-1
9 Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 5
Phoenix Coyotes (29-18-5)
The new year hasn't been kind. At 4-5-1, they're edging dangerously back to the pack. Seems the defense that carried them early on went out of warranty when the calendar flipped. They allowed at least four goals in seven of 10 in January and Ilya Bryzgalov (3.80 GAA, .885 save pct. for the month) is struggling. "Stops he was making earlier in the year he just isn't able to get right now," said coach Dave Tippett. "He needs to play better." Last week: 1-2
10 Nashville Predators
Last Week: 8
Just a week after closing in on the Big Three with a trio of road wins, they gave back all the ground they gained. Monday's 4-3 home loss to the Leafs was embarrassing, but dropping close games in Phoenix and Denver could really come back and haunt them in April. Might help them get back on track if ice cold captain Jason Arnott (one goal on his last 49 shots) starts finding the back of the net. Last week: 0-3
11 Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 16
Anaheim Ducks (24-21-7)
Don't leave a Ducks game early. As the stunned Blues learned after blowing a three-goal lead and losing a 4-3 shootout, the webbed wonders are one of the league's most dangerous third-period foes. They've won six games they've trailed after two periods, tied for most in the NHL. Say what you want about Randy Carlyle's coaching (Ducks fans will say plenty), but you can't argue with the impact of his conditioning regimen. They're not getting lucky late in games, they're simply better prepared. Last week: 2-1
12 Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 13
Chris Osgood was yanked out of mothballs to start against the Caps and wasn't awful in the 3-2 loss, but he didn't do himself any favors by allowing the tying and winning goals within a minute of each other late in the third. The only one surprised that Mike Babcock went back to Jimmy Howard against the Wild and Kings may have been Ozzie. His tirade to the media showed he still has competitive fire, but the Wings can't afford to give him another chance on reputation alone. He needs to mix in a few more stops. Last week: 1-2
13 Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 14
A hard-fought 2-1 loss to the Pens spoiled their perfect month at home. They'd won their first six there, outscoring foes 27-10 thanks to a total buy-in of Peter Laviolette's aggressive forechecking system. Ray Emery has limited opponents to 10 goals in his last five starts, and looks back in top form after a six-week stint on IR. Last week: 3-1
14 Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 21
Ottawa Senators (23-21-4)
With Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek and Jason Spezza back in action, they're starting to resemble the team that went on a second-half tear last season. While the fully-staffed offense is clicking, a renewed commitment to their own zone has led to six straight wins, their longest streak in more than two years. They've given up seven goals in that stretch, with Brian Elliott in net for all four wins last week. Last week: 4-0
15 Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 11
They concluded a frustrating seven-game home stand on a high note with a gritty come-from-behind win over Buffalo, then wiped out an early 2-0 deficit to beat the Wings in Detroit in the first of a five-game road swing. If they want to maintain that momentum, they need to address a power play that's been blanked in its last 27 chances. Last week: 2-1
16 New York Islanders
Last Week: 12
Even after losses to the Penguins and Devils, the surprising Isles remain in the thick of the playoff peloton, and that could color how Scott Gordon handles his goaltending. He needs to know if Rick DiPietro, who shut out the Devils last Monday, is capable of resuming his No. 1 duties, but Dwayne Roloson (8-1-1 in his last 10 starts) has kept them in the hunt all season. It's tough to leave a guy who battles as hard as Roloson on the bench for long. Last week: 2-2
17 Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 22
Carey Price lost his eighth start in 10 but Jaro Halak stopped 63 of 64 shots fired at him by the Devils and Rangers over the weekend. Benoit Pouliot scored his 10th goal in his last 13 games. The Habs informed punchless goon Georges Laraque that his services, such as they were, were no longer needed. Mike Cammalleri and Maxim Lapierre get into a heated shoving match in practice. Don't know why, but something tells me this team is starting to come together. Last week: 2-0-1
18 Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 19
Minnesota Wild (25-23-4)
Some nice stat work by Mike Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, who found a situation where you can't go wrong betting on the Wild. Turns out Niklas Backstrom is 11-0-1 with a 1.72 GAA and .939 save pct. in his last 12 starts following games in which he was pulled. The latest example: Backstrom was called to the bench after being lit up for four early goals by the Stars on Monday. He rebounded by shutting out Columbus for 59:37 in a 4-2 win. Last week: 1-1-1
19 New York Rangers
Last Week: 17
New York Rangers (24-21-7)
Forget the two-game, 14-goal explosion. A fluke. Forget the distractions caused by the Marian Gaborik fight and John Tortorella's childish taunting of a local writer. This team is exactly what it was a week, a month, a year ago: an offensively-challenged group that'll be hard-pressed to grab a playoff spot. It showed little fight while being shut out 2-0 by the Flyers on Thursday, but the lack of pushback in a brutal 6-0 loss to the Habs on Saturday suggests it's heading for the lottery. Last week: 1-2
20 Calgary Flames
Last Week: 15
Calgary Flames (26-19-6)
There's always plenty of blame to go around when a team loses six straight with an offense that's limited to two or fewer goals in seven of its last nine games. Jarome Iginla -- goalless in 10 -- is an easy target but he, like the other forwards, isn't getting much help from a blueline that's failing to create transition opportunities and making too many unforced errors in its own zone. Last week: 0-2
21 Boston Bruins
Last Week: 18
Boston Bruins (23-20-8)
Even with injuries, it's hard to reconcile the soaring preseason expectations with their mentally fragile performance in Sunday's 5-1 loss to last-place Carolina. "We're playing not to lose instead of playing to win," said winger Mark Recchi after their fifth straight loss. You'll hear lots of cliches coming out of the room between now and their next contest, but what they need is a shakeup. Despite their offensive woes, look for Peter Chiarelli to address the floundering blueline. Maybe old friend Aaron Ward could help solidify the unit. Last week: 0-4
22 Florida Panthers
Last Week: 23
Florida Panthers (22-21-9)
As if the well wasn't dry enough for an offense that generated just four goals in its last four games, they'll be without leading scorer Nathan Horton for the next 4-6 weeks. The big winger had his tibia fractured by an errant Dennis Seidenberg blast. Fortunately, Tomas Vokoun kept them in the playoff hunt with shutout wins over the Thrashers and Leafs. The miserly Czech has allowed just 11 goals in his last nine games. Last week: 2-1-1
23 Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 25
If you can look past an 8-2 thrashing by the Rangers, it wasn't a bad week. Antero Niittymaki rebounded from the debacle with two strong outings in tight wins over the Leafs and Thrashers. Steve Stamkos grabbed a share of the NHL lead in power play points. The Bolts are 6-1-1 in their last eight at home, and play six of their next eight there. Last week: 3-1
24 St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 20
St. Louis Blues (22-21-8)
If Davis Payne is serious about removing the interim from his title, he needs to figure out how to stop the Blues from bleeding intensity in the third period. They were outscored 7-2 in the final stanza last week, coughing up a lead three times and allowing another game to be salted away. Though they managed to salvage Wednesday's tilt against the Habs with an OT marker from Andy McDonald, it's clear this young team hasn't learned to trust itself with the game on the line. Last week: 1-2-1
25 Dallas Stars
Last Week: 24
Dallas Stars (22-19-11)
Their 10-game road skid ended when James Neal buried a giveaway with 22.2 seconds left against the sad-sack Oilers on Friday, but the same old habits resurfaced in Sunday's 4-0 loss to the Avs. Injuries down the middle are crippling the offense, but the young D's inconsistency, soft goaltending, and an inability to win battles at either end indicate this chemistry experiment has failed. Time for Joe Nieuwendyk to dip his toes into the trading pool. Last week: 2-2
26 Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 26
Frustrating week, dropping three points off the playoff pace with three losses to teams below them in the conference. After falling in a shootout to Tampa Bay on Saturday, defender Pavel Kubina suggested, "There are still a lot of games to play." Maybe, but these were the ones a borderline team needs to win to stay in the hunt, especially since it isn't likely to employ Ilya Kovalchuk down the stretch. Last week: 1-2-1
27 Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 27
They took a significant, albeit surprisingly-timed, step toward their future by stripping the C off Rod Brind'Amour and stitching it on the sweater of Eric Staal. The responsibility suited the new captain, who responded with some of his best play of the season while leading the surging Canes to a 5-2 win over Atlanta with his first hat trick of the campaign and chipping in with singles against the Flyers and Bruins. Last week: 2-2
28 Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 28
While they amaze observers with their ability to craft new and heartbreaking ways to lose (that too many men on the ice penalty in OT against Tampa Bay was a dandy), they continue to fool themselves into thinking a lot of shots on net means they're close. They may show hustle, but they've neither the smarts nor talent to be much more than they are right now. Only a matter of time before Brian Burke starts cleaning house. Last week: 1-2-1
29 Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 29
Slow starts are crushing any hope of a late-season comeback. When the Wild took a 1-0 lead just 3:41 into Saturday's 4-2 loss, it marked the seventh straight game in which they'd given up the first goal less than four minutes in. Tough enough to win in this league, but when you're constantly chasing the game, you're allowing the other team to dictate the style and pace. Columbus doesn't have the talent to counteract that. Last week: 1-2
30 Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 30
Edmonton Oilers (16-28-6)
For a team to drop 10 straight, let alone 17 of 18, a lot of self-inflicted wounds have to be somewhere in the mix. On Wednesday, a tripping call on Denis Grebeshkov in OT allowed the Canucks to score the power play winner. On Friday, five first-period penalties and a brutal giveaway by Jason Strudwick handed the Stars the winning goal in the last minute of a 4-3 loss. Last week: 0-2-1

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