By Allan Muir
December 23, 2008

Biggest Climb: Carolina Hurricanes (24 to 16)

Biggest Fall: Nashville Predators (13 to 18)

A reminder: these rankings are based mainly on quality of play (with an emphasis on recent games), overall record and my gut instinct. Heck, if I went strictly off record, these would be no different than the standings. Also: stats and records are through Sunday's games.

Note: Want to send me a comment about the rankings? 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 Boston Bruins
Last Week: 2
Boston Bruins (24-5-4)
They swept a trio of bottomfeeders to run their home win streak to 13, but lost a pair of top-six forwards (Patrice Bergeron, Marco Sturm) indefinitely. Bergeron's concussion was the more disturbing, but the easiest to overcome thanks to David Krejci's emergence. The sophomore center sees the game in Matrix bullet time. Last Week: 3-0
2 Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 5
Scoring six goals in back-to-back games demonstrates that all's well with the offense, but the specter of that 24th-ranked defense is impossible to ignore. Their smackdown of the Sharks proves they can ramp it up, but their nonchalance against lesser teams is troubling. Last Week: 2-1
3 San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 1
San Jose Sharks (26-4-3)
Surprise! The guys wearing teal have a soft underbelly after all. The Jackets exposed it with a 3-2 OT win and the Wings sliced it open with surgical precision in a 6-0 shellacking. Write it off for now as the result of playing three games in four nights . . . but circle Jan, 17 on the calendar. That's when those two teams meet again in San Jose. Last Week: 2-1-1
4 Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 6
The secret to a successful Western Canada road swing? Apparently, it's spending the off day at the curling club. The Hawks also got strong efforts from Cristobal Huet and Nikolai Khabibulin, and it's looking more likely that they'll keep the duo all season. They'll need both after Christmas when they get the Flyers, Wild and Wings (twice) in a six-day span. when they get the Flyers, Wild and Wings (twice) in a six-day span. Last Week: 3-0
5 New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 7
They're rolling two scoring lines, but the most imposing unit may be the recently constructed third line of Bobby Holik, Brian Rolston and David Clarkson. The trio's speed and aggression have been instrumental in shutting down the opposition's top line, and they're starting to contribute some offense. Last Week: 3-0-1
6 Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 4
Not often do you talk about the play of the winning goalie in a 7-1 blowout, but Antero Niittymaki offered up a record-setting performance in the win over the Caps, stopping 25 in the first period alone and 47 of 48 on the game. A heartening sign for a netminder who's had his share of doubters. Last Week: 2-1-1
7 Washington Capitals
Last Week: 3
Like the Sharks, they came up small in a measuring-stick game. The 7-1 loss to the Flyers not only snapped a five-game win streak, it reignited concerns about their goaltending. Be honest, Caps fans: wouldn't you prefer to see Jose Theodore tweak that groin so Simeon Varlamov can return for the stretch run? Last Week: 2-1
8 Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 7
Dropping a pair to Carolina was a lousy way to head into the break, but the week offered hints that a reprise of last season's second-half surge is possible. The sputtering power play finally started to click, Alex Kovalev's 19-game scoring slump is over, and Mike Komisarek returned with a massive chip on his shoulder. Joyeux Noel! Last Week: 2-1-1
9 New York Rangers
Last Week: 10
New York Rangers (22-12-2)
Losers in the Mats Sundin drama? Not the Rangers. Sure, their offense is in the toilet, but clearing cap space for hockey's answer to Guffman might have created more holes than it filled. With the Swede's anticipated arrival no longer hanging over their heads, this group can focus on finding solutions in the room. Last Week: 2-1
10 Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 11
Anaheim Ducks (18-12-3)
Already dangerous five-on-five (third overall), the Ducks will need to be even better with Teemu Selanne and his league-leading 13 power play goals shelved for up to six weeks. If Bobby Ryan fills in as well as Jonas Hiller did for J-S Giguere (77 saves on 81 shots), they'll be alright. Last Week: 1-1
11 Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 9
After playing like minor leaguers in a humbling 7-3 loss to the Leafs, the Pens were reminded of the joys of the AHL lifestyle when they took a bus to Buffalo for Monday's game. The four-hour journey in the iron lung was blamed on lake-effect snow, but the message was clear: time to get hungry, boys. Last Week: 1-1
12 Calgary Flames
Last Week: 12
Calgary Flames (18-11-4)
Flames fans might want to keep an eye on Team Sweden at the World Juniors. Top prospect Mikael Backlund is rumored to be ready to bolt from the Elitserien and stay in North America after the tournament. The crafty center, who reminds some of a young Marc Savard, could be assigned to Kelowna (WHL). Last Week: 2-0-1
13 Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 15
Interesting week off the ice in Vancouver, where Trevor Linden's number was retired, Roberto Luongo announced he still has no timetable for his return, and the team committed millions to a half-geriatric Swede in hopes of getting over the playoff hump. Last Week: 1-1
14 Florida Panthers
Last Week: 14
Florida Panthers (15-13-4)
Pete DeBoer names Craig Anderson as his No. 1 goalie and all of a sudden Tomas Vokoun remembers he's Tomas Freakin' Vokoun. Over his last three starts, Vokoun has allowed just four goals on 93 shots to raise his trade value considerably. Last Week: 1-0-1
15 Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 16
Buffalo Sabres (16-13-4)
After a slow start to the season, top center Derek Roy is living up to his billing with a nine-game scoring streak (five goals, 13 points) and 18 points in his last 14. Roy might want to lend one of those hot sticks to Jason Pominville, who has just one goal in his last 15. Last Week: 1-1-1
16 Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 24
Facing the toughest schedule of the week, the Canes beat the Habs twice and outlasted divisional rival Florida in OT. They've now picked up points in seven of their last eight. Cam Ward has been spectacular since returning from a groin injury (3-1-1) and is on pace to record some career-best numbers. Last Week: 3-1
17 Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 21
Phoenix Coyotes (16-13-4)
They completed a four-game season sweep of the Jackets with Saturday's 2-0 shutout and are now a surprising 6-2-2 in December. Credit Grant Fuhr for helping Ilya Bryzgalov (.952 save percentage) rediscover last season's top form. Last Week: 2-0-1
18 Nashville Predators
Last Week: 13
So Pekka Rinne has three shutouts in his last five starts? The way the offense is sputtering, he needs to maintain that pace for the Preds to have a shot at the playoffs. They've been held to just one goal in four of their last five. Might be time for David Poile to relinquish the death grip he has on his prospects to bring in some immediate help. Last Week: 1-1
19 Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 20
Remember when Andrew Raycroft won the Calder Trophy back in 2004? Apparently the vagabond netminder finally recalled it, too, offering up impressive efforts to beat the Wings and Bolts. And what does Tony Granato do? Inexplicably gives follow-up starts to the struggling Peter Budaj. That's just plain bad coaching, folks. Last Week: 2-2
20 Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 17
Minnesota Wild (16-14-2)
They snapped a six-game losing streak by whipping up on the beaten-down Isles -- reserve your Cup finals tickets now! -- then reverted to form by losing to the Peoria Blues. Marian Gaborik trade rumors heated up, but his value sank further on the news that he expects a long-term battle with the aftereffects of his injury. Last Week: 1-1-1
21 Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 18
Drew Doughty's been a minus player in 11 of his last 14 games. Burnout from overuse? Worn out by opposing checkers? Too many late nights spent searching for a girl Sean Avery didn't date? No, poor Doughty's numbers have been slandered by the porous play of his netminders, particularly Jason LaBarbera. Have mercy, Calder voters. Last Week: 0-2-2
22 Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 19
Edmonton Oilers (14-14-3)
How desperate is embattled coach Craig MacTavish? The decision to promote Liam Reddox, a player with just one assist in his last 11 games, to the second line says it all. MacT is looking for more effort from his top forwards, but the message isn't getting through. Their underachievement falls on his shoulders. Last Week: 0-2-1
23 Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 25
They put together their best game of the year in Saturday's 7-3 dismantling of the Pens and also got a big basket of goodies from the health fairy. Nik Hagman and Jonas Frogren returned and disappointing Vesa Toskala went out with a groin strain, setting the stage for Justin Pogge's NHL debut on Monday. Last Week: 2-1
24 Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 22
Playoff worthy? Doesn't look like it. They upset the Sharks on Wednesday, but followed that with ugly losses to the Stars and Coyotes. They can't keep giving points away to teams they're battling for a postseason berth. The loss of Derick Brassard for the season doesn't help the cause. Last Week: 1-1-1
25 Dallas Stars
Last Week: 27
Dallas Stars (13-14-5)
Wins over Phoenix and Columbus -- two teams they need to leapfrog in the race for eighth -- were huge, but any parade plans were tempered by the Junior B goaltending of Marty Turco (five goals-against in his last two starts) and the news that defenseman Sergei Zubov likely is lost for the rest of the season. Last Week: 2-0-1
26 St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 26
St. Louis Blues (13-17-3)
Goalie controversy? It appears so as Blues fans -- and coach Andy Murray -- are torn over whether Manny Legace or Chris Mason is the bigger sieve. Legace gave up six on 29 shots to the Bruins on Sunday, while Mason has three wins in 14 appearances. The Blues now have lost six of their last seven games. Last Week: 1-3
27 Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 23
Ottawa Senators (12-14-5)
With the World Juniors setting up camp at Scotiabank Place for the next two weeks, the Sens are embarking on an eight-game road trip. The question is, how many will return? With a 3-8-2 record away from home and their season on the line, changes could be imminent. Last Week: 1-2
28 Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 28
Saturday's 4-3 win over Tampa broke a seven-game home losing streak and Kari Lehtonen made 36 saves in his first game since Oct. 30. If he stays healthy for the next month or so, expect trade talk to heat up around the impending RFA. Last Week: 2-1
29 Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 29
The weather may be swell but the atmosphere is poisonous. Martin St. Louis called out his teammates as clock-killers who don't care about winning (sound familiar, Melrose fans?) after they dropped their 15th one-goal game of the season. Mike Smith wondered how everyone can sleep at night. And through it all, captain Vincent Lecavalier was silent . . . Last Week: 0-1-1
30 New York Islanders
Last Week: 30
Forget the sideshow. They're employing all three rings. The losing streak is up to nine games. Assistant captain Brendan Witt is questioning coach Scott Gordon's system in the press. Now they've lost Andy Sutton and leading scorer Doug Weight indefinitely. If self-preservation is in Rick DiPietro's DNA, he might want to suffer a slight "setback." Last Week: 0-3-1

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