Top-ranked Capitals counting on red-hot Theodore in net

Tuesday March 9th, 2010

Biggest climb: Montreal Canadiens (17 from 24)

Biggest drop: Ottawa Senators (12 from 5)

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, official malfeasance, 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 and no homer glasses were worn during the tabulation of these rankings.

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NHL Power Rankings
1 Washington Capitals
Last Week: 1
They were among the most active teams at the deadline, smartly adding depth to both their forward lines (Scott Walker, Eric Belanger) and defense corps (Joe Corvo). But goaltending? They left it alone and, based on the recent play of Jose Theodore, you can't blame 'em. The inconsistency that plagued him seems to be a thing of the past. Over his last 14 starts, he's 12-0-2 and has allowed two goals or fewer in eight. With Semyon Varlamov struggling, Theo's the go-to guy. Last week: 3-0
2 San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 3
San Jose Sharks (42-14-9)
They've been guilty of digging themselves a hole, trailing going into the third period in each of three starts since the break. They fought back furiously each time, scoring seven goals in those periods. That was enough to secure wins over Montreal and Columbus, but they might want to doublecheck the start time of their next game. Last week: 2-1
3 Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 2
Like it or not Hawks fans, Stan Bowman decided he was just fine putting his Stanley Cup dreams in the care of Cristobal Huet and Antti Niemi. And even though the duo was lit up for at least four goals in four of their last six games, that issue became moot with the passing of the trade deadline. What needs to be addressed is the defensive coverage. As bad as the goalies have been, they haven't had much help. Last week: 2-2
4 Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 8
The memories of their midseason slump have been washed away by an 11-game run that's seen 'em go 7-1-3. GM Ray Shero made the best possible move at the deadline, picking up Russian winger Alexei Ponikarovsky to skate with Evgeni Malkin and Ruslan Fedotenko. The chemistry's been immediate and apparent, with Poni setting up Malkin for the winner in Sunday's 2-1 victory over the Bruins. Last week: 4-0
5 Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 6
Phoenix Coyotes (39-22-5)
Plenty of experts are ready to call them the big deadline day winner. I'm not willing to go that far, but I admire GM Don Maloney, who exchanged his biggest source of frustration (Peter Mueller) for the more proven Wojtek Wolski, added blueline vets Derek Morris and Mathieu Schneider for picks, and took flyers on Lee Stempniak and Petteri Nokelainen. The Yotes now look much better prepared to face the playoffs. Nice job. Last week: 2-1
6 Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 4
They suffered a rare loss to Montreal on Saturday, dropping their record against the East to 13-4, but it was a good week. Goalie Jonathan Quick set a franchise mark with his 36th win of the season and GM Dean Lombardi bolstered their playoff chances by adding capable vets Jeff Halpern and Fred Modin at the deadline. Expect to hear the drumbeat of Drew Doughty's Norris Trophy candidacy grow. People are starting to get the picture on that guy. Last week: 1-2
7 Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 7
Their third-ranked offense is making a habit out of showing up in the nick of time. Comeback wins in Columbus and Nashville marked the eighth and ninth time this season they've overcome a third-period deficit (tops in the league). The wins ran their record to 7-5 on a 14-game road trip that seems to be toughening them for the stretch run. Last week: 3-1
8 Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 12
Buffalo Sabres (35-20-9)
After sitting out their post-Olympic opener in Pittsburgh, Ryan Miller picked up right where he left off in Vancouver. The new face of American hockey -- and could that role fall to a better, more worthy guy? -- allowed just five goals in three starts, leading Buffalo to OT wins over the Flyers and Rangers that helped strengthen their grip on the Northeast lead. Last week: 2-2
9 Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 9
Okay, getting torched for a last-minute game-winner by ex-teammate Wojtek Wolski in a 2-1 loss made for a nice script from the Phoenix POV, but Avs fans wonder where that sniper had been for his last 26 games. Still, the Avs made out well in the deadline's most intriguing deal, adding a player (Peter Mueller) who desperately needed a fresh start, and a quality young depth forward (Kevin Porter). Smart to add Stephane Yelle as well. He'll be a great mentor for struggling rookie center Ryan O'Reilly. Last week: 2-2
10 Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 11
Before you starting pounding out more of those angry emails, ask yourself: Are there 10 teams playing better hockey right now than the Canes? Sure, they fattened up on the weak sisters of the East while winning eight of nine, but after breaking up their roster, they're now younger, faster and more focused -- an opponent that can't be overlooked the rest of the way. Last week: 3-1
11 Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 14
Detroit Red Wings (31-22-12)
They don't have a prayer of winning a ninth straight division title, but with four wins in five games -- including a dramatic 5-4 artillery battle against the Hawks on Sunday -- they're back in the playoff race and looking like a team that no one should want to draw. Detroit has been energized by return of Johan Franzen and Tomas Holmstrom, but there's also a sense that they can smell the finish line. These veterans sure know when to step on the gas. Last week: 3-1
12 Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 5
Ottawa Senators (36-25-5)
Three costly losses dropped them out of the Northeast lead, but a nasty flu gave 'em a bit of an excuse. "I've played in the league for 12 years and I haven't seen that many guys running to the bathroom before...and during the game," said deadline pickup Andy Sutton after a 2-1 shootout loss to Toronto. "It was ugly. But whatever. We battled through it." The game also featured a strong comeback performance by Pascal Leclaire, who'd been yanked early in Thursday's 4-1 loss to Carolina. Last week: 0-2-1
13 Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 10
They haven't been earning many style points, but their 6-1-1 streak has solidified their hold on a playoff berth. They'll be backstopped the rest of the way by Michael Leighton after Ray Emery was shut down for the season and GM Paul Holmgren sat out the trade deadline. Hopefully, Leighton will look more like the guy who stopped 38 of 38 against the Lightning on Tuesday than the one who was pulled halfway through a 7-4 loss to the Panthers on Wednesday. Last week: 2-1-1
14 Nashville Predators
Last Week: 15
Can't judge the value of that Denis Grebeshkov trade just yet, but the timing of his arrival couldn't have been better. Kevin Klein has been brutal of late, and his inability to protect the puck in his own zone earned him a demotion to the third unit. Now, with Shea Weber out indefinitely due to an arm/hand injury, Grebeshkov will be asked to eat some chunkier minutes. Last week: 2-1
15 Calgary Flames
Last Week: 21
Calgary Flames (32-24-9)
A curious performance at the deadline -- adding Steve Staios and dumping Dustin Boyd -- compounded by a heartless 4-0 home loss to Minnesota made for a lousy Wednesday. But they improved the mood of their faithful, and their playoff chances, with a pair of wins over the Devils and Wild. Their maligned offense managed to score five times in back-to-back games. Let's see how long that confidence around the net lasts. Last week: 2-1
16 St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 20
St. Louis Blues (30-26-9)
Fans hoping to find an NHL-ready young stopper like Cory Schneider or Josh Harding under their Deadline Day tree probably weren't happy with the addition of Chicago farmhand Joe Fallon -- maybe a No. 2 someday -- or feisty right wing Matt D'Agostini. Thing is, St. Louis is close enough to the playoffs that moving the pieces necessary to land a legit goalie made no sense. They were on target for another late push, winning five straight, outscoring foes 23-9, before Saturday's stinker in Denver. Last week: 2-1
17 Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 24
Entering this week, they have fewer games left (15) than any team in the playoff hunt. But hey, as long as they keep taking care of business like they did on last week's four-game road swing, they'll be fine. Wiping out a three-goal deficit in Sunday's gut-check win over Anaheim should have convinced them that they can get along just fine without leading scorer Mike Cammalleri. Last week: 3-1
18 Boston Bruins
Last Week: 18
Boston Bruins (29-24-11)
Tough to say what angered fans more: the inability of GM Peter Chiarelli to obtain scoring help at the deadline or the lack of response to that brutal blindside hit on Marc Savard in Sunday's loss in Pittsburgh. The first makes sense -- no need to mortgage the future when this group clearly doesn't have a long run in it. But the complete lack of passion? Inexcusable. If that incident had happened in Boston, the B's would have been booed off the ice. Last week: 2-2
19 Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 19
Minnesota Wild (31-28-5)
Their 400th game at the XCel Energy Center drew their 400th consecutive sellout crowd, but there wasn't much to celebrate. After earning a rare road win in Calgary to close ground on the eighth seed, they were lifeless in a shootout loss in Edmonton and came out flat at home against the Flames. That 5-2 loss dropped them seven points back of the pace, making this Thursday's game in Detroit a critical four-point affair. Last week: 1-1-1
20 New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 13
They hold a 10-point lead on eighth-place Boston, but that margin is looking mighty slim of late. They've won just six of their last 20 and only one of three since the break. Martin Brodeur looks to like he's suffering from a post-Olympic hangover, but the play of the defense in front of him makes this team look vulnerable. Have the players already tuned out coach Jacques Lemaire? Last week: 1-2
21 Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 17
Anaheim Ducks (30-27-8)
James Wisniewski? Really? Trying to salvage a game that had been blown in the final two minutes of regulation, coach Randy Carlyle decided Wisniewski was his best chance to retake the extra point in Sunday's shootout against the Habs. The stone-handed defender lost control of the puck before he could get a shot off and now the Ducks are mired in a three-game, post-Olympic losing skid that has them six points, and four teams, out of the playoffs. Last week: 0-2-1
22 Dallas Stars
Last Week: 16
Dallas Stars (28-23-12)
With less than $9 million invested in their blueline corps, they've been reduced to a cautionary tale. The defense, built on the cheap with mostly third-pairing guys, was exposed in three losses while coughing up 17 goals and playing so poorly in front of Marty Turco on Thursday that he had to be pulled while his family was present to celebrate his 500th NHL game. It would be a shock to see more than three of these so-called defenders back next season. Last week: 0-3
23 New York Rangers
Last Week: 23
New York Rangers (29-28-9)
Bad enough that they've lost three straight, but getting shut out by the Caps? That's like getting beaten up by a Jonas brother. Henrik Lundqvist and smart waiver addition Alex Auld are doing their part between the pipes, but with Marian Gaborik pointless in three, that popgun offense puts them in a precarious position. Last week: 1-1-2
24 Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 22
Atlanta Thrashers (28-26-10)
Coming out of the break with wins over the Panthers and Isles heated up playoff talk in Atlanta, but it was quickly silenced after a pair of losses to the Bolts and Canes by a combined score of 10-2. They're three points out of eighth, so this .500 pace won't cut it. Last week: 2-2
25 Florida Panthers
Last Week: 27
Florida Panthers (26-28-10)
After going 0-for-February, they've taken two of three in March thanks to explosive wins over the Flyers and red-hot Canes...and did it without their top two defenders. Jordan Leopold and Dennis Seidenberg were shipped off at the deadline, but GM Randy Sexton wisely held on to Tomas Vokoun. Rebuilding's one thing, but there's no reason to cut ties with the one player who shows up every night. Last week: 2-1
26 Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 26
They've dropped four straight, but it's the way they've done it that's so frustrating. They were up on the Sharks and Canucks heading into the third period before blowing their leads. That makes 10 times they've managed that ignominious feat this season, worst in the NHL. The lone bright spot last week: the improved play of Steve Mason, who looks more like last year's Calder-winner than he has all season. Last week: 0-1-1
27 Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 25
They may have looked miserable in dropping five straight to Eastern foes, but there was no way the streak would reach six. Not with Atlanta on the schedule and Antero Niittymaki in the pipes. Saturday's 6-2 win moved his career mark to 17-0 vs. the Thrashers, and featured a pair of markers from Steven Stamkos that helped him crack the 40-goal plateau. He now has 15 goals and 29 points during his 16-game scoring streak. Last week: 1-2
28 New York Islanders
Last Week: 28
Saturday's 3-2 defeat by the B's made 11 losses in 14 games (without benefit of a single loser point), a stretch of futility that dropped them into 14th in the East. They're still talking about a playoff push, but GM Garth Snow's actions at the deadline (what happened to moving one of those veteran goalies?) suggests their real priority is the draft. Last week: 1-2
29 Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 29
That unnamed Carolina player who reportedly described the Leafs as dressing an "AHL roster" wasn't all that far from the truth. Still, their fans have to be happy with the hunger and lousy table manners displayed last week by Brian Burke's young and restless club. They're a long way from being a winner, but that kind of intensity and effort sure is easy to root for. Last week: 1-2-1
30 Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 30
Edmonton Oilers (21-38-6)
They somehow held the Wild and Devils to a single goal with a blueline consisting of the newly-acquired Ryan Whitney and Aaron Johnson, along with Tom Gilbert, Jason Strudwick, Tyler Chorney and Theo Peckham. If it wasn't for the positive results, you'd think the Oilers were playing for lottery balls. Last week: 2-2

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