Caps on top, Devils on the bottom

Tuesday October 19th, 2010

A reminder: These rankings are based on many factors, and not one is scientific in nature. They're heavily influenced by early play, rather than how I expect a team to perform in April. I take 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 feelings. Please note that I, unlike some referees, do not have it in for your team and no homer glasses of any color were worn during the establishment of this list.

Note: Last week's position denotes position in my summer Power Rankings.

Want to send me a comment about the rankings or maybe a cool video clip that cries out to be shared? 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 Washington Capitals
Last Week: 1
Their backup is manning the pipes and the kids are patrolling the blue line. Tough times in Washington? Hardly. The Caps are getting exceptional play from Michal Neuvirth and John Carlson to go along with a penalty kill that was unblemished through five games. The result is the league's fifth lowest GAA and a strong start for its top team.
2 Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 7
Not to regurgitate material from last Friday's column, but it sure looks as though Jonathan Quick intends to delay the coronation of reputed successor Jonathan Bernier for as long as possible. One year after setting a franchise record for wins, Quick tightened his grip on the No. 1 job with a pair of impressive performances against the highly regarded Canucks. The keeper stopped 79 of 82 shots he faced in 2-1 and 4-1 victories.
3 Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 9
Outside of that night in Dallas when Chris Osgood gifted two points to the opportunistic Stars, the Wings have given a good account of themselves in the early going. That's good news, especially considering that Johan Franzen -- out with his annual October injury -- Brian Rafalski, Justin Abdelkader, Jonathan Ericsson and Kris Draper are all watching from the sidelines.
4 Nashville Predators
Last Week: 13
Pekka Rinne, injured in a season-opening win over the Ducks, should be cleared to return to action this week. The Preds might just encourage him to take his time. Filling in for him, rookie Anders Lindback gave Nashville some solid relief, posting a .921 save percentage in wins over the Hawks and Blues and an OT loss to the Caps. Rinne was expected to handle a Brodeur-like workload this season, but Lindback's performance might encourage the Preds to lighten it.
5 Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 20
Three solid wins -- including road triumphs over last season's Eastern Conference Finalists -- offered a promising start to the Steve Yzerman/Guy Boucher era, so it's best not to get too bent out of shape over that 6-0 thrashing at the hands of the Panthers on Saturday night. Consider it a bump in the road, a teaching moment as the team acclimates to Boucher's demanding, high-tempo system...and be very excited about the promise displayed over the season's first 10 days.
6 Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 26
It's probably worth noting that all four teams the Leafs beat were hobbled by at least one serious injury that left them at something less than full strength. But hey, there aren't any asterisks next to that perfect start in the standings. Toronto banked eight huge points early as a result of doing the little things right: winning faceoffs, blocking shots and playing physical hockey.
7 Dallas Stars
Last Week: 27
Dallas Stars (4-0-0)
Record-low attendance suggests the locals haven't yet warmed up to this post-Modano/Turco version of the Stars, but the early returns show it deserves a look. Dallas is playing a game that's faster, looser and more exciting than any team this town has seen and getting great results from the top line (eight goals and 20 points) as well as solid goaltending from Kari Lehtonen. Now the Stars just have to start finishing off some of their opponents in regulation.
8 Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 2
Marian Hossa leads the league in scoring. Patrick Sharp set a franchise record with 13 shots on goal against Columbus on Friday. The Hawks are winning games that they probably shouldn't. All things being equal, the positives outweigh the negatives early on for the defending champs. Still, there has to be concern about the inconsistent offense, Marty Turco's sloppiness and the mistake-prone blueline. The salary cap gouged a few holes in this lineup, but it was the injury to Brian Campbell that really seems to have hurt it.
9 New York Islanders
Last Week: 25
You have to wonder when all those rumors about a team moving to Canada will start to focus on the Isles. Even a ticket promotion that offered up great seats for just $19.72 on Saturday could only draw an announced attendance of 10,127. Too bad the locals aren't paying attention to a team that's finally showing more skill than pluck. Looks like they might have a solid second line brewing around Josh Bailey and Blake Comeau.
10 Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 18
The power play's in the toilet, Carey Price hasn't made anyone forget Jaroslav Halak, and Andrei Markov is still a month away. But all is well as the Habs are finding ways to win, and with three of their next four at home, they have a chance to stay on Toronto's tail. And if you missed the video montage and player introductions that preceded the season opener, you owe it to yourself to check it out. Habs fan or not, it'll give you chills.
11 Florida Panthers
Last Week: 24
If special teams are an indicator of a team's success, then it's no surprise the Cats are playing .500 hockey. Through their first four games they were perfect on the penalty kill, rebuffing all eight opportunities, but scored just once with the extra man. Neither stat will hold for long, but here's one the Panthers would like to maintain: outscoring their opposition 12-5.
12 Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 3
You have to respect the decision-making of coach Dan Bylsma. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury went 0-3 to start the season with a plump 3.41 GAA and an unacceptable .853 save percentage. He may be Mr. Right when push comes to shove, but Mr. Right Now is Brent Johnson. The backup is 3-0 after beating the Flyers and Isles over the weekend, and he boasts numbers (.953 save percentage, 1.32 GAA) that could keep Fleury parked on the bench for a spell.
13 Boston Bruins
Last Week: 11
Boston Bruins (2-1-0)
Looks like there was no reason to doubt Tim Thomas. After Tuukka Rask gave up five in the opener (a number more reflective of the team's inattentive defense than the starter's play), Thomas stepped in stepped up, stopping 60 of 61 shots in back-to-back wins over the Coyotes and Devils. Fully recovered after surgery for a torn labrum, he looks like he's regained that Vezina-winning form.
14 Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 16
The offense is coming from unusual sources -- Andrew Ladd leads the club with five points and Anthony Stewart is tops with four goals -- but that's just part of the beauty of a strong start that featured three wins in a four-game road trip. And don't understate Saturday's win over the Sharks in which Chris Mason stopped 37 of 39 to help steal two points. The victory was Atlanta's first over San Jose in eight years, and their first ever at the Shark Tank.
15 Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 14
Record-wise, the Avs' start has been about as good as expected, but there are a number of concerns in Colorado. Too many shots allowed, a power play that is swirling the drain, no sign of a return date for QB Peter Mueller, and a penalty kill that does too much standing around. Might just be a post-breakthrough season hangover, but it looks like they could really use some help on the point.
16 San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 5
Alright, so the Antti Niemi who showed up for the home opener on Saturday night didn't look much like the goalie who made the Sharks chew on the scuba tank last spring, and the defense has been alarmingly error prone, but it's early, right? Besides, San Jose's fans have plenty to cheer about now that Joe Thornton avoided the market and signed a three-year extension this week. With the five members of its core sewn up, this looks like the group the Sharks will win -- or lose -- with over the next three seasons.
17 Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 6
You think maybe they spent too much time reading their clippings heading into the season? If so, a pair of losses to the Kings should make it clear that their coronation is on hold until further notice. And if they want to make a legitimate charge in the West, they'll need a bit more than the 15 stops on 19 shots that they got from Roberto Luongo on Friday.
18 St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 17
The hockey gods owe them one. Not that they were robbed in Saturday night's 3-2 shootout loss to the Stars, but after outshooting their hosts 43-35, the Blues earned a better fate. That defeat, and another to the Preds on Thursday (their fifth consecutive loss to Nasvhille, for the record), took a bit of gleam off a pair of season-opening wins over the Flyers and Ducks.
19 Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 4
A month ago, Sergei Bobrovsky was a blip on the Flyers' depth chart. Five games into the season, injuries and soft competition moved him into a starting role. He's been decent enough, but it looks as though word has gotten out about the vulnerability of his five hole. Bob has plenty of potential, but if he's still the starter in a month, it probably says more about the team's shortcomings at the position than his rapid development.
20 Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 10
Only one team is scoring less often, and with Ray Whitney (upper body injury) out and captain Shane Doan suspended for the next three games, they need someone up front to fill the void. Of course, when Vernon Fiddler is leading all forwards in ice time, you have to wonder if they'll get a chance.
21 Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 15
You have to feel sorry for the Canes, who play eight of 10 October games away from home, including their first seven of the season. For a team that was horse-collared by a slow start last season, this was a real slap in the face from the schedulemaker. So give 'em high marks for splitting their first four -- even if they looked completely disinterested during a 5-1 blowout loss in Vancouver on Sunday night.
22 Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 19
Anaheim Ducks (2-3-1)
It looked like Randy Carlyle's career was on life support after his Ducks were outscored 13-2 in a trio of season-opening losses, but the coach is breathing easier after watching them take five of the next six available points. A bigger surprise? Cam Fowler might be the team's best defender. The rookie might miss Wednesday's game after having his nose broken on Sunday night, but his spot on the squad looks secure for the rest of the season.
23 New York Rangers
Last Week: 22
Marian Gaborik blew out his shoulder and is headed for a two-to-four week stint on IR. Chris Drury comes back from a finger injury that cost him the first two games of the season...and immediately refractures it so badly that he'll be out up to six weeks. A test to be sure, but this early in the season, it'll give the Rangers a chance to see what, if anything, they're made of.
24 Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 29
Coming on the heels of Friday night's home opening flop, their win over Minnesota on Saturday had to feel like some kind of vindication. But as some disgruntled fans chanted during the loss to Chicago, the inconsistency suggests these could be the "Same Old Jackets." Getting this team into an intense, focused state could be a big challenge for new coach Scott Arniel.
25 Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 12
Losers of five straight, they haven't exactly gone off the rails. Sure, they've lost Jason Pominville for the foreseeable future, Tyler Myers is slumping hard, and they've yet to get a goal from sniper Thomas Vanek. But their last four losses have been by a single goal, they played well enough to beat the Hawks and Devils, and they're getting unexpected production from last season's favorite whipping boy, Drew Stafford. The winger had two goals and five points through six games, ranking him second on the team in scoring.
26 Calgary Flames
Last Week: 23
Three games into the season and the Flames were already holding closed door meetings? No surprise coming on the heels of a pair of shutout losses and a home opener that saw them booed off the ice. They were better in what might have been a job-saving 4-3 win over the Oilers on Saturday night, but if that's what it takes to get this team going, the Sutters might not be around for long.
27 Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 30
This is the way things will go for the Oil this season -- up and down (mostly down if Nikolai Khabibulin doesn't clog that gaping five-hole) -- but as long as the kids show up for their lessons, things will be alright. Taylor Hall is struggling early on, but Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi have had their moments. For now, that's all that should be expected.
28 Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 21
There are dark clouds gathering over Bytown. Despite managing to snatch two points from a jet-lagged Hurricanes squad, the Sens still blew a two-goal lead in each of their last two games. More troubling is the limited support they've offered netminders Pascal Leclaire (now injured) and Brian Elliott. Look for them to batten the hatches this week.
29 Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 28
They played in front of the first regular season non-sellout crowd in franchise history on Saturday night, and it's probably just as well. They're playing some lousy hockey right now according to coach Todd Richards, who has berated his squad for a lack of urgency. They play like they need a fire lit under them. Wouldn't surprise me if they make a move to alter the chemistry. Already it's clear that something needs to change with this mix.
30 New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 8
Probably not the start that rookie coach John MacLean envisioned. It's been nearly 20 years since a season began so miserably for the Devils, so it was no surprise that a closed door meeting followed Saturday's listless 4-1 loss to the Bruins. MacLean pointed out that the team had too many passengers that evening, but its cap-induced roster shortages haven't helped, either.
SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide — from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Grant Wahl, Andy Staples and more — delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.