By Adrian Dater
October 18, 2011

The meek shall inherit the Earth -- and better positioning in this week's Power Rankings. Behold: the New York Islanders, Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers, and Dallas Stars! These are your new power brokers in the league. The teams that had all their lunch money stolen by the bullies last season have bulked up and are hitting back. But, yes, it's only October. Still lots of proving to do before we all take a knee in the pew and worship these teams for real. (Note: Stats and records through games of Monday, Oct. 17.)

Without further ado:

NHL Power Rankings
1 Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 1
Probably not enough has been written about this fact: the Wings have had 11 straight 100 points-or-more seasons. That is simply astonishing. When will this team ever slip? It hasn't yet, and Detroit rumbled into the week still unbeaten, 4-0 for the first time since its repeat Cup season of 1997-98. This team arguably has more of an intimidating aura than any in pro sports. You can still feel a sort of fear factor at work on every opponent, and with good reason. Last week: 2-0-0
2 Washington Capitals
Last Week: 8
None of their wins have been particularly overpowering, but they are unbeaten, and that's without much from Alex Ovechkin so far (one goal, two points). But netminder Tomas Vokoun looked very good in his next two outings after a shaky start. It will be interesting to see how coach Bruce Boudreau delegates the workload between him and Michal Neuvirth. Last week: 2-0-0
3 Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 2
Thomas Vanek apparently means business this season. The streaky former Minnesota Golden Gopher popped in seven points in his first four games. He doesn't get a lot of publicity playing in one of the league's smaller markets, but this guy remains one of the premier shooters in the league. He had 207 goals in his first 473 NHL games -- an impressive clip. Last week: 1-1-0
4 Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 4
They lost a tough overtime decision to Los Angeles over the weekend, with former captain Mike Richards rubbing their noses in it with an assist on the game-winner. But they've still gotten a point in every game. Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov (1.99 GAA, .927 saves percentage) has earned every cent of his hefty contract so far. Last week: 1-0-1
5 Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 10
I'm not quite sold on James Reimer being an elite goalie yet, but he's not bad -- and this team is going to make it easy on him many nights. The Brian Burke influence is finally starting to assert itself. Toronto is bigger, faster and tougher -- and the Phil Kessel trade doesn't look so bad anymore. He puts the puck in the net. Last week: 1-0-1
6 Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 20
Anaheim Ducks (4-1-0)
I was wrong in thinking this team would come out flat and stale. The top line of Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry is just one hell of a trio. But the biggest reason to feel good about the Ducks again: goalie Jonas Hiller is over his vertigo and playing great (1.71 GAA, .931 SP). Last week: 3-0-0
7 Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 6
A wobbly week with three straight defeats, one in OT to the rival Caps, their first loss to Buffalo in nearly two years, and the indignity of being Winnipeg's first victim. But Evgeni Malkin was in and out of the lineup with a creaky knee, and the good news is that Sidney Crosby is taking contact in practice. Last week: 1-2-1
8 New York Islanders
Last Week: 21
John Tavares for the Hart Trophy! Yes, it's early, but he's got eight points (five goals) in his first four games -- and the Isles haven't been winning in fluky ways. Maybe this is the season their stockpile of high draft picks finally puts all that potential together. Of course, they'll have to do it without goalie Rick DiPietro (concussion), who is hurt for the 112th time in his starcrossed career. Last week: 2-0-0
9 Boston Bruins
Last Week: 7
Boston Bruins (2-3-0)
A good character win on Saturday in Chicago for the defending champs, who scored late and triumphed in OT. Coach Claude Julien continues to knit socks in the back of the car about his team -- he's nervous, in other words -- but they'll be just fine. The B's are still not giving up many goals, so when guys like Milan Lucic and Patrice Bergeron get going again, the wins will follow. Last week: 1-1-0
10 Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 22
Um, you Caps fans who gloated over that Semyon Varlamov trade where the Avs coughed up a first- and second-round pick, saying it guaranteed a lottery selection in next year's draft? Varlamov has been terrific and Colorado has a bona-fide future star in No. 2 overall pick Gabriel Landeskog, who had 20 shots on goal in his first five games -- as a third-liner. Last week: 4-0-0
11 Dallas Stars
Last Week: 16
Dallas Stars (4-1-0)
Goalie Kari Lehtonen, the NHL's Third Star of the Week has been extra primo good (4-0-0, 1.48 GAA, league-best .955 save pct.) for a team that's off to a surprisingly hot start without anyone noticing in Big D, not with the Rangers back in the World Series. But if they keep winning, the Mavs stay locked out and the Cowboys fizzle, the Stars have a chance to attract some eyeballs. Last week: 2-0-0
12 Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 11
Drew Doughty is out the next 7-10 days with the dreaded "upper body" injury (shhh, don't call it a concussion, the Kings say it's a shoulder malady), but they will be just fine as long as Anze Kopitar stays healthy. This guy is going to win the Hart Trophy some day, you heard it here first. He's huge, but he plays with such a silky finesse. He's the Magic Johnson of hockey in L.A. Last week: 1-0-1
13 Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 9
Ryan Kesler's return -- slated for Tuesday night vs. the Rangers -- will turn this team from water-treader into a powerhouse before long. He's the guy who really makes the Canucks click and I suspect Vancouver will be in my top 10 next week. Last week: 1-2-0
14 Nashville Predators
Last Week: 5
Looks like it's going to be another season of squeezing out goals in Smashville. The team still just doesn't have any really scary firepower other than Shea Weber's slap shot. "It comes down to effort and work ethic and playing desperate hockey," netminder Pekka Rinne lamented after a third-period collapse against upstart Edmonton. "It's the simple things like fighting for your teammates. Right now we are not doing that and this is the result. Three games in a row now and it is not good." Last week: 0-2-1
15 Florida Panthers
Last Week: 19
Dale Tallon for GM of the year! All that money he spent during the summer was mocked mercilessly, but these Cats scored 14 goals in their first four games and laid a 7-4 beating on the Bolts, thanks to a potent power play. Yet veteran blueline Brian Campbell remains the wise old head. "It's just one of those nights, I guess. Things are going good," he told the assembled media after the match. "That's not going to happen too often, so you'll take it when you get it." Last week: 2-1-0
16 New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 24
Funny what a difference the return of a player like Zach Parise will make. This guy is the face of the Devils -- more so than Martin Brodeur or Ilya Kovalchuk -- and he's off to a fine start (two goals, three points). This organization remains one of the strangest ever conceived, with a "loyalty is everything" type of guy in GM Lou Lamoriello, who fires coaches at whim and discards players who don't buy into his theory of loyalty: take a lot less money and love it. But it seems to work, for the most part, for Teflon Lou. Last week: 2-0-0
17 Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 12
This team could have been a mini-dynasty, but, of course, the salary cap through the proverbial spanner in the works. Beyond the first two lines and first defensive pairing, the Hawks have lots of mediocrity on their roster. Still, that starting five in front of goalie Corey Crawford will win a lot of games. Last week: 1-0-1
18 San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 3
Three straight losses, including two to the Ducks by 3-2 and 1-0, have lovers of Team Teal gnashing their molars. A lot of pundits believe these guys will finally go to the Stanley Cup Final this season, but the Sharks are floundering in their worst start since 2002-03 as their offense struggles. On the bright side, Antti Niemi is back in net after having a cyst removed from his knee, but will need some time to round into form after missing training camp. Last week: 0-3-0
19 Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 15
They haven't gotten off to a winning start, but boy are they fast. This team might have the best wheels of any in the league. Yes, guys like Lars Eller need to start scoring more, and Carey Price (1-2-1, 2.96 GAA, .880 save pct.) can be better, but there's a lot of upside with both players. Last week: 0-1-1
20 Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 25
Still one of those teams that's difficult to get a firm handle on. Carolina's got some of the finer young offensive talent in the league (Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner) and a goalie (Cam Ward) who can win a playoff series by himself. After opening with three straight loses, the 'Canes bagged two nice victories against quality foes: Boston and Buffalo. Last week: 2-0-0
21 Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 26
Coach Dave Tippett is still wringing points from this team, and lord knows how. Maybe it's magic. The old Winnipeg Jets blasted the new Winnipeg Jets 4-1 in Phoenix over the weekend -- much to the chagrin of Winnipeggers -- and that was after pasting the Predatos 5-2. Young blueliner Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who was nicknamed "Harry" by captain Shane Doan for his resemblance to boy wizard Harry Potter, has been supernatural with three goals in the Yotes' first four tilts. Last week: 2-0-0
22 Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 18
Can Ryan Nugent-Hopkins play at this level already? How does four goals -- including a hat trick vs. Vancouver -- in his first three games sound? And even the old farts are feeling spry. Ryan Smyth keyed a third-period comeback win over the Preds with an assist and the game-winning goal. Last week: 1-1-1
23 St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 14
I know they're 2-3-0 after their first five games and they just lost Andy McDonald to another injury (concussion), but they're too big, young and talented not to at least make a serious run at a playoff spot. It'll help, of course, if they can make their special teams special again. The power play is 1-for-20 so far and they've coughed up a goal while shorthanded in each of their first five outings. Last week: 1-2-0
24 Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 23
This is still your classic mediocre, just-good-enough-to-lose Wild. They've won a couple of games, and dropped two in OT, but this is really only a one-line team with a middling defense. Kudos, though, to backup goalie Josh Harding for playing heroically in his first start, a 3-2 OT loss to Detroit, since missing all of last season with torn knee ligaments. Last week: 1-0-2
25 Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 13
Shockingly poor start for Guy Boucher's team. Goaltender Dwayne Roloson is playing poorly, and at age 41 he automatically gets the least benefit of the doubt. "Obviously, we're not happy," sniper Steven Stamkos lamented after the Bolts were pounded by the Panthers, 7-4. "I wouldn't say we're in a panic mode, but we're worried. This isn't the start we wanted. We're taking way too many penalties." Last week: 0-2-1
26 New York Rangers
Last Week: 17
If the NHL schedule-makers ever let these guys play, we might start to learn something about them. Nobody saw their games in Europe, but we do know they still haven't won a game yet and coach John Tortorella was described as agitated after his "undisciplined" and rusty charges were dropped by rival Islanders, 4-2, on Saturday. Now it's off to Western Canada for four games before the Blueshirts get to play their home opener on October 27. Last week: 0-1-0
27 Winnipeg Jets
Last Week: 28
Winnipeg Jets (1-3-0)
The Jets finally got a win -- on Monday night over Pittsburgh. This team seems destined to finishing out of the playoffs, though, as the goaltending and offense just are too unreliable for now. "I'm not frustrated, I'm disappointed," coach Claude Noel groaned after a 4-1 loss to Phoenix, "and I'm not sure what we're waiting for. It looks like our team thinks we have a free pass to fail." Last week: 1-2-0
28 Calgary Flames
Last Week: 29
Rumors are already rife that GM Jay Feaster is trying to shed some unproductive players and their salaries (paging Olli Jokinen, Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman and David Moss). Good luck with that. But the Flames still have some great players, like Jarome Iginla fer instance, who only have to get hot for this team to move well up the boards. Last week: 1-1-0
29 Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 27
When Colorado can come in a smoke you 7-1 on your home ice, there are problems. Netminder Craig Anderson is fending for himself behind a porous defense and Ottawa has already allowed a league-leading 23 goals. Last week: 1-2-0
30 Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 30
Coach Scott Arniel's seat is starting to steam and so is his forehead. On Sunday he put his faltering squad through a grueling off-day punishment practice. Now Jeff Carter is out with a hairline foot fracture. It's a good thing management decided Ken Hitchcock was the problem with this team going forward, the year after he took it to its one and only playoffs, eh? Last week: 0-1-1

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