Gritty St. Louis Blues grab top spot in Power Rankings

Tuesday November 19th, 2013

The Blues are on a roll, but goalie Jaroslav Halak has given cause for pause with his shaky play.
Alex Brandon/AP

No, it wasn't, as some readers suggested, the SI curse that humbled the Ducks after they finally grabbed the top spot in our Power Rankings last week. They were brought down by the inability to capitalize on their chances, some inconsistent defense and, maybe, a bit too much wear and tear after spending most of the month on the road.

But as they dropped, a pair of titans moved to the top of the list. The Blues seized the No. 1 ranking for the first time this season despite getting whipped by the Capitals in their last outing. I think there's some reason to be concerned about the play of Jaro Halak, who has allowed at least three goals in each of his last three starts on the way to an .816 save percentage, but the rest of the squad is playing playoff-ready hockey in November. They look tough.

So do the Blackhawks, who have loved playing mid-80's hockey over the last few weeks. At some point, coach Joel Quenneville will get them to tighten up, but as long as they keep winning, he'll let them have some fun. Seems like a fair trade-off for a group that won the Stanley Cup last season and can probably flip a switch and get back to playing tough defense whenever it needs to.

And how about this: for the first time this season, the Sabres have crawled out of the basement! Alright, so 29th doesn't exactly offer a penthouse view, but Buffalo looks a bit more competitive since the dumping of coach Ron Rolston and GM Darcy Regier for bench boss Ted Nolan, new hockey ops president Pat Lafontaine and a GM-to-be-named-later. Sending the kids back to daycare in juniors or the AHL and bringing in some NHL-ready veterans makes sense long term, especially during a draft year where there's not a franchise-altering superstar at risk of being lost to an additional couple of wins.

Here's how the rest of the league stacks up after Week 7.

Notable rise: Los Angeles Kings (11 to 7)

Notable drop: Colorado Avalanche (2 to 8)

NHL Power Rankings
1St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 4
Their 4-1 loss to the Caps on Sunday was ugly, but it was just their second regulation defeat in a month. The Blues are playing hard hockey right now, especially at five-on-five, where they rank second in the league. (Last week: 2-1-1)
2Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 3
They're on a tear, winning eight of 10 and scoring almost at will, but they've got to tighten up in their own zone. Before holding San Jose to one goal on Sunday night, the Hawks had allowed 15 in their previous three games. (Last week: 2-1-0)
3Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 5
They pulled three points out of road games against the Blues and Hawks, then returned to Phoenix to smoke the Lightning and push their league-leading home record to 9-0-1. Credit the power play, which continues to sparkle at 22.4 percent, good for fifth overall and a significant upgrade over last season's 14.8 percent. (Last week: 2-0-1)
4Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 6
I did a radio show last week on which the host called the Wild "a paper tiger." Not sure how anyone can doubt a team that's won 10 of its last 12, leads the league in five-on-five play, and is second in goals-against (1.95). The Wild are for real. (Last week: 3-0-0)
5San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 7
They pulled three wins out of a Western Canada road trip to snap a five-game losing streak, but were then blown out of the rink by the Blackhawks on Sunday. This team isn't playing with the same cohesion or confidence that defined its early success. The Sharks need to get back to that place with their next five at home. (Last week: 3-1-0)
6Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 1
Anaheim Ducks (15-6-2)
What should have been a relatively easy breeze through the slums of the Eastern Conference quickly spiraled into a four-game losing streak. Could be that the grind finally caught up to them. Anaheim has played 12 of its last 15 on the road, but gets to return home—where the Ducks are 8-0-0--for a pair this week. (Last week: 0-3-1)
7Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 11
No Jonathan Quick? No problem. With the all-world starter sidelined by a groin muscle strain, Ben Scrivens filled in with admirably, going 3-0-1 with a 0.66 GAA, .977 save percentage and two shutouts to earn First Star of the Week honors from the NHL. (Last week: 3-0-1)
8Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 2
Patrick Roy is facing his first real on-ice challenge after Colorado dropped three straight for the first time this season, including a miserable effort at home against Florida. He needs to get it turned around quickly—the slump has pushed the Avs all the way down to eighth in the conference. (Last week: 0-3-0)
9Boston Bruins
Last Week: 9
Boston Bruins (13-6-1)
The B's were outworked by Columbus on Thursday, then got waxed by the Senators on Friday. Maybe it was fatigue, as GM Peter Chiarelli explained, or maybe it's just a veteran team that has trouble getting up for games against inferior sides. Either way, no reason to worry....yet. (Last week: 2-1-0)
10Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 8
The Bolts used strong defense and top-notch goaltending to win their first two games without superstar Steven Stamkos (broken leg), but their no-compete performance against the Coyotes on Saturday was alarming. Still, as coach Jon Cooper said, it's just one bad game out of a very successful first 20. (Last week: 2-1-0)
11Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 10
It took the Pens 18 minutes (!) to get their first shot on net against the Ducks on Monday night, and while they eventually rode a three-goal, third-period outburst to a win, it's that early effort that highlights the team's recent problem. Too often, the Pens are too cute by half. A little less skill and a little more will would go a long way toward fixing their woes. (Last week: 2-2-0)
12Dallas Stars
Last Week: 15
Dallas Stars (11-7-2)
A western Canada road swing might not be the meat grinder it was in seasons past, but their three game sweep still counts for six points. The Stars, riding a wave of confidence they haven't had in years, outscored the competition 12-4 while running their road winning streak to six games. (Last week: 3-0-0)
13Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 12
They've played well enough to win during their current 0-3-1 skid, but the pucks have stopped crossing the line for the Canucks. Vancouver has averaged 35 shots per game over that stretch, but has just four goals to show for it. Their luck is due for a change. (Last week: 0-1-1)
14Washington Capitals
Last Week: 18
The Caps earned three wins, including a very solid effort against the Blues on Sunday, to move within a point of Pittsburgh for the Metro Division lead. No reason to get too excited, though, as 25 points may get you something close to top billing in that sad sack division, but it would place a team no better than tied for fifth in any other. (Last week: 3-0-0)
15New York Rangers
Last Week: 13
Their 1-0 loss to the Kings on Saturday was an exercise in frustration—you can't fail to score when handed a pair of 5-on-3 opportunities—but the Rangers aren't too worried about this latest offensive cold snap. They've won seven of 10 with the defense allowing just 16 goals over that stretch and the offense will get a boost with the return of Rick Nash from a concussion. (Last week: 2-1-0)
16Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 14
They expected to do more than split a home-and-home with the Sabres, but at least their offense showed signs of life. The Leafs put four past Jhonas Enroth on Saturday after scoring just four goals in their previous five games. They have their excuses—their top three centers were out of the lineup—but that provides an opportunity for others to step up. Anyone seen David Clarkson? (Last week: 1-1-1)
17Nashville Predators
Last Week: 17
That was a big, cathartic win over the Hawks on Saturday. Prior to the 7-2 blowout, though, the Preds had lost four straight on the road by a combined score of 17-2, so let's hold off on calling that one a turning point. Rookie goalie Marek Mazanec bears watching. (Last week: 1-2-0)
18Winnipeg Jets
Last Week: 21
Winnipeg Jets (10-10-3)
Four of their last five games have gone to the shootout, while the other was a one-goal loss, so the Jets are clearly competing. Andrew Ladd is now six-of-seven in the skills competition after finally missing a chance against Philly's Steve Mason last Friday. (Last week: 2-1-1)
19Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 16
Maybe down the line the Wings will appreciate the points they've pulled out of five consecutive shootout/OT losses, but right now all they can see is a stretch that was painted black by their inability to grab that second point. And if that streak's not bad enough, they play their next three at the Joe, where they've lost seven straight. (Last week: 0-0-3)
20New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 24
Maybe Martin Brodeur wasn't ready to accept a back seat to Corey Schneider after all. The ageless vet ran his winning streak to four games with New Jersey's 4-1 beatdown of the Pens on Saturday and is 6-1-0 with a 1.15 GAA and .952 save percentage over his last seven. He'll need to keep that pace up with the Devils heading to California for a tough, three-game swing. (Last week: 2-1-0)
21Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 23
The 'Canes are on a bit of a roll, by their standards anyway, going 4-2-1 in their last seven. Still, they have to be worried about an offense that has generated just 12 goals during the last 10 games and now ranks 28th overall. Eric Staal has just two tallies in his last 13. Not good enough, Captain. (Last week: 2-2-0)
22Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 19
They finally showed signs of life in a thrilling third-period comeback against the Bruins on Friday, then threw the momentum out the window with a 4-1 loss to Columbus that left coach Paul MacLean checking his bench for anyone with a pulse. The Sens don't look much like a playoff hopeful, let alone a Cup contender, at this point. (Last week: 1-2-0)
23Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 20
Their defense is going great guns, but their offense is in the tank. The Canadiens have scored 18 goals in their last 11 games, an average of just 1.64 per, dropping them to 22nd in the league. The spotlight is shining harshly on guys like Max Pacioretty, Danny Briere and David Desharhais. Time for them to hit their marks. (Last week: 1-1-1)
24New York Islanders
Last Week: 25
Is Kevin Poulin the real deal? He's been solid since being called on to fill in while starter Evgeni Nabokov nurses a groin injury, and has wo two of his last three outings. He's in his contract year (making just $577,000), so he has plenty of inspiration and incentive to build on that success. (Last week: 2-1-0)
25Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 27
Their modest three-game winning streak was snapped in a weak effort against the Jets, but their play during that stretch hinted at a team that was turning things around. The Flyers outscored their opposition 11-3 thanks, in part, to a rejuvenated power play that kicked in three goals over the three games. (Last week: 2-0-1)
26Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 22
Interesting stat of the week courtesy of Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch: The Jackets have played 20 games this season. In 10 of them, they faced the back-up goalie...and only managed a 2-6-2 mark. The takeaway: Columbus may work hard, but nobody's afraid of this team. (Last week: 1-0-3)
27Florida Panthers
Last Week: 28
Are the Panthers back on course? Could be. They've won two of three on the heels of dropping nine straight, so there's reason for optimism. One more: their play in the third period. They've outscored their opposition 24-18 in the final frame, suggesting that the Panthers are upping their intensity with the game on the line. (Last week: 2-1-0)
28Calgary Flames
Last Week: 26
They've lost eight of nine, including three in a row at home last week. Coach Bob Hartley clearly has it in his head that Reto Berra is a No. 1 goalie, but the big Swiss stopper has dropped five straight and looked overwhelmed in the process. Might be time to give Karri Ramo the ball and see what he does with it. (Last week: 0-2-1)
29Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 30
The long-awaited Big Shakeup with Ron Rolston and Darcy Regier finally being keelhauled for their months and years, respectively, of failed stewardship. Good luck to Ted Nolan and Pat Lafontaine. They'll need it. (Last week: 2-1-0)
30Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 29
Big week for the Oil. Nail Yakupov's goal against the Sharks on Friday snapped a nearly 215-minute streak of being shutout in their own building and on Saturday they stunned the Flames (and themselves) with a four-goal third period to earn their first regulation win in 13 games. Doesn't matter. They're still awful. (Last week: 1-2-0)

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