By Allan Muir
December 31, 2013
The Ducks and Hawks are tough enough to take a hit and keep going in the NHL's toughest conference.
Warren Wimmer/Icon SMI
NHL Power Rankings
1 Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 1
Anaheim Ducks (28-8-5)
Their franchise-best 10-game winning streak finally came to an end in San Jose on Sunday, but it'll take more than one loss to knock the Ducks out of our top spot. One of the reasons for their NHL-best record: the ability to battle back from behind. Anaheim is one of just two teams in the league with a winning record after giving up the first goal in a game. (Last two weeks: 5-1-0)
2 Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 2
Yeah, they blew a late, two-goal lead against St. Louis, but the Hawks still managed to take five points out of a three-games-in-four-nights stretch against the Avs, Blues and Kings. Patrick Sharp may have played his way onto Team Canada with six goals in his past four games. (Last week: 4-0-2)
3 St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 6
St. Louis Blues (26-7-5)
Weekend wins over Chicago (in a shootout) and Dallas (OT) improved their record against Central Division rivals to 12-0-1, the best intra-division mark in the league this season. With three games in hand on the Hawks, they've got their sights set on first place. (Last two weeks: 4-1-1)
4 San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 8
San Jose Sharks (25-8-6)
Heading into last week, the Sharks had lost five times in the shootout, the most in the Western Conference, but consecutive skill session victories over Dallas, Colorado and Phoenix gave them six wins ... also tops in the West. Logan Couture is now tied for the league lead with six goals on 11 SO attempts. (Last two weeks: 5-1-0)
5 Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 4
The bodies keep dropping--Pascal Dupuis is the latest to hit the IR--but the Pens continue to tear through December at 11-2 heading into their New Year's Eve dance with the Devils. The good news: Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi are back in the lineup to solidify a defense that was starting to sag under the pressure. Olli Maatta really looks like he could use a rest. (Last two weeks: 5-1-0)
6 Boston Bruins
Last Week: 7
Boston Bruins (26-11-2))
Here's a crazy stat, courtesy Elias Sports Bureau: The Bruins went seven consecutive games from Dec. 12 to 23 with one player scoring at least two goals per game, tying a franchise mark originally set in 1929. That's a little good news to dull the pain of losing key defender Dennis Seidenberg (knee) for the season. Look for the B's to make a significant deal sooner rather than later. Dan Girardi, perhaps? (Last two weeks: 4-2-0)
7 Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 3
They've dropped three in a row for the first time this season after falling 1-0 in Chicago on Sunday. Their offense is struggling, especially on the power play where they've scored just once in their last seven games. It will be interesting to see how the impending return of goaltender Jonathan Quick impacts this team. (Last two weeks: 3-3-0)
8 Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 5
You can't ask for much more out of this team's defense. The Canucks allowed more than two goals in regulation just twice in 13 December games, powering their rise into the Western Conference playoff mix. But a team that is fifth in shots per game needs to show a bit more finish than 2.66 goals per game, good for just 14th overall. (Last two weeks: 3-1-2)
9 Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 13
The Bolts dropped a pair of the weekend to put the brakes on a five-game win streak, but there's a lot to like about a team that's winning games while playing through some devastating injuries. Tampa Bay had given up just eight goals in its past six games before dropping a 4-3 decision to the Rangers on Sunday. (Last two weeks: 4-1-1)
10 Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 10
The Habs have scored only 12 even-strength goals in their past nine games and now rank ahead of just the Rangers and Sabres in that category. But, hey, when Carey Price isn't letting any in at the other end, they've got a chance to win every night. (Last two weeks: 3-2-0)
11 Dallas Stars
Last Week: 19
Dallas Stars (19-12-7)
The math is pretty straightforward for this team: score three goals, win a hockey game. A show of offensive firepower against the Kings (5-2) and Predators (4-1) boosted their streak to 14 wins in a row in games where they've tallied at least three times. They've lost 18 of 19 when scoring two or fewer. (Last two weeks: 5-0-2)
12 Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 18
Yessir, those are indeed the Flyers holding down a playoff spot after kicking off their six-game road trip with shootout wins over Edmonton and Vancouver. Wayne Simmonds has been huge, with three consecutive two-goal games, making him the first Flyer to turn that particular hat trick since Reggie Leach in 1981. (Last two weeks: 5-1-0)
13 Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 9
With only four wins in December heading into the month's finale against the Jackets, the Avs inspired coach Patrick Roy to whine about the schedule. What he really needs to worry about is a flagging defense and a penalty kill that now ranks No. 22 in the NHL at just 80.2 percent. Maybe Roy can mix in a little practice time during the team's upcoming seven-game home stand. (Last two weeks: 1-2-3)
14 Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 15
Give them credit. They've hung in there while Sergei Bobrovsky's been on IR, going 7-4-1 in December to stay in the hunt in the forgiving Metropolitan Division. Bob as well as Nathan Horton are practicing and traveling with the team as it heads out on a four-game road trip. It'll be a big boost when those two return to action. (Last two weeks: 3-1-1)
15 Washington Capitals
Last Week: 11
Unhappy with his view from the press box, Michal Neuvirth became the third Cap to request a trade this season. Philipp Grubauer has started eight of the team's last 11 games, and looks to have locked up one of the two spots in Washington with a 5-2-2 mark, leaving Neuvirth out in the cold. Washington could use some blueline help, but his $4 million cap hit will be tough to move. (Last two weeks: 2-3-2)
16 Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 22
The Leafs head into the Winter Classic on a high, having beaten the Hurricanes, 5-2, with a solid effort and their most complete lineup of the year. Tyler Bozak returned to action over the weekend, just in time for the big game against the Red Wings in Ann Arbor, leaving only Dave Bolland on the sidelines. (Last two weeks: 3-1-2)
17 Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 17
The Wings came stumbling into the Winter Classic having lost two of their last three to inferior opponents, but they did get Jimmy Howard and Darren Helm back in the lineup. A little good health could go a long way for this team. (Last two weeks: 3-3-0)
18 Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 14
Phoenix Coyotes (19-10-9)
You can look at them two ways. The Coyotes are a team that finds a way to scratch and claw and pick up points almost nightly, or a team that is bleeding points in OT and the shootout, having lost seven of its last eight games that went beyond 60 minutes. You just know that's going to come back and haunt them on April 14. (Last two weeks: 1-1-5)
19 New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 21
You think maybe Pete DeBoer might want to devote a little practice time this week to the shootout? His Devils dropped to a league-worst 0-6 in the skills session with Friday's 2-1 loss to the Jackets and have just one goal to show for 20 attempts this season. A team battling for a wild card can't keep throwing away points like that. (Last two weeks: 3-1-2)
20 Florida Panthers
Last Week: 20
Florida Panthers (15-20-5)
Their season-high five-game win streak was followed by an ugly three-game skid that saw them outscored 15-6, highlighting just how badly this team needs Tim Thomas back between the pipes. Scott Clemmensen got the win against the Habs on Sunday, but he'd given up 10 goals on his previous 67 shots faced. (Last two weeks: 3-3-0)
21 Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 12
Minnesota Wild (20-16-5)
The offense finally comes to life for the Wild--four goals in each of their past two games--so naturally the defense falls apart, right? Minnesota has coughed up 24 goals during its past five games, sending them spiraling out of the playoff picture. With Mike Yeo and his coaching staff in the final last year of their deals, the heat is officially on in spades. (Last two weeks: 1-5-0)
22 New York Rangers
Last Week: 24
New York Rangers (19-19-2)
A shootout win over the Leafs last Monday put a merciful end to a miserable nine-game homestand that saw the Blueshirts go just 3-4-2 and fall out of the playoff mix. Most troubling: they went 0-3-2 against Metropolitan Division rivals. The return of Marc Staal—who was expected back on New Year's Eve in Florida--could help right the ship. (Last two weeks: 3-2-1)
23 Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 26
Ottawa Senators (17-18-7) )
The Sens finished off 2013 with a couple of solid home wins over the Bruins and Caps to keep themselves (somehow) in the playoff mix. Losing Chris Neil, possibly for an extended period, will make it tougher to keep Toronto and Montreal in sight. (Last two weeks: 3-3-1)
24 Calgary Flames
Last Week: 23
Calgary Flames (14-19-6)
So much for the idea of a post-Jay Feaster bump. The Flames compete, but they still lack the talent to get results. They were shut out by the Oilers at home for the first time in franchise history--don't think that didn't hurt --and then were blanked again by the Canucks. I'm not sure how trading for Kevin Westgarth will help their struggling offense. (Last two weeks: 1-4-1)
25 Winnipeg Jets
Last Week: 27
Winnipeg Jets (18-18-5)
I think it was Kevin Dupont who first nicknamed the old Hartford Whalers the Forever 500s, but since they're not using it anymore, maybe the Jets should try it on for size. Like the Whalers, they have perfected the art of tire spinning, stringing consecutive wins together only three times this season before beating Winnipeg and Colorado over the weekend. This is a tough team to love and even the faithful at MTS Centre are getting are casting jaundiced eyes in its direction. (Last two weeks: 3-3-0)
26 Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 16
The Canes have won just two of their past 10 games, fewer than any other team during a similar span, and GM Jim Rutherford is looking to make changes a little more significant than dealing Kevin Westgarth for Greg Nemisz. With goalie Anton Khudobin recalled on Tuesday, it's likely that either he or Justin Peters will be on the move soon. (Last two weeks: 0-3-2)
27 Nashville Predators
Last Week: 25
They snapped a five-game losing streak with big home wins over the Kings and Red Wings, thanks to a power play that's emerged as one of the league's best. Ten of Nashville's last 24 goals have come on the man advantage, and they've scored at least one power play tally in eight of their last nine games. Problem is, they're lousy at even strength, and that's killing 'em. (Last two weeks: 2-4-1)
28 Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 28
Buffalo Sabres (11-24-4)
Is there a hotter player in the world right now than Ryan Miller? The Sabres' star, and likely Team USA starter in Sochi, followed up a pair of sensational efforts against the Coyotes and Leafs with maybe the finest game of his career, stopping 55 of 56 shots (including all six in the shootout) as Buffalo edged the Caps, 2-1. He's not just giving his team a chance to win--he's pilfering points and preventing a miserable season. (Last two weeks: 4-1-1)
29 New York Islanders
Last Week: 30
The Isles showed a lot of grit on Sunday, rebounding from a 3-0 deficit 23 minutes into the game for a 5-4 win. Okay, so it was against the staggering Wild, but give 'em credit for finding ways to wins games they would have lost earlier in the season. (Last two weeks: 3-2-1)
30 Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 29
Edmonton Oilers (13-24-4)
So 2013 clearly won't be the year that the Oilers cross the threshold of respectability as a team, but the season won't be totally lost if Dallas Eakins can enhance the development of the team's younger players. Nail Yakupov will be his biggest challenge--2012's top overall pick was scratched again on New Year's Eve--and how this plays out could determine the coach's shelf life behind the bench. (Last two weeks: 2-3-1)

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