By Allan Muir
January 21, 2014
Alex Steen and the Blues have to prove they can get past Western powers like Corey Perry's Ducks.
Tom Gannam/Getty Images
NHL Power Rankings
1 Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 1
Anaheim Ducks (37-9-5)
It's going to take more than one road loss at the hands of the defending Stanley Cup champs to knock the Ducks out of the top spot. Their eight-game winning streak came to an end on Friday night after a slow start in Chicago, but a franchise record 9-1 thrashing of the Canucks in their prior game, and an impressive bounce-back win in St. Louis the following night prove the Ducks are still the class of the league. (Last week: 2-1-0)
2 Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 3
The Hawks have shown a disappointing lack of finish this season, going just 5-11 in games that extend beyond 60 minutes. They also have seven straight extra-time losses dating back to Nov. 29. Still, Sunday's shootout win over Boston was more than just a slump buster. It, along with Friday's victory over the red-hot Ducks, was evidence of this team's ability to elevate its play against top opponents. The defending champs may struggle at times to maintain their intensity, but they've shown they'll be ready when the games start to count. (Last week: 2-0-1)
3 Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 4
You can't win 'em all, although the Pens gave it a good shot. Their two-month home winning streak ended at 13 games on Monday night with a surprising 5-1 loss to the Panthers. Bigger picture though, they got two key players -- Paul Martin and James Neal -- back in the lineup and head into the Olympic stretch with the healthiest roster they've had in ages. Mix in the league's top power play (24.2 percent) and penalty kill (87.9 percent) and they're in great shape moving forward. (Last week: 1-1-0)
4 St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 2
St. Louis Blues (33-10-5)
Coach Ken Hitchcock ripped his team after losses to the Kings and Ducks last week, saying, "I'm kinda sick of watching it. They rose to the occasion and we didn't." A decisive win over the Red Wings on Monday prevented their third two-game losing streak of the season from becoming something more of a concern, but you get the sense that Hitch won't be happy until this team shows up big when the measuring stick is out. (Last week: 2-2-0)
5 San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 6
San Jose Sharks (32-12-6)
They look like they've regained their composure, completing their first road sweep of the season by knocking off the Capitals, Panthers and Lightning. The Sharks have also won eight of 10 at home heading into the Olympic break, and one of the NHL's hottest players is leading them. Joe Pavelski has paced San Jose with six goals during this four-game streak and he now has 27 for the season, tied for second in the NHL with the Anaheim's Corey Perry. Pavelski is just four goals shy of tying his career high of 31, set in 2011-12. (Last week: 4-0-0)
6 Boston Bruins
Last Week: 5
Boston Bruins (31-15-3)
The B's were brutal in their 4-3 loss to the Maple Leafs last week, but finished strong by dominating in Dallas before taking three of four points in a tough back-to-back set with the Blackhawks and Kings. Chad Johnson has done a nice job spelling the slumping Tuukka Rask in net, and Brad Marchand has finally found his touch, scoring six goals in his past four games after netting just 10 in his first 45. (Last week: 2-1-1)
7 Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 7
What an improbable, unpredictable season this has been for Semyon Varlamov. His 5-4 win over the Predators on Saturday wasn't his prettiest of the season, but it ran his unbeaten-in-regulation streak to a franchise-record 16 games (11-0-5). He's made 1,108 saves so far this season, second only to Phoenix's Mike Smith (1,144), and he's top-10 in both save percentage (.927) and goals-against (2.34), helping backstop Colorado to an 8-1-2 run that has the Avs hard on the heels of the Blues. (Last week: 3-0-0)
8 Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 8
Rumors persist that GM Dean Lombardi is looking to the trade market to juice up a bumbling offense that has generated two goals or fewer in 11 of the team's past 14 games. It's a good thing that Jonathan Quick has stood tall at the other end of the ice. Since returning from a lengthy stint on IR, Quick has gone 4-2-2 with a 1.60 GAA and .938 save percentage, good enough to keep the Kings competitive and himself in the conversation as the possible starter for Team USA in Sochi. (Last week: 1-1-1)
9 Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 9
The Bolts wasted a magnificent four-goal effort by Martin St. Louis -- who tied the team record set by Chris Kontos way back during the franchise's debut season in 1992 -- in a 5-4 loss to the Sharks on Saturday, but the bigger issue is a trend of mental lapses that has the Lightning on an 0-3-2 skid in their last five home games. Coach Jon Cooper blames it on a tough stretch that saw the team play 11 games in 19 days, but mistakes were creeping in early on. It could be that the kids who have been relied on so heavily this season are beginning to crack under the strain. (Last week: 2-1-1)
10 New York Rangers
Last Week: 11
New York Rangers (27-21-3)
Maybe Steve Yzerman knew what he was doing when he selected Rick Nash for Team Canada. The much maligned winger still isn't scoring in quantity (just 14 goals this season), but he's netting 'em when they count. When he notched the clincher in Sunday's 4-1 win over the Capitals, it marked his fourth game-winner in New York's past six games. That kind of timely scoring, along with a defense that has allowed two goals or fewer in each of its past seven games, has the Rangers on a 6-1 tear. (Last week: 3-1-0)
11 Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 18
Minnesota Wild (27-19-5)
They're back on track in January, going 7-2 after losing eight of 10 to close out December. Minnesota is getting terrific goaltending from rookie Darcy Kuemper, who made his fourth consecutive appearance and stopped 33-of-35 shots in a 3-2 OT win over the Stars on Saturday. During his last five starts, Kuemper has posted a 1.36 GAA and .954 save percentage. He'll have to stay sharp with the Ducks, Sharks and Hawks coming up on the schedule. (Last week: 2-1-0)
12 Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 12
Philadelphia Flyers (25-19-6) )
They've been masters of the come-from-behind win, staging nine third-period comebacks so far this season, including Saturday's dramatic 6-4 win over the Islanders. But they've also been guilty of letting games get away from them late, as they did Monday afternoon when they blew a 3-1 lead to those same Isles. Philly ranks in the top-five in both goals-for and goals-against in the third period. (Last week: 2-0-2)
13 Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 13
Captain Brian Gionta said the Habs "can be a very average team," and they've looked the part of late. Montreal has descended into mediocrity in the new year, falling into a win one/lose one pattern that's led to a tightening of the race in the Atlantic Division. Playing the more conservative, dump-and-chase style I watched them employ last weekend isn't going to get them out of their rut, that's for sure. (Last week: 1-2-0)
14 Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 15
Make it a franchise record-tying six straight wins for Jack Adams candidate Todd Richards and his Jackets after their 4-3 shootout thriller against the Sabres on Saturday. They're making hay at home, going 8-2-1 in their last 11 games at Nationwide, where they'll also play six of their next seven. With a playoff berth in their grasp, this next stretch is vital. (Last week: 2-0-0)
15 Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 14
Detroit Red Wings (21-18-10)
Nervous moment for the Wings, and for Team USA, as goaltender Jimmy Howard left Monday night's game with a knee injury. No word yet on how long he could be out, but barring a glowing medical exam, it looks like another tough break for a team that continues to struggle with a patchwork lineup. Monday's 4-1 loss to the Blues dropped Detroit to a miserable 7-11-7 at Joe Louis Arena, second only to Calgary (7-14-3) for the league's worst home record. (Last week: 1-2-0)
16 Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 26
It's best not to get too worked up just yet about their five-game winning streak -- Toronto's longest in seven years -- because it includes shootout wins over the Devils (a gimme) and the Sabres (worst team in hockey). Still, that was an impressive decision over the Habs on Hockey Day In Canada, easily one of the Leafs' best efforts of the season, and they followed that up by knocking off the Coyotes, 4-2, on Monday to kick off a four-game roadie. Tim Gleason looks like a nice, steady add for the back end. (Last week: 4-0-0)
17 Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 10
Vancouver Canucks (25-16-9) )
A 3-2 shootout win over one of the league's worst teams is hardly a cause for celebration, but the Canucks haven't had much excuse to pull out the party hats and noisemakers of late. Before Saturday's brawl-filled victory against Calgary, Vancouver had lost eight of nine and had scored just three goals in its previous four games. Now the team has to move forward for an extended period without its captain, Henrik Sedin, and coach John Tortorella, who was suspended 15 days for his between-period shenanigans. The Canucks may not have hit rock bottom yet. (Last week: 1-2-0)
18 Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 16
Ottawa Senators (21-19-9)
The Sens dug themselves into two deep holes they couldn't get out of over the weekend, going down 3-0 to the Habs and then 4-1 to the Rangers to end a streak that saw them secure points in eight straight games. Ottawa now embarks on a stretch that sees the Sens play eight of their remaining 10 pre-Olympic games on the road. A stumble here and they could be sellers heading into the trade deadline. (Last week: 1-1-1)
19 New York Islanders
Last Week: 17
Don't go to sleep on the Isles with a lead. Their past four victories have all been come-from-behind efforts, including Monday's 4-3 shootout win over the Flyers that saw them fight back from a 3-1 deficit after 40 minutes. Their current 7-3-0 kick has pulled them to within five points of a wild card berth. Considering the miserable run they had through November and December, that might be their biggest comeback of all. (Last week: 2-2-0)
20 New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 20
New Jersey Devils (20-19-11)
You think maybe they could find a waste management consultant in New Jersey? This team continues to throw away points in the shootout. On Thursday, they dropped their eighth of the season and 12th in a row dating back to last year to set a new NHL mark for futility in the skills session. For a team sitting a point out of the wild card, that could be fatal. (Last week: 1-1-1)
21 Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 21
Reuniting last season's top line -- Eric Staal between Alex Semin and Jiri Tlusty -- paid immediate dividends as Semin broke out of a long slump with three goals and the trio combined for eight points during the weekend. But the Canes still came up small, splitting a pair with the Panthers and Lightning to remain three points (and five teams) removed from a wild card spot. They need more from their top defensive pair of Justin Faulk and Andrei Sekera. The duo was on the ice for all five goals-against in Sunday's 5-3 loss to the Bolts. (Last week: 1-1-0)
22 Florida Panthers
Last Week: 23
Florida Panthers (19-23-7)
That was a nice win in Pittsburgh on Monday night, one of just two they've rung up against a playoff bound team during the last month. But their five-goal outburst aside, this bunch still can't score often enough to compete on most nights. Their power play, clicking at just 9.2 percent, is far and away the league's worst. (Last week: 2-2-0)
23 Washington Capitals
Last Week: 19
Somebody cue Tom Petty: The Caps are free fallin'. Losers of five straight, and 11 of their past 15, there are almost too many problems here to mention. We could start, though, with the popgun offense (just one goal in four of the team's past five games), a power play gone cold (just one goal on its last 13 chances) and a goaltender, rookie Philipp Grubauer, who allowed six goals on the last 23 shots he faced. Hard to pinpoint where the recovery should begin, but it better start soon. The Caps have already fallen out of the playoff picture. (Last week: 0-3-1)
24 Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 24
Phoenix Coyotes (23-17-9)
So apparently the moral of the story here is not to read too much into wins over the Canucks and Devils. The Coyotes finally strung a pair of wins together for the first time in five weeks, then fell back into old habits in a 4-2 loss to Toronto on Monday night with sloppy defensive play and inferior goaltending costing them in the end. On the bright side, Mike Ribeiro scored with the extra man, giving Phoenix a power play goal in eight straight games to tie the franchise record. (Last week: 2-2-0)
25 Nashville Predators
Last Week: 27
Oilers fans were shocked -- shocked! -- to see Devan Dubnyk lit up for five goals by the Avs in his Nashville debut over the weekend. That sort of ham-fisted puckstopping wasn't exactly the performance the Predators were looking for when they brought in the former first-rounder from Edmonton to stabilize their goalkeeping last week. Carter Hutton, the man whose job Dubnyk is supposed to steal, complicated matters by stopping 35-of-36 against the Stars on Monday night. Looks like there will be some tough calls ahead for coach Barry Trotz. (Last week: 3-1-0)
26 Winnipeg Jets
Last Week: 28
Winnipeg Jets (22-23-5)
No one is planning the Cup parade route just yet, but Jets fans shouldn't be embarrassed about celebrating three consecutive wins under new head coach Paul Maurice. There's a new energy around the team that's translated into a better effort in all three zones. And there's evidence of even better days ahead. Sunday's come-from-behind 3-2 win over the Oilers saw recent first rounders Jacob Trouba and Mark Schiefele account for all three Winnipeg goals. (Last week: 2-0-0)
27 Dallas Stars
Last Week: 22
Dallas Stars (21-20-8)
Lindy Ruff is taking a lot of heat in Dallas for his team's 1-8-1 slide, but I give him credit. The easy thing to do would be to tighten up the system and play more conservatively to take heat off the struggling defense. Instead, he's sticking with the fast-paced attack because that's what he believes this team will win with eventually. It's a gutsy, long term move and it speaks to the confidence he has in his players, as well as the faith that GM Jim Nill has in Ruff. (Last week: 1-2-1)
28 Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 25
Buffalo Sabres (13-27-7)
Wins are nice for today, but everything the Sabres do from here on out this season is about building a better tomorrow. So watching Tyler Myers play this past week like he could be a legitimate first pair defender, even over the course of a couple of disappointing losses, made this a positive stretch in Buffalo. (Last week: 0-1-2)
29 Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 29
Edmonton Oilers (15-30-6)
Did the Oilers land Mr. Right ... or just Mr. Right Now in Ben Scrivens? The 27-year-old goaltender was solid this season in Los Angeles but, more importantly, he played pretty well behind a lousy defense in Toronto last season, an experience that should come in handy now that he's in Edmonton. The pending UFA has three months to make his case, but he seems like a legitimate option for this team's future. (Last week: 0-2-1)
30 Calgary Flames
Last Week: 30
Calgary Flames (16-27-7)
They face a five-game homestand starting Wednesday night -- good news for most teams, but a nightmare for the flickering Flames. They're mired in a franchise-worst seven-game losing streak at the Saddledome during which they've been outscored 21-4. Will last Saturday's contretemps with the Canucks give them the emotional boost they need to turn things around? (Last week: 0-3-1)

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