Power Rankings: Hot Penguins challenge Ducks for supremacy

Tuesday November 4th, 2014

Welcome to the newest full installment of our 2014–15 NHL Power Rankings. Once again our three scribes—Allan Muir, Sarah Kwak and Brian Cazeneuve—have submitted their choices for the league's Top 10 teams. The rankings for the entire 30-team league have been weighted according to how high each club came in on our writers' ballots. In some cases a purely intuitive, wholly unscientific and no doubt deplorable method was used to break ties, rank teams that were chosen by only one or two writers, and antagonize the general public. We've presented the 30 teams in groups, with the Top 10 receiving the most trenchant commentary. Overview paragraphs precede the Middle 10 and Bottom 10. Weekly movement up or down has been noted. So without further ado, commence to stew!

The Top 10
  • 1
    1Anaheim Ducks
    last week: 1
    record: 10-3-0
    MUIR (1): They won three of four on their just concluded road trip, losing only in St. Louis to the surging Blues, and they rolled on with three different goalies. Player of the Month Corey Perry (11 goals in 13 games) is getting all the accolades, but Anaheim is getting it done with defense. The Ducks have allowed more than two goals only once since opening night.
    KWAK (1): The Ducks got through that tough road trip through the Midwest by eking out one-goal wins over Chicago, Dallas and Colorado. Though their offense has cooled a bit, scoring machine Perry hasn’t.
    CAZENEUVE (3): Their top line has actually slowed down a bit, but except for a bad game in St. Louis, Anaheim survived some adversity on its recent four-game trip. Backup netminder Jason LaBarbera was an 11th-hour replacement in Colorado, but he helped the Ducks to a 3-2 win after a near cross-country flight that he didn’t expect to make. Most teams have tests such as those during the season. With a four-game home stand now in front of the Ducks, it’s a good sign that they passed this one as well as they did.
    Last week: 3-1-0

  • 2
    2Pittsburgh Penguins
    last week: 8
    record: 7-2-1
    MUIR (2): The Penguins are crushing it right now in every conceivable way. Scoring? A league-high 4.10 goals per game. Goaltending? Marc-Andre Fleury has been downright miserly, pitching shutouts in three of his past four starts. Special teams? How about the best power play in the NHL (41.9%) and a penalty kill that's stopped 26 consecutive chances. These guys look like the best team in the East.
    KWAK (2): After a little hiccup to start the season, the Pens put together four straight wins—and how emphatic they were. They outscored their last four opponents 19-3, and their power play is still operating at an ungodly clip. Even better news in Pittsburgh: Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is playing lights out and already has three shutouts. He needs just two more to equal his career high.
    CAZENEUVE (1): This is what the Penguins are supposed to be: lethal on the front end and not quite so leaky on the back end. Pittsburgh has scored 42 goals this season, and its power play is still clicking at that outrageous rate. Combine all that with a very respectable PK (85.4%), fine goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury (1.89, .931) and the usual surreal play from Sidney Crosby (a league-leading 18 points) and you have the makings of a team that is surging in the East.
    Last week: 3-0-0

  • 3
    3Tampa Bay Lightning
    last week: 9
    record: 8-3-1
    MUIR (6): They're still allowing too many goals (16 in their past four games), but the Bolts have no complaints about the play of defenseman Anton Stralman. The key free agent signing has chipped in nine points in 12 games, and is eating a ton of minutes (a team-high 22:36) to compensate for the absence of Victor Hedman. And while the geeks may hate plus-minus, it's still an official stat, and Stralman is killing it with a league-high +13. It's telling that his mark is 11 better than the next ranked Lightning blueliner. Now that's fancy.
    KWAK (3): Their leading scorer is 24-year-old Tyler Johnson, who picked up four assists against Arizona last week. But the real star for Tampa Bay these days has been Stralman, who is steadying a defense that lost Hedman to an upper body injury a couple of weeks ago.
    CAZENEUVE (4): Tampa Bay isn’t the biggest team in the league, but the Bolts get the most out of what they have. Here are two cases in point: Winger Nikita Kucherov is only 5’-10”, 170 pounds, but he takes his lumps with the best of them and goes to the grimy areas to pick up goals. For those who think Steven Stamkos scores all of Tampa Bay’s goals, Kucherov actually has five of them, and three were deflections or swats from the goalmouth while someone was whacking at him. Second, after Washington’s Eric Fehr ran goalie Ben Bishop on Saturday night, Tampa Bay’s Radko Gudas jumped right in to drop the gloves with Washington’s Tom Wilson. Gudas took the worst of it, but he did jump in. After the Lightning rolled over so easily in the playoffs last spring, these are good signs.
    Last week: 3-0-0

  • 4
    4St. Louis Blues
    last week: 21
    record: 7-3-1
    MUIR (4): Make it five straight wins for the Blues and a star-making week for winger Vladimir Tarasenko. He's chipped in six goals in his last four games, including a likely goal of the year candidate on Monday night in New York, when his injury ravaged team needed them the most. But don't overlook the contributions of his linemates Jori Lehtera and Alex Steen. The trio stepped up as St. Louis' de facto No. 1 line while David Backes and T.J. Oshie nursed concussions.
    KWAK (8): Winger Vladimir Tarasenko earned the NHL's First Star honors this week with five goals in three games, suggesting again that if he stays healthy, the 22-year-old forward could join the league's group of elite scorers. The Blues would love that. They haven’t had a 35-goal scorer since 2007-08.
    CAZENEUVE (2): This is what the Blues are supposed to be: an effective team with a lot of balance that doesn’t really scare you until you look up at the standings and see that they’ve won five in a row. They've done a good job in helping their goalies, Brian Elliott and Jake Allen, by giving them some goals to work with while keeping the shots-against totals manageable. So far St. Louis has averaged 32.1 shots per game and allowed just 25.8.
    Last week: 4-0-0

  • 5
    5Nashville Predators
    last week: 6
    record: 7-2-2
    MUIR (5): Filip Forsberg and his team-leading 11 points have been critical to Nashville's early success, but the key to keeping this ball rolling could be the return of center Matt Cullen. The veteran made an immediate impact on the Predators' second line with his strong two-way presence and adroit playmaking. You didn't think it was a coincidence that ice cold Craig Smith (zero goals in seven games) has ripped off three tallies in the three games since Cullen's return, did you?
    KWAK (4): Winger Forsberg could turn out to be the steal of the decade for Nashville, which got him in a trade with Washington in 2013. The 20-year-old has 11 points in 11 games for a team whose offensive output is still meager but enough to win for now.
    CAZENEUVE (5): Though Nashville has opened things up a bit this season under new coach Peter Laviolette, the Preds have fallen backs into their defensive comfort zone. And with just two losses and 22 goals-against in 11 games, they should feel comfortable. Nashville’s power play ranks just 24th in the league (12.5%) and the PK is only 28th (72.7). But this is a patient, counter-attacking team that bends without breaking, and it has Pekka Rinne to stop whatever gets through. Nashville is not a place that teams look forward to visiting.
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 6
    6Minnesota Wild
    last week: 7
    record: 7-3-0
    MUIR (3): Dumping the dump 'n' chase continues to pay dividends for the Wild. The team that finished 24th in scoring last season is now cruising along with the NHL's third-best offense (3.40 goals per game), leading to their current three-game win streak. You have to wonder about Thomas Vanek, though—not his one goal in 10 games, but the alleged gambling/money laundering issues. At some point this situation has got to come to a head, doesn't it?
    KWAK (5): Last season, the Wild scored four or more goals in just 21 games, but they’ve already topped that mark six times in 10 games this season. And the scoring contributions have been spread around the roster—17 players have produced goals— and that makes the Wild one of the more balanced teams in the league.
    CAZENEUVE (10): Led by the superb goaltending of Darcy Kuemper (6-2-0, 1.62, .930) Minnesota has allowed only 1.80 goals per game so far this season. This is a team that wins with a collective stinginess, and everybody is doing his part and enjoying the early success. Only one player on the entire team, defenseman Christian Folin, who has appeared in just four games, has a minus rating. Zach Parise leads the team in scoring with 10 points, tied for 39th in the league. Here is one other thing this team does well: It stays out of the box. Minnesota has been short a league-low 28 times this season.
    Last week: 3-0-0

  • 7
    7Montreal Canadiens
    last week: 3
    record: 8-3-1
    MUIR (10): Yes, they've earned a share of the Eastern Conference lead with their 8-3-1 mark, but this Habs team might be more smoke than fire. They've allowed four more goals than they've scored so far this season (35-31) and lately they've been getting outshot by a ton (104-64 in the past three games alone). They're staying afloat with a .520 winning percentage in games in which they're outshot, but how long can that hold up?
    KWAK (6): The Canadiens dropped three of their last four games, against Western Conference opponents, dampening a strong start to the season. But they’ll play five of their next six at home where the Habs have been perfect so far. That should help.
    CAZENEUVE (6): The Canadiens have survived two road trips in the first month of the season, but with eight of their first 10 November games at home, Montreal could be in for a strong run to December. With the team struggling to score—and still under 10% on the power play, coach Michel Therrien moved Alex Galchenyuk to center during a brutal 6-2 loss in Calgary. That experiment should end this week when 22-year winger Michael Bournival makes his season debut. For a club that has been running on fumes, the Habs are still well-positioned in the standings.
    Last week: 1-1-1

  • 8
    8Vancouver Canucks
    last week: 15
    record: 8-4-0
    MUIR (9): Calgary's Bob Hartley may be the early favorite for the Adams Award, but Vancouver's Willie Desjardins is building a decent case for himself as well. His rejuvenated Canucks rang up four straight wins before being knocked off by Nashville on Sunday in the second night of a back-to-back. The next week, though, will be more telling: four road games in six nights including a swing through California. That test will give us a good idea of what this team really is about.
    KWAK (7): The renaissance of the Sedin twins’ dominance (25 points) coupled with the fierce revival of goalie Ryan Miller have given the Canucks some hope that the timeline of their promised rebuild could be fast-tracked.
    CAZENEUVE (9): Just before a tough four-game road swing (Colorado, San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim), the Canucks sustained an injury hit, losing defenseman Kevin Bieksa (eye) for at least a game and forward Tom Sestito (lower body) for what the club is calling an indefinite period. Vancouver's power ranking could really soar or tumble depending on how the Canucks get through the week. In the meantime, goalie Ryan Miller has been in net of all eight of the club’s wins as backup Eddie Lack continues to struggle.
    Last week: 3-1-0

  • 9
    9Calgary Flames
    last week: 14
    record: 7-4-2
    MUIR (7): Why are they here in the Top 10? Weekend wins over the Preds and Canadiens have the Flames at a remarkable 7-4-2, good for second in the Pacific Division, and their plus-eight goal differential is the third-best in the Western Conference and fifth-best in the entire league. And somehow they're doing this despite being down three of their four top centers. If the Jack Adams were given out on Nov. 1, Bob Hartley would have been the runaway winner.
    KWAK (14): Their leading scorers are defensemen and their 5-on-5 Fenwick Close is a mere 46.2%, but no matter, the Flames are staying in the pack, with two quality wins this week against Top 10 teams Nashville and Montreal. In eight games, goalie Jonas Hiller is among the five best in save percentage and GAA.
    CAZENEUVE (7): Calgary is in the middle of a five-game trip against the Eastern Conference. The Flames were 4-2 on their last roadie, which included wins in Nashville and Chicago, and they have one of the NHL’s unsung defensive tandems in Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie. They've also been lifted by the return of Dennis Wideman, who suffered a season-ending wrist injury on March 15 and has come back strong this season, leading NHL backliners with five goals.
    Last week: 2-0-1

  • 10
    10Los Angeles Kings
    last week: 2
    record: 6-4-2
    MUIR (8): No team is as good as its highest highs or as bad as its lowest lows, which is how the Kings still crack the Top 10 despite being mired in a miserable four-game skid. The champs are really struggling to light the lamp, averaging just 2.25 goals per game, but to be fair that's not far off from the 2.42 they put up last season. For this team, it's a matter of putting up just enough offense to win ... and lately they're just not getting it done.
    KWAK (9): Those streaky Kings are back. After stringing together six wins earlier this season, L.A. has dropped four straight on the road—all to Eastern Conference opponents. So far, their offense has been one-dimensional, with That 70s Line accounting for two-thirds of the team’s goals. As the Kings get healthier, that should change.
    CAZENEUVE (14):The amazing stat so far this season: remember how tough the Kings have been on the road during the postseason these last few years? So far, they have yet to win a game in five tries away from the Staples Center.
    Last week: 0-3-1


Notes: Intent-to-blow must go; vote for Bryzgalov!; more

In the middle of the pack, we find Detroit, which has been inconsistent lately, beating the reigning champion Kings followed by a loss to the lowly Sabres. Still, the more things change, the more seasons you see the Red Wings back in the playoffs. This could be another march to the postseason. First, hats off to Detroit's penalty killing. The Wings have allowed just two goals-against in 38 times shorthanded. At home, they are 20-for-20. The NHL’s most injured team last season, the Wings are also mostly healthy enough now to do what they do best.

Another notable case can be found in San Jose, where Sharks seem to have righted themselves after a four-game skid last month, winning two of three and getting points out of every game during the past week. Brent Burns, after the failed experiment at forward, has at least retained some of the offensive flair he picked up. He leads NHL defensemen with four goals and 13 points.

Back to the East: In Boston, coach Claude Julien has a new deal and his Bruins have won three of four. Granted, their opposition has been a bit threadbare but the B's deserve credit for stockpiling a few points while half their defense is in the sick bay. And keep an eye on the Panthers. They have clawed points from six straight games (4-0-2) and given up more than two goals in regulation just twice this season. That 1.89 goals-against average looks pretty remarkable compared to the 3.20 they posted in 2013-14. And how about those Jets? Back-to-back shutouts for the first time in team history and just one regulation goal-allowed in their past three games. A brief hot streak or a sign of things to come? 

The Middle 10
  • 11
    11Detroit Red Wings
    last week: 10
    record: 6-2-3
    MUIR: 11
    KWAK: 12
    Last week: 2-0-1

  • 12
    12San Jose Sharks
    last week: 16
    record: 7-4-2
    MUIR: 12
    KWAK: 10
    Last week: 2-0-1

  • 13
    13New Jersey Devils
    last week: 12
    record: 6-3-2
    MUIR: 15
    KWAK: 15
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 14
    14Chicago Blackhawks
    last week: 5
    record: 6-5-1
    MUIR: 18
    KWAK: 11
    Last week: 1-3-0

  • 15
    15Toronto Maple Leafs
    last week: 24
    record: 6-4-1
    MUIR: 20
    KWAK: 17
    Last week: 3-0-0

  • 16
    16Boston Bruins
    last week: 18
    record: 7-6-0
    MUIR: 13
    KWAK: 16
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 17
    17Dallas Stars
    last week: 11
    record: 4-3-4
    MUIR: 17
    KWAK: 13
    Last week: 0-1-2

  • 18
    18Florida Panthers
    last week: 26
    record: 4-2-3
    MUIR: 14
    KWAK: 20
    Last week: 2-0-0

  • 19
    19Ottawa Senators
    last week: 17
    record: 5-3-2
    MUIR: 19
    KWAK: 19
    Last week: 1-1-1

  • 20
    20Winnipeg Jets
    last week: 25
    record: 6-5-1
    MUIR: 16
    KWAK: 24
    Last week: 3-0-1

Eye Test: Making sense of Alex Ovechkin, "The Great -35"

A lot of disappointment in the bottom-third of this week's list. The Islanders and hobbled Blue Jackets had rough 10-day stretches that knocked them down in the standings, but both teams can play much better. Midnight seems to have come early for the Isles, who have dropped three straight and five of seven. John Tavares isn't scoring (pointless in three of four) and the penalty kill has been brutal, allowing 12 goals in 34 just opportunities. Getting Travis Hamonic in (and Brian Strait out) should help, but there are a lot of guys who need to take a hard look at what they're bringing to the team. The Jackets at one point had $32 million of player salary sitting out of the lineup because of injury. That makes winning a tall order for this team that came into the season with high hopes. Five straight Ls spells a lot of trouble. Over in Philadelphia, the Flyers can't seem to get out of their own way, allowing the first goal in nine of their 11 games. The Avalanche and Capitals also look lost defensively. The Caps in particular have wasted their strong start. We expected more from a Barry Trotz-coached team, didn't we? Hey, but at least the Hurricanes have actually won two games. 

The Bottom 10
  • 21
    21New York Islanders
    last week: 4
    record: 6-5-0
    MUIR: 23
    KWAK: 18
    Last week: 0-3-0

  • 22
    22New York Rangers
    last week: 20
    record: 5-4-2
    MUIR: 22
    KWAK: 22
    Last week: 0-0-2

  • 23
    23Philadelphia Flyers
    last week: 22
    record: 4-5-2
    MUIR: 24
    KWAK: 23
    Last week: 1-2-0

  • 24
    24Washington Capitals
    last week: 13
    record: 4-5-2
    MUIR: 25
    KWAK: 21
    Last week: 0-3-0

  • 25
    25Colorado Avalanche
    last week: 28
    record: 3-5-5
    MUIR: 26
    KWAK: 26
    Last week: 1-1-2

  • 26
    26Columbus Blue Jackets
    last week: 23
    record: 4-7-0
    MUIR: 27
    KWAK: 25
    Last week: 0-3-0

  • 27
    27Phoenix Coyotes
    last week: 27
    record: 4-6-1
    MUIR: 29
    KWAK: 27
    Last week: 1-3-0

  • 28
    28Edmonton Oilers
    last week: 19
    record: 4-6-1
    MUIR: 21
    KWAK: 28
    Last week: 0-2-0

  • 29
    29Carolina Hurricanes
    last week: 30
    record: 2-6-2
    MUIR: 28
    KWAK: 29
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 30
    30Buffalo Sabres
    last week: 29
    record: 3-9-1
    MUIR: 30
    KWAK: 30
    Last week: 2-1-0

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