The torrid Canadiens have risen seven spots in SI.com's NHL Power Rankings this week to challenge the No. 1 ranked Penguins.
Welcome to the latest 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 all 30 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!
With a Cup finalist (Rangers) and division winner (Avalanche) still well down the list, there could be plenty of movement before long. Look at the first five teams outside the top ten and you see some clubs that have won quite a bit during the past few seasons, even if San Jose’s wins have generally come during the regular season. And now that the Wild is getting healthy—Zach Parise, Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella all returned to the lineup last week—we can write off their four-game skid and focus on their current three-game winning streak. Spurgeon in particular has been a difference maker. His ability to make good decisions with the puck under pressure is something to behold. El Nino Niederreiter is warming up as well, with four goals in his past three games.
Things have not been so good for Boston. “Our team as a whole has not been good,” said Boston coach Claude Julien in the wake of a pair of humiliating losses in Toronto and Montreal. He's right, of course. No way to pin those on one or two players, although many fans were happy to try. This is a team that just isn't comfortable with itself. Too many injuries, too many players asked to perform roles they're not equipped to handle, nothing approaching the “heavy” game that defined their success earlier in the decade. That's how a team looks as ugly as this one did last week. But the B's are staying afloat, thanks to the reawakening of goalie Tuukka Rask. After an atrocious October, the 27-year-old netminder has been solid this month. His numbers should improve after the blueline corps gets back to healthy working order, but the B's need him to stay sharp this week as they face off against the Blues, Penguins and Canadiens.
It seems the goals are beginning to come for surprising Florida, which has scored 17 in their last four games. That’s one more than the Panthers compiled in their first 11 games combined. The first pick in the 2014 draft, defenseman Aaron Ekblad, has been leading the charge, with six points in four games, and is now just second on the team in scoring with 10 points. That may be nice for the 18-year-old, but it’s more a sign of what the rest of the Panthers aren’t doing.
Is there a goalie controversy brewing in Arizona? The Coyotes turned the corner on a three-game losing streak by benching starter Mike Smith. Devan Dubnyk stepped in and led them to a pair of road wins over the Canucks and Oilers, allowing just one goal in the process. No one would mistake Dubnyk for Mr. Consistency, but with Smith taking on water (nine goals allowed on the last 47 shots he's faced) look for the 'Yotes to ride their backup while he's hot. And for consistency, we always have bottom-dwelling Buffalo ...