Power Rankings: Canadiens make charge at top ranked Penguins

Tuesday November 18th, 2014

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!

  • 1
    1Pittsburgh Penguins
    last week: 1
    record: 12-3-1
    MUIR (3): The best defensive team in the Eastern Conference? What, you were expecting someone other than the Penguins? Pittsburgh is giving up just 2.19 goals per game, but only 1.60 in their last 10 contests. They're getting great mileage out of the whole group, including Robert Bortuzzo (a team-high 3.33 hits per game) who could be pushed out of the lineup when Olli Maatta returns. The 20-year-old blueliner is expected back in the lineup, just two weeks after having a cancerous tumor removed from his neck. Gotta root for a guy like that.
    KWAK (1): After a dreadful 5-0 loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden last Tuesday, the Penguins, winners of nine of their last 10, rebounded with two wins to close out the week. Their power play has cooled, going without a goal in its last eight opportunities, but Pittsburgh remains tops in the NHL with a 32.8% success rate.
    CAZENEUVE (1): Pittsburgh pulled victory from defeat's maw on Saturday when Dan Boyle’s apparent game-winning goal in the shootout was ruled a double shot, allowing Pittsburgh to win the game against the Rangers in the next round. That is part puck luck and part pluck on the part of a team that hasn’t been very good at making its own breaks during the last few years. Since Oct. 23, Pittsburgh has dropped just one game, putting up some crooked numbers, but also taking its last two contests, 3-2 and 2-1. Championship teams win in many ways and Pittsburgh is starting to do that.
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 2
    2Montreal Canadiens
    last week: 9
    record: 14-4-1
    MUIR (2): I've been able to find reasons to counter my appreciation for the Canadiens all season ... but not anymore. The Habs have won six in a row, the last five by three goals or more, in a display of utter dominance. And now that their power play is showing signs of life since the addition of Sergei Gonchar on the right point, they're not relying quite so heavily on goaltending.
    KWAK (2): The Canadiens have recovered from their mini-slump to start the month and now sit atop the NHL standings after winning their last six. In that stretch, they’ve outscored their opponents, 24-7, and they even saw incremental improvement on their dismal power play, which went 3-for-3 against Philadelphia on Saturday. Meetings with Pittsburgh and St. Louis this week could be telling for this group.
    CAZENEUVE (2): The Habs certainly make the most of their goals. Thanks to their recent six-game win streak, they have 10 more victories than losses, but just eight more goals for than against. They have tightened up their defense lately, allowing just seven goals in their last six games since coughing up 11 in back-to-back home losses to Calgary and Chicago. This team is confusing, but fun.
    Last week: 4-0-0

  • 3
    3St. Louis Blues
    last week: 5
    record: 12-4-1
    MUIR (1): The Blues have won 10 of their past 11 games, they've got the hottest line in hockey, they're tops in goals-against (1.88) and their power play is clicking at 26.2%, second best in the league. And now they're starting to get some key players, including Paul Stastny, back in the lineup. Maybe they'll go on a real tear soon, eh?
    KWAK (3): The Blues’ stingy defense is complemented by the second best power play in the NHL. And after being among the league’s Three Stars for the past two weeks, Vladimir Tarasenko shared the spotlight this week with his linemate, rookie center Jori Lehtera, who scored a hat trick against Buffalo last Tuesday, part of his seven-game point streak.
    CAZENEUVE (3): Sure the Blues have one of the NHL’s hot young scoring lines, but look at the league’s leaders in goals-against average and you’ll see Jake Allen at No. 1 with 1.67 and Brian Elliott at No. 2 with 1.87. That makes for the best goalie tandem in the game, which means that on any given night opponents can run into a shutdown game no matter who is in goal. With 10 wins in their last 11 games, the formula is working.
    Last week: 3-0-0

  • 4
    4Tampa Bay Lightning
    last week: 2
    record: 13-4-2
    MUIR (6): How deep are the Lightning up front? Jonathan Drouin is watching from the press box while a kid named Cedric Paquette is tearing it up on the fourth line. Paquette, a fourth-round pick back in 2012, has five goals on just 11 shots during his past six games to help power the league's top offense (3.79 goals per game).
    KWAK (4): They suffered consecutive losses for the first time all season this week, dropping games to Chicago and San Jose, but the Lightning have still been getting the most out of their young roster. Steven Stamkos has 11 goals, just one behind the league lead.
    CAZENEUVE (4): Tampa Bay’s 5-1 dismantling of the Rangers on Monday showed just how formidable this team can be when it clicks. Of course a club that has Steven Stamkos can score, but Tampa Bay also held New York to a season-low 16 shots. The Lightning checkers closed on New York’s puck carriers extremely fast, showing that Tampa Bay broke out its skating legs to do more than make plays. Coach Jon Cooper has his team doing some little things that can ultimately make a big splash.
    Last week: 2-1-1

  • 5
    5Anaheim Ducks
    last week: 3
    record: 11-4-4
    MUIR (5): Corey Perry is back from a bout with the mumps, just in time to light a fire under a Ducks team that's looked seriously worn out over the past 10 days. Maybe that's not surprising—they'd played five consecutive games that went to OT or the shootout before getting blown out by the Panthers on Sunday.
    KWAK (5): After a blistering start to the season, the Ducks have moved into neutral, dropping five of their last six games. Though they got points in four of those losses, Anaheim may been feeling a little uneasy in goal. Netminder Frederik Anderson, who dazzled early, has gotten the hook in two of his last three starts, and allowed 10 goals in his last 135 minutes in net.
    CAZENEUVE (5): Maybe there was an inevitable letdown ahead one game after playing the rival Kings, and, sure, the mumps have taken a toll on the team’s lineup, but Anaheim looked simply sleepy during a 6-2 loss on home ice in its most recent game. Goalie Frederick Anderson said simply, “We weren’t ready. No one in this room was ready.” Captain Ryan Getzlaf added, “Overall, we’re just embarrassed.” Call it a speed bump, for now.
    Last week: 1-1-1

  • 6
    6Nashville Predators
    last week: 4
    record: 11-4-2
    MUIR (4): A little respect here for the team that handed the Blues its solitary black mark. Led by their top line of Mike Ribeiro, James Neal and Filip Forsberg, the Preds are killing it at five-on-five this season (that group alone is outscoring the competition 13-1), a testament to coach Peter Laviolette's masterful handling of his new charges. Good times in Smashville.
    KWAK (6): Rookie Filip Forsberg was held off the scoresheet in Nashville’s 2-1 win over Winnipeg on Saturday, but it was only the fifth time that’s happened all season. The 20-year-old, who leads all rookies with 20 points this season, also leads the league with a +19 rating, all while averaging more than 17 minutes of ice time per game.
    CAZENEUVE (6): The Predators remain the league’s best team in five-on-five play, which compensates for a power play that is mired in 25th place (13.7%) and a penalty kill that's stuck at 28th (72.1%. Fortunately, they’ve had Pekka Rinne behind them to stop nearly everything. His 11 wins are tied for the league high and he is the only stopper in the top 10 in wins who has a goals-against average under 2.00.
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 7
    7New York Islanders
    last week: 12
    record: 11-6-0
    MUIR (7): The Isles had won five straight before getting bushwacked by the Bolts on the back half of a Sunshine State doubleheader, so we'll give 'em a pass on that 5-2 thumping. It's harder to ignore a power play that is swirling the drain (1-for-16), but that unit should get a boost with the imminent return of Michael Grabner. He could be back in the lineup by this weekend.
    KWAK (10): With goalie Jaroslav Halak playing much better—even pitching back-to-back shutouts last week—the Islanders have quickly climbed back up the standings in the relatively weak Metropolitan Division. And with Michael Grabner nearing his return from injury, the Islanders have more to look forward to.
    CAZENEUVE (8): The Lightning snapped the Islanders’ recent five-game winning streak this week, but it was the first time since 2008 that the Isles have won that many games consecutively. On that roll, against mostly Western Conference teams, New York gave up just six goals in five contests. Even more telling, it’s the first time that the Islanders are six games over .500 this late in a full season since the club finished 10 games over in 2006-07.
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 8
    8Calgary Flames
    last week: 10
    record: 11-6-2
    MUIR (8): Even as the injuries mount (that was a scary incident on Saturday with Mark Giordano), the Little Team That Could just keeps on rolling. Jonas Hiller has been better than advertised, putting up numbers (8-4-1, a 2.30 GAA and .922 save percentage) that top his career averages in Anaheim ( 2.51 GAA, .916 save pct.). Speaking of the Ducks they, along with the Blackhawks, are coming to the Saddledome this week to offer the Flames their sturdiest test of the season. We'll have a better idea of what this team is about after this home stand.
    KWAK (11): With 21 points in 19 games, Flames defenseman Mark Giordano is on pace for 91 points this season, which would be the highest for a blueliner in more than 20 years. It’s impossible to say if the Calgary captain will maintain his pace, but he’s been a huge reason for the Flames’ surprisingly strong start.
    CAZENEUVE (7): This week Jonas Hiller will get his first start against the Ducks, his former team that didn’t think enough of him to keep him during a year that went haywire for its goaltenders. Just five goalies who have faced as many shots as Hiller can match his .922 save percentage, and for a team that ranks third from the bottom in shots taken, Calgary has relied heavily on its own goalies to stop the pucks heading for its own net. When that works, this is a very competitive team.
    Last week: 2-0-0

  • 9
    9Chicago Blackhawks
    last week: 11
    record: 10-7-1
    MUIR (10): I'm grudgingly giving them the benefit of the doubt here. They've won three of four, including a 6-2 win over the Stars on Sunday that was a testament to the theory of erosion, but there's too much on-off in their game. No one expects them to steamroll the opposition every night the way they did in that 47-shot effort but fans (and coach Joel Quenneville) are looking for a little more consistency.
    KWAK (7): The Blackhawks start a nine-game road trip this week, beginning in Calgary and ending in Los Angeles. It’s a stretch that will certainly test the perennial Cup contenders, and they will need more games like Sunday’s dominant 6-2 win over Dallas, when they outshot the Stars, 47-24, if they expect to stay competitive in the strong Central Division.
    CAZENEUVE (11)
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 10
    10Vancouver Canucks
    last week: 6
    record: 12-6-0
    MUIR (11)
    KWAK (9): The Canucks have been masters of winning the close game this season. Of their 12 victories, nine came in games that were either tied or had a margin of one-goal late into the third period. That says something about the clutch goaltending they’re getting from Ryan Miller, whose numbers (2.65 GAA and .902 save percentage) belie his play in protecting leads.
    CAZENEUVE (10): Five of Vancouver’s last six wins have been by a single goal, and the Canucks are 4-0 so far this season in games that have been decided either in overtime or by a shootout. That’s how good they can be. Yet they have also been blown out twice this month by Los Angeles, 5-1, and by Arizona, 5-0, last Friday. When things go bad, they can be pretty lousy. Vancouver is the only team with a winning mark to give up five goals at least four times this season. Yet with just six losses, the Canucks seem like the sort of resilient bunch that won two Presidents’ Trophies and strolled into the playoffs with a fighting chance at the Cup.
    Last week: 1-1-0


Now that he's recovered from a rough start, goalie Tuukka Rask is the key to the Bruins' fortunes.
AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

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. 

  • 11
    11Boston Bruins
    last week: 7
    record: 11-8-0
    MUIR: 13
    KWAK: 7
    Last week: 1-2-0

  • 12
    12Los Angeles Kings
    last week: 8
    record: 9-5-4
    MUIR: 12
    KWAK: 13
    Last week: 1-1-1

  • 13
    13Minnesota Wild
    last week: 17
    record: 10-7-0
    MUIR: 9
    KWAK: 15
    Last week: 3-1-0

  • 14
    14Detroit Red Wings
    last week: 13
    record: 8-4-5
    MUIR: 15
    KWAK: 12
    Last week: 1-1-0

  • 15
    15San Jose Sharks
    last week: 15
    record: 10-8-2
    MUIR: 14
    KWAK: 14
    Last week: 2-2-0

  • 16
    16Winnipeg Jets
    last week: 14
    record: 9-7-3
    MUIR: 16
    KWAK: 20
    Last week: 1-2-1

  • 17
    17Toronto Maple Leafs
    last week: 16
    record: 9-7-2
    MUIR: 18
    KWAK: 16
    Last week: 1-2-0

  • 18
    18Ottawa Senators
    last week: 18
    record: 8-5-4
    MUIR: 21
    KWAK: 17
    Last week: 1-1-1

  • 19
    19Florida Panthers
    last week: 27
    record: 6-4-5
    MUIR: 17
    KWAK: 23
    Last week: 2-0-1

  • 20
    20New York Rangers
    last week: 21
    record: 7-7-4
    MUIR: 19
    KWAK: 19
    Last week: 1-1-2


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 ...

  • 21
    21Washington Capitals
    last week: 20
    record: 7-7-3
    MUIR: 25
    KWAK: 18
    Last week: 1-2-0

  • 22
    22New Jersey Devils
    last week: 22
    record: 8-8-2
    MUIR: 23
    KWAK: 24
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 23
    23Philadelphia Flyers
    last week: 19
    record: 7-7-2
    MUIR: 20
    KWAK: 25
    Last week: 0-2-0

  • 24
    24Colorado Avalanche
    last week: 26
    record: 6-8-5
    MUIR: 24
    KWAK: 22
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 25
    25Phoenix Coyotes
    last week: 24
    record: 8-9-1
    MUIR: 22
    KWAK: 27
    Last week: 2-2-0

  • 26
    26Dallas Stars
    last week: 28
    record: 6-8-4
    MUIR: 29
    KWAK: 21
    Last week: 2-2-0

  • 27
    27Columbus Blue Jackets
    last week: 29
    record: 6-10-1
    MUIR: 26
    KWAK: 26
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 28
    28Edmonton Oilers
    last week: 25
    record: 6-10-2
    MUIR: 27
    KWAK: 28
    Last week: 0-2-1

  • 29
    29Carolina Hurricanes
    last week: 23
    record: 5-9-3
    MUIR: 28
    KWAK: 29
    Last week: 0-3-0

  • 30
    30Buffalo Sabres
    last week: 30
    record: 4-13-2
    MUIR: 30
    KWAK: 30
    Last week: 1-2-0

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