Power Rankings: Surprising Islanders seize top spot

Wednesday November 26th, 2014

Welcome to the latest installment of our 2014–15 NHL Power Rankings. We've passed the first quarter mark of the season and there have surely been some surprises, most notably on Long Island, in Nashville and out west in Calgary and Vancouver. 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!

The Top 10
  • 1
    1New York Islanders
    last week: 7
    record: 15-6-0
    MUIR (1): Coach Jack Capuano says his Islanders have a bit of swagger in their game right now, and who can blame 'em? They may not be the best team in hockey, but they're the best team in hockey right now. Their home-and-home weekend sweep of Pittsburgh and a thoroughly dominant performance on Monday night against the Flyers made that abundantly clear. Jaro Halak has been lights out, stopping 180 of the past 188 shots he's faced while posting seven consecutive wins.
    KWAK (2): Isles fans shall hail the shootout! Indeed, their team is an impressive 5-0 in the skills competition this season, picking up valuable points and joining the Penguins at the top of the rather dumpy Metropolitan Division. Those points have come on the sticks of Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo, who are each 4-for-5 this season.
    CAZENEUVE (2): It has been refreshing to see the Islanders reaching for new glories. They've won four straight, but more important, with that home-and-home sweep of the Penguins, they are positioning themselves very well should they happen to meet Pittsburgh in the playoffs. They then beat the Flyers, 1-0, in a shootout, proving that this emerging young team can play high- or low-scoring contests and survive the tests.
    Last week: 4-0-0

  • 2
    2Pittsburgh Penguins
    last week: 1
    record: 14-4-2
    MUIR (3): I should probably be harder on them after they dropped both games to the Isles last weekend, but I'll give them credit for knocking off both the Canadiens and Bruins on the road. Geno Malkin's quietly putting together a special season, getting his name on the score sheet in 17 of their 20 games after tallying twice against the B's.
    KWAK (3): Though Pitt dropped two games to the Islanders, the Penguins bounced back with an overtime win over Boston Monday on the stick of Evgeni Malkin, who’s been resurgent in recent days. With eight points in his last five games, the Pens center has climbed the league leaderboard with 25 points, just four off the league lead that's held by his teammate Sidney Crosby.
    CAZENEUVE (1): Mike Johnston is putting his stamp on his Penguins early in his tenure as head coach and it’s working. After Pittsburgh dropped that home-and-home to the Islanders, Johnston took the bold step of switching his top two forward lines for the next game against Boston, removing Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby’s longtime left wing, from the top line and putting him with Evgeni Malkin. Crosby scored once and Malkin twice in Pittsburgh’s 3-2 win. For now, at least, they are pushing the right buttons.
    Last week: 2-1-1

  • 3
    3St. Louis Blues
    last week: 3
    record: 14-6-2
    MUIR (2): Sad to see Jay Bouwmeeter's Ironman streak end at 737, but there's plenty to celebrate in St. Louis. After riding their STL line for nearly a month, the Blues are finally getting some production from elsewhere in the lineup. Coach Ken Hitchcock raved about the recent play of David Backes and Alex Steen. This team feels like it has a big surge just ahead.
    KWAK (1): Center Paul Stastny may have only two assists since coming back from a wrist injury, but it’s not necessarily about his contribution to the score sheet. He’s brought more depth to the Blues lineup, which—with centers Stastny, David Backes and newcomer Jori Lehtera—is looking like one of the most impressive down the middle in the West.
    CAZENEUVE (6): The Blues may be among the NHL’s top teams, but they have been winning without getting much from Alex Steen. The forward, who scored 33 goals last season, had just three in his first 19 games before connecting in the club’s two wins over the weekend. Steen had seven shots and a goal in St. Louis’ 3-2 win against Ottawa on Saturday and then earned First Star honors with a pair of assists in Sunday’s win over Winnipeg. If he and David Backes get hot, the Blues will be a very tough opponent.
    Last week: 2-2-1

  • 4
    4Montreal Canadiens
    last week: 2
    record: 16-6-1
    MUIR (5): Just when I start to buy into the Habs they shake my faith with lopsided meltdowns against the Penguins (4-0) and Rangers (5-0). In their four losses this month, Montreal has been outscored 20-2 and shut out three times. That propensity for pulling the chute is troubling.
    KWAK (4): Blowout losses to Pittsburgh and the Rangers bookended a week that also featured solid wins over the Blues and the Bruins. Laying eggs will certainly be an issue down the road if that continues, but for now, the Canadiens are still 8-2-0 in their last 10 games and they're tied for lead the league in team points (33).
    CAZENEUVE (4): After a typically emotional win against Boston, Montreal went into Madison Square Garden and collapsed, losing 5-0. The Canadiens then had four days of rest to think about their Jekyll and Hyde persona. This month, the Habs gave up 11 goals in two losses and then held teams to just 13 in their next nine games. So who are these guys? For now, they are the league co-leaders in points, so they are finding ways to thrive.
    Last week: 2-2-0

  • 5
    5Anaheim Ducks
    last week: 5
    record: 14-4-5
    MUIR (6): Every point is so critical in this league that it's hard to knock a team that's pulled at least one out of 11 of its past 12 games. Still, it's clear that we're not seeing the best this team has to offer. With mental breakdowns continuing to be a problem, the sharpest unit in Anaheim right now might be the ice crew. Love that Flying V!
    KWAK (5): Even with all their health issues—mumps, injuries, etc.—the Ducks have still been able to squeeze out points in five of their last six losses. So while they remain on top of the West and the league, the overall feeling is still not as positive as it had been at the start of the season. Corey Perry, who missed five games with the mumps, has scored one goal since his return.
    CAZENEUVE (3): With some healthy goaltenders again, Anaheim is still among the league’s best teams. The Ducks aren't playing that well with the lead and they left Fredrik Andersen to save the store duringthe frantic third period of their 2-1 victory over Arizona on Sunday. Still, with just four regulation losses this season, the Ducks have been the class of their conference so far.
    Last week: 3-0-1

  • 6
    6Nashville Predators
    last week: 6
    record: 14-5-2
    MUIR (4): The league's top five-on-five team has won four of its last five, including that 9-2 thrashing of the Maple Leafs last Tuesday. The Predators are doing a nice job of getting pucks to the net, averaging nearly 38 per over this stretch. That kind of possession time is key to their 2.10 goals-against average, tied for second best in the NHL.
    KWAK (6): The Preds’ 9-2 win over Toronto last Tuesday tied a franchise record for goals in one game, but it probably said more about the Maple Leafs. Still, Nashville has been one of the stingiest teams in the league, even under new coach Peter Laviolette. They have goalie Pekka Rinne to thank; he ranks in the league's top four in both GAA (1.97) and save percentage (.927).
    CAZENEUVE (8): They have 30 points through their first 21 games, eight more than at the same time last season and more points at the quarter turn than in any season to date. This is a team with outstanding discipline that stands last in the NHL in penalty minutes per game (7.1) and second-best in goals-against average (2.10). The Predators don’t have as many weapons as some other teams, but they also don't beat themselves.
    Last week: 3-1-0

  • 7
    7Tampa Bay Lightning
    last week: 4
    record: 14-6-2
    MUIR (9): Their 3-3-1 record in their past seven is a decent reflection of Tampa's half-hearted play of late. Sure, the Bolts have been dynamite in the attack zone, but the trade-off has been a weak effort in their own end. It'll be interesting to see if they can build on the defensive commitment they showed in Saturday's 2-1 win over the Wild.
    KWAK (10): Dropping two road games this week, the Lightning took a few steps back, but they remain one of the most fearsome attacks in the league. And they aren’t relying solely on star Steven Stamkos. Sure, he ranks second in the league with 14 goals, but the Lightning have gotten goal support throughout the lineup, most recently from Alex Killorn, who’s scored in four straight games.
    CAZENEUVE (5): Tampa Bay avoided its first three-game losing skid by beating Minnesota, 2-1, on Saturday. This has been one of the busiest stretches for any NHL team this season, as Tampa Bay had a 10-game-in-17-day slate. The team’s fatigue showed in that game, but the Bolts scored twice on seemingly harmless long shots against Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper. This is a skilled team that's capable of making a lot of pretty plays, but it also has to figure out how to win without them, and that was a good blueprint.
    Last week: 1-2-0

  • 8
    8Vancouver Canucks
    last week: 10
    record: 15-6-1
    MUIR (10): Man, did Ryan Miller need that big win over Chicago on Sunday. The veteran had cooled considerably after a hot start, allowing 16 goals in his previous four starts before holding the Hawks to one on 25 shots. Bo Horvat looked sharp in that one as well, netting three assists and winning 13 of 16 draws. 
    KWAK (8): Winning three of four this week, the Canucks remain well in the hunt for the top spot in the Pacific Division, but the biggest loss of the week wasn’t he shootout they dropped to the Ducks. It was losing defenseman Dan Hamhuis to a lower-body injury. He’s expected to be out for a few months.
    CAZENEUVE (7): It was a night of firsts on Sunday as Jannik Hansen recorded his first career hat trick and Bo Horvat picked up his first three-assist game in a 4-1 victory over Chicago, perhaps Vancouver’s most impressive effort of the season. The Canucks have earned points in 12 of their last 15 games, and with a seven-game road trip starting at the end of this week, this will be a telling stretch.
    Last week: 3-0-1

  • 9
    9Chicago Blackhawks
    last week: 9
    record: 12-8-1
    MUIR (7): Their modest three-game winning streak came to an end with Sunday's 4-1 loss in Vancouver, but the Hawks finally seem to be finding some offensive chemistry. Amazing how that happens when you turn off the line blender, eh? The Kris Versteeg-Brad Richards-Patrick Kane trio is looking sharp, chipping in six goals in the past four games.
    KWAK (7): Sure, they lost 4-1 to Vancouver on Sunday, but it came on the tail end of a back-to-back on the road and their third game in four days. Aside from that game, though, the Blackhawks have looked dominant again, scoring 17 goals in their three previous outings. Winger Kris Versteeg has doubled his point total in the last four games, with three goals and four assists.
    CAZENEUVE (12)
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 10
    10Calgary Flames
    last week: 8
    record: 13-8-2
    MUIR (8): Here were are, 23 games into the season, and the Flames are showing no signs of fading away. They managed a franchise first in Saturday's win over the Devils, scoring twice in the final minute with the net empty to tie the game before winning it in the shootout. Coach Bob Hartley could do with less excitement, but he can't complain about the results. However, they do have to learn to beat the Ducks in Anaheim, where the Flames have now lost their last 19.
    KWAK (11) 
    CAZENEUVE (9): Calgary’s 5-4 shootout victory over New Jersey on Saturday exemplified some of the traits that have made Calgary competitive again this season. The Flames don’t quit and they do rebound well. They trailed twice by two goals in that game, but still managed its league-high fifth win in games when trailing after two periods. The Flames are also 8-0-1 in contests that followed losses. Those are qualities of a team that is finding its way again.
    Last week: 2-2-0


Think the Bruins don’t have a mental block against heated rivals Montreal? Consider, that they’ve lost all but one of their last 10 regular season meetings with the Canadiens. And then there was their seven-game postseason series last spring; that certainly didn’t help Boston’s outlook. 

Defenseman Slava Voynov, officially charged in an alleged domestic violence incident last month, remains suspended, but the Kings did get their salary cap relief. That should be good news for Los Angeles, which has allowed 30.4 shots-against per game this season, fifth worst in the Western Conference. Goalie Jonathan Quick has been their saving grace, averaging an NHL-best .932 save percentage.

The Red Wings have won three of their last four games and are clearly a team that enjoys playing end-to-end hockey. Detroit doesn’t get involved in a lot of 2-1 or 1-0 contests. In Detroit’s last nine games, including regulation losses to Toronto and Montreal and an overtime loss to Tampa Bay, the winning team has scored at least four goals in every game. With all of this injuries during the past year-plus, the Red Wings’ identity has sometimes been hard to find. Their swift, creative veterans are changing that.

Do you get the sense that the Jason Demers-for-Brenden Dillon swap with Dallas was just the first shoe dropping in San Jose? The Brent Burns experiment is creating offense at both ends of the ice, but the Sharks' effort is spotty on most nights. And now home ice is having no impact on their results. They've lost four of their last five at the Tank, all to non-playoff teams. It seems as though they're satisfied with treading water until GM Doug Wilson decides he's seen enough.

There's a bit more reason for positivity in Dallas, where Jame Benn broke out of a long slump to score three goals and the addition of a pair of right-handed defensemen—John Klingberg and Jason Demers—seems to have invigorated a blueline that was becoming a nightly clown show.

And it looks like the Winnipeg Jets have come back to earth. Problems between the pipes are popping up again, with Ondrej Pavelec getting the hook in three of his past four starts. Can GM Kevin Cheveldayoff afford to let this slide play itself out?


The Middle 10
  • 11
    11Los Angeles Kings
    last week: 12
    record: 11-6-5
    MUIR: 11
    KWAK: 9
    Last week: 2-1-1

  • 12
    12Detroit Red Wings
    last week: 14
    record: 11-5-5
    MUIR: 13
    KWAK: 13
    Last week: 3-1-0

  • 13
    13Boston Bruins
    last week: 11
    record: 13-9-1
    MUIR: 14
    KWAK: 12
    Last week: 2-1-1

  • 14
    14Toronto Maple Leafs
    last week: 17
    record: 11-8-2
    MUIR: 15
    KWAK: 16
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 15
    15New York Rangers
    last week: 20
    record: 9-7-4
    MUIR: 12
    KWAK: 18
    Last week: 2-0-0

  • 16
    16Minnesota Wild
    last week: 13
    record: 12-8-0
    MUIR: 16
    KWAK: 17
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 17
    17Ottawa Senators
    last week: 18
    record: 10-7-4
    MUIR: 17
    KWAK: 19
    Last week: 2-2-0

  • 18
    18San Jose Sharks
    last week: 15
    record: 10-9-4
    MUIR: 20
    KWAK: 15
    Last week: 0-1-2

  • 19
    19Dallas Stars
    last week: 26
    record: 9-9-4
    MUIR: 22
    KWAK: 14
    Last week: 3-1-0

  • 20
    20Washington Capitals
    last week: 21
    record: 9-8-3
    MUIR: 19
    KWAK: 22
    Last week: 2-1-0

A little love for the Sabres this week, who won three straight games for the first time since last February and jumped out of the cellar, thanks to some improved play that boosted the club from poor to fair. We'd like to say this is the start of something big but honestly you can only expect so many 40-plus save efforts from Jhonas Enroth. Maybe the best news for Buffalo this week is that the OHL's Erie Otters traded for Nick Baptiste, which will give one of the Sabres' top prospects a chance to get familiar with Connor McDavid ... just in case. 

But oy, those Oilers! Winless in their last six, including a run of 0-4-1 at home, they are looking like their old abominable selves again. And goalie Ben Scrivens hasn’t had a win to his name since Oct. 27. In his last three starts, the netminder has a 5.16 GAA and .833 save percentage. That is simply unacceptable for an NHL starter.

The Bottom 10
  • 21
    21Florida Panthers
    last week: 19
    record: 7-6-6
    MUIR: 21
    KWAK: 20
    Last week: 1-2-1

  • 22
    22Winnipeg Jets
    last week: 16
    record: 11-9-3
    MUIR: 18
    KWAK: 24
    Last week: 2-2-0

  • 23
    23New Jersey Devils
    last week: 22
    record: 9-10-3
    MUIR: 23
    KWAK: 21
    Last week: 1-2-1

  • 24
    24Philadelphia Flyers
    last week: 23
    record: 8-9-3
    MUIR: 25
    KWAK: 23
    Last week: 1-2-1

  • 25
    25Colorado Avalanche
    last week: 24
    record: 8-9-5
    MUIR: 24
    KWAK: 26
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 26
    ARIZONA Coyotes
    last week: 25
    record: 9-11-3
    MUIR: 27
    KWAK: 27
    Last week: 1-2-2

  • 27
    27Carolina Hurricanes
    last week: 29
    record: 6-11-3
    MUIR: 29
    KWAK: 25
    Last week: 1-2-0

  • 28
    28Buffalo Sabres
    last week: 30
    record: 6-13-2
    MUIR: 26
    KWAK: 30
    Last week: 2-0-0

  • 29
    29Columbus Blue Jackets
    last week: 27
    record: 6-13-2
    MUIR: 28
    KWAK: 29
    Last week: 0-3-1

  • 30
    30Edmonton Oilers
    last week: 28
    record: 6-14-2
    MUIR: 30
    KWAK: 28
    Last week: 0-4-0

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