Power Rankings: Upstart Predators pounce on top spot

Tuesday December 2nd, 2014

Welcome to the latest installment of our 2014–15 NHL Power Rankings. For the third week in a row we have a new top team, and once again it's a squad that few people before the season would have expected to be as successful as it has been to this point. Our three scribes—Allan Muir, Sarah Kwak and Brian Cazeneuve—submitted their choices for the league's Top 10. The rankings for the all 30 teams 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
    1Nashville Predators
    last week: 6
    record: 16-5-2
    MUIR (1): What a season, eh? One week the Islanders are on top. The next, here come the Predators. Nashville has won four straight and while only one of those wins was against a top team (the defending champion Kings), it's the way the Preds are winning that's so impressive. They're dominating at five-on-five and are in complete control of their own zone, allowing fewer goals per game (1.96) than any other team.
    KWAK (3): There isn’t a team in the league that’s better 5-on-5 than the Predators right now. And though their PK percentage (77.4) suffers a bit, they at least take the fewest minors in the league. Rookie Filip Forsberg (10 goals, 13 assists) is beginning to run away with the early Calder Trophy buzz.
    CAZENEUVE (2): The Predators remain the league’s best team at even strength and the team's confidence is growing. Forward Filip Forsberg recently garnered NHL Rookie-of-the-Month honors, while goalie Pekka Rinne was named the league’s Third Star for the month. The Preds come off a super homestand in which they played four home games and recorded four one-goal wins against Florida, L.A., Edmonton and Columbus.
    Last week: 2-0-0

  • 2
    2New York Islanders
    last week: 1
    record: 17-7-0
    MUIR (2): Yeah, they looked like the Islanders of old in their 5-2 loss to the Capitals on Black Friday, but an 11-3 November record proves that their days of consistent stumblebummery are behind them. Goalie Jaroslav Halak continues to impress. With nine straight wins, he's on the verging of tying Billy Smith's franchise mark for consecutive victories (10).
    KWAK (1): With every passing game, the Isles are beginning to show that they are legitimate contenders, but there is room for improvement. Their special teams are still pedestrian—ranked 16th in power play and a dismal 29th in PK—but their ability to win close contests could help them next spring. They lead the league with a .909 win percentage in one-goal games.
    CAZENEUVE (4): Jaroslav Halak may be a keeper, indeed. He allowed only three goals in three games last week to extend his career-high winning streak to nine straight games while turning away 80 of the 83 shots he faced. (Don’t tell Battlin' Billy Smith that his consecutive wins mark is in jeopardy or he’ll slash Halak in the shins.) This team can certainly score, but if Halak keeps this up, the Isles may be set for a deep playoff run after all.
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 3
    3Pittsburgh Penguins
    last week: 2
    record: 16-5-2
    MUIR (4): They shouldn't have had as much trouble as they did with the Hurricanes over the weekend but they still managed to win 10 games in November, tying their franchise record. Anyone else notice that both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are both at or slightly ahead of the pace that each set on the way to his last Art Ross Trophy?
    KWAK (4): Everybody of course knows the talent of Crosby and Malkin, but what’s been a pleasant surprise for the Penguins is how some of their new secondary players are blossoming. Patric Hornqvist is on pace to crush his career high of 53 points, and Blake Comeau, with eight goals, has already eclipsed his totals from the past three seasons.
    CAZENEUVE (1): While they tied their franchise mark for wins in the month, the Pens led or were tied during 693 of their 858 minutes of play, equating to 81% of the time. While it isn’t as impressive as something that Crosby or Malkin has achieved, Chris Kunitz is heading for a team milestone with 299 points in 367 games with Pittsburgh.
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 4
    4St. Louis Blues
    last week: 3
    record: 16-6-2
    MUIR (6): Brian Elliott is out, Martin Brodeur is coming in ... and the Blues keep on winning. Vladimir Tarasenko is a big part of that, scoring goals in nine of his 15 games last month. You'd still like to see more support for the Blues' STL line, but you can't complain about the results.
    KWAK (2): They Brian Elliott to a knee injury last week, but still pulled out two wins without one of the league’s top netminders. Now they’ve brought in Brodeur, who knows a thing or two about backstopping a defensively minded team like St. Louis.
    CAZENEUVE (5): All eyes are on Brodeur, who could certainly add some name value to the always good, but often-anonymous Blues after Elliott suffered that knee injury. St. Louis ranks third in the league in goals-against average, in part because the team allows just 26.7 shots per game, second-fewest in the NHL behind the Wild. That should really remind Brodeur of the easy nights he had in New Jersey, where he raised the Stanley Cup three different times. Not a bad example.
    Last week: 2-0-0

  • 5
    5Tampa Bay Lightning
    last week: 7
    record: 17-6-2
    MUIR (5): Four straight wins catapulted the Lightning into a share of the top spot in the league, but the big news for the week was the return of Victor Hedman to the lineup after 18 games on IR. The big defenseman made an immediate impact, chipping in three assists in a 6-3 thumping of the Rangers. Alex Killorn has been a nice complementary piece up front, scoring in seven straight games before having his streak snapped on Monday night.
    KWAK (6): With former Rangers Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman on the roster, the Lightning have had their way against New York. They took two games from the Rangers last week, including an impressive 6-3 win Monday, when they scored three unanswered goals in the third.
    CAZENEUVE (3): Tampa Bay continues to lead the NHL with 91 goals, 10 more than high-flying Pittsburgh. The Lightning recently completed a season sweep of the Rangers, the reigning conference champions. In particular, Ryan Callahan picked up his game against the team he once captained, with five points in their two most recent games, while taking some of the offensive responsibility off that guy named Stamkos. 
    Last week: 3-0-0

  • 6
    6Chicago Blackhawks
    last week: 9
    record: 15-8-1
    MUIR (3): The Blackhawks returned home from a two-week grind finally looking like a Cup contender. They rang up a 5-1 record, got tremendous goaltending from Corey Crawford (.929 save percentage) and dressed lines that stayed consistent from game to game. The revamped second unit of Brad Richards between Kris Versteeg and Patrick Kane was nearly unstoppable, accounting for 22 points.
    KWAK (5): What about that daunting road trip? The Blackhawks dropped just one game on their nine-day trek. Winger Patrick Kane had a league-leading nine points in that span, leading the Hawks as they cruised through SoCal with a pair of quality 4-1 wins against Anaheim and Los Angeles last week.
    CAZENEUVE (11)
    Last week: 3-0-0

  • 7
    7Montreal Canadiens
    last week: 4
    record: 17-7-2
    MUIR (10): I was inclined to punish them more severely for blowing both ends of a weekend doubleheader against the lowly Sabres but to be fair they absolutely dominated on Saturday night while running into a hot keeper. These things happen. I'm still a bit concerned about their piddling +3 goal differential and power play that's still one of the league's worst.
    KWAK (7): Back-to-back losses to lowly Buffalo hurt a team that had been riding high just a couple weeks ago, but the Habs can only hope that their gutsy win over Colorado to start a four-game road trip out West can help. The Canadiens have shown enough so far this season to warrant the benefit of the doubt, but this week, with contests against Minnesota and Chicago looming, will be telling.
    CAZENEUVE (6): Again the Canadiens managed to sneak away with a win when they seemed to be outplayed for large stretches of their game on Monday night. This time, trailing twice in the second period, Montreal rallied to beat Colorado on the road, 4-3. It was their big stars, P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty, who came through with the tying and winning goals, which seems to be the formula for a Montreal team that has outscored its foes by just three goals this season, but has a 17-7-2 mark to show for its industry.
    Last week: 1-1-1

  • 8
    8Vancouver Canucks
    last week: 8
    record: 16-7-1
    MUIR (9): The Canucks continue to over-deliver, winning three straight before being upended on the road by the Red Wings. They're up against some real adversity now, though, with top-four defenseman Dan Hamhuis sidelined by a lower body injury for an extended period.
    KWAK (9): The Canucks have the highest scoring offense in the West thanks, of course, to the Sedin twins. But Nick Bonino’s been a welcome addition, pitching in 19 points on Vancouver’s second line. He’s made losing Ryan Kesler negligible.
    CAZENEUVE (7): Henrik Sedin may never score an easier goal than the one he picked up on Nov. 28 when his linemate Radim Vrbata sped down the left side and swung a pass around his body on his forehand to Sedin who had the entire net to shoot at just as Columbus netminder Sergei Bobrovsky was following Vrbata to the wrong side of the goal. Finding a partner for Henrik and Daniel has sometimes worked and sometimes not. Vrbata has been a good fit for his new linemates and another reason why the Canucks already have 16 wins this season.
    Last week: 1-1-0

  • 9
    9Detroit Red Wings
    last week: 12
    record: 14-5-5
    MUIR (7): All of a sudden, the battle for the Atlantic Division is a three-team race ... and the surprising Red Wings are right in the thick of it. They've won six of their last seven, thanks to some terrific goaltending by Jimmy Howard (.920 save percentage during the past two weeks) and some timely offense from Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar.
    KWAK (10): Pavel Datsyuk, 36 years young and healthy, has four goals in the past three games, two of them power play tallies. The Wings' PP was the second best in the league in November, converting on 29.3% of its chances.
    CAZENEUVE (8): Detroit has really picked up its game after a slow start to November. The club dropped three games on a road trip against the Sabres, Senators and Rangers, but has since picked up points in nine of 11 games. Tomas Tatar, one of the slower starting Wings, led the team with 12 points during the month. The return of nifty vet Datsyuk has upped the team’s fortunes, too. Detroit will still need a big push to make it 24 straight years in the playoffs, but this is a good start.
    Last week: 3-0-0

  • 10
    10Anaheim Ducks
    last week: 5
    record: 15-6-5
    MUIR (11)
    KWAK (8): Goalie Frederik Andersen’s last 10 starts are a stark contrast to his first 10, when he was one of the league’s hottest goalies averaging a 1.56 GAA and .943 save percentage. Since Nov. 12, the 25-year-old netminder’s been dreadful (pulled three times) with his numbers bloating to a 3.28 GAA and .888 save percentage. That is cause for concern in Anaheim.
    CAZENEUVE (9): Anaheim had a nice bounce-back game on Monday, outlasting Boston, 3-2. Before that game, the Ducks gave up 10 goals in bad losses to the Sharks and Blackhawks. They stand first in the West with 35 points, but coach Bruce Boudreau is still bemoaning his team’s inability to play strong for 60 sustained minutes. “When we stop going up and down,” the coach says, “we’re able to beat anyone.”
    Last week: 1-2-0


While the bruised Bruins try to stay on track, the Jets' hopes may rest with backup goalie Michael Hutchinson.
Fred Kfoury/Icon Sportswire

Again, the Bruins and Kings, two of the league's powerhouses of the past half-dozen years, occupy spots outside the top ten, where the surprising Flames have fallen. Obviously Mark Giordano has been the heart of the Calgary's strong start, leading NHL defensemen with 16 points and earning the league's First Star honors last week. But the Flames are getting more help up front from Jiri Hudler, who has five goals in the last four games. The 30-year-old winger has never scored more than 25, but with 11 already, he seems to be on his way to a career year. 

After capturing five of six points on a swing through the Eastern Conference, the Jets return home this week for three games at the MTS Centre. The question is: Do they have a new No. 1 goaltender? Ondrej Pavelec entered the season as their go-to guy, but Michael Hutchinson could be front and center as the Jets host the Oilers, Avalanche and Ducks. After stealing a point in Boston last Saturday, Hutchinson leads the league in both save percentage (.947) and goals-against average (1.56). Coach Paul Maurice says he wants to see both goalies this week, but you have to wonder how long that'll last. With the Jets sitting in eighth and everyone from ownership on down desperate to see them hold onto a playoff spot, there's no reason to rotate. Time to give Hutchinson a chance to show what he can do as the starter.


The Middle 10
  • 11
    11Calgary Flames
    last week: 10
    record: 15-8-2
    MUIR: 8
    KWAK: 12
    Last week: 2-0-0

  • 12
    12Boston Bruins
    last week: 13
    record: 14-10-1
    MUIR: 12
    KWAK: 13
    Last week: 1-1-0

  • 13
    13Los Angeles Kings
    last week: 11
    record: 12-7-5
    MUIR: 13
    KWAK: 11
    Last week: 1-1-0

  • 14
    14Minnesota Wild
    last week: 16
    record: 13-9-1
    MUIR: 17
    KWAK: 14
    Last week: 1-1-1

  • 15
    15Toronto Maple Leafs
    last week: 14
    record: 12-8-3
    MUIR: 16
    KWAK: 15
    Last week: 1-0-1

  • 16
    16New York Rangers
    last week: 15
    record: 11-9-4
    MUIR: 15
    KWAK: 17
    Last week: 2-2-0

  • 17
    17Winnipeg Jets
    last week: 22
    record: 12-9-4
    MUIR: 14
    KWAK: 24
    Last week: 1-0-1

  • 18
    18San Jose Sharks
    last week: 18
    record: 11-10-4
    MUIR: 21
    KWAK: 16
    Last week: 1-1-0

  • 19
    19Washington Capitals
    last week: 20
    record: 10-9-4
    MUIR: 19
    KWAK: 18
    Last week: 1-1-1

  • 20
    20Florida Panthers
    last week: 21
    record: 9-7-6
    MUIR: 23
    KWAK: 21
    Last week: 2-1-0

Black and Blue Jackets lead McDavid derby; Flyers on brink of doom

Who would have imagined a few weeks ago that we’d consider listing the Sabres ahead of the faltering Flyers, but Philadelphia has been in a free fall lately as players and management are starting to express their frustration with trying to find solutions. Expect a shake-up of some kind there soon. And here we are into the first week of December and the Oilers have yet to manage a single win against a Western Conference foe. Now, we're no experts in advanced analytics but our math says that's an excellent formula for an early grave. The folks over at Sports Club Stats agree, placing Edmonton's playoff chances at a stunning 0.1 percent. Again, in the first week of December. So what do the Oilers do when the rest of the season is essentially meaningless? Fire the coach? Trade a front line forward? Replace their goalies? None of those moves would matter short term. What they need is to create a belief that the front office knows what it is doing and that, long term, there's reason for hope. Because right now, there's none in Edmonton. Winless in nearly a month, the Oilers are in dire straits and in need of upheaval. What, oh what, will Craig MacTavish and Co. do?

The Bottom 10
  • 21
    21Dallas Stars
    last week: 19
    record: 9-10-5
    MUIR: 22
    KWAK: 19
    Last week: 0-1-1

  • 22
    22Ottawa Senators
    last week: 17
    record: 10-9-4
    MUIR: 24
    KWAK: 20
    Last week: 0-2-0

  • 23
    23Colorado Avalanche
    last week: 25
    record: 9-11-5
    MUIR: 18
    KWAK: 25
    Last week: 1-2-0

  • 24
    24New Jersey Devils
    last week: 23
    record: 9-11-4
    MUIR: 25
    KWAK: 22
    Last week: 0-1-1

  • 25
    25Buffalo Sabres
    last week: 28
    record: 8-14-2
    MUIR: 20
    KWAK: 28
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 26
    26Philadelphia Flyers
    last week: 26
    record: 10-12-3
    MUIR: 27
    KWAK: 23
    Last week: 0-3-0

  • 27
    27Phoenix Coyotes
    last week: 26
    record: 10-12-3
    MUIR: 26
    KWAK: 26
    Last week: 1-1-0

  • 28
    28Carolina Hurricanes
    last week: 27
    record: 7-13-3
    MUIR: 28
    KWAK: 27
    Last week: 1-2-0

  • 29
    29Columbus Blue Jackets
    last week: 29
    record: 7-15-2
    MUIR: 29
    KWAK: 29
    Last week: 1-2-0

  • 30
    30Edmonton Oilers
    last week: 30
    record: 6-15-4
    MUIR: 30
    KWAK: 30
    Last week: 0-1-2

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