Power Rankings: Blackhawks hold top spot as Sharks, Leafs rise from deep

Tuesday December 16th, 2014

Welcome to the latest installment of our 2014–15 NHL Power Rankings. After four weeks of various teams jockeying at the top, we have a repeat No. 1 as the Blackhawks edged the Ducks in our polling. Our three scribes—Allan Muir, Sarah Kwak and Sam Page—submitted their choices for the league's Top 10. The rankings for the all 30 teams have been weighted according to ancient Babylonian accounting principles as well as 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
    1Chicago Blackhawks
    last week: 1
    record: 21-9-1
    MUIR (2): Their eight-game winning streak came to an end on Saturday against the Islanders, but they got another one going with a solid 2-1 win over the Flames on Sunday. It won't hurt to have Corey Crawford back in the lineup this week. It'll be interesting to see whether Antti Raanta or Scott Darling stays to back him up. They've both earned the right.
    KWAK (1):That close one-goal loss to the Isles has been the only blemish on the Blackhawks’ record since Nov. 26. And the absence of Crawford, who’s been out since Dec. 2 with a left leg injury, hasn’t presented any problems. In fact, backups Raanta and Darling have been excellent in relief, combining for a league-leading .945 save percentage since Crawford went down.
    PAGE (1): As everything continues to break right for the Hawks, Crawford has made a speedy recovery from the injury he suffered falling down the steps at a Rise Against concert. The Chicago-based, goalie-killing band has dates coming up in Nashville, Pittsburgh, Edmonton, and Calgary, so adjust your fantasy lineups accordingly.
    Last week: 3-1-0

  • 2
    2Anaheim Ducks
    last week: 3
    record: 21-6-5
    MUIR (1): No Corey Perry, no problem. Even without their top sniper the Ducks have managed to win seven straight and 10 of 12 to put some distance between them and the rest of the Pacific. Ilya Bryzgalov and Dany Heatley will be joining the mix this week, adding some depth and veteran experience to a lineup that seems to already have everything.
    KWAK (2): The league’s top team in the standings has built some cushion in its lead with that win streak. And though Anaheim remains without Perry (knee), who has been team’s leading goal scorer the last four years, linemate Ryan Getzlaf has predictably picked up the slack. No player has put up more points in December than Getzlaf (11), who has two game-winners this month.
    PAGE (2): The first team to be infected with the mumps, the Ducks are also the first team to get that post-mumps second wind. OK that may not be exactly what's going on—Perry is out again with an unrelated injury—but the Ducks have won seven straight. Playing Winnipeg and Edmonton twice each in four days tends to do wonders for winning streaks.
    Last week: 3-0-0

  • 3
    3St. Louis Blues
    last week: 8
    record: 20-8-2
    MUIR (3): Coach Ken Hitchcock was looking for more volume from his Blues and they've responded. They're getting more pucks to the net, averaging 34 shots per game over their past 11 games according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Not coincidentally, more pucks are going in. The Blues have scored three or more goals in nine of those 11 games.
    KWAK (3): Last week, the Blues gave the NHL’s hottest team (the Islanders) an ice bath with two emphatic wins. And their offense, with 19 goals in its last four games, has lifted them three spots to 12th in the league in scoring average. Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, with his seven points in his last four games, now trails only Calgary’s Mark Giordano in points by a blueliner.
    PAGE (3): After losing consecutive games to Chicago and Nashville, the Blues put up 16 goals in three games against the Eastern Conference. The good news first: Those games against the East count. The bad: The Blues are still in a division with the 'Hawks and Predators.
    Last week: 2-0-0

  • 4
    4Pittsburgh Penguins
    last week: 7
    record: 20-6-4
    MUIR (6): Blood clots, cancer, the mumps ... about the only ailments that haven't stricken the Penguins this season are housemaid's knee and dum-dum fever. But even with Sid The Kid doing his best Quagmire impression, Pittsburgh continues to bank points. That was an impressive win over the Lightning on Monday night to move this battered roster to 4-1-2 in December.
    KWAK (4): The Curious Case of the NHL Mumps has now hit the Pens dressing room because they obviously haven’t had enough bad medical news to deal with this season. (Sarcasm.) Despite dropping two games this week, the Penguins at least picked up points in each loss, and they hang on to the top spot in the East. But losing Sidney Crosby to the mumps could be a painful bump in the road.
    PAGE (6): They're playing well, but their best player has a viral disease that was previously thought to be eradicated in developed nations. This ranking reflects the possibility that Evgeni Malkin's head swells to the size of a watermelon in the coming weeks.
    Last week: 2-0-1

  • 5
    5Nashville Predators
    last week: 5
    record: 19-8-2
    MUIR (7): Man, on home ice the Preds are tougher than a greasy spoon porterhouse. They're not just a league-best 11-2-1 at Bridgestone—they're showing their character with 11 one-goal wins. You'd like to see GM David Poile add some scoring punch up front to take some of the pressure off of Calder Trophy favorite Filip Forsberg and his top line.
    KWAK (5): Goalie Pekka Rinne is making his 6-2-1 start to the season, when he averaged a pretty strong 1.97 GAA and .927 save percentage, look absolutely pedestrian at this point. In six starts this month, his averages have dipped to 1.52 GAA and .949 save pct., tops among goalies with more than three starts.
    PAGE (5): Saturday's 2-0 loss to the Sharks reveals a dirty secret about these exciting, new-look Preds: They're scoring like the old Preds. Their 2.59 goals per game ranks just 18th in the NHL. Getting their abysmal power play going would help.
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 6
    6Tampa Bay Lightning
    last week: 4
    record: 19-10-3
    MUIR (9): They've dropped four of five, so yeah, you can argue that I'm being too generous here—especially now that keeper Ben Bishop is out indefinitely after being injured in Monday's loss to Pittsburgh. But the Bolts still have such a wealth of talent up front that once they get their struggling power play back online they'll be all right.
    KWAK (8): The skidding Lightning have let their hold on the Atlantic Division slip away. They now have four games on the road, where they haven’t fared terribly well. Away from home they average 3.07 goals against, just a tick less than the 3.08 goals per game they score.
    PAGE (4): They haven't beat an opponent with a winning record since the Rangers on Dec. 1. Now Bishop is hurt on the heels of backup Evgeni Nabokov looking totally ineffective. The next goalie up? Only generational netminding talent Andrei Vasilevskiy. That's what makes this team so good: the depth afforded by its farm system. 
    Last week: 1-3-0

  • 7
    7San Jose Sharks
    last week: 16
    record: 17-11-4
    MUIR (4): I'm sure someone knows what to make of these Sharks, but it sure isn't me. San Jose is now on a 7-1 tear after losing six times to non-playoff teams in November. Hard to reconcile those wild swings. One difference maker? Check out the penalty kill that's iced 19-of-21 opportunities during that eight-game span.
    KWAK (9): Perhaps feeling the heat from a very lackluster start to the season, the Sharks are beginning to look like the Sharks again, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve been led by winger Tommy Wingels, who doubled his point total with 11 in his last eight games. He’s on pace to eclipse his career high 38 points by mid-February.
    PAGE (9): Despite management's best efforts to obscure it with scrappy grinders, there's a good team here still. If the Sharks keep up their winning ways, GM Doug Wilson will have a tough choice whether to invest heavily in the Joe Thornton/Patrick Marleau core one last time or keep blowing up his team.
    Last week: 3-0-0

  • 8
    8New York Islanders
    last week: 2
    record: 21-10-0
    MUIR (10): How's this for a telling stat: The Isles are the first team in history to win their first nine games that required extra time in a given season. New York is 3-0 in overtime and 6-0 in the shootout after downing the Devils on Monday night. You just know all those extra points will pay off when the playoff picture plays out.
    KWAK (6): They finally ended a worrisome three-game skid with a 3-2 comeback win over Chicago on Saturday. But there were serious warts evident in those losses, mainly surrendering late three-goal leads in back-to-back games and being outscored 11-1 in third periods.
    PAGE (7): Many Islanders squads of the past decade or so would have gone into a tailspin after giving up 17 total goals in three straight losses. The Isles of today, however, have an NHL-caliber goalie who gave them the confidence to pull off two hard-fought comebacks at home against Chicago and New Jersey.
    Last week: 2-2-0

  • 9
    9Detroit Red Wings
    last week: 6
    record: 17-7-7
    MUIR (8): Maybe those two losses to the Maple Leafs should have dropped them lower here, but this team continues to impress me with its resilience. The Red Wings lost Stephen Weiss (again) and Justin Abdelkader last week, robbing them of two productive forwards, but they just keep battling. This is why coach Mike Babcock is worth whatever he wants.
    KWAK (7): They lost three in a row this week, keeping the race for the top of the Atlantic exceedingly close. But two came in shootouts, where the Red Wings have been terrible. Detroit is 1-5 in the skills competition this season, and goalie Jimmy Howard has a .250 save percentage in one-on-one situations. It doesn’t mean much in the playoffs, but it could mean something on the way there.
    PAGE (8): After preying on some weaker competition for a few weeks, the Wings found themselves stumped by the division-rival Leafs. It's hard to tell yet if this team is a serious Stanley Cup contender or just a final, impressive audition for Mike Babcock's next contract.
    Last week: 0-1-2

  • 10
    10Toronto Maple Leafs
    last week: 15
    record: 18-9-3
    MUIR (5): I'm still not convinced that the Leafs are a playoff team—we'll have a better sense of that after they get back from a seven-game road trip necessitated by the World Junior Championship tournament games being played at Air Canada Centre—but there's no denying how great they've been lately. One regulation loss in their past 11 games and five wins in a row after knocking off the Kings on Sunday deserves some respect.
    KWAK (10): Because everything about the Leafs is a little weird, their whole odd non-salute to their fans on Nov. 20 might’ve actually been a turning point. Since that act of passive-aggression, the Leafs have been all hell-bent for leather, winning eight of 10, including back-to-back victories against the Red Wings last week. Mike Santorelli and Nazem Kadri have been giving Toronto much-needed secondary scoring, and goalie Jonathan Bernier has been solid.
    PAGE (10): Who knew? After they lost 9-2 to Nashville in November, many people expected an implosion. Now the Leafs sit near the top of their division with the league's best offense (3.37 goals per game). Do I think it will last? No, but building up Leafs fans' expectations before the inevitable collapse is half the fun.
    Last week: 4-0-0


Searching for the Anze: Kopitar the Kings' usual top scorer is mired in a lengthy slump.
Chris Williams/Icon SMI

We're still waiting patiently for the Kings to break out. They're a fine team; their two Stanley Cups in three years prove as much. But they continue to struggle offensively. They rank 17th in goals per game and their power play is connecting just 15.5% of the time. Anze Kopitar, their leading scorer in each of the last seven seasons, has just 13 points, good—so to speak—for seventh on the team. 

Meanwhile in the Eastern Conference, it now seems inevitable that a truly pedestrian team will sneak into the playoffs and get torched in the first round. Here's hoping for an intrastate Florida beat down. And are the Bruins really this bad? The numbers don't lie. Their offense is down .7 goals per game from last season, the largest drop of any team in the league. On defense, they're allowing .49 goals per game more than they did last season. Add it up and that swing of 1.19 goals has them on the outside looking in.  

The Middle 10
  • 11
    11Montreal Canadiens
    last week: 12
    record: 19-10-2
    MUIR: 11
    KWAK: 11
    PAGE: 12
    Last week: 2-0-0

  • 12
    12Los Angeles Kings
    last week: 11
    record: 15-10-6
    MUIR: 13
    KWAK: 13
    PAGE: 13
    Last week: 1-2-1

  • 13
    13Vancouver Canucks
    last week: 9
    record: 18-10-2
    MUIR: 20
    KWAK: 12
    PAGE: 11
    Last week: 0-2-0

  • 14
    14Minnesota Wild
    last week: 13
    record: 16-11-1
    MUIR: 18
    KWAK: 14
    PAGE: 14
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 15
    15Calgary Flames
    last week: 10
    record: 17-13-2
    MUIR: 15
    KWAK: 15
    PAGE: 17
    Last week: 0-4-0

  • 16
    16Winnipeg Jets
    last week: 17
    record: 15-10-6
    MUIR: 16
    KWAK: 18
    PAGE: 15
    Last week: 1-1-1

  • 17
    17New York Rangers
    last week: 19
    record: 14-10-4
    MUIR: 14
    KWAK: 17
    PAGE: 20
    Last week: 2-0-0

  • 18
    18Boston Bruins
    last week: 14
    record: 15-13-2
    MUIR: 23
    KWAK: 16
    PAGE: 16
    Last week: 0-1-1

  • 19
    19Washington Capitals
    last week: 18
    record: 14-10-5
    MUIR: 19
    KWAK: 19
    PAGE: 18
    Last week: 2-0-1

  • 20
    20Columbus Blue Jackets
    last week: 25
    record: 12-15-2
    MUIR: 12
    KWAK: 24
    PAGE: 27
    Last week: 3-0-0

Six wins in a row for Columbus. Seven of nine for the Sabres. All of a sudden both teams are closer to a playoff spot in the wide open Eastern Conference than they are the cellar. Can they keep it up? Buffalo remains a long shot, if only because goalie Jhonas Enroth can't possibly maintain his smoldering pace (his .935 save percentage at even strength ranks sixth). But the Jackets are finally emerging from a hellish bout of injuries and only now starting to play like the playoff participant they were last season. Don't bet against 'em this time around.

Clock ticking on GM Craig MacTavish after Oilers fire Dallas Eakins

Say hello to rock bottom, ye Oilers who have won all of one game since Nov. 11 and kicked coach Dallas Eakins to the curb. It’s already been a long road in Edmonton and it doesn’t seem like an end to their rebuild is anywhere in sight. What’s that about a top pick in next year’s draft? Yeah, well, the Oilers have had plenty of those and still, here they are. It's sick. Commissioner Gary Bettman needs to relegate Edmonton to the AHL andaward Connor McDavid to the Las Vegas expansion franchise.

The Bottom 10
  • 21
    21Florida Panthers
    last week: 20
    record: 12-8-8
    MUIR: 22
    KWAK: 21
    PAGE: 21
    Last week: 1-0-1

  • 22
    22Ottawa Senators
    last week: 23
    record: 12-12-6
    MUIR: 24
    KWAK: 22
    PAGE: 19
    Last week: 1-1-1

  • 23
    23Dallas Stars
    last week: 21
    record: 11-13-5
    MUIR: 26
    KWAK: 20
    PAGE: 22
    Last week: 1-1-0

  • 24
    24Buffalo Sabres
    last week: 28
    record: 13-16-2
    MUIR: 17
    KWAK: 27
    PAGE: 25
    Last week: 4-0-0

  • 25
    25Philadelphia Flyers
    last week: 26
    record: 11-13-5
    MUIR: 21
    KWAK: 23
    PAGE: 26
    Last week: 2-0-1

  • 26
    26New Jersey Devils
    last week: 24
    record: 11-15-6
    MUIR: 25
    KWAK: 25
    PAGE: 23
    Last week: 0-2-2

  • 27
    27Colorado Avalanche
    last week: 22
    record: 10-13-7
    MUIR: 27
    KWAK: 26
    PAGE: 24
    Last week: 1-1-1

  • 28
    28Phoenix Coyotes
    last week: 29
    record: 10-16-4
    MUIR: 28
    KWAK: 28
    PAGE: 28
    Last week: 0-1-1

  • 29
    29Carolina Hurricanes
    last week: 27
    record: 8-18-3
    MUIR: 29
    KWAK: 29
    PAGE: 29
    Last week: 0-2-0

  • 30
    30Edmonton Oilers
    last week: 30
    record: 7-19-5
    MUIR: 30
    KWAK: 30
    PAGE: 30
    Last week: 0-4-0

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