Power Rankings: Predators challenge Blackhawks again for No. 1

Tuesday December 30th, 2014

Welcome to the latest installment of our 2014–15 NHL Power Rankings. The Blackhawks continue to hang on to their perch at No. 1 for the fourth week in a row as the surprisingly tough Predators make another run at the top, a spot they last occupied four weeks ago. Our three scribes—Allan Muir, Brian Cazeneuve and Sarah Kwak—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, Vedic astrology, and 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: 25-10-2
    MUIR (1): I love the resilience they showed while battling back from an early 3-0 deficit to knock off the Predators in Monday night's battle for Central Division supremacy. There's maybe a little too much bend in their game lately, but man are they tough to break.
    CAZENEUVE (1): Chicago’s 5-4 win against Nashville was very unusual in that two teams that are used to playing 1-0 and 2-1 games ran up the score. Still, considering their impending Winter Classic contest on Jan. 1 and their recent loss of their popular equipment manager Clint Reif, the Hawks really earned their marks for keeping their eyes on the game in front of them. Chicago has a chance to get on a roll now, with six of their next eight games at home after the Classic and nine straight against teams that are out of my top 10. There is no reason to expect the Hawks to slow down.
    KWAK (1): After a 5-1 loss to Winnipeg just before Christmas, the Blackhawks bounced back with two come-from-behind wins, including that shootout win over Nashville on Monday. As they approach the Winter Classic, where they’ll take on Washington, the Hawks have built up the league’s best goal differential at +39.
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 2
    2Nashville Predators
    last week: 4
    record: 23-9-3
    MUIR (2): You know they're kicking themselves for dropping that game to the Hawks and missing out on their chance to grab a share of first in the Central. It's great that they're getting offense from a line other than Forsberg-Ribeiro-Neal, but this team doesn't need to be playing firewagon hockey. Over its past five games: 22 goals for, 17 against. Tighten it up, boys.
    CAZENEUVE (3): The Predators got smaller and faster this week when GM David Poile picked up 5’-9”, 165-pound forward Mark Arcobello from Edmonton in return for forward Derek Roy, who has clearly seen better days. The former Yale star is the type of player you might not have seen in Nashville the last few years, but he is a good indicator of the versatility that this club has established and wants to have moving forward. Yes, this is a team that can win because Pekka Rinne simply outplays the other goalie, but it is also a club that is trying to show a new face from time to time.
    KWAK (3): Though the Pres went 1-1-1 this week, they’re beginning to show more offensive depth. Forward Colin Wilson, a former first-rounder in 2008, has four goals and seven points in his last four games, earning him the league's Second Star honors for the week.
    Last week: 1-1-1

  • 3
    3Anaheim Ducks
    last week: 2
    record: 24-8-6
    MUIR (5): With two or fewer regulation goals in each of their past six, the Ducks aren't leaving themselves much room for error. It's time for some of the hotshot kids in the organization to step up and contribute or risk being regarded as “assets” to be bartered for experienced scoring help.
    CAZENEUVE (2): Goalie Frederik Andersen set a club record for wins in a month, posting a 10-1-1 mark. Ryan Getzlaf also set a club record for points in a month, with 20. Anaheim remains addicted to narrow wins, with 15 of its last 17 victories coming by a single goal, but the news got better as Corey Perry, Kyle Palmeiri and Tim Jackman were all back practicing with the team after missing time with injuries and ailments. The Ducks will still have to prove themselves in the spring, but for now all signs are good.
    KWAK (2): The Ducks took five out of a possible six points this week, including two overtime wins over divisional rivals San Jose and Vancouver. Their defense is insulating goalie Frederik Andersen better, keeping the Canucks, who had averaged 31.5 shots per game, to a season-low 14 on Sunday.
    Last week: 1-0-1

  • 4
    4Tampa Bay Lightning
    last week: 9
    record: 23-11-4
    MUIR (3): Steven Stamkos had gone three games without earning a single point prior to Monday's tilt against the Maple Leafs but the Bolts managed to win two of them thanks to 12 points from the Tyler Johnson-Nikita Kucherov-Ondrej Palat line. That's the kind of offensive depth that can power a deep postseason run.
    CAZENEUVE (4): When Tampa Bay uses its speed advantage and plays keep-away from teams that aren’t keeping, the result can be much like what we saw in the team’s 3-2 win against Toronto on Monday night. The Lightning outshot the Leafs 41-23 and at one point held them without a shot for 20 straight minutes. Even more impressive, the red hot Johnson-Kucherov-Palat line didn’t even crack the scoresheet. It marked Tampa Bay’s third straight win after a tough 2-6-0 stretch. Now the team heads off for a span of six road contests in seven games, including matches in Montreal, Pittsburgh and Boston. If they get through this, they should be primed for a roll when the Western teams start visiting.
    KWAK (7): Goalie Ben Bishop returned from a four-game absence (due to a lower-body injury) this week and brought back the Lightning’s defensive backbone. Allowing just three goals in two wins (one against Toronto, the highest-scoring offense in the league), Bishop gave the high-powered Tampa Bay offense the balance the Bolts need to be one of the NHL’s best teams.
    Last week: 3-0-0

  • 5
    5Pittsburgh Penguins
    last week: 3
    record: 22-9-5
    MUIR (7): Maybe I'm being a little generous after three straight losses, but I'm impressed by the way this team is competing while battling a crushing number of illnesses and injuries. It'd be nice if their captain found a way to make more of an impact than two goals in 12 games though, eh?
    CAZENEUVE (7): With a 3-1 loss against New Jersey on Monday night, Pittsburgh now has gone four straight games without a win—cause for concern, but not yet panic. Pittsburgh will be without Patric Hornqvist for six weeks due to a lower-body injury, adding to the list of walking wounded and sniffling sick. That list is up to 10 players, so score one for Team Mumps for simply hanging in there. Hornqvist’s loss will be especially challenging for a team that has shown more balance than expected this season and needs to take some heat off Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin every night.
    KWAK (4): Only three Pens have played all of the team's 36 games this season, and it seems that the constant flux may be taking its toll, as Pittsburgh dropped all three of its games this week. And its power play, which earlier this season was converting on nearly 40 percent of their opportunities is currently one-for-its last 21.
    Last week: 0-3-0

  • 6
    6Montreal Canadiens
    last week: 10
    record: 23-11-2
    MUIR (4): Playing the Canadiens any time soon? Your goalie better be on his game. Carey Price has been lights out of late, allowing a single goal in five of his past seven starts and just two in the others as the Habs have gone 6-1.
    CAZENEUVE (6): The Canadiens' best players are playing like their best players. After making 11 straight starts, Price is now second in the league with 20 wins for the season. With eight points in his last seven games, including an empty-netter in a victory against Carolina on Monday, Max Pacioretty leads the club with 14 goals and a robust +18 rating that stands as the fifth-best in the league.
    KWAK (9): With two road wins this week, the Canadiens continued their high-low season by taking six of their last seven. Their top line has been clicking, scoring six of the team's 13 even-strength goals in its last five games.
    Last week: 2-0-0

  • 7
    7New York Islanders
    last week: 5
    record: 24-11-1
    MUIR (10): This is still a team that's finding its way. The Isles have choked away three-goal leads on four separate occasions during the past month but at least they managed to pull points out of the past two meltdowns. Progress!
    CAZENEUVE (5): Johnny Boychuk’s first career overtime goal gave New York a timely 4-3 victory against the Capitals on Monday. That’s the good news. The bad trend is the club’s recent habit of blowing three-goal leads, as it did against the Caps when Washington rallied for three in the final 15:20 to tie the game. The Islanders deserve a lot of marks for improvements, but they still need to avoid these periodic letdowns.
    KWAK (6): Since Dec. 13, when the Islanders snapped a three-game losing skid, no team has generated more than New York’s 38.1 shots per game, and it’s paying off. They are 5-1-1 since and have pulled even with Pittsburgh at the top of the Metropolitan Division.
    Last week: 1-1-1

  • 8
    8St. Louis Blues
    last week: 6
    record: 22-11-3
    MUIR (8): The return of goalie Brian Elliott may mean the end of Martin Brodeur's tenure with the franchise, but it's good news for a team that was counting on Elliott to backstop its championship bid. Now if only Paul Stastny would get his game above a fourth-line level ...
    CAZENEUVE (8): The return of Elliott will be a welcome sight in St. Louis. He's been out since Nov. 25 after posting what were then outstanding numbers (1.82 GAA, .931 save percentage). His return comes at a time when Brodeur is coming off his 125th career shutout (a 3-0 victory against Colorado). Brodeur stopped 16 shots in what could be his last game as a Blue or even as an NHLer. Don’t expect the club to move Jake Allen just so the goalie with the all-time record of 691 wins can chase another milestone.
    KWAK (5): After going winless in four straight, the Blues finally snapped the skid with a 3-0 win over Colorado on Monday night. It was Martin Brodeur’s first shutout as a non-Devil, and the 691st win of his career. But it was likely his last hurrah as the Blues focus on getting back to winning consistently with Elliott in net.
    Last week: 1-2-0

  • 9
    9New York Rangers
    last week: 12
    record: 19-11-4
    MUIR (6): A hard-luck loss in Dallas on Monday night put an end to their eight-game winning streak but the Rangers are finally looking like a team that can contend in the East. Their defensive game is on point and they're getting scoring from up and down the lineup. Someone want to explain to me, though, why Tanner Glass is a fixture in the lineup and J.T. Miller is a regular scratch?
    CAZENEUVE (11)
    KWAK (13): Though the Stars snapped New York's eight-game win streak on Monday, New York is rolling into the New Year with its swagger finally coming back. And unsurprisingly, the Rangers are doing it largely on the burly back of Rick Nash, who ranks second in the league with 23 goals, and goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who has rebounded from a relatively pedestrian start to the season. The 32-year-old netminder has a 1.72 GAA and .934 save percentage in his last eight games, down considerably from the 2.70 and .905 he'd posted in his first 19.  
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 10
    10Detroit Red Wings
    last week: 8
    record: 19-9-9
    MUIR (11)
    CAZENEUVE (10): The Red Wings have slipped a bit at the end of the year, dropping six of their last eight after being on a terrific pace. Overall, the picture in Detroit is still pretty good, but it has to be unsettling that the club hasn’t beaten a quality team in almost a month. After hosting New Jersey on New Year’s Eve, Detroit will begin 2015 with six straight games on the road and won’t return to Joe Louis Arena until Jan. 17. That stretch should paint a clear picture of what we can expect from the Wings for the rest of the season.
    KWAK (10): Aided by a healthy power play, which converted at 46.2% this week, the Wings pulled out two wins to stem a plodding December skid. But even those wins weren’t particularly convincing. They fell behind Buffalo before a series of power plays helped them to a 6-3 win, and against Ottawa, Detroit managed just 13 shots in the first two periods of a 3-2 overtime victory. A daunting six-game road trip that spans the continent and four time zones awaits in the New Year. That should be telling.
    Last week: 2-1-0


Ryan Miller and the Canucks are proving to be one of the league's most vexing teams.
Bob Frid/Icon SMI

Will a quiet week for the Sharks—just one game, a 3-1 loss to the Kings—prove to be a boon or a curse? Sure, what team wouldn’t relish the extra rest? But the layoff could cool the league’s hottest team, and San Jose can’t afford to languish. With 43 points, the Sharks remain on the playoff bubble in the West.

Paul Maurice is coaching like the second coming of Dick Irvin up in Winnipeg, but even that legendary bench boss wouldn't be able to cope with the loss of his top-four defensemen (Toby Enstrom, Jacob Trouba, Zach Bogosian and Mark Stuart) to injury. Maurice has the Jets competing, though, and there just might be enough of an us-against-the-world vibe around that team to handle the loss of winger Evander Kane for the next five weeks as well.

Mark this one under the cliché “The game was not as close as the score indicated.” The Canucks were outshot, 31-14, in their recent 2-1 loss to the Ducks. And this included some decent penalty killing that held Anaheim to just one shot on goal in four man advantages. At times, Vancouver slams on the breaks and plays with unexpected malaise. At the heart of that is goalie Ryan Miller, who followed up two shutouts earlier this season with 11 goals allowed in three games. Now after giving up five against the Rangers on Dec. 13, he has allowed just five during his last three starts. You just don’t know what you’ll get with these Canucks.

With a 9-1-1 mark in December—and a chance to tie a franchise record for victories in a month with a win over the Wild on New Year's Eve—the Blue Jackets might deserve even more credit than we're giving them. They're getting solid goaltending, balanced scoring and some terrific special teams play, with the power play clicking at 28.1% and the penalty kill shutting down 89.7% of chances so far this month. 

The Middle 10
  • 11
    11San Jose Sharks
    last week: 7
    record: 19-12-5
    MUIR: 13
    KWAK: 8
    Last week: 0-1-0

  • 12
    12Winnipeg Jets
    last week: 13
    record: 19-11-7
    MUIR: 15
    KWAK: 13
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 13
    13Vancouver Canucks
    last week: 11
    record: 20-11-3
    MUIR: 20
    KWAK: 11
    Last week: 0-0-1

  • 14
    14Los Angeles Kings
    last week: 14
    record: 18-12-7
    MUIR: 12
    Last week: 1-1-0

  • 15
    15Toronto Maple Leafs
    last week: 16
    record: 20-14-3
    MUIR: 16
    KWAK: 14
    Last week: 1-2-0

  • 16
    16Washington Capitals
    last week: 15
    record: 18-11-7
    MUIR: 18
    KWAK: 16
    Last week: 1-1-1

  • 17
    17Calgary Flames
    last week: 21
    record: 20-15-3
    MUIR: 17
    KWAK: 18
    Last week: 2-0-0

  • 18
    18Florida Panthers
    last week: 17
    record: 16-9-8
    MUIR: 14
    KWAK: 19
    Last week: 1-0-0

  • 19
    19Boston Bruins
    last week: 18
    record: 19-15-3
    MUIR: 19
    KWAK: 17
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 20
    20Columbus Blue Jackets
    last week: 23
    record: 15-16-3
    MUIR: 9
    KWAK: 22
    Last week: 1-0-0

The Wild’s Fenwick For percentage is top 5 in the league, and they average 31.7 shots per game, third best in the West, yet they continue to wallow five points out of playoff position. In a similar spot last season, they turned things around to make the playoffs, but now with center Mikael Granlund (upper body) out for four weeks, the Wild will need some spectacular play to help them compete for a postseason spot this year. 

Here’s a riddle for the day: Just how many coaches does it take to screw up the Devils? Either GM Lou Lamoriello will grow his reputation as a brilliant mind or the team's new multi-headed coaching monster will simply exacerbate what has become a real mess over in Newark.

The Bottom 10
  • 21
    21Dallas Stars
    last week: 19
    record: 16-14-5
    MUIR: 21
    KWAK: 24
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 22
    22Minnesota Wild
    last week: 20
    record: 17-13-4
    MUIR: 22
    KWAK: 21
    Last week: 1-1-1

  • 23
    23Ottawa Senators
    last week: 24
    record: 15-14-7
    MUIR: 23
    KWAK: 24
    Last week: 1-0-1

  • 24
    24Philadelphia Flyers
    last week: 22
    record: 14-16-6
    MUIR: 24
    KWAK: 23
    Last week: 1-2-0

  • 25
    25Colorado Avalanche
    last week: 25
    record: 13-15-8
    MUIR: 27
    KWAK: 25
    Last week: 1-2-0

  • 26
    26Buffalo Sabres
    last week: 27
    record: 14-20-3
    MUIR: 25
    KWAK: 26
    Last week: 1-2-0

  • 27
    27New Jersey Devils
    last week: 26
    record: 13-18-7
    MUIR: 26
    KWAK: 27
    Last week: 1-1-1

  • 28
    28Phoenix Coyotes
    last week: 29
    record: 14-18-4
    MUIR: 28
    KWAK: 29
    Last week: 3-0-0

  • 29
    29Carolina Hurricanes
    last week: 28
    record: 10-22-4
    MUIR: 29
    KWAK: 28
    Last week: 1-2-0

  • 30
    30Edmonton Oilers
    last week: 30
    record: 7-22-7
    MUIR: 30
    KWAK: 30
    Last week: 0-2-0

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