NHL Power Rankings: Canadiens surge past Blackhawks into top spot

Tuesday January 6th, 2015

Welcome to the latest installment of our 2014–15 NHL Power Rankings. After four weeks at the top, the Blackhawks have been nudged off their perch by the red hot Le Club de hockey Canadien, which is now number one by a mere whisker. 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
    1Montreal Canadiens
    last week: 6
    record: 26-11-2
    MUIR (1): The Canadiens just ran the table on a five-game road trip and have won nine of its past 10 games, outscoring its opposition 34-13 along the way. The Alex Galchenyuk-Max Pacioretty-Brendan Gallagher line continues to produce (13-13-26) and demoted center David Desharnais has been rejuvenated by his move to third-line wing. Can coach Michel Therrien do anything wrong?
    CAZENEUVE (1): The Canadiens are playing better hockey than they were when they went on their early-season surge. Their only loss in their last 10 games was just a 2-1 decision to league-leading Anaheim on Dec. 16. Even more impressive, the Habs just completed a perfect 5-0-0 road trip with a 4-1 win at Pittsburgh. The trip began with a 3-1 win against the hot Islanders. And even more impressive than that, in those 10 games, Montreal allowed two goals or less in each one.
    KWAK (5): What’s more, they’re finding success despite being one of only three teams in the league with a positive goal differential (+19) and a negative shot differential (-105). However, the latter could eventually catch up to them.
    Last week: 3-0-0

  • 2
    2Chicago Blackhawks
    last week: 1
    record: 26-11-2
    MUIR (2): It's not that they deserved to lose the top spot this week as much as it was the fact that the Habs could not be denied. The Hawks put on a terrific show in a tough loss at the Winter Classic then displayed some championship-level resilience in rallying from four one-goal deficits to pick up two points from the red-hot Stars. They'll be all right.
    CAZENEUVE (4): If their last-minute loss at the Winter Classic was really a punch in the gut, the Blackhawks shrugged it off pretty easily on Sunday with a nice 5-4 win against Dallas thanks to Patrick Sharp’s winner in overtime. This is a veteran team that has seen a lot and doesn’t get rattled, but really, fan voters, must they have the upcoming All-Star Game almost all to themselves?
    KWAK (1): Even a last-minute loss to the Capitals in a Winter Classic classic on New Years Day can’t dampen this team’s swagger. Megastars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have been consistently excellent, but now the Blackhawks are getting more from regular stars Marian Hossa, who is riding a five-game point streak, and Patrick Sharp, who has doubled his offensive totals during the last three weeks.
    Last week: 1-1-0

  • 3
    3Anaheim Ducks
    last week: 3
    record: 26-9-6
    MUIR (3): You can make either of these cases when it comes to Anaheim's league-leading total of 20 wins by a single-goal margin: They can't put their boots on the throats of opponents when they're down or they possess an extraordinary level of composure that allows them to consistently snatch points from tight games. I'll go with the latter.
    CAZENEUVE (2): Anaheim’s unblemished mark in one-goal games decided in regulation (21-0-6) is still an amazing stat. But the one the Ducks care about is the 58 points that leads the NHL standings. They pulled off a tough 4-3 shootout win on Sunday against stingy Nashville, bringing them to 11-3-1 in their last 15 games. Until further notice (read: May and June), this remains a regular season team, but it’s also a very good one.
    KWAK (3): At about the halfway mark, is there a better Hart Trophy candidate than Ryan Getzlaf, who has been the backbone of a team that’s had to deal with various injuries in key positions, including a mumps outbreak? Anaheim continues to maintain the best record in the league, and their captain is a huge reason why.
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 4
    4Nashville Predators
    last week: 2
    record: 25-9-4
    MUIR (4): Those blown leads in back-to-back SoCal games are troubling, but at the end of the day the Predators still managed to hoof it out of town with three out of a four possible points to keep them in the thick of the Western Conference race.
    CAZENEUVE (3): Who are these guys wearing Predators jerseys? They've given up only 88 goals (second lowest in the league, behind Chicago) and Nashville has long been known for playing defensive hockey. So how did they manage to win a game 7-6 in overtime against Los Angeles—another team that tends to play some defense—and then lose a 4-3 shootout contest against Anaheim? The Preds' 10 goals in two games would have been a month's worth during the Barry Trotz years. Yes the recent roller coaster has been fun, but this team's identity is still in flux.
    KWAK (2): They pulled out that wild win against Los Angeles on Saturday, a game in which the Kings scored three goals in the final two minutes to force overtime. But the biggest takeaway here is that the Predators won a 7-6 game. At 2.95 goals per game, Nashville is averaging its best offensive output since 2006-07. Their defensemen lead the NHL with 88 points combined.
    Last week: 2-0-1

  • 5
    5Tampa Bay Lightning
    last week: 4
    record: 25-12-4
    MUIR (5): Is there a better second line in hockey right now than Tyler Johnson-Ondrej Palat-Nikita Kucherov? Tampa's kiddie korps contributed 18 points during the team's past three games to power the Bolts into a tie for the top spot in the East.
    CAZENEUVE (5): Tampa Bay continues to have trouble against teams that have fast, skilled and not necessarily big forwards who can match them stride for stride. The Canadiens swept them in the playoffs last season and the Penguins have now taken nine straight home games against the Lightning after Saturday’s 6-3 decision in Pittsburgh.
    KWAK (7): If anyone wondered if Tyler Johnson’s torrid pace would cool after he went two games without a point late last month, the third-year center answered by scoring six points in the Lightning’s last three games. He now leads Tampa Bay with 43 and has 10 multi-point games this season.
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 6
    6New York Islanders
    last week: 7
    record: 26-12-1
    MUIR (7): The Isles continue to surprise. Sure, their 5-2 loss in Edmonton was easily their worst performance of the season, but that doesn't negate a trio of solid wins over Calgary, Winnipeg and Washington.
    CAZENEUVE (6): How in the world does a team that’s among the league leaders lose a 5-2 game to the Oilers? Well, call it a blip in the middle of a six-game road trip, especially after impressive wins in Winnipeg and Calgary. The Islanders gave the puck away on two of those goals, so with any luck, that evening will mark a road trip’s worth of sloppiness in one game.
    KWAK (6): Though they were handed that disappointing 5-2 loss to lowly Edmonton on Sunday, the Isles are still keeping pace with the Penguins, tied with 53 points at the top of the Metropolitan Division. Ryan Strome, their 2011 first rounder, picked up seven points in his last four games, flourishing on a line with Frans Nielsen and Anders Lee. And their come-from-behind win percentage (.750 when trailing first) is ridiculous.
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 7
    7Pittsburgh Penguins
    last week: 5
    record: 24-10-5
    MUIR (9): Gotta love the aggressive move to add a top-six winger in David Perron months before the deadline. And to get it done with a late pick and Rob Klinkhammer, rather than raid their system for a top prospect, makes this a coup for a Pittsburgh team that really needed a pick-me-up.
    CAZENEUVE (7): The Pens' up and down power play was back up in their last home win against Tampa Bay as Pittsburgh scored 20 seconds into its first man advantage and eight seconds into the second one. Then the club relapsed on Saturday, dropping a 4-1 stinker to Montreal that did have one redeeming feature: The play of new acquisition Perron was pretty good. He scored the club’s only goal, converting a Sidney Crosby feed he later described as “the best pass I’ve ever received.” Look for Perron to spend some time with Evgeni Malkin before coach Mike Johnston determines the best fit for helping the Penguins get back to the team they can be.
    KWAK (4): With winger Patric Hornqvist shelved for a few weeks, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford picked up Perron, who on one cross-continental flight went from the worst team in one division to the best in another. Just 10 minutes into his first game with Pittsburgh, he scored on that dish from Sidney Crosby. If Perron, a three-time 20-goal scorer on offensively challenged teams, can cultivate some chemistry with one of the Penguins' two superstar centers, he could see his numbers soar.
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 8
    8New York Rangers
    last week: 9
    record: 21-11-4
    MUIR (6): Yeah, they're clicking up front but the reason the Rangers have won 10 of their past 11 games is due to a renewed commitment to their own zone. They've allowed just 17 goals during that span, just over 1.5 per game. Seems like a viable model for long-term success.
    CAZENEUVE (10): Sure their recent victories against Florida and Buffalo weren’t much of a barometer as to how well they can handle the league’s tougher teams, but with 10 wins in their last 11 games, the Rangers have greatly enhanced their playoff hopes. Now they have six road games ahead of them, including a three-game swing in California and one against rival Pittsburgh. A bright note: After starting the season poorly, ace goalie Henrik Lundqvist has played a superb nine games in which he allowed three goals once and two or fewer in the other eight.
    KWAK (10): In their last 17 games, the Rangers have upped their scoring pace to 3.53 goals per game, nearly a goal more than they'd averaged up to that point (2.68). That’s largely been on the back of Rick Nash, whose .67 average is just a tick below the NHL's leading goal scorer, Tyler Seguin (.68).
    Last week: 2-0-0

  • 9
    9St. Louis Blues
    last week: 8
    record: 23-13-3
    MUIR (10): The Blues are finally getting some secondary scoring—it just happens to be coming from their top line. After relying almost exclusively on Vladimir Tarasenko's trio for weeks, St. Louis is now getting some production for T.J. Oshie, David Backes and Alex Steen. That makes this team a whole different kind of dangerous.
    CAZENEUVE (8): Welcome back, Jaden Schwartz. Boy, were you missed. In the seven games that the Blues’ young forward missed because of a foot injury, St. Louis managed just a single victory—against so-so Colorado. In Schwartz’s return against San Jose on Saturday, the Blues pounded the Sharks, 7-2. He picked up a goal and an assist and T.J. Oshie scored a hat trick. (None of his shots were against a rental-car spokesman.) Now with a healthier lineup, the trick is to get a few more hat tricks and a few more wins.
    KWAK (8): That 7-2 win over the Sharks on Saturday was an emphatic way to stop their skid, but it doesn’t really change the fact that the Blues have lost six of their last eight games. They’ve gotten standout performances from youngsters so far this season; now it’s time for veterans to step up. And with five goals in his last three games, Oshie looks like he’s starting the charge.
    Last week: 1-2-0

  • 10
    10Washington Capitals
    last week: 16
    record: 20-11-7
    MUIR (8): Just one regulation lost since Dec. 3? Wins over top teams like the Blackhawks and Penguins? As much as I want to be skeptical about their recent success, there's no denying that the Capitals have improved significantly during the past few weeks as they've grown more comfortable with Barry Trotz's system. Now if they can just do something about that home record (9-5-4) ...
    CAZENEUVE (9): With their last-minute victory on Jan. 1, the Capitals won one of the snazzier Winter Classics to date. Just put a few landmarks in the background and get local icon Alex Ovechkin to score a goal, Troy Brower to bury his old team, Eric Fehr to channel his inner—no, make that “outer” Wayne Gretzky who seems to show up for Winter Classics. Beyond that, the Caps have earned points in 13 of their last 14 games, making them one of the league’s hottest teams.
    KWAK (12): With a goal and an assist on the Winter Classic game-winner, Alex Ovechkin helped the Caps pull off a memorable New Years Day in D.C., but more importantly, he kept Washington in the thick of the playoff hunt. After a pedestrian start to the season, it looks like this team is indeed improving under new coach Barry Trotz. Since Dec. 4, the Capitals have lost just one game in regulation.
    Last week: 2-0-0


Will Mike Yeo be the next coach to go? He may if the Wild don't get their game together.
AP Photo/Jim Mone

Randy Carlyle had to go, but pressure is now on Maple Leafs players

Now that Randy Carlyle's been sent packing, the next coach to go could be Minnesota's Mike Yeo. The Wild's struggles aren't all on him—there's nothing he can do about inconsistent goaltending and a down year for Ryan Suter) but after the Wild no-showed in a 7-1 loss in Dallas last week, they need to prove that they're willing to compete for him. 

The Canucks gave up a two-goal lead to Los Angeles, their only regulation loss when leading after two periods, on New Years Day, but they seem to have awakened from their December doldrums. And so has goalie Ryan Miller. Since Dec. 20, he has a .950 save percentage and 1.66 GAA, second only to Montreal’s Carey Price.

Now these are the Stars we all expected to see from the beginning of the season! With an 8-1-1 mark in their past 10, Dallas has worked its way back into the Western Conference playoff mix. The hole the Stars dug for themselves looks deep, but if they can cash in on their games in hand, they're right back in it. Kari Lehtonen's been great over this stretch, but Lindy Ruff has to carefully monitor his use. An exhausted keeper won't be any good to them down the stretch.

Could the Bruins really miss out on the playoffs? Are the Flames in or out? C’mon, Calgary, decide! 

The Middle 10
  • 11
    11Vancouver Canucks
    last week: 13
    record: 22-12-3
    MUIR: 11
    KWAK: 9
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 12
    12San Jose Sharks
    last week: 11
    record: 21-14-5
    MUIR: 12
    KWAK: 11
    Last week: 2-2-0

  • 13
    13Detroit Red Wings
    last week: 10
    record: 20-10-9
    MUIR: 15
    KWAK: 13
    Last week: 1-1-0

  • 14
    14Winnipeg Jets
    last week: 12
    record: 20-13-7
    MUIR: 16
    KWAK: 14
    Last week: 1-2-0

  • 15
    15Los Angeles Kings
    last week: 14
    record: 19-12-9
    MUIR: 17
    KWAK: 15
    Last week: 1-0-2

  • 16
    16Dallas Stars
    last week: 21
    record: 18-14-6
    MUIR: 13
    KWAK: 18
    Last week: 2-0-1

  • 17
    17Calgary Flames
    last week: 17
    record: 21-16-3
    MUIR: 19
    KWAK: 17
    Last week: 1-1-0

  • 18
    18Toronto Maple Leafs
    last week: 15
    record: 21-16-3
    MUIR: 22
    KWAK: 16
    Last week: 1-2-0

  • 19
    19Florida Panthers
    last week: 18
    record: 17-11-9
    MUIR: 18
    KWAK: 20
    Last week: 1-2-1

  • 20
    20Boston Bruins
    last week: 19
    record: 19-15-6
    MUIR: 20
    KWAK: 19
    Last week: 0-0-3

In the middle of last month, Coyotes coach Dave Tippett made a deft move, putting 5’-11” Sam Gagner, a natural center, on the wing of 6’-6” center Martin Hanzal. With Hanzal better equipped to handle the physical rigors of playing center under Tippett’s grind-it-out system, it’s been a boon to all parties involved, most notably Gagner. Since the move, the former sixth overall pick has four goals and 10 points in eight games, including a four-point performance in a 5-1 win over Edmonton, the team that traded him in June. 

Question to ponder: What will the next few months be like for the Devils, whose every hiccup is likely to be scripted ... by, you know, the team’s specialist in charge of hiccups?

The Bottom 10
  • 21
    21Columbus Blue Jackets
    last week: 20
    record: 17-17-3
    MUIR: 14
    KWAK: 23
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 22
    22Ottawa Senators
    last week: 23
    record: 16-15-7
    MUIR: 21
    KWAK: 22
    Last week: 1-1-0

  • 23
    23Minnesota Wild
    last week: 22
    record: 18-15-4
    MUIR: 25
    KWAK: 21
    Last week: 1-2-0

  • 24
    24Phoenix Coyotes
    last week: 28
    record: 15-19-4
    MUIR: 23
    KWAK: 26
    Last week: 1-1-0

  • 25
    25Colorado Avalanche
    last week: 25
    record: 15-16-8
    MUIR: 26
    KWAK: 25
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 26
    26Philadelphia Flyers
    last week: 24
    record: 14-18-7
    MUIR: 27
    KWAK: 24
    Last week: 0-2-1

  • 27
    27Buffalo Sabres
    last week: 26
    record: 14-23-3
    MUIR: 29
    KWAK: 27
    Last week: 0-3-0

  • 28
    28New Jersey Devils
    last week: 27
    record: 14-20-7
    MUIR: 28
    KWAK: 28
    Last week: 1-2-0

  • 29
    29Carolina Hurricanes
    last week: 29
    record: 12-23-4
    MUIR: 24
    KWAK: 29
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 30
    30Edmonton Oilers
    last week: 30
    record: 9-22-9
    MUIR: 30
    KWAK: 30
    Last week: 2-0-2

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