NHL Power Rankings: Capitals reign as Canadiens’ plunge continues

A stunning slump has sent the once top-ranked Canadiens to 24th in SI.com's NHL Power Rankings.
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Don’t blame Mike Condon and Dustin Tokarski for the stunning slump the Montreal Canadiens find themselves in. Not that either goaltender has been particularly sharp during the past few weeks, but even a healthy Carey Price might not have been able to save a team that has forgotten how to score goals.

The Habs have outshot their opponents in nine of their past 11 games, a rate that would suggest they’ve hit a massive streak of bad luck. But the truth is hidden in that impressive stat. Too many of the shots they’re taking are either from low-percentage areas or being buried harmlessly in the guts of grateful netminders. Max Pacioretty has just two goals over that stretch despite launching an astonishing 41 shots. P.K. Subban has none. Tomas Plekanec, none. David Desharnais, none.

Tough to win games when you’re not lighting the lamp. Even when they have an MVP between the pipes.

Biggest jump: Florida Panthers (16 to 6)

Biggest drop: Montreal Canadiens (10 to 24)

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1. Washington Capitals

PREVIOUS: 1

RECORD: 25-6-2

Just call 'em the Cardiac Caps. In each of their past two wins, they fell behind early, 3–1 to the Rangers and 3–0 to the Lightning—but kept their cool and battled their way back. That ability to handle adversity is a trait that’s bound to pay dividends come playoff time. Last week: 4-0-0

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2. Dallas Stars

PREVIOUS: 4

RECORD: 25-7-2

The Stars were one of the NHL’s worst home teams in 2014-15, topping only the Sabres, Coyotes and Oilers. This season they’ve turned the AAC into a house of horrors for visitors, winning 13 of 17 for a Western Conference-leading .765 points percentage. Last week: 3-1-0

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3. Boston Bruins

PREVIOUS: 9

RECORD: 19-9-4

Amazing what a renewed focus on defense can do for a team. The B’s have battened down the hatches over their past seven games, allowing a total of nine goals. Goaltenders Tuukka Rask and Jonas Gustavsson deserve their share of the credit, but so does Dennis Seidenberg. The veteran defenseman is finally rounding into shape after missing the start of the season, and his steadiness has been a factor. Last week: 3-0-0

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4. Chicago Blackhawks

PREVIOUS: 5

RECORD: 20-11-4

Patrick Kane’s 26-game point streak came to an end but the Blackhawks continue to roll, winning three in a row and seven of their past nine to move into second place in the Central Division. Not sure that their Rob Scuderi-Michal Rozsival D pairing is going to last, though. Have to think GM Stan Bowman will look to upgrade that duo once the trade freeze ends. Last week: 3-1-0

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5. Los Angeles Kings

PREVIOUS: 3

RECORD: 20-10-2

You could probably write off that 5–0 loss to the Maple Leafs, arguably their worst of the season, if it wasn't the third defeat in four games for the Kings. An ugly performance by the first line (a combined -12) might lead to some juggling by Darryl Sutter. Last week: 1-1-0

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6. Florida Panthers

PREVIOUS: 16

RECORD: 18-12-4

Yeah, those are the Florida Panthers lurking just three points back of first place in the Atlantic Division. The Cats have won 10 of their past 13 games, and while they haven’t always been pretty (Sunday’s 5–4 OT win over Vancouver is Exhibit A), they’re getting the job done. The defense has been exceptional, holding the opposition to a single goal or less in eight of those 13 games. Last week: 4-0-0

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7. Detroit Red Wings

PREVIOUS: 8

RECORD: 17-9-7

With Detroit’s power play currently ranked 24th at 17.1%, Jeff Blashill turned to coaching consultant Adam Oates for some insight last week. That’s not something every rookie coach would have the courage to do, especially so early in the season, but it’s a move that speaks volumes about Blashill’s approach to the position. He continues to impress. Last week: 1-0-1

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8. Colorado Avalanche

PREVIOUS: 12

RECORD: 17-17-1

Their five-game winning streak came to an end on Monday night, but this team learned a lot about itself, and what it is capable of, during that stretch. The Avs are getting contributions from all four forward lines, and some terrific play from Semyon Varlamov. The netminder earned First Star of the Week honors after going 3-0 with a 0.67 goals-against average and .981 save percentage. Last week: 3-1-0

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9. Minnesota Wild

PREVIOUS: 7

RECORD: 17-9-6

For all that this team has accomplished over the past three weeks (a 6-2-3 run that’s kept in in the thick of the Central  race), it's impossible to ignore the pair of gut-punch losses to Dallas that have bookended this stretch. The Wild blew early leads in both games. Where’s the killer instinct? Last week: 2-2-0

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10. St. Louis Blues

PREVIOUS: 17

RECORD: 20-11-4

Three consecutive wins had the Blues feeling good about themselves ... until the Monday night meltdown that saw them blow a 3–0 lead in a game they eventually lost 4–3 to the Flyers. At 5-5-1 for December, St. Louis feels like a team that’s treading water. Last week: 3-1-0

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11. New York Islanders

PREVIOUS: 2

RECORD: 19-11-5

The offense that produced just two goals in three consecutive losses finally came to life on Monday night in a 5–2 win over the Ducks. John Tavares led the way with two assists, his first in 12 games. At least the PK has been consistent. The Isles haven’t allowed a shorthanded goal in 13 games, a new club record. Last week: 1-3-0

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12. Tampa Bay Lightning

PREVIOUS: 15

Steven Stamkos finally ended his 10-game goal drought—the longest of his career—with a goal against the Caps on Friday night and followed that up with a pair against the Senators. The bigger news, though, was his pronouncement that he wants to remain with the Lightning. Last week: 2-1-0

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13. Edmonton Oilers

PREVIOUS: 6

RECORD: 15-18-2

Alright, so maybe this team isn’t quite yet ready for prime time. Nice to see Cam Talbot rounding into form, though. The summer's big free-agent acquisition has a .947 save percentage in his past three starts after making 44 stops in Monday’s 3–1 win over the Jets. Last week: 1-3-0

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14. Calgary Flames

PREVIOUS: 13

RECORD: 15-16-2

Sure, they’ve dropped two in a row, but for a team that was last in the West just three weeks ago, the Flames have to be pretty happy with where they're sitting. They’ll look to set a new record for consecutive home wins this week. Last week: 2-2-0

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15. Philadelphia Flyers

PREVIOUS: 22

RECORD: 15-12-7

Tough call ahead for Ron Hextall. The GM has to clear cap space for the return of veteran Mark Streit, and that could mean the demotion of Shayne Gostisbehere, the player who is arguably the most responsible for the Flyers’ recent strong play. With Philly lurking just two points out of a playoff spot, that would be a tough decision to stomach. Last week: 3-0-1

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16. Nashville Predators

PREVIOUS: 20

RECORD: 17-11-6

A nice return to defensive form last week for the Preds, who limited their opponents to six total goals in regulation. Pekka Rinne, who was struggling earlier in the month, has allowed two goals or fewer in four consecutive starts. Last week: 2-1-1

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17. Ottawa Senators

PREVIOUS: 11

RECORD: 17-12-5

Andrew Hammond made his first starts in a month, but he was far removed from his Hamburglar form. He dropped both his starts last week, allowing five goals on just 58 shots to the Capitals and Lightning (.914 save percentage). Looks like the No. 1 job is safely in the hands of Craig Anderson for now. Last week: 1-2-0

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18. New Jersey Devils

PREVIOUS: 14

RECORD: 16-13-5

The Devils have dropped four of their past five (1-3-1) thanks largely to an offense that’s gone dry. New Jersey has scored a total of five goals during the slump, well below its already miserable 2.26 goals per game average. Part of the problem: settling too often for shots from easy areas. Last week: 1-2-1

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19. Carolina Hurricanes

PREVIOUS: 19

RECORD: 13-16-5

The D has been picking up the pace, and so has the power play. Carolina has clicked with the extra man in seven of its past nine games and on 10 of its past 30 chances, a sizzling 33.3% success rate. Now if the Canes can just make things happen at five-on-five... Last week: 1-2-1

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20. Buffalo Sabres

PREVIOUS: 23

RECORD: 14-16-4

Chad Johnson might not be Mr. Right for the Sabres between the pipes, but he’s doing just fine as Mr. Right Now. The long-time backup is 2-0-1 in his last three starts, stopping 102 of 105 shots, including a 44-save whitewashing of the Ducks. Last week: 1-1-1

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21. Toronto Maple Leafs

PREVIOUS: 24

RECORD: 12-13-7

Christmas came early for Leafs fans. Wins over the Kings and Avs have the team on a season-high six-game point streak, and the nine points Toronto has banked have boosted the Leafs out of the Eastern Conference cellar. And the first two wins of the season for Jonathan Bernier? It’s a holiday miracle! Last week: 2-0-2

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22. New York Rangers

PREVIOUS: 21

RECORD: 19-12-4

Is this, finally, rock bottom? Hard to believe the Rangers have much further to fall after giving up seven goals to the Caps on Sunday, but considering that marked the fifth time in their past six games that they’ve allowed at least five, there’s no telling. Pressure’s on coach Alain Vigneault to rebuild this team’s shattered confidence. Last week: 1-3-0

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23. Pittsburgh Penguins

PREVIOUS: 18

RECORD: 16-14-3

The Pens finally snapped a five-game losing streak with Monday’s win over the Blue Jackets, and they did it without Sidney Crosby in the lineup. Consider it a baby step for a team that has’t yet figured out what it wants to be under new coach Mike Sullivan. Last week: 1-3-0

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24. Montreal Canadiens

PREVIOUS: 10

RECORD: 20-12-3

With just one win in their past nine, the Habs are in total disarray. The offense that averaged 3.48 goals per game through November is cranking out just 1.6 so far in December. Meanwhile, the defense has sprung a leak, allowing 3.1 goals per game after averaging just 2.2 through the first two months of the season. Time to cue up Tom Petty’s “Freefalling.” Last week: 0-4-0

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25. Anaheim Ducks

PREVIOUS: 25

RECORD: 12-15-5

You watch the way this team gives up goals—twice in the last minute of the first period in a tie game against the Isles on Monday night, for instance—and it’s obvious the Ducks are a team in need of a character transplant. Only way that happens at midseason is a massive trade or a coaching change. Since cap issues won’t allow the first, you can bet the second is on the way. Last week: 1-2-0

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26. Winnipeg Jets

PREVIOUS: 26

RECORD: 15-16-2

Here we are approaching the Christmas break and the Jets still have yet to string more than two consecutive wins together. At some point, maybe coach Paul Maurice might want to point out that leading the league in minor penalties for the second season in a row is not a formula for success. Last week: 1-2-0

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27. San Jose Sharks

PREVIOUS: 27

RECORD: 16-15-2

The Sharks remain maddeningly inconsistent, but at least they can blame their recent woes on a flu bug that’s tormenting the roster. At least, you have to hope that’s the reason they’ve coughed up at least four goals in six of their past eight games. Last week: 2-1-1

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28. Vancouver Canucks

PREVIOUS: 29

RECORD: 12-14-9

Tough to get excited about this season—rebuild, retool, whatever you want to call it—but it’s pretty easy to get worked up about the play of young Jared McCann. The rookie center stepped onto the top line last week in place of an injured Henrik Sedin and showed flashes of the top-six forward he could become. Last week: 1-2-1

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29. Columbus Blue Jackets

PREVIOUS: 30

RECORD: 13-20-3

The rocky relationship between the Jackets and Ryan Johansen took a significant turn when coach John Tortorella benched the team’s franchise center for Thursday’s game against Arizona. With the season already lost, this will be the most compelling storyline of the second half for this team. Last week: 2-2-0

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30. arizona Coyotes

PREVIOUS: 28

RECORD: 15-15-2

With Mike Smith out for an extended period, the 'Yotes will get a good look at rookie Louis Domingue between the pipes. He looked up to the challenge with a 23-save shutout of the Isles on Saturday, but with Arizona’s offense struggling (2.01 goals per game, 29th in the league), he doesn’t have a lot of margin for error. Last week: 1-1-0