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NHL Power Rankings: Upstart Panthers pounce on top spot

The surprising Florida Panthers, riding a franchise record nine-game win streak, have taken the top spot in's NHL Power Rankings for the first time this season.

The Florida Panthers might not be the best team in hockey, but there’s no denying they’re the best team right now. Powered by their top-ranked defense, which is allowing a miserly 2.15 goals per game, the Cats have won nine straight to take over the top spot in the Atlantic Division. And they’ve gone on this tear while Nick Bjugstad, their leading goal scorer the past two seasons, has been sidelined by migraines. Now that he's back, their offense, which has been pedestrian to this point, could become a difference maker. Both Bjugstad and the Panthers will be put to the test over the next two weeks as they play their next six games on the road. Can they keep the streak going? At this point, it would be crazy to bet against them.

Biggest jump: Pittsburgh Penguins (24 to 8)

Biggest drop: Boston Bruins (10 to 19), Carolina Hurricanes (13 to 22)

Our Atlantic and Metro All-Star picks | Central and Pacific

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1. Florida Panthers


RECORD: 23-12-4

Let’s see ... contract extensions for general manager Dale Tallon and coach Gerard Gallant ...  new franchise records for consecutive wins overall (nine) and at home (six) ... grabbing first place in the Atlantic Division. A pretty nice week for the new leaders of our Power Rankings pack. They started the season just 8-9-4 but have gone on a 15-3-0 streak since Thanksgiving. And those rumored new sweaters are pretty sweet, too. Last week: 3-0-0

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2. Washington Capitals


RECORD: 28-7-3

The Caps had their nine-game winning streak snapped in Carolina, then were knocked off in a shootout in Columbus, giving them back-to-back losses for first time this season. Have to think coach Barry Trotz will get a quick handle on the defensive lapses that led to both. It'll help to have blueliner John Carlson (lower body) back soon. Last week: 1-1-1

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3. Los Angeles Kings


RECORD: 25-12-2

Their five-game winning streak ended on Monday night, temporarily slowing their ascent to the top of the Western Conference. With Dallas sliding the Kings have managed to close the gap to eight points, with two games in hand. Tyler Toffoli's done a nice job covering for the absence of Jeff Carter (upper body), scoring seven goals in his past seven games. Last week: 3-1-0

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4. Dallas Stars


RECORD: 28-9-4

They continued to show cracks in their defensive play, and that’s making them an easy mark away from the AAC. Dallas is now 1-3-3 in its past seven road games and really seems to have lost the edge that was evident when it took the show on the road earlier in the season. Last week: 1-2-1

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5. Chicago Blackhawks


RECORD: 23-13-4

The Hawks still aren’t much to look at on the road—just 8-8-3 after a couple of challenging games in Arizona and Colorado—but they’re a solid 15-5-1 at home after shutting out the Senators on Sunday. GM Stan Bowman made a couple minor moves last week. Think there might be more tinkering ahead? Last week: 3-0-0

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6. Colorado Avalanche


RECORD: 19-18-3

The Avs have shown a knack for getting on the board early, scoring the first goal in 11 straight games before getting blanked by the Flames on Saturday. Would have been serendipitous if Jarome Iginla had managed to notch career goal 600 in that one, but it came two nights later in a big 4–1 win over the Kings. Last week: 1-1-1

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7. Minnesota Wild


RECORD: 20-11-7

They continue to rank among the top defenses in the league, allowing just 2.34 goals per game. Good thing, considering how cold their offense has gone. Minnesota has tallied just 17 goals in its past eight games. The Wild could use a little something from Zach Parise, who has just one goal during that stretch. Last week: 1-1-1

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8. Pittsburgh Penguins


RECORD: 19-15-4

The big guns are back. Sidney Crosby scored a pair of power-play goals, Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin posted three assists and Marc-André Fleury made 38 saves in his return from IR as the Pens knocked off the Islanders on Saturday, 5–2. Malkin and Crosby have 10 points each in their past seven games. Letang has eight in his past four, and the Pens are 4-1-1 in their past six. Look out. Last week: 2-0-1

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9. New York Islanders


RECORD: 22-13-5

It’s been years since the Isles have had a backup goalie who could step up and steal games, but that’s exactly what Thomas Greiss is doing this season. He's looked like Grant Fuhr of late, bending to the tune of 13 goals allowed in his past four starts while gutting out three wins in the process. His task will be tougher, though, without the help of first pair D Johnny Boychuk for the next four to six weeks (upper body). Last week: 3-1-0

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10. St. Louis Blues


RECORD: 23-14-5

Why do I keep getting sucked in by this team? These Blues are built to do one thing: crush hope. Unless the puck winds up on the stick of Vladimir Tarasenko, they can’t seem to score at five-on-five. They’re struggling mightily with their gaps, which has hurt their transition game and their defensive coverage. At this point, they’re just looking for new ways to lose. Last week: 1-2-1

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11. Detroit Red Wings


RECORD: 20-13-7

With two wins in their past nine games, the Wings were skidding hard into the ditch before goalie Petr Mrazek got them back on the road with a pair of solid performances against Buffalo and New Jersey. It’s clear coach Jeff Blashill has faith in the 23-year-old. Nice to see him deliver when the team needed it most. Last week: 2-2-0

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12. Tampa Bay Lightning


RECORD: 19-16-4

This should have been a note about a nice week for rookie goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who made 57 stops in an AHL start, became a father and then beat the Wild in a shootout on Saturday night. Instead, the focus is on the trade demand laid out on Sunday by the agent of Jonathan Drouin on top of the lingering Steven Stamkos situation. This organization is at a crossroads. It’ll be fascinating to see how GM Steve Yzerman handles it. Last week: 1-1-1

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13. Calgary Flames


RECORD: 18-18-2

Johnny Gaudreau's getting it done. The NHL’s First Star of December posted a league-high 12 goals for the month. Be nice if he had a little help, though. No other Flame had more than five during that stretch. Last week: 1-2-0

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14. Nashville Predators


RECORD: 19-13-7

The only thing consistent about the Preds these days is their inconsistency. They’ve managed to string together consecutive wins once since Nov. 20, and that “hot streak” ended at two games. With core members of this team aging out, the onus is on GM David Poile to upgrade. As presently constructed, they are just not good enough. Last week: 1-1-1

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15. Anaheim Ducks


RECORD: 16-15-7

With points in six straight (4-0-2), the Ducks are—shockingly--in playoff position. Gotta love that Pacific Division. They play their next seven at the Honda Center, where they’ve gone 10-5-4 this season. It's beyond obvious that they need to do some damage during this homestand. John Gibson could be the key—he's allowed a total of one goal in his past three starts. Last week: 3-0-1

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16. New Jersey Devils


RECORD: 20-15-5

For the Devils, three is the key. New Jersey is 18-1-1 on the season when scoring three or more goals—as the Devils did three times last week. If they’re held to fewer than three, the results are less pleasant: 2-14-4, including Monday’s hard-luck 1–0 loss to the Red Wings. Last week: 3-1-0

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17. Montreal Canadiens


RECORD: 22-15-3

Yeah, it’s a big jump in the rankings this week, but the return of Brendan Gallagher makes this team that much better. His presence along the boards and in front of the net changes the complexion of Montreal's attack, and makes his linemate Max Pacioretty a more effective player. With three of their next four at home, the Habs have a chance to get this thing quickly back on track. Last week: 1-1-0

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18. arizona Coyotes


RECORD: 19-16-4

The Coyotes are 5-1-2 in their past eight games, including a big win over divisional rival Vancouver on Monday night that vaulted them into second spot in the Pacific. Louis Domingue is building a decent case to hold on to the No. 1 job when Mike Smith returns. The rookie is 4-2-2 with a solid .926 save percentage since stepping in for the injured veteran. Last week: 2-2-0

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19. Boston Bruins


RECORD: 20-13-4

Is this where the season turns for the Bruins? They’ve lost four of their past five games, including that embarrassment against Montreal in the Winter Classic. They’ll play Washington on Tuesday at TD Garden, then head out for a five-game road trip. It's easy to see things quickly going south, especially if their depth players continue to get lit up. Last week: 0-3-0

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20. Toronto Maple Leafs


RECORD: 15-15-7

Looks like coach Mike Babcock’s faith in Nazem Kadri is being rewarded. After struggling to put up points in the early going, Kadri has nine points in his past eight games, including a goal on Saturday night in impressive 4–1 victory over the Blues. Nice to see a couple of solid performances by goalie Jonathan Bernier, especially that bounceback win against the Pens on Wednesday. Last week: 1-1-0

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21. Ottawa Senators


RECORD: 19-15-6

The Sens were in a 4-8-1 slide before Monday's desperately needed 3–2 OT win over the Blues. The penalty kill is killing them. They've allowed six goals while down a man in their past four games alone, dropping them to 29th in the NHL rankings in that category. Last week: 1-3-0

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22. Carolina Hurricanes


RECORD: 16-17-7

Coach Bill Peters says it's only a matter of time before the bounces start to go his team's way, but this team needs to start creating some of its own luck. The Canes have scored more than two goals just twice in their past nine games, dragging their season average down to 2.3 per game, 27th in the league. If not for some excellent goaltending (Cam Ward and Eddie Lack have combined to allow 12 regulation goals over that stretch), they'd be buried by now. Last week: 1-3-0

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23. New York Rangers


RECORD: 21-14-4

The Rangers reportedly are hot ’n heavy for Jonathan Drouin, which tells you just how desperate this team is for some kind of spark. They might be better served by shaking up a defense that has allowed 30 goals in New York’s past seven games (4.29 per). Last week: 1-1-0

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24. Edmonton Oilers


RECORD: 17-21-3

A couple of huge wins at the end of the week kept the Oilers within striking distance of the playoffs. Cam Talbot seems to be rounding into form, allowing just four goals in his past three starts (a .959 save percentage). Last week: 2-2-0 

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25. Vancouver Canucks


RECORD: 15-16-9

The Canucks will think twice before loaning another player out for the World Junior Championship. Instead of gaining valuable experience on a medal contender, Jake Virtanen was one of the goats of Team Canada’s worst performance there in 18 years. His lack of discipline in key moments has to be a real concern for Vancouver's brass. Last week: 1-1-0

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26. Columbus Blue Jackets


RECORD: 15-22-3

Go figure. The Jackets end an ugly three-game skid by beating Dallas, the top team in the West, and then follow that up by knocking off Washington, the top team in East. Anton Forsberg, who got the win in relief against the Caps, could see plenty of work over the next few games due to injuries to Sergei Bobrovsky and Curtis McElhinney. Last week: 2-0-0

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27. Winnipeg Jets


RECORD: 18-19-2

Shocking to see the Jets come up with that 4–1 win in San Jose on Saturday night. Prior to that they’d dropped six straight, and 12 of 13, on the road. They quickly reverted to form, though, losing in Anaheim on Sunday. Last week: 2-2-0

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28. San Jose Sharks


RECORD: 18-17-2

The Sharks are living—and dying—with their special teams. Four of their past five goals have come with the extra man, but six of the past 12 they've allowed have come on the penalty kill. Last week: 1-1-0

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29. Philadelphia Flyers


RECORD: 15-15-7

Foiled again by their 29th-ranked offense, the Flyers failed to pull a single point out of their three-game swing through the Golden State. Philly has managed to score only three goals just twice in their past eight contests, putting too much pressure on goalies Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth to be the first star every night. On the bright side, 2015 pick Ivan Provorov was a stud on the backline at the World Juniors. His time is coming. Last week: 0-2-0

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30. Buffalo Sabres


RECORD: 15-20-4

Four straight losses have the Sabres facing the ugly proposition of a third consecutive 30th-place finish, but at least last year's draft prize is starting to pay dividends. Jack Eichel scored twice in Saturday's 4–3 loss to Detroit, giving him 11 points over his last seven games, which matches his total from his previous 24 outings. Last week: 0-3-0