We’re over a month into this shortened version of the NHL season, and things are getting crazy on the ice throughout the league. Teams that are currently dwelling in the basement of their respective divisions are only a short winning streak from being back into the heart of the playoff discussion.
And yet, those same teams that are only a few wins away from being in the discussion are also quickly running out of time. For the first few weeks of the season, all fans have been trying to determine which teams are for real and which are riding hot streaks, possibly playing over their head.
Have we uncovered a few of the teams that will be playing hockey well into the summer? Absolutely. But, we’re not even close to figuring out exactly which 16 teams will make up the playoff brackets. That type of uncertainty, regardless of regular season length, is both uncommon and exhilarating. Nevertheless, there is still the same team on top of the rankings that has been there all season long…
**Note: Records/point totals final as of Tuesday afternoon**
1. Chicago Blackhawks (12-0-3, 27 pts)
Last week’s ranking: 1
This is getting absurd. Kane, Toews, Hossa and Sharp are playing at an elite level, and Corey Crawford is making a strong case for top goalie honors this year if he can, somehow, keep up his torrid pace. The Blackhawks entered Tuesday night with a chance to match the 2006-07 Ducks for longest stretch of consecutive games recording at least one point to start a season. Unreal.
2. Anaheim Ducks (12-2-1, 25 pts)
Last week’s ranking: 6
Did somebody mention the Ducks? Viktor Fasth is perfect in each game he’s started thus far this season, and the ageless Teemu Selanne continues to pace the high-flying Anaheim offense. There may not be a team more dominant in the NHL so far than Chicago, but the Blackhawks will have an absolute challenge later in the season if the Ducks stay hot.
3. Pittsburgh Penguins (11-5-0, 22 pts)
Last week’s ranking: 7
To steal a line from Dennis Green, the Penguins are who we thought they were. Sidney Crosby is truly on a different level of skill when he’s fully healthy like he is now, and James Neal is going above and beyond to prove that last year’s 40-goal season was no fluke. I mean, he’s on pace for 33 goals this year…in a 48-game season!
4. Boston Bruins (9-2-2, 20 pts)
Last week’s ranking: 2
The Bruins are one of only two teams in the league to play less than 14 games at this point in the season. Unlike the Kings, Boston is already up to 20 points, in large part to their ridiculous depth and strong play of Tuukka Rask. The Bruins strength all season long has been their chemistry that has carried over from year to year, and they’re going to be an incredibly tough out of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
5. New Jersey Devils (9-3-4, 22 pts)
Last week’s ranking: 3
Slowly but surely, Ilya Kovalchuk has begun to round into form. After a five-game pointless streak, Kovy has added 10 points in his last six games. His play will go a long way to stabilize the Devils offensive attack.
6. Montreal Canadiens (10-4-1, 21 pts)
Last week’s ranking: 20
We’re still not past the point in the season where teams can make huge leaps from week-to-week in the rankings. This week’s version, the Montreal Canadiens. When you win five games over the course of a week, however, that’ll usually shoot you up any rankings, regardless of season length or sport.
7. Toronto Maple Leafs (10-6-0, 20 pts)
Last week’s ranking: 5
Winners in six of their last seven games, the Leafs have found success with balance offensively throughout the entire line-up. Five players already have at least 1o points, with James van Riemsdyk and Matt Frattin combining to net 15 goals between the two of them.
8. Nashville Predators (7-4-5, 19 pts)
Last week’s ranking: 16
Look, their offense is going to be the reason why they fail to climb any higher in both these power rankings and the Western Conference standings. Nobody is scoring with any consistency, but Pekka Rinne has literally established himself as a stone wall between the pipes that allows the Predators to find points in losses. However, they can’t keep relying on that to stand true. It’s not a winning formula.
9. Vancouver Canucks (8-3-3, 19 pts)
Last week’s ranking: 4
Uh oh. The Sedin twins are heating up, and Roberto Luongo is looking more and more like the league-MVP caliber player he used to be. There may not be another President’s Trophy in Vancouver’s future, but they have their eyes set on a top seed come playoff time and finally prove to the doubters that they can handle the pressure of postseason hockey.
10. Phoenix Coyotes (8-6-2, 18 pts)
Last week’s ranking: 11
Five players with 10 or more points, six players with four or more goals. Should one of the Coyotes goalies get on a hot streak to join their controlling offense, they could go on an unstoppable streak straight to the top of the Western Conference standings.
11. St. Louis Blues (9-5-1, 19 pts)
Last week’s ranking: 15
The Blues are almost the exact opposite of the Nashville Predators in the terms of the only thing keeping them from having more than 19 points at this point in the season is healthy and consistent goaltending. They sport a ridiculous 10 players that have at least 10 points already this season after only 15 games, but Jaroslav Halak has had a hard time staying healthy, Brian Elliot has been completely ineffective when he’s been given the chance and youngster Jake Allen is up-and-down at times, despite three wins in his first three starts.
12. New York Rangers (8-5-1, 17 pts)
Last week’s ranking: 18
Things are starting to come together. As fun as it is to watch Rick Nash on any given night, the most impressive player on the Rangers thus far has to be Carl Hagelin. He is on pace for 21 goals in this shortened season, despite only racking up 14 in his rookie season last year. His speed and dynamic play alongside the powerful presence of Nash will help buoy the Rangers scoring a bit more.
13. Ottawa Senators (8-6-2, 18 pts)
Last week’s ranking: 9
Few players in the entire NHL are as important to their team as Erik Karlsson was to the Ottawa Senators. What direction the Senators go for the rest of the season will tell us a lot about this team’s character for the right now and the long-term future.
14. Carolina Hurricanes (8-5-1, 17 pts)
Last week’s ranking: 14
There may be no division in hockey right now that is worse than the Southeast. Somehow, regardless of how pedestrian the Hurricanes have looked at times this season, they currently hold down the third overall seed in the Eastern Conference thanks to their division lead. Eric Staal has begun to put peddle to the medal, while brother Jordan is finding his niche in his new home.
15. Minnesota Wild (7-6-2, 16 pts)
Last week’s ranking: 13
The Wild are still yet to find their stride early on this year. Of the players that have played 10+ games for Minnesota so far this year, only Pierre-Marc Bouchard has a +/- rating in the positive numbers. However, the Wild feel like one of the teams in the league that, despite early struggles, are keeping teams around them within reach and poised to break out as we approach the halfway point.
16. Dallas Stars (8-7-1, 17 pts)
Last week’s ranking: 19
The Stars seem to be stuck in neutral a little. Fans had to be hoping for a few more than four combined goals from Derek Roy and Brenden Morrow this far into the season. Jaromir Jagr continues to be a nice story with his team-leading 11 points, but no forward has yet to eclipse the four-goal mark so far this season.
17. Detroit Red Wings (7-6-2, 16 pts)
Last week’s ranking: 10
Again, it’s not that the Red Wings have been playing poorly enough to truly justify a seven-spot drop in the Power Rankings this week. However, with the league so topsy-turvy right now, .500 weeks or near-.500 weeks will drop teams a little further than in previous years. Still, the Red Wings will be fine come the summer and will be heard from in the playoffs in some form.
18. Edmonton Oilers (6-5-3, 15 pts)
Last week’s ranking: 12
Sam Gagner and Taylor Hall continue to create opportunities for open shots for their teammates, combining for 23 assists in the team’s first 14 games.
19. San Jose Sharks (7-4-3, 17 pts)
Last week’s ranking: 8
There has been no team in the league that has played two completely different seasons after only 14 games this year. After busting down the gates, winning their first seven games, the Sharks have immediately dropped their next seven. Luckily for them, their goaltending has been good enough to at least get them to overtime three times and pick up a few points along the way. But, it is impossible to tell what type of team they’ll be the rest of the season until the right the ship even slightly.
20. Tampa Bay Lightning (7-6-1, 15 pts)
Last week’s ranking: 17
After dropping six in a row, the Lightning have bounced back slightly by winning their last two games and remaining within reaching distance of the division-leading Hurricanes. I still believe their offense is plenty strong enough alone to capture Carolina and re-take the division lead, but they can’t afford losing streaks like their last one again this year.
21. Philadelphia Flyers (7-9-1, 15 pts)
Last week’s ranking: 24
I feel like I’m waiting for something to happen with Philadelphia. They haven’t won more than two games in a row all year, and have lost as many as three in a row two separate times this year. Were we just wrong in thinking that the Flyers would continue to play at a high level without the likes of Chris Pronger and JvR?
22. Buffalo Sabres (6-9-1, 13 pts)
Last week’s ranking: 21
Their offense has been so lethal throughout the season, but the continue to lose close games due to poor goaltending. In Ryan Miller’s defense, the Sabres recent skid where they’ve dropped four of their last five is not entirely his fault. In three of those games, the Sabres combined to score only two goals. That still doesn’t help explain some of Miller’s early season struggles, though.
23. Los Angeles Kings (5-6-2, 12 pts)
Last week’s ranking: 23
Maybe their Stanley Cup hangover won’t wear off as quickly as I may have thought. Their brief two-game win streak was snapped by the unstoppable Blackhawks over the weekend, but their offense still needs to find more consistency if they even want to have the chance to defend their crown in the summer time.
24. Colorado Avalanche (6-7-1, 13 pts)
Last week’s ranking: 27
Colorado busted out of their cold scoring in a big way last week, tallying 14 goals in their last three games, winning two of them. They’ll need the scoring to continue if they have plans of moving up the rankings any time soon, however.
25. Calgary Flames (5-6-3, 13 pts)
Last week’s ranking: 28
The best news for Calgary last week was that Mike Cammalleri has re-discovered his scoring touch. Once a major off-season acquisition, the Flames will be counting on an increased emphasis offensively from the former Montreal Canadien.
26. New York Islanders (6-8-1, 13 pts)
Last week’s ranking: 25
John Tavares is an absolutely incredible hockey player, there’s no other way of saying it. However, it’s equally impressive that with his 20 points thus far this season, he’s still a -6 because of poor defensive player/goaltending from the Islanders.
27. Florida Panthers (4-7-4, 12 pts)
Last week’s ranking: 29
The Panthers sport the league’s worst goal differential at -21. That’s six goals worse than the next team above them, the Columbus Blue Jackets. Can a brother get a goalie?
28. Washington Capitals (5-9-1, 11 pts)
Last week’s ranking: 30
It’s not all about Ovie not producing at his normal level. Washington goalies are equally to blame for their poor start. Neither goalie that has appeared in games for Washington this year have a save percentage better than .890.
29. Winnipeg Jets (5-8-1, 11 pts)
Last week’s ranking: 22
The good news is that by releasing Calvin Pace and Bart Scott, the Jets are on their way to getting back under the salary cap. Hold on, I’m being told that’s clearly the wrong sport and that this is a horrible joke…
30. Columbus Blue Jackets (4-10-2, 10 pts)
Last week’s ranking: 26
The things Jack Johnson would do to be back on the L.A. Kings right now…