NHL Power Rankings: Blackhawks, Blues, Ducks, Avalanche, Sharks lead the way
Records through Nov. 25
1) Chicago Blackhawks (16-4-4; last week-1) – No changes at the top as the Blackhawks have firmly settled into a groove. They are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games and have scored an NHL-best 87 goals in just 24 games (a nice rate for this era of low goal totals). Goaltender Corey Crawford leads the NHL with 15 wins but his other numbers are much less impressive: .908 save percentage and 2.50 goals against average.
2) St. Louis Blues (16-3-3; last week-2) – There is so much to like about the Blues, starting with their league-leading goal-differential (plus-27). They are 10-1-2 at Scottrade Center and 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. They won’t get much rest over Thanksgiving with three very tough road games: Colorado (Wednesday), San Jose (Friday) and Los Angeles (Monday).
3) Anaheim Ducks (17-6-3; last week-6) – The Ducks have weathered a season’s worth of injuries to goaltenders in a mere 26 games. The good news for them is that they have the deepest roster of goaltenders both in Anaheim and in the AHL. Viktor Fasth goes down and they can call up Frederik Andersen. Keep this in mind around the trade deadline when many contenders are looking for better goaltending.
4) Colorado Avalanche (17-5-0; last week-4) – After falling back a bit, the Avalanche have righted the ship, so to speak, with wins in their last three games. We are a little over a quarter way through the season but head coach Patrick Roy feels like a lock for Coach of the Year (Jack Adams award). Goaltender Semyon Varlamov was charged with third degree assault and his next court date is next week, so who knows about his status the rest of the season.
5) San Jose Sharks (15-3-5; last week-8) – You can count on another stellar regular season for the Sharks, the question as always: will it translate into postseason success? They have the second best goal-differential (plus-27) in the NHL. Their four games in the next week are all very challenging: home vs. Kings, Blues and Ducks, then at Maple Leafs.
6) Boston Bruins (15-6-2; last week 7) – A bit under the radar, the Bruins are starting to play like the team that most thought was one of the two main contenders in the East (Pittsburgh being the other). It is a big week for them as they are in Detroit on Wednesday, then host the Rangers on Friday and Blue Jackets on Saturday. It’s hard to explain how captain Zdeno Chara (minus-2) is the only regular with a negative plus/minus.
7) Minnesota Wild (15-5-4; last week-9) – This is where things start to get dicey. Yes, the Wild have played great, but their goaltending situation is a bit of a mess as Josh Harding got hurt in warm-ups on Saturday, forcing Nicklas Backstrom back into action sooner than they probably preferred. Minnesota is 8-1-1 in its last 10 games and 10-1-2 at Xcel Energy Center.
8) Los Angeles Kings (15-6-3; last week-5) – The Kings have had some bad luck lately, losing their last two games in overtime. They are still 6-1-3 in their last 10 games. At Vancouver Monday, then at San Jose on Wednesday should tell us more on whether Ben Scrivens is truly a viable starter (while Jonathan Quick is out) or if he just caught lightning in a bottle for a few starts.
9) Phoenix Coyotes (14-5-4; last week-3) – We knew this would happen. We build the Coyotes up and then they start to show cracks. Their goal-differential is down to plus-4, which is not a good sign. It will be very tough for them to finish in front of the California trio in the Pacific Division: Anaheim, San Jose and Los Angeles.
10) Pittsburgh Penguins (15-9-0; last week-10) – Superstar forward Evgeni Malkin was named the NHL’s first star of the week Monday. The Penguins won three of four games last week as he piled up one goal and seven assists. He’s tied for first in the NHL with 22 assists and is seventh in points (26).
11) Toronto Maple Leafs (14-8-1; last week-11) – There is a canyon between the first 10 in these power rankings and the next 10. The Leafs are 9-3-1 at Air Canada Centre but just 5-5-1 on the road. To be a true contender, they have to win at a higher clip away from Rob Ford’s neighborhood.
12) Tampa Bay Lightning (14-8-1; last week-12) – The Maple Leafs, Lightning and Red Wings all have 29 points; Toronto and Tampa Bay have two games in hand on Detroit. The Lightning are 8-2-1 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum (are there any other arenas left in the U.S. named after newspapers?). They have what should be three very competitive games at home this week: Rangers Monday, Flyers on Wednesday and Penguins on Friday.
12) Detroit Red Wings (11-7-7; last week-17) – Seregi Federov and Steve Yzerman aren’t skating through that door but you can be sure the Red Wings will bounce back from this so-so start to 2013-14. Pavel Datsyuk having a concussion doesn’t help matters but unlike most teams, his loss isn’t fatal, assuming he returns soon. They are 4-4-6 at Joe Louis Arena and 0-4 in shootouts. Gee, do you think that will change?
13) Montreal Canadiens (13-9-2; last week-15) – Another Eastern Conference team that is coming out of their malaise is the Habs. They have allowed the second fewest goals in the East (51) and they have the third best goal-differential (plus-13). Their early Thanksgiving treat is a road game in Buffalo on Wednesday.
14) Vancouver Canucks (12-9-4; last week-16) – The Canucks are the only team in the NHL with an even goal-differential and they are similarly mediocre at Rogers Arena (5-5-2). For that strange reason, they should be happy they host the Kings on Monday before hitting the road for four games that will take them into December. None of those are too imposing either: at Senators, Rangers, Hurricanes and Predators.
15) Washington Capitals (12-10-2; last week-13) – Four of their next five games are at the Verizon Center where they are 8-5-0 this season. They have to be sweating a bit now that the Rangers, Devils and Flyers all seem to have gotten their acts straight. The fact that they only have two more regulation wins (seven) than shootout wins is hard to fathom.
16) New York Rangers (12-11-0; last week-19) – The return of Rick Nash – their most talented forward – should only add to an offense with the second fewest goals (48) in the Eastern Conference. They should be happy that backup goaltender Cam Talbot (5-1-0, .941 save percentage, 1.32 goals against average, two shutouts) appears to be Henrik Lundqvist’s best understudy in years. That will result in a fresher Lundqvist down the stretch.
17) Dallas Stars (11-9-2; last week-14) – We bought into Dallas’ flavor of the week status, knowing full well that they weren’t really that good. Their negative goal-differential (minus-4) illustrates what they’ll be fighting all season. They can put the puck in the net but they are just as likely to be fishing it out of their own.
18) New Jersey Devils (9-9-1; last week-not ranked) – A stick salute to Jaromir Jagr: at 41, he appeared to be on his last NHL legs with the Bruins last postseason but he’s returned as a man on a mission. He has nine goals and nine assists including three game-winners. He also set the NHL record for most game-winners all-time. He is a throwback to a more wide-open era, so you have to enjoy Jagr while he is still kicking around.
19) Nashville Predators (11-10-2; last week-20) – Their goal-differential (minus-15) and location (Central) in the NHL’s best division, tells you that they are not very good. This might be true but they are still over .500 and all 11 wins have come in regulation. With Pekka Rinne out indefinitely, they have struggled to find a new starter, but Marek Mazanec has won three of his last four starts (allowing two goals or less in each) including a shutout in Detroit.
20) Philadelphia Flyers (10-10-2; last week-not ranked) – It was easy to point and laugh at Philly’s horrific start but you have to give them credit for bouncing back so quickly. Like the Red Wings, this team has way too much talent to be so middling. Claude Giroux (three goals, 12 assists) has even started scoring goals, so anything is possible.
Follow Metro Boston Bruins beat writer Richard Slate on Twitter: @RichSlate