Records through Feb. 26
1) Chicago Blackhawks (16-0-3) - Off to the best start in NHL history qualifies Chicago for the coveted top spot in the inaugural power rankings of the season. The Blackhawks also lead the NHL with a ridiculous plus-24 goal differential and even backup goaltender Ray Emery (8-0-0) has played out of his mind while starter Corey Crawford has been out with an injury.
2) Boston Bruins (12-2-2) – It’s hard to argue that the B’s aren’t the Eastern Conference’s best team at the moment. They’ve won four in a row (all on the road) and are 8-1-1 away from TD Garden. Head coach Claude Julien couldn’t have dreamed of a better start for the Black and Gold.
3) Anaheim Ducks (13-3-1) – The surprise of the NHL so far has been the team formerly known as the Mighty Ducks. Unknown rookie goaltender Viktor Fasth (8-1-0) has propelled Anaheim while ageless wonder Teemu Selanne (5 goals, 11 assists) is still getting it done at 42.
4) Pittsburgh Penguins (13-7-0) – Few teams can match the Penguins’ top-end talent (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz and James Neal) but they also have two major issues: Malkin is out with a concussion and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (10-4, 2.27 GAA) was a puddle in last season’s playoffs.
5) Montreal Canadiens (12-4-3) – They actually lead the Eastern Conference in points but the Bruins get the nod over since Boston has played three less games. They don’t score a ton which is why they traded for former Bruins winger Michael Ryder, who previously played in Montreal as well. The good Carey Price (10-3-2, 1.90 GAA) has so far made an appearance this season for the Habs.
6) Ottawa Senators (12-6-2) – Nobody deserves the amount of major injuries suffered already by the Senators to their best players: defenseman Erik Karlsson (out for the season), center Jason Spezza (out indefinitely) and goaltender Craig Anderson (day-to-day). Ottawa might be put together with duct tape but they’re making the best of it thus far, they’ve won five games in a row.
7) Vancouver Canucks (10-5-4) –The team that everyone loves to hate is off to its usual solid start. For some reason, they haven’t traded lame-duck goaltender Roberto Luongo (5-1-3) and he’s actually performed better than the projected starter Cory Schneider (5-4-1) … awkward!
8) New Jersey Devils (10-5-4) – This is misleading since the Devils are freefalling a bit with goaltender Martin Brodeur placed on IR earlier this week. Their games are not easy to watch but they usually get the job done. They are the defending Eastern Conference champions for a reason.
9) Nashville Predators (9-5-4) – The Predators still can’t score goals but goaltender Pekka Rinne (8-5-4, 1.90 GAA, 3 shutouts) is one of the NHL’s best and they’ve built the team around him. BU product Colin Wilson (5 goals, 10 assists) seems to be on the verge of a breakout season, in his fourth year in the league.
10) St. Louis Blues (10-6-2) – After a great start, the team that most resembles the Bruins in the Western Conference have come back to Earth (4-4-2 in their last 10). There is plenty of reason to believe in their deep and talented roster and they look to be built for the long run.
11) Toronto Maple Leafs (12-8-0) – It’s hard to trust a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in nearly a decade (2003-04) and sports the longest Stanley Cup drought in the NHL (45 years). Still, the Leafs are playing decently despite shaky goaltending (as always). Former Bruins whipping boy Phil Kessel (4 goals, 12 assists) hasn’t been finding the net at his usual clip.
12) Dallas Stars (10-8-2) – The Ryder trade, which netted Erik Cole in return. was about building cap space for the future. The Stars also sent a third round draft pick to Montreal. That won’t sell more tickets in an awful market. It’s hard to see this group staying at this level.
13) San Jose Sharks (9-6-3) – For the first few weeks, the Sharks were right there with the Blackhawks. Then they went 2-6-2 and started to fold faster than they normally do. Joe Thornton (4 goals, 15 assists) is still one of the top passers in the NHL but no team is under more pressure to do something in the playoffs than them.
14) Detroit Red Wings (9-7-3) – These aren’t your father’s Red Wings that steamrolled over everyone. With Nicklas Lidstrom’s retirement, Detroit has suddenly taken a major step back in the West. Henrik Zetterberg (6 goals, 19 assists) and Pavel Datsyuk (8 goals, 14 assists) are still must-see TV.
15) Phoenix Coyotes (9-7-3) – Nobody really knows how or why this team is still stuck in the desert, the NHL’s worst decision now that Atlanta doesn’t have a team anymore, but they are not bad at all. The lack of a crowd doesn’t seem to affect them either considering they are 6-3-1 at home and 3-4-2 on the road.
16) Los Angles Kings (9-6-2) – The Stanley Cup champions have gotten off to a bumpy start but that shouldn’t be a shock since they snuck into the playoffs last spring as the No. 8 seed before their unforgettable run. They are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games and have won four straight so they appear to be getting things in order.
17) Minnesota Wild (9-7-2) – Zach Parise (8 goals, 5 assists), the biggest free agent splash of last summer, predictably hasn’t lived up to his absurd price tag while the front office hasn’t surrounded him with much talent. They have scored an NHL-low 39 goals so it’s hard to see them making the playoffs without trading for another sniper.
18) Tampa Bay Lightning (9-9-1) – On the other end of the spectrum, the Lightning can score with the best of them (NHL-high 70 goals) but they still lack a true No. 1 goaltender. Steven Stamkos (14 goals, 16 assists) is basically unstoppable and should be the odds-on favorite to be the NHL MVP (Hart Trophy) this season.
19) Winnipeg Jets (9-9-1) – You won’t find a more boring team than the Jets. They don’t have any stars and they don’t do anything particularly well. Perhaps that’s fitting for such a non-descript outpost. Bruins fans have to laugh at Blake Wheeler (6 goals, 10 assists) being one of their top scorers.
20) Philadelphia Flyers (9-11-1) – I can’t really say the Flyers deserve to be ranked even this high but take a look at the other awful teams below them. Philly is here by default. They are 4-8-0 on the road and still haven’t solved their goaltending issue of the past 10 years or so.