As we approach the Christmas holiday roster freeze in the next few days, it looks like “what you see is what you get” with the power rankings. The top eight or nine teams appear to be pretty constant from week to week with a hot team or two always threatening to break into the top 10.
Much stays the same with our latest installment: The West is good, the East not as much. Nearly every week it seems some combination of the Ducks, Blackhawks, Sharks, Avalanche or Blues are the top three teams in hockey, which means it’s going to be a heck of a battle between those three clubs for the rest of the season for that top seed. What might put one team over the top in the second half of the year is the deals that its GM makes before the trade deadline. But that’s a long way off with the Christmas halt to player transactions coming by the end of this week.
Clearly it’s still early in the power-rankings season and time will tell with a lot of these teams, but here are the rankings:
30. Buffalo Sabres (7-23-3, last week: 30) – The Sabres are the first NHL team to cross over into a minus-40 goal differential this season. Take a bow, Buff boys.
29. New York Islanders (9-19-6, last week: 29) – One win in their last 13 games has the Islanders threatening for the title of the NHL’s Biggest Loser.
28. Edmonton Oilers (11-21-3, last week: 26) – The Oil have lost three in a row, and simply can’t stop other teams from scoring goals or getting to the scoring areas on the ice. Until that changes, they are going to keep losing.
27. Florida Panthers (12-17-5, last week: 28) – The Panthers have won three in a row, including a nice little victory over the Montreal Canadiens last weekend. If only Tim Thomas didn’t pull his groin every other week, the Panthers might be on to something.
26. Columbus Blue Jackets (14-6-4, last week: 27) – The Blue Jackets aren’t entirely collapsing without Sergei Bobrovsky and Curtis McElhinney, but that’s no recipe for long term success.
25. Philadelphia Flyers (14-15-4, last week: 23) – Just when you think the Flyers are making a little progress, they get humbled by the Dallas Stars. Still, they’re only three points out of a playoff spot in the atrocious Metro Division.
24. New Jersey Devils (13-15-6, last week: 20) – Jaromir Jagr leads the Devils with 11 goals and 28 points this season. That says quite a bit about the ageless Jagr. It also says a lot about the toothless Devils.
23. Calgary Flames (13-15-5, last week: 24) – If nothing else, the Flames go up in the rankings this week for the classy way they welcomed Jarome Iginla back to the Saddledome in Calgary.
22. Ottawa Senators (14-15-6, last week: 25) – Erik Karlsson is rounding back into form and perhaps the Senators are just starting to gain their footing again. This team is more than what it has become so far this season.
21. New York Rangers (16-17-1, last week: 21) – It took seven rounds in the shootout for Benoit Pouliot to give the Blueshirts a win over the Calgary Flames. That sounds about right for a team that’s averaging just 2.2 goals per game.
20. Winnipeg Jets (15-15-5, last week: 19) – Great column from Winnipeg writer Gary Lawless about a group of holdovers from the Atlanta Thrashers really holding this team back. It’s time to make some moves. This combination of players just isn’t going to work.
19. Nashville Predators (16-14-3, last week: 22) – Carter Hutton gets the No. 3 Star of the Week in the NHL, and is showing what helped make him so successful for UMass-Lowell at the collegiate level.
18. Dallas Stars (15-12-5, last week: 17) – The Stars are having a decent season, but Tyler Seguin has gone otherworldly with 18 goals and 33 points in 30 games this year. Seguin has two more goals than he did all of last season for the Bruins, and he’s done it in about 15 fewer games.
17. Toronto Maple Leafs (17-15-3, last week: 16) – I’d like to thank the HBO 24/7 crew for hammering home just how “blah” Dion Phaneuf is in pretty much every way.
16. Phoenix Coyotes (18-9-5, last week: 13) – Tough to drop a team down a couple of spots that’s still winning hockey games, but they’re one of four Western Conference teams that have allowed 100 goals this season. Winnipeg, Edmonton and Calgary are the others. That’s not good company.
15. Detroit Red Wings (15-11-9, last week: 14) – Speaking of 24/7, I don’t want to say the Red Wings are boring. But I literally fell asleep four different times while watching the Wings portions of the show. They are just all business, and that can be a little tough to watch.
14. Carolina Hurricanes (14-13-7, last week: 18) – The Hurricanes are in playoff position in the skunky Metro Division, and key guys like Jeff Skinner and the Staal Brothers are performing. Cam Ward is also healthy. Now they just have to protect their spot.
13. Minnesota Wild (19-11-5, last week: 10) – Six goals in their last five games isn’t going to get it done for the Wild. Of course, four of those five games were against the iron of the Western Conference, however.
12. Tampa Bay Lightning (19-11-3, last week 12) – Steven Stamkos skates on the ice pain-free, and gives the rest of the Lightning all kinds of an hope that he’ll be back soon.
11. Washington Capitals (18-12-3, last week 15) – The Capitals have won four of five and whooped up on their Metro Division competition. They appear to be the only team worth a damn in that division besides Pittsburgh, who really isn’t worth a damn for other reasons entirely.
10. Vancouver Canucks (18-9-5, last week: 11) – Vancouver has won seven games in a row, and showed they’ve got some of their swagger back in a 6-2 drubbing of the Bruins. The city also showed its ugly side when Milan Lucic was attacked after the game on Saturday night.
9. Montreal Canadiens (20-12-3, last week: 7) – The Habs lost three of their last four games including defeats at the hands of the Flyers and Panthers, and needed overtime to beat the lowly Islanders. They’re cooling down after an impressive winning streak.
8. Colorado Avalanche (22-9-1, last week: 4) – The Avalanche have clearly come back to earth from their meteoric first few months, but they’re still in prime playoff position.
7. San Jose Sharks (20-7-6, last week: 9) – The Sharks have gone through a 1-5-1 stretch that started with getting absolutely pounded by the Pittsburgh Penguins. It looks like a crisis of confidence to me.
6. Boston Bruins (22-9-2, last week: 1) – Big props to the Bruins for taking wins over the Leafs, Flames and Oilers while besieged with injuries and illness, but there’s only so long they can survive with six regular players out of their lineup.
5. Los Angeles Kings (22-8-4, last week: 6) – The Chicago Blackhawks stopped a LA's six-game winning streak and showed the Kings that they’re still not the top dogs in the West.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins (24-10-1, last week: 5) – The Penguins have won four in a row and nine out of 10 and it seems like every night they’re delivering a check to an opponent’s head. That’s going to be a winning formula if it’s allowed to continue for the rest of the year. Clearly they’ve got the skill and the talent players, but the Penguins are a bunch of dirty birds these days.
3. St. Louis Blues (22-6-4, last week: 8) – The Blues have won three of their last four games, and have the best goal differential in the West with a plus-36. Don’t sleep on these guys.
2. Chicago Blackhawks (24-7-5, last week: 2) – The Blackhawks will be tested now with Corey Crawford out of the lineup. They got spanked by the Leafs on Saturday night.
1. Anaheim Ducks (23-7-5, last week: 3) – Another five game winning streak for the Ducks puts them back into the top spot, and Teemu Selanne ended a 19-game goalless spell with a score last weekend. Long live Teemu.