Watch out for the Northeast Division. The Bruins, Canadiens, Maple Leafs and Senators all currently rank in the top eight of the NHL Power Rankings have fully deserve to be there. Of course the Ottawa Senators might be headed on the way out after losing their last three games while missing Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza, Craig Anderson and Milan Michalek among others, but it’s a tribute to the Sens that they’ve stuck around as long as they’ve managed to.
But the Maple Leafs, Habs and Bruins look very real this year, and it would be a boon to the Eastern Conference bracket of the Stanley Cup playoffs if all three Original Six markets return to the postseason. It’s been a long time for the Maple Leafs – since 2004 to be exact – as the Habs and Bruins have become regular playoff participants over the last five years.
It’s good for the league and it’s good for the quality of games in the Northeast Division if those three historic clubs qualify for the postseason. Last year both the Canadiens and the Maple Leafs couldn’t make the playoff cut before the season began, and the lack of Canadian presence was truly felt in the postseason. There shouldn’t be a repeat of that this time around.
Here are this week’s power rankings:
30. Florida Panthers (6-11-5, ranked last week: 28) – The Panthers have two wins in their last 12 games, aren’t doing anything offensively, and just lost Jose Theodore to a groin injury. Times are tough these days if Rob Tallas is suiting up as your emergency goaltender.
29. Columbus Blue Jackets (6-12-4, ranked last week: 29) – Nothing to see here in Columbus. They managed to go without a regulation loss last week, so there’s that.
28. Tampa Bay Lightning (9-12-1, ranked last week: 15) – The prevailing wisdom was to avoid extended losing streaks if you wanted to get into the playoffs during an abbreviated season. The Bolts have lost five in a row. They’re in the danger zone if they don’t turn it around.
27. Washington Capitals (8-11-1, ranked last week: 26) – The Caps are starting to come alive and get used to Adam Oates’ systems. Braden Holtby is also starting to look like the same guy from last year’s playoffs. It’s all good signs for Washington.
26. Buffalo Sabres (9-12-2, ranked last week: 30) – Sabres have taken points in each of their last four games. Steve Ott has been a positive force there, and you don’t say that very often.
25. New York Islanders (9-11-2, ranked last week: 25) – John Tavares continues to put on a clinic on Long Island, but it won’t be long before they’re selling off some of their parts. Mark Streit would make a nice trade deadline pick-up for somebody.
24. Colorado Avalanche (8-8-4, ranked last week: 27) – I’ll bet Ryan O’Reilly is feeling loved and respected in Colorado after it took an offer sheet from Calgary to get him signed. Talk about the wrong way to go about doing things.
23. Calgary Flames (8-8-4, ranked last week: 23) – See last week. Things aren’t going to change in Calgary until Jay Feaster is ushered out and they build things back up from scratch. This team is going nowhere.
22. Edmonton Oilers (8-9-4, ranked last week: 21) – You keep waiting for the Oilers to turn the corner into a young, exciting playoff team, and it still hasn't happened.
21. Nashville Predators (9-9-5, ranked last week: 14) – The Preds have lost four of their last five, and their goal scoring has come to a screeching halt.
20. Winnipeg Jets (10-10-1, ranked last week: 24) – The Jets are creeping all around a playoff spot while winning some games, but we saw this movie last year with the team from Winnipeg.
19. Philadelphia Flyers (11-11-1, ranked last week: 12) – Give the Flyers credit for finally getting to .500 after a handful of tries this season. Brayden Schenn and Jacob Voracek are getting it done while Claude Giroux rounds into form.
18. Dallas Stars (11-9-2, ranked last week: 16) – The Stars are hovering around a playoff position, and think they upgraded with power forward Erik Cole in place of Michael Ryder. Sounds like the influence of Dallas front office guy Mark Recchi.
17. Detroit Red Wings (10-8-4, ranked last week: 14) – Damien Brunner is becoming one of the new faces of the Red Wings as Motown changes over to a new generation of hockey players.
16. New York Rangers (10-8-2, ranked last week: 18) – Rick Nash has missed four games for the Rangers this season, but is still the team’s leading scorer. Marian Gaborik – and Brad Richards if he’s healthy – need to pick it up as the Blueshirts hang around for the playoffs.
15. St. Louis Blues (11-8-2, ranked last week: 9) – The Blues are only 5-5-1 at home, but they do have the best power play in the NHL despite missing pieces to injury. It would have been great if they were at full strength when they faced the Blackhawks last week.
14. Minnesota Wild (11-8-2, ranked last week: 19) – The Wild have taken points in seven of their last 10, and have put themselves in playoff position.
13. New Jersey Devils (10-7-5, ranked last week: 7) – The Devils have had a glimpse of life without Martin Brodeur and it’s not so cool.
12. San Jose Sharks (10-6-4, ranked last week: 20) – The Sharks stabilized this week after a few weeks of free fall and still find themselves right in the thick of the Western Conference playoff picture.
11. Los Angeles Kings (11-7-2, ranked last week: 11) – The Kings have won eight of their last 10 games and are in the middle of a long stretch of home games at the Staples Center. They’re in a pretty good spot right now.
10. Carolina Hurricanes (12-8-1, ranked last week: 8) – The Hurricanes flexed their Southeast Division muscle by sweeping the Florida Panthers last weekend, but they’ll need to keep it up without Cam Ward (knee injury). That might be difficult.
9. Phoenix Coyotes (11-8-3, ranked last week: 17) – Oliver Ekman-Larsson has been doing heavy duty work for the Desert Dogs as the Coyotes carve out their playoff position.
8. Ottawa Senators (12-7-4, ranked last week: 8) – The Senators have lost three in a row starting with a tough defeat at the hands of the Bruins, and reality might be setting in for a team that’s been doing it with smoke and mirrors.
7. Toronto Maple Leafs (14-9-0, ranked last week: 10) – The Maple Leafs continue to win and it looks like they’re going to have their playoff ticket punched for the first time since 2004.
6. Vancouver Canucks (11-6-4, ranked last week: 6) – The Canucks have lost three of four and their power play has gone cold. Vancouver is still in a pretty good spot, but they clearly haven’t hit their stride yet.
5. Montreal Canadiens (14-4-4, ranked last week: 5) – Bring out your floppers! Bring out your divers! Bring out your embellishers!
4. Pittsburgh Penguins (15-8-0, ranked last week: 4) – Great news for the Pittsburgh Penguins that Evgeni Malkin is back from the concussion so quickly. They just keep on rolling.
3. Boston Bruins (14-3-2, ranked last week: 3) – The Bruins were 17 Zdeno Chara penalty minutes away from having 15 wins in their first 19 games this season, but instead left Boston frustrated after a third-period loss to the Canadiens.
2. Anaheim Ducks (15-3-3, ranked last week: 2) – The Ducks have lost two in a row. This year that’s a surprise, but in recent years that would be par for the course for a Ducks team that’s underachieved. Start of a regression to the mean, or blip on the radar screen? You decide.
1. Chicago Blackhawks (19-0-3, ranked last week: 1) – When you get Stephen A. Smith ignorantly talking about the NHL and the Blackhawks, you know a team has done something special. Take a bow, Blackhawks!