NHL Power Rankings: Heat check

197882.jpg

NHL Power Rankings: Heat check

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

As Florence and the Machine might say, the dog days are over for the NHL teams as March arrives.

A handful of teams, like the Oilers, Islanders and Avalanche, have all taken on injuries, sold off their tradable wares and packed it in for this year. But more teams than ever before are still in the playoff hunt with roughly a month left to go in the season, and teams once thought to be done -- like the Devils, Sabres and Flames -- are feeling a distinctive postseason heartbeat.

The most interesting teams, however, are the ones just hitting their stride as players begin to gird themselves for the playoffs. Among those teams are the Bruins, who fortified themselves with trades and filled a gaping weakness or two.

The results are hard to argue against. The Bs have four players in the NHLs top 10 in the plusminus category, and theyre riding an eight-game point streak thats their first since they went 6-0-3 through January and February back in the magical 2008-09 regular season. Just as hot as the Bs are the San Jose Sharks, bursting with a roster full of talent, and a Chicago Blackhawks team thats finally put it together with an eight-game winning streak. Anything can happen in the Stanley Cup playoffs, of course, but the most dangerous teams in the postseason are those like the Bruins that are riding an effective combination of mojo and talent right into the second season.

Without further ado, here are this weeks power rankings:

1. Vancouver Canucks (42-16-9, last week: 3) The Canucks hopped out of their mini-slump with back-to-back wins over the Kings and Ducks, and Manny Malhotra has been a difference-maker among the Vancouver stars.

2. Boston Bruins (38-19-8, last week: 4) A seven-game winning streak and some pretty complete performances within that stretch have made believers out of many and there was even some optimism in the way the Bs managed a point out of a blah game against the Penguins. Tomas Kaberle, Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly are making a difference.
3. Philadelphia Flyers (40-19-6, last week: 1) Four losses in a row for the Flyers, and the shoddy goaltending has been a big part of it. The 7-0 loss to the Rangers should be a wakeup call.4. Detroit Red Wings (39-19-8, last week: 2) The Wings continue to cruise through the regular season, but had a little bump when they blew a 4-1 lead in the third period against the Coyotes last weekend. We finally get to see what Mike Modano can add to the mix after coming back from his freak wrist injury.

5. San Jose Sharks (38-22-6, last week: 6) The Sharks have won 8 of their last 10 games, and are now in the drivers seat in the Pacific Division. Amazing how one hot streak can change things, but what will they do in the playoffs?

6. Chicago Blackhawks (37-23-6, last week: 10) The Blackhawks have won eight in a row and it looks like Chelsea Dagger will be blaring again this postseason. Uh oh.

7. Washington Capitals (37-20-10, last week: 8) The Capitals are 4-0 with Marco Sturm, Dennis Wideman and Jason Arnott acquired at the trade deadline. Clearly its the power of Wideman.

8. Pittsburgh Penguins (38-21-8, last week: 7) The Penguins are still showing plenty of grit as the injuries mount, but theyre 1-for-21 on the power play for good reason. They dont have enough horses right now.

9. Tampa Bay Lightning (37-21-8, last week: 5) Tampa GM Steve Yzerman deserves credit for putting some good pieces in place, but the Lightning look awfully soft with the playoffs coming.

10. Calgary Flames (35-24-9, last week: 13) The Flames have rocketed up the charts behind old hockey warhorses in Miikka Kiprusoff and Jarome Iginla, but have 8 of their next 12 games on the road. It will be a challenge for them.
11. Montreal Canadiens (36-23-7, last week: 11) The Canadiens are like the creatures in the zombie picture du jour. Just when you think Montreal is dead, they keep clawing back despite injuries and tough losses. There is some heart in that Habs room.

12. Dallas Stars (35-23-7, last week: 14) The Stars had a big win over the Sharks, and have come back from a third-period deficit eight times this season. A Mark Cuban ownership scenario could really breathe life back into this organization.

13. Phoenix Coyotes (34-23-10, last week: 12) Kyle Turris is finally turning into a player for the Coyotes, but it looks like Winnipeg might be reaping the long-term benefits.

14. Los Angeles Kings (36-25-4, last week: 9) Dustin Penner scored a goal on his first shot as a member of the Kings. Dean Lombardi can only hope it continues to go so swimmingly.

15. Nashville Predators (33-24-9, last week: 15) The Preds are living on the playoff bubble alternating between wins and losses, but need to start putting a run together.
16. Minnesota Wild (34-25-7, last week: 17) The Wild are 6-7-1 without Cal Clutterbuck in their lineup throughout his career, and could be in trouble with their heart and soul out with an upper body injury courtesy of Trevor Gillies. The injury comes at the worst possible time.

17. Anaheim Ducks (35-26-5, last week: 16) The Ducks figure they need to win 10 of their final 16 games to make the playoffs. Getting shut out by the Canucks wasnt a good way to start.

18. Buffalo Sabres (32-25-8, last week: 20) The Sabres have battled back into the playoff picture after a sluggish start. Buff has gone 14-7-4 since right after Christmas while riding Ryan Miller nearly the entire way.
19. New York Rangers (35-29-4, last week: 18) The Rangers showed they wanted the playoffs with their Philly pasting on Sunday afternoon.

20. Carolina Hurricanes (30-25-7, last week: 21) The 'Canes are going to have to kick it up if they want to hang with a Buffalo team that seems to be smelling the Cup at this point.

21. New Jersey Devils (30-31-4, last week: 24) The Devils have gone 20-2-2 in their last 24 games, and deserve credit for forcing themselves into a semi-believable playoff scenario. I said semi-believable.

22. Toronto Maple Leafs (29-28-9, last week: 22) Who would have ever thought Phil the Thrill was step to the forefront of a last-gasp playoff run for the Leafs? Itll be interesting to see if they can make it.

23. Columbus Blue Jackets (31-26-7, last week: 19) The Blue Jackets are 0-3-1 on their current road trip thats winding up with a game against the St. Louis Blues Tuesday night. Thats called not getting it done.

24. Atlanta Thrashers (27-28-11, last week: 25) The Thrashers are 3-9-2 since the All-Star break and have completely faded into NHL oblivion. A shame its happening to a good coach like Craig Ramsay.

25. St. Louis Blues (28-28-9, last week: 23) The Blues have lost seven out of eight games, and couldnt find a spark by shipping away Erik Johnson.

26. New York Islanders (25-32-10, last week: 28) Al Montoya is 5-2-3 with a 1.93 goals against average in a goalie audition with the Islanders, and is one small positive in a lost year.

27. Colorado Avalanche (26-31-8, last week: 27) The Avalanche are 1-13-2 in their last 16 games, and Peter Stastny hit the nail on the head when he called their big shakeup trade a disaster.

28. Florida Panthers (26-31-9, last week: 26) Wonder if there are some teams out there regretting not going after Tomas Vokoun at the trade deadline? Hes won 7 of his last 10 starts for the Panthers.

29. Ottawa Senators (23-35-8, last week: 29) Almost golfing season for the Binghamton err Ottawa Senators.

30. Edmonton Oilers (21-33-9, last week: 30) The Oil have won three in a row, but lost Taylor Hall for the season with an ankle injury. Time to start tanking for another top flight defenseman in the draft.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Haggerty: Bruins get chance to show good results weren't just short term

Haggerty: Bruins get chance to show good results weren't just short term

The mission for the Bruins on their four-game road swing through the West Coast is certainly to keep the momentum going, but it’s also to quell any talk that the positive results will be short-lived following the coaching change.

The Bruins won there first three games interim head coach Bruce Cassidy headed into the five-day “bye week”, and they’ll come out on the other side with a potentially dangerous road swing through California that will finish up in Dallas next weekend. 

The Black and Gold have gone into death spirals before on the Cali trip, so that’s always a danger when going coast-to-coast to face tough teams in the Sharks, Ducks and Kings.

There’s also the fact that NHL teams are 3-10-2 as of Saturday afternoon in the first game coming back from the five-day midseason vacation. That means the B’s are going to face a stiff uphill battle on Sunday night against the Pacific Division-leading Sharks. 

The challenge is going to be there for the Bruins to answer all of those challenges when they’ve shrunk away from such adversity most of the season. It gives the Bruins yet another chance to show that the three games aren’t merely a sugar-high after cages had been rattled and is instead something that Boston sustains over the season’s final two-plus months.

“Our thinking is to try to win every game. We know the standings. We know it’s pretty tight. We put ourselves in some of the games in tough situations. Now, we’ve got to climb up and fight for every point,” said Zdeno Chara. “It’s going to be very important that we do that and play that way until the end.

“We can look at the standings as much as we want. I think that we really have to focus on how we play, how we want to go into every game, and what we can do to get as many points as possible.”

The good news for the Bruins is that the teams chasing them in the standings really haven’t gained ground on them, and they enter Saturday still in a playoff spot. So, the mathematics don’t look as dire for Boston as they did going into their rest period, and now they should be energized, recharged and highly motivated headed into the final 24 games of the season.

There’s also the fact that the Bruins were playing exciting, aggressive and winning hockey due to some of the tweaks made by Cassidy after taking control of the team. He finally got some production from the third line after putting forwards Frank Vatrano, Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Hayes together, a combo he never truly gave a look because he didn’t trust them to do the job defensively. Cassidy immediately placed 21-year-old Peter Cehlarik into a top-six role with power-play time straight from the AHL. That’s something one almost never saw happen with rookies and inexperienced guys during Julien’s run.

The B’s defensemen corps scored four goals in the three wins and showed aggressive, timely risk-taking to produce offense when playing it safe was normally the call of the day under Julien. The forwards were avoiding the low-to-high passing to the point that so often resulted in perimeter shots from the Bruins in the offensive zone, and instead attacked the net down low with the forwards looking to put some anxiety into the opponent’s D-zone coverage.

It all worked and it all looked remarkably different from the way the Bruins played in the opening 55 games.

“It’s something we need to bottle up and not change our approach, not change what we’re doing, make sure we’re moving [during the bye] and not just sitting idle and getting rusty,” said David Backes last weekend headed into the bye. “Make sure that mentally, we can have those same sort of mindsets for every guy to be contributing. It’s something that doesn’t show up on the score sheet, but guys are recognized in here for doing those things and that’s winning culture. That’s what we’re building.”

The Bruins now get their chance to prove this is a permanent change to a winning culture rather than a short term, three-game adrenaline rush after watching their longtime coach get fired. It won’t be easy, but it shouldn’t be for the Black and Gold if they’re finally going to earn their way into the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in three seasons. 

Saturday, Feb. 18: NHL more likely in Seattle than NBA?

Saturday, Feb. 18: NHL more likely in Seattle than NBA?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while hoping that Purple Passion doesn’t try the same comeback as Zima.

*A Seattle investor says that an NHL team coming to that city is much more likely than a return by the NBA to the Pacific Northwestern city.

*Gare Joyce writes eloquently about the loneliness of a hockey scout, and how that world can sometimes come to a crashing halt.  

*Good piece from Arpon Basu giving the sights and sounds of Claude Julien’s second stint behind the bench with the Montreal Canadiens.

*The agent for Russian player Maxim Shalunov says there is a “10 percent chance” that he’s going to sign with the Chicago Blackhawks.

*Mike Babcock says not to expect any big trade deadline deals from the Toronto Maple Leafs as they push for a playoff spot.

*Henrik Zetterberg reflects on a difficult season with the Detroit Red Wings where it looks like things might finally come down to a crashing halt.

http://www.detroitnews.com/story/sports/nhl/red-wings/2017/02/17/red-wings-zetterberg-reflects-tough-season/98064530/

*The Minnesota Wild have underrated depth on their team, and the Hockey News says it might just be their scariest attribute.

*For something completely different: as referenced above, it looks like that Zima drink of the 1990s is trying to make a comeback. I was in college when the Zima people were seemingly flooding campuses with advertising and samples back in the day.