NHL Power Rankings: Heat check

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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

Morning Skate: Sidney Crosby has been a good ambassador as the face of his NHL generation

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Morning Skate: Sidney Crosby has been a good ambassador as the face of his NHL generation

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while wishing everybody a safe and relaxing Memorial Day weekend. 

*Apparently Nashville Predators head coach Peter Laviolette has yet to try Nashville’s hot chicken despite his time behind the Preds bench. It’s okay, I have yet to try it either in my handful of visits to Music City. 

*Good stuff from PHT writer and FOH (Friend of Haggs) Jason Brough. Apparently it wasn’t so easy to make Wayne Gretzky’s head bleed when it came time for director Doug Liman to cut Swingers together

*Sidney Crosby cares about the history and the issues of the game, and has been a good ambassador as the face of his NHL generation despite the hate that always comes with such responsibility. 

*Puck Daddy examines Crosby’s performance in the playoffs, and the odds of him winning another Conn Smythe Trophy. 

*The Penguins have made it to the Stanley Cup Final without Kris Letang for their playoff run, and that’s an amazing accomplishment. 

*Erik Karlsson said that he will be tending to his injured foot next week, and expects a full recovery for next season after a brilliant run with his Ottawa Senators

*Larry Brooks again rails against the Stanley Cup playoff structure and it’s relation to an “absurd regular season.” Say what you will, but the fact the Penguins are there for a second straight season shoots down some of the absurdity stuff in my mind. The best team from the East is where they should be and they did it without Kris Letang to boot. 

*Chicago Blackhawks prospect Alex Debrincat is confident his abilities will translate to the NHL despite his size after taking home honors as the best player in junior hockey this season. 

*For something completely different: Apparently there’s a hard core comic book geek gripe that “The Flash” is burning through bad guys too quickly. This would make sense if they couldn’t revisit these bad guys at any point, but they absolutely can go back to a big bad like Grodd anytime they want. 

Playoff run ends for Providence Bruins, but some promising signs

Playoff run ends for Providence Bruins, but some promising signs

It was the longest run that the P-Bruins have had in a few years and another unmistakable sign that the future is brightening for the Black and Gold, but the Bruins AHL affiliate has ended their playoff push in the Calder Cup semi-finals. 

The Providence Bruins fell by a 3-1 score to the Syracuse Crunch on Saturday night to lose to the Crunch in five games when the best-of-seven series was set to return to Providence this coming week. The P-Bruins had vanquished the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins and Hershey Bears in the first two rounds of the Calder Cup playoffs before finally exiting against Syracuse. 

Though it’s over, it’s clear some of the Bruins prospects made a nice step forward over the second half of the AHL season and then into the Calder Cup playoffs. With the Calder Cup Finals yet to start, B’s forward prospect Danton Heinen stands as the second-leading playoff scorer in the entire AHL with nine goals and 18 points in 17 playoff games after really struggling in the first half of his first pro season while bouncing back and forth between the NHL and the AHL. 

This could bode well for the skilled Heinen and his hopes to make the leap to the NHL in the near future after a stellar collegiate career at the University of Denver. AHL journeymen-types Wayne Simpson and Jordan Szwarz were the next two top scorers for the P-Bruins in the playoff run, but Jake DeBrusk had a strong playoff season as well while popping in six goals in 17 games. DeBrusk led all Providence players with his 54 shots on net in the 17-game playoff run for Providence, and he headlined a group that included B’s prospects Ryan Fitzgerald, Zach Senyshyn, Matt Grzelcyk, Peter Cehlarik (who succumbed to shoulder surgery during the playoffs), Emil Johansson and Robbie O’Gara all getting some vital playoff experience. 

Both Heinen and DeBrusk will be strong candidates for jobs on the wing with the Boston big club when training camp opens in the fall after strong showings in the postseason. 

On the goaltending side, Zane McIntyre was solid for the P-Bruins at times while in 16 of their 17 playoff games with a .906 save percentage. But it was Malcolm Subban that was playing at the very end of the playoff run for Providence and featured a sterling .937 save percentage in the four AHL playoff games that he appeared in this spring after an up-and-down regular season. McIntyre had an .857 save percentage and 4.37 goals against average in the final series against Syracuse, and looked a little spent like many of the other P-Bruins players once they’d unexpectedly made it to the third round of the AHL postseason.  

The only unfortunate part of Providence’s run is that newly signed youngsters Charlie McAvoy and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson couldn’t be a part of it after signing and then appearing in NHL games following a cut-off date for AHL playoff rosters. Both missed on an experience that could have been very conducive for their professional development, and uncovered a wrinkle in the NHL/AHL transaction process that really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for a developmental league.