NHL Power Rankings: Waiting for the dust to settle

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NHL Power Rankings: Waiting for the dust to settle

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

Teams are biting the dust on a daily basis now that there are less than 10 games to go in the season, and the playoff picture is clearing up. While the Leafs and Hurricanes are still hanging around, it appears the top eight teams are set in East, with the Buffalo Sabres rounding out the bunch after a strong second-half run.

The only question now is where the teams will finish within the top eight spots.

Meanwhile in the Western Conference, the Flames and the Stars are outside the top eight but continue to knock on the postseason door in the picture of parity. It should be an interesting final three weeks of the regular season.

Without further ado, here are this weeks power rankings:

1. Vancouver Canucks (50-17-9, last week: 1) The Canucks have 50 wins for the first time in franchise history, and have won 10 of their last 11 games. Bring on the playoffs before they suffer any more injuries.

2. Philadelphia Flyers (45-20-10, last week: 2) The Flyers are hanging on for dear life to the top spot in the East, but they havent beaten a quality opponent in nearly a month.

3. Washington Capitals (44-22-10, last week: 4) Marco Sturm scored his first goal for the Capitals, and it figures that it would come against the Canadiens.

4. Detroit Red Wings (44-22-10, last week: 3) The Wings have one win in their last five games, and are battling without Pavel Datsyuk in the lineup. Luckily it doesnt appear the Jimmy Howard injury is serious.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins (45-23-8, last week: 7) Who would have thought the Penguins would still be threatening the Flyers for the Atlantic Division lead after Sidney Crosby went down in early January? Its all pure heart and guts for Pittsburgh right now.

6. San Jose Sharks (44-23-9, last week: 5) Logan Couture has hit 30 goals this season and set a San Jose franchise record for a rookie. Time to start engraving that Calder Trophy.

7. Boston Bruins (42-23-10, last week: 8) The Bruins continue to dust themselves off after their tough losing steak at the beginning of March, and it looks like theyre hitting their stride again. The power play is clicking for the first time in months.

8. Los Angeles Kings (43-26-6, last week: 12) The Kings looked like they were rounding into great shape for the playoffs, but the ankle surgery for Anze Kopitar really gives the Kings a death blow.

9. Nashville Predators (41-25-10, last week: 10) It appears the Predators are steaming into their sixth playoff berth in the last seven seasons. They will be a tough draw in the first round given their goaltending and grit as long as Barry Trotz can avoid flying sticks.

10. Phoenix Coyotes (41-25-11, last week: 6) The one-sided loss to the Sharks knocked the Coyotes down a few pegs, but theyre still riding high into the postseason.

11. Tampa Bay Lightning (40-24-11, last week: 11) The Bolts are in line for their first playoff appearance since 2007, but arent exactly finishing strong. Theres a softness to this team thats a playoff concern.

12. New York Rangers (41-30-5, last week: 15) The Rangers will be a handful in the playoffs with selfless players ready to step in front of shots, not to mention Henrik Lundqvist and his NHL-leading 11 shutouts.

13. Anaheim Ducks (43-28-5, last week: 13) Corey Perry leads the NHL in goals scored and is emerging as a force for a Ducks team thats battling through a lot of adversity. He and Milan Lucic are the only NHL players with 30 goals and 100 penalty minutes in the league this season.

14. Chicago Blackhawks (41-26-8, last week: 9) The Blackhawks are still fighting for their playoff lives despite a talent-littered roster and Jonathan Toews going Captain crazy.

15. Buffalo Sabres (38-28-9, last week: 17) Nathan Gerbe has 13 of his 14 goals after the Sabres reached the halfway mark of the season, and three of them are game-winners. Looks like another Boston College midget has infiltrated the NHL.

16. Dallas Stars (38-26-10, last week: 16) The Stars have one win in their last six games, and now have to regain their mojo on the road. Guess theyre not so bright and big at night.

17. Calgary Flames (38-28-11, last week: 18) The Flames had a great win over the Oilers last weekend, but need a miracle every day for the rest of the regular season.

18. Montreal Canadiens (40-29-7, last week: 9) The Canadiens quit in the third period against the Bruins last week, and the hockey gods dont look favorably on that.

19. Toronto Maple Leafs (34-32-10, last week: 21) The Leafs are in do-or-die mode seven points out of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

20. Carolina Hurricanes (34-34-4, last week: 14) The Young and Restless 'Canes have had several chances to get back into the Eastern Conference mix, but just cant get over the hump.

21. Atlanta Thrashers (32-31-12, last week: 22) Looks like itll be another year before the Thrashers get a chance to win a playoff game.

22. St. Louis Blues (34-32-9, last week: 25) The Blues have won 6 out of 10 games, but that couldnt keep T.J. Oshie from going AWOL.

23. New Jersey Devils (34-36-5, last week: 20) Zach Parises final moments in New Jersey are all the Devils fans have left at this point, but at least they made it interesting.
24. Minnesota Wild (35-32-8, last week: 23) Players and coaches only meetings after an eight-game losing streak. Good times in Minnesota.

25. Columbus Blue Jackets (33-31-11, last week: 24) Scott Arniel called things a mess in Columbus. A stick salute for some honestly amid another underachieving campaign.

26. New York Islanders (29-35-11, last week: 26) Trevor Gillies is eligible to return to the Isles at this point. Woo-ho.

27. Florida Panthers (29-36-11, last week: 27) Three wins in their last 15 games for a Panthers team thats once again tanked for the season.

28. Ottawa Senators (29-37-10, last week: 28) Cory Clouston has managed to wring one last winning streak to end the season. Looks like the rats are looking for lifeboats on the Titanic as it takes on some water.

29. Colorado Avalanche (28-39-8, last week: 29) Hopefully Joe Sakic can salvage this mess.

30. Edmonton Oilers (23-41-11, last week: 30) Blowing a three-goal lead against Calgary in a Battle for Alberta game is about as bad as it gets.

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

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

The Bruins are going to snap their two-year drought and get into the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring. 

Sure, it’s going to be a tight race. And it'll come down to the last few games, befitting a team that's lived on the Atlantic Division bubble over the last three years. But in the seven games under interim coach Bruce Cassidy, the Bruins have shown they have the goods to get into the postseason. There's every reason to believe they’ll sustain their winning ways over the final two months of the regular season. 

There's a long way to go, of course, but a third-place (or higher) finish would ensure the B's a berth in the Atlantic Division playoff bracket, and they could conceivably advance a round or two based solely on the poor quality of clubs in their division. With 20 games to play, the Bruins are now third in the division and have a one-point cushion (70-69) over fourth-place Toronto, though the Leafs have a game in hand. If Toronto passes them, they currently have a two-point lead over the Islanders (70-68) for the eighth and final spot in the conference playoffs, though the Isles also have a game in hand. 

And that's not to say Boston couldn't climb higher. The B's are only four points behind the first-place but spinning-their-wheels Canadiens (20-20-7 since their 13-1-1 start), and they're even with the Habs in games played. They trail second-place Ottawa by two points, but the Senators have two games in hand.

All that, however, is another story for another day (even if it is a reason for Boston adding, rather than subtracting, at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline),

So how can we so stridently state that the Bruins are going to make the playoffs, and assure that this seven-game run isn’t just a flash in the pan?

Clearly they're playing with more urgency, higher compete levels, and a consistent focus that wasn’t there in the first 55 games under Claude Julien. They've now scored first-period goals in nine straight games and scored first in each of the four games on the highly successful Western swing through San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Dallas over the last week. 

To put that in perspective, the B's had gone 1-8 in California over the previous three seasons, when those late-in-the-year road trips spelled the beginning of the end for Boston.

But even more convincing is a simple look at the numbers, the production and the reasons behind the surge forward. 

The Bruins have long needed their two franchise centers operating at a high level at both ends of the ice, and consistently playing the 200-foot game that can cause major problems against teams not blessed with frontline talent in the middle. That wasn’t the case under Julien this year, but things have changed. 

David Krejci has three goals and eight points along with an even plus/minus rating in seven games under Cassidy. Patrice Bergeron posted three goals and nine points along with a plus-7 over that same span of games. With those two big-money, big-ceiling players operating at their highest levels, the rest of the team has shown its true potential . . . and the talent level is considerably higher than many thought.

It wasn’t long ago that many Bruins fans, and some major Julien apologists in the media, would have had you believe that Claude was keeping together a substandard NHL roster with a MacGyver-like combination of duct tape, chewing gum and an offensive system that only a dump-and-chase, trappist wonk could love. Now we’re seeing there's offensive talent on a group that’s been given the green light to create and produce. 

To wit, the Bruins' third line is now winning games for them after serving as a liability for the first half of the season. Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes and Frank Vatrano have combined for 6 goals, 15 points and a plus-11 in the seven games under Cassidy after never getting a chance to work together under Julien because they weren’t in his defensive circle of trust.

There's also the elevated level of production -- across the board -- from Boston’s defensemen. Not to mention Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak continuing to produce offense at elite levels. Marchand just set a career-high with his 64th point on Sunday afternoon, and still has another 20 games left in attempting to become the B's first point-per-game player since Marc Savard (88 points in 82 games in  2008-09).

All of it amounts to a Bruins offense that’s now choosing quality shots over quantity: Boston is scoring 1.5 more goals per game under Cassidy while averaging a significant 4.5 fewer shots per game. The Bruins have finally ditched the weak perimeter attack that so entralled the Corsi crowd -- it was putting up 40-plus shots per game, yet only about 2.5 goals -- and are instead honing in their offensive chances between the dots and in closer to the net .

Should people still be wondering if this current B’s run of entertaining, winning hockey is sustainable? They certainly can if they want to wait until the season is over to decide, but the jury is in for this humble hockey writer.

Bruins fans should take the cue and start lining up for their postseason tickets. 

Because there is going to be playoff hockey in Boston this spring. Remember, you heard it here first.

Haggerty's Morning Skate: NHL teams aren't just making trades for themselves ahead of deadline

Haggerty's Morning Skate: NHL teams aren't just making trades for themselves ahead of deadline

Here are all the hockey links from around the world, and what I’m reading while feeling like Warren Beatty took the sneaky way out by handing that wrong Academy Award card to Faye Dunaway last night. Clearly he knew something was amiss and he let her step into it. Kind of a weasel move if you asked me.

-- An interesting letter from FOH (Friend of Haggs) James Mirtle about the pay wall involving The Athletic sports website in Toronto.

-- Dean Lombardi and the Los Angeles Kings dealing for Ben Bishop is about more than just an insurance policy for Jonathan Quick.

-- FOH Mike Halford has the Minnesota Wild going for it with their trade for Martin Hanzal, but also keeping him from the other teams in the West.

-- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the Penguins are in great shape after winning the Cup last spring, and it’s clear they’re in good hands after Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle opted not to sell the franchise.

-- Kyle Quincey is being held out of the lineup in New Jersey because of pending trades, and the wonder is who else in New Jersey might be getting dealt.

-- Gabriel Landeskog and his Colorado Avalanche teammates know the trade deadline is coming. It would certainly be weird if they didn’t.

-- The San Jose Sharks feel fortunate for the timing of their bye week as it was clear that they needed a break.

-- For something completely different: Gronk was busy doing Gronk things at the Daytona 500 over the weekend.