NHL Power Rankings: From the bottom


NHL Power Rankings: From the bottom

By Joe Haggerty

Who is going to come out of the playoff scrum in either conference?

The Rangers, Sabres, Hurricanes, Thrashers, Maple Leafs and Devils are battling it out for two spots at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, and its been fascinating to watch each team take turns as the worthy team with a winning streak.

Over the long haul, give credit to the Devils, Maple Leafs and Sabres for pulling themselves up from the dregs of the East to be mentioned into the conversation, and to the Sabres for beating very good teams like the Flyers and Bruins on their way back into the Top Eight.

But watch out for the Devils, who have taken wins in 14 out of 16 games and now find themselves just eight points out of place. Can they make it?

Maybe not, but nobody would want to play them in the playoffs? Just like there isnt a team out there looking forward to playing a young, energized bunch of Sabres backstopped by Ryan Miller once the postseason starts.

Theres just as big a logjam of teams in the West, but one gets the sense its going to take quite a bit for Nashville, Minnesota or Anaheim to storm into the top eight teams given their current roster situations.

Without further ado, here are this weeks power rankings:

1. Vancouver Canucks (46-16-9, last week: 1) The Canucks have won five in a row, and the Sedin Twins are first and third in the NHL in scoring coming out of last weekend. Naming Henrik captain this season looks like its worked out pretty well.

2. Washington Capitals (40-20-10, last week: 7) The Caps are the hottest team in hockey with wins in eight straight games, and Alex Ovechkin is hitting his personal turbo button at just the right time. Theyre nipping at the Flyers heels and looking dangerous in the playoffs.

3. Philadelphia Flyers (42-19-7, last week: 3) The Flyers have won just three times in their last nine games, and appear to be a team losing steam heading into the postseason. Blowing a three-goal lead to the Thrashers is pretty damned ugly.

4. Detroit Red Wings (41-20-8, last week: 4) Henrik Zetterberg has a career-high 51 assists and has been driving the engine all year while injuries cropped up all around him. The Wings have consistently been one of the NHLs best all season, and are still my pick in the West.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins (40-22-8, last week: 8) The Penguins are still hovering within striking distance, and Sidney Crosby skated for the first time since January. If Crosby can somehow return from a concussion, the Pens automatically move back to the head of the class.

6. San Jose Sharks (39-23-8, last week: 5) Joe Thornton tosses out some wild speculation about the Bruins receiving favorable calls while completely mixing up his facts. Good old Jumbo Joe still doesnt have a clue.

7. Boston Bruins (38-21-9, last week: 2) The Bruins look great, and then blow two-goal leads to the Sabres and Isles with Tim Thomas in net. Looks like the Bs are headed back down the roller-coaster hill.

8. Tampa Bay Lightning (39-22-9, last week: 9) Justtwo wins in their last eightsgames for the Bolts, and theyre being passed by the red-hot Capitals. They look ready to be victimized in the playoffs.

9. Los Angeles Kings (39-25-5, last week: 14) Two goals and three assists for Dustin Penner in his first six games with the Kings make him a fantastic pickup. Hes the guy that Justin Williams and Anze Kopitar have been yearning for.

10. Montreal Canadiens (38-24-7, last week: 11) The Habs seem to have rallied around the Max Pacioretty incident, and that us against the world mentality can help lift a hockey team. But please, people of Montreal, quit calling the police about hockey matters. Its embarrassing.

11. Chicago Blackhawks (38-24-8, last week: 6) The boom-or-bust Blackhawks had lost three in a row heading into San Joseafter ripping off eight straight victories to push themselves back into the playoff discussion. Big win over the Sharks.

12. Phoenix Coyotes (36-23-11, last week: 13) Think the Anaheim Ducks regret waiving Ilya Bryzgalov now that hes on the verge of becoming the all-time shutout leader on the Coyotes with 21 of them? Hes helping carry the desert dogs to the playoffs.

13. Buffalo Sabres (34-27-8, last week: 18) The Sabres managed to put themselves back into the playoff discussion amidst a seven-game road trip. Thats not an easy thing to do, and thats why theyre a very dark horse in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

14. Dallas Stars (37-24-8, last week: 12) The Stars have won six of their last eight games and got Brad Richards back into the mix. All of that Richards trade stuff was so silly.

15. New Jersey Devils (32-32-4, last week: 21) Nobody ever thought theyd make it back to .500 this season. Never mind the playoffs. You win 14 out of 16 games and you move right up the ranks.

16. Nashville Predators (35-24-10, last week: 15) The Preds are on the upswing and goalie Pekka Rinne has won 25 games for three consecutive seasons. Hes really coming on in the goaltending award discussions.

17. Anaheim Ducks (37-27-5, last week: 17) Im not going to count Ray Emerys comeback between the pipes as a pro when it comes to Anaheims list of playoff pros and cons. The Jonas Hiller saga has hurt this team badly.

18. Calgary Flames (36-26-9, last week: 10) The Flames lost to the Canucks and Coyotes in back-to-back games for the first time in two months, and it could be costly to a team fighting for its playoff life.
19. New York Rangers (36-30-4, last week: 19) Sean Avery was scratched because hes been inconsistent in his role as an agitator. Things should get interesting in the Big Apple.

20. Minnesota Wild (35-28-7, last week: 16) The Wild are whimpering their way through a playoff stretch with shutout losses to Nashville and Dallas, and then a sound thrashing at the hands of the Canucks. This may be it for Minnesota.

21. Toronto Maple Leafs (30-30-10, last week: 22) The Leafs are within striking distance of a playoff spot in March. Who knew that Phil Kessel and Co. had this kind of determination in them? The loss to Tampa did hurt, though.

22. Carolina Hurricanes (31-28-10, last week: 20) The Hurricanes have lost four in a row and have a tilt with the Buffalo Sabres Tuesday night thats got all kinds of implications. Its almost like Stanley Cup Thunder Dome. Two teams enter and one team leaves.

23. Atlanta Thrashers (29-28-12, last week: 24) The Thrashers overcame a three-goal deficit to beat the Flyers last weekend, and still have a heartbeat left in the final few weeks.

24. Columbus Blue Jackets (32-27-9, last week: 23) The Blue Jackets are playing out the string, but give them a nod for ending an eight-game losing streak.

25. St. Louis Blues (31-29-9, last week: 25) The Blues have a three-game winning streak, but does any of this really matter when their seasonal song has already faded to black?
26. Florida Panthers (28-32-9, last week: 28) Guess the Panthers finally figured out that South Beach wasnt a good fit for Dennis Wideman. Good call.
27. New York Islanders (27-32-11, last week: 26) The Islanders look good late in the year, and are playing the spoiler to many of their Eastern Conference brethren. Matt Moulson is going to be a good player for a good long time with the way he plays around the net.

28. Colorado Avalanche (26-34-8, last week: 27) One win in their last 19 games. Ooof.

29. Ottawa Senators (25-35-9, last week: 29) At least the Sens have Craig Anderson to pin their hopes on, though he was yanked against the Sabres last weekend.

30. Edmonton Oilers (23-38-9, last week: 30) No Ales Hemsky, Taylor Hall or Sam Gagner to end the season in Edmonton means theres not much going on up there. Tough end to the season.

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

Bruins looking to avoid anxious moments on home ice

Bruins looking to avoid anxious moments on home ice

BRIGHTON, Mass. – The Bruins will have plenty of proud history on display for tonight’s home opener when Bobby Orr and Milt Schmidt drop the ceremonial first puck at TD Garden prior to the game against the New Jersey Devils.

Orr is celebrating the 50th anniversary of his first NHL game, and the amazing Schmidt is there for the 80th anniversary of his rookie NHL season, and it will be up to the current crop of B’s players afterward to play up to the standards of those two Hall of Fame legends. That was a difficult challenge for the Black and Gold last season as they struggled to a 17-18-6 record on home ice and experienced some of their worst regular-season efforts in front of the paying home customers.

When placed side-by-side with a road record (25-13-3), where only the Sharks and Capitals had more victories on the road last season, it was clear the B’s had some strange motivational issues at the Garden. Whether it was leadership, maturity or the coach to blame for their home malaise, the Bruins are looking to reverse that trend this season after an encouraging 2-1 start on the first three-game road trip of the season.

In fact, Brad Marchand didn’t even want to entertain thoughts about last year’s home ice funk.

“Last year has nothing to do with this year. We’ve got a lot of new guys and a lot of new faces, and we’re looking to have a big start at home and have a big year. We want to try and start that tonight,” said Brad Marchand. “We don’t have to get anxious and too excited. We play a good road game and if we play the same way at home as we do on the road then hopefully we’ll be okay.”

The home ice anxiousness was clear on many occasions for the Bruins whether it was getting blown out at the Winter Classic, getting smoked in Milan Lucic’s return to the Garden with the LA Kings or epically blowing the final game of the season vs. Ottawa with the playoffs on the line. It will be interesting to see what a big personality and hardened, vocal leader David Backes can bring to combat some of the home ice skittishness of last season. 

One other thing the Bruins will be looking to change: allowing the other team to score the first goal, as they’ve done in all three games to start this season. It could perhaps be excused with the B’s playing the polite visitor at the emotional home openers for  the Blue Jackets and the Maple Leafs last week, but now it’s their turn to jack up the emotional level and make TD Garden a much more difficult place to play than it was for the majority of last season. 


Slow-starting Krejci looking for a spark in Bruins’ home opener

Slow-starting Krejci looking for a spark in Bruins’ home opener

BRIGHTON, Mass. – David Krejci hasn’t exactly been his usual self in the opening three games of the season for the Bruins and there are understandable, underlying reasons for that. 

One of them is that the 30-year-old playmaking center is coming off major offseason hip surgery and that’s made him look less than his silky-smooth best with the puck in the season’s first three games.

The good news is Krejci doesn’t believe any lingering hip problems have been a big factor at all, and instead his comfort level is increasing each time he takes the ice.

“I feel better and better every day. This is a tough injury, but I’m in good shape and in really good hands. The doctors have done a really good job with me every day, and it’s been really good,” said Krejci, who has one assist in the opening three games with just three shots on net while fighting to hang onto the puck. “It’s been fun to be out there with the guys, and I’m just trying to get better every day.”

A more reasonable explanation for Krejci’s sluggish start was the last-second injury to Patrice Bergeron prior to the start of the season and the major alteration to his forward line as a result of No. 37’s absence. David Backes was pulled from the right wing spot on the Krejci line to fill in for Bergeron over the season’s first three games and he came away with two goals and three points in three games centering Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

But the B’s second line was almost non-existent with smaller, skilled wingers on either side of Krejci that weren’t able to generate anything productive with No. 46. The B’s obviously have massive production from the top line in Bergeron’s absence and have found a respectable fourth line that can get the job done for Claude Julien. Even the third line has found some footing after the B’s bench boss replaced rookie Austin Czarnik with veteran Riley Nash and instead went with a bigger, tougher power line with Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes on the wings.

Now, Backes goes back to his rightful spot on the wing with Krejci and 21-year-old rookie Danton Heinen looks to replace a scuffling Ryan Spooner at left wing for tonight’s home opener vs. the New Jersey Devils. Backes is ready to bring some needed balance to the forward lines after the B’s top line really carried them over the first three games of the season and produced a team-high four goals for David Pastrnak.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Backes also knows that he’s exactly the kind of strong, determined net-front presence with goal-scoring ability that Krejci has always produced with over the course of his 10-year NHL career.

“I won’t be involved in the immediate face-off, but [I will be involved] in helping him on the 50/50 draws to win the puck back. Just talk all over the ice like we have been with Heinen on the wing he’s got two veteran guys with him, and we need to make him feel comfortable to be a very productive member [of the line],” said Backes. “We’ll get back to cooking a little bit with how we were looking before I was forced to play center.

“I think it puts the other teams in a predicament with that they’re going to try to defend if we have a couple-pronged attack. It’s a kind of pick-your-poison kind of deal. A checking line can typically do a good job of neutralizing a line, but when you have multiple options and multiple guns pointed at them it’s a little bit more of a predicament for them. When we’re healthy, we’re going to have that.”

So, the hope is that having a power forward, play-finisher like Backes is going to allow him time and space to create plays that have a little more hope of being turned into scoring chances at the offensive end of the ice.

“When injuries happen you’ve got to balance the team and that’s what happened. But I’m happy [Backes] is back on our line,” said Krejci, who has always been at his best while utilizing big, strong wingers on his line whether it was Milan Lucic or Nathan Horton over the years. “Hopefully we can get the chemistry early on as a line, and help the team to win.

“[Backes] is a right-handed shot, so that’s nice to have.  I had two lefties there [in Spooner and Heinen] and sometimes it’s tough to get a good pass on the backhand. He’s been playing well the first two games, so hopefully I can keep up and we can get some chemistry to help the team win.”

So, it remains to be seen how long it will take Krejci to find his offensive mojo while centering a line combo of Heinen-Krejci-Backes that didn’t get much of a look in the preseason, but the sooner, the better for a Bruins team that needs to start firing on all offensive cylinders while still working through their defensive challenges.