NHL Power Rankings: Flyers tough at the top

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NHL Power Rankings: Flyers tough at the top

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

With the NHL trade deadline little more than a month away, the time has come for plenty of moves to take place. Which teams will stand pat with their teams confident in their roster building at the beginning of the season, and which teams will make an epic splash with an Ilya Kovalchuk-level move this season.

As weve seen, those kind of major deals can either pull a team apart or push them together. Thats always the ultimate chance when altering the chemistry of any hockey team.

There are plenty of rumors out there about Ottawa defenseman Sergei Gonchar with some even suggesting that Boston might be interested and that kind of player could be the one missing link for many teams to become Stanley Cup contenders.

Tomas Kaberle is also going to be available in the coming weeks with Toronto once again on the ropes, and it really likes itll be a healthy market for puck-moving defensemen for the first time in recent memory.

Teams have already evaluated what they have, and now its time to get bold with a move or two and get busy winning or get busy losing. Without further ado, here are this weeks power rankings:

1. Philadelphia Flyers (32-12-5, last week: 1) The Flyers are the biggest, baddest hockey team in the land and now they have Chris Pronger back. They also beat down the defending champs on national television Sunday.
2. Vancouver Canucks (29-10-9, last week: 2) It wasnt a banner week for the Canucks with three overtimeshootout losses, but you cant fault them too much for that in the socialist NHL, right?

3. Dallas Stars (29-14-5, last week: 4) The Red Wings finally whooped up on the Stars last weekend and handed them their first loss in January, but hats off to a Dallas team that has been good all season.

4. Detroit Red Wings (29-13-6, last week: 4) The Red Wings have hung in there admirably, and will be getting Daniel Cleary and Pavel Datsyuk back after the All-Star break. Watch out for the Winged Wheels.
5. Tampa Bay Lightning (30-15-5, last week: 8) Hats off to the classy Marty St. Louis, who has topped 20 goals in a season eight consecutive years. The Bolts have won four in a row, and look like theyre legit.
6. Pittsburgh Penguins (30-15-4, last week: 6) The Penguins are fighting valiantly, but life without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin isnt going to be easy.

7. Boston Bruins (27-14-7, last week: 5) Who would have ever thought that Brad Marchand would be the rookie that everybody is talking about? He leads all NHL rookies with a plus-21.
8. Nashville Predators (27-15-6, last week: 11) The Preds are streaking, and much it is all about Pekka Rinne. The rangy Nashville goalie is 9-1 in his last 10 starts and has allowed one goal or fewer in six of those games.

9. Washington Capitals (27-14-8, last week: 7) Alex Ovechkin snapped out of a goal-scoring funk with a hat trick last weekend, and the competition with Tampa Bay will end up being a very good thing for the Caps.

10. Montreal Canadiens (27-17-5, last week: 10) Apparently, the Habs are taking umbrage with all this talk that only one Northeast Division team will make the playoffs.

11. Phoenix Coyotes (24-16-9, last week: 9) The Desert Dogs are 10-8-5 at home this season. That just isnt going to get it done.

12. Chicago Blackhawks (26-19-4, last week: 12) The one-sided loss to the Flyers was a pretty indicator of how much lesser the Blackhawks are as a team this season.
13. Anaheim Ducks (27-20-4, last week: 15) Saku Koivu wins in his return to Montreal and the Ducks are making due without Ryan Getzlaf in an impressively gutty showing.

14. New York Rangers (28-19-3, last week: 16) The Rangers havent been the best in their last seven games, but its going to do nothing but help with Marian Gaborik on track offensively.

15. San Jose Sharks (25-19-5, last week: 21) You would think that the Sharks would get angry or embarrassed given the way theyre underachieving this season. Youd be wrong.
16. Colorado Avalanche (24-18-6, last week: 14) The good: the Avs have Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny. The bad: the Avs are brutal defensively and got blown out in two straight games.
17. Minnesota Wild (24-19-5, 20) The Wild are in the periphery of the playoffs, but its going to be tough to stay there for Minnesotas Wild Bunch.

18. Atlanta Thrashers (23-19-9, last week: 17) The Thrashers lose Toby Enstrom to injury and get spanked by the Lightning by a 7-1. Guess hes kind of important, eh?

19. St. Louis Blues (22-18-7, last week: 19) The Blues seem to really be stuck in neutral right now, and have won two of their last 10 games. They cant even get Kyle Wellwood on waivers for cripes sakes.

20. Carolina Hurricanes (23-19-6, last week: 16) The Hurricanes arent exactly burying their chances to catch up to a Thrashers team thats struggling. For a team with a strong young leader like Eric Staal, the Canes seem to take too many shifts off.
21. Los Angeles Kings (25-22-1, last week: 18) I love Dean Lombardi, but it might be time to lay low in a safe house for a while.

22. Calgary Flames (22-21-6, last week: 22) The Flames have pulled themselves to within a handful of points of a playoff spot out west, but methinks theres a better chance of Jarome Iginla getting dealt than Calgary making the playoffs.

23. Buffalo Sabres (22-21-5, last week: 25) Ryan Miller will be playing until either A) his limbs fall off or B) the Sabres are eliminated from the playoffs.

24. Columbus Blue Jackets (23-20-5, last week: 27) The Blue Jackets have taken points in five straight games, but really need to turn it on.
25. Florida Panthers (21-21-5, last week: 24) The latest four game losing streak for the Panthers should be taken as their official white flag of surrender for this season.

26. Toronto Maple Leafs (19-23-5, last week: 26) Brian Burke needs to trade Tomas Kaberle or get off the pot. The Leafs are going nowhere but inviting the Bruins to the lottery once again.
27. New Jersey Devils (16-29-3, last week: 30) The Devils are 6-0-1 in their last seven games and Ilya Kovalchuk is finally starting to look as advertised. Wonder if Lou Lamoriello is muttering Its about time in the Devils management box.
28. Edmonton Oilers (14-25-8, last week: 29) The young Oilers are struggling big time, but at least GM Steve Tambellini didnt have any goaltenders hang up the phone on him.
29. New York Islanders (15-25-7, last week: 28) Would love to have been a fly on the well for that ever so brief chat between Evgeni Nabokov and Garth Snow.

30. Ottawa Senators (17-25-7, last week: 27) Looks like theres a full Ottawa housecleaning set to take place with the Senators beginning soon. Its about time that dirty room was cleaned up.

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

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

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Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him. 

Blidh plans to bring some energy to Bruins after call-up

Blidh plans to bring some energy to Bruins after call-up

BRIGHTON, Mass. – Anton Blidh plans on keeping things pretty straightforward on his first call-up to the NHL. 

The former sixth-round pick of the Bruins has earned his stripes at the AHL level with Providence over the last couple of seasons, and comes to Boston as a gritty, energy forward capable of stirring things up in otherwise sleepy games. There’s also a bit of offensive upside for a fourth line-type player with five goals and nine points with 22 penalty minutes and a plus-eight rating in 19 games for the P-Bruins this season. 

It remains to be seen if the Blidh call-up means that the Bruins intend to scratch a player or that somebody is questionable for Saturday afternoon’s game in Buffalo, but Patrice Bergeron did miss Friday’s practice without any real defined reason for his absence. The 21-year-old Swede said he plans to play to his strengths if he gets into the lineup for the Black and Gold, and that could mean getting under the skin of his Sabres opponents. 

“It’s my first time called up, so I’m happy,” said Blidh, who was asked what he'll bring if he gets into the lineup. “I’ll just play simple and play my own game: be hard on the puck and play with some energy. I worked hard [in Providence] and then I got some confidence. I’m not a goal-scorer, but I scored a couple of goals and got some confidence.”

Claude Julien hasn’t been able to catch up Blidh’s work since the season got started, but was pleased by the youngster’s progress in training camp, where he earned notice for his feisty, physical play on a line with Noel Acciari. 

“They said he’s playing well, so they brought him up. We’ll get to see him, hopefully tomorrow,” said Julien. “I didn’t hear a ton of fine details aside from him being a guy that was certainly playing with a lot of energy. I didn’t mind him in training camp either. He works really hard and competes hard, and we could use that.”

That would certainly be the case after watching the Bruins go through the motions for long stretches Thursday night against Carolina before essentially stealing a game that they didn’t deserve to win.