NHL Power Rankings: Statement time

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NHL Power Rankings: Statement time

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

The final three weeks of the NHL season have arrived, and its time for teams to start making statements about their entrance into the playoffs.

Some, like the Bruins, aren't exactly finishing strong. The B's have lost six of seven and succumbed to the rigors of an NHL schedule that saw them play 12 of their last 16 games on the road. They're left to hope that a little home cooking is the salve for all that ails them.

Meanwhile, teams like the Washington Capitals and San Jose Sharks are playing their best hockey of the season and pushing for higher playoff seeding, though injuries to Alex Ovechkin and Logan Couture have hurt their postseason arguments, depending on their severity.

Then there are the Penguins, who have no Sidney Crosby, no Evgeni Malkin and no have no Matt Cooke after his suspension for the rest of the regular season and playoffs. They play with heart and they play with grit, but Pittsburgh is looking more and more like a first-round victim for some lucky team.

As time goes the playoff picture is clearing up, which is either a good or bad thing for a handful of teams depending on their fortunes as the Stanley Cup tourney looms on the horizon.

Without further ado, here are this weeks power rankings:

1. Vancouver Canucks (47-17-9, last week: 1) Doesnt look like Vancouver will be giving this position up, but the tragic Manny Malhotra injury is going to hurt this team in the playoffs.

2. Philadelphia Flyers (44-19-8, last week: 3) A big week with the Caps and Penguins both on tap will give the Flyers a chance to really solidify themselves as top dog in the East.

3. Detroit Red Wings (43-21-9, last week: 4) The Wings are coasting into second place in the East, but seem to be having a hard time with the Nashville Predators. Hope that doesnt mean Pekka Rinne nightmares in the playoffs for Motown. Then itll time to turn to the Tigers.

4. Washington Capitals (42-21-10, last week: 2) The Caps went on a big run, and now Alexander Ovechkin is being rested with a minor ailment until the playoffs. Okay, then.

5. San Jose Sharks (42-23-8, last week: 6) Antti Niemi has started 28 straight games and the Sharks have notched a power-play goal in seven straight games. San Jose is playing its best hockey of the season.

6. Phoenix Coyotes (39-24-11, last week: 12) The Coyotes are pushing the Sharks in the division, and playing well down the stretch. The people of Winnipeg are salivating.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins (42-23-8, last week: 5) The Penguins have battled to remain in the upper echelon of Eastern Conference teams, but the Matt Cooke slap might just be the final blow for a team on the edge.

8. Boston Bruins (38-22-9, last week: 7) The Bs have lost six out of seven games, and need to pull things together in every facet of the game. There was literally nothing good about their recent stretch, and Tim Thomas has been very human since the All-Star break.

9. Montreal Canadiens (40-26-7, last week: 10) The Habs are gaining steam and seem to have rallied around the Max Pacioretty incident. Theres no way to underplay how big Thursday nights game in Boston is for both teams.

10. Chicago Blackhawks (39-25-8, last week: 11) The Blackhawks are no longer fighting for their playoff lives, but dont have that Stanley Cup feel to them.

11. Tampa Bay Lightning (39-22-11, last week: 8) Two wins in their last 10 games are a sign of a young team starting to lose some of their playoff nerve. The Bolts are pretty soft when it comes to playoff hockey.
12. Los Angeles Kings (41-26-6, last week: 9) The Kings have worn their purple-and-gold jerseys for the fourth and final time this season. For that I am about to go in mourning, but the team is still holding strong in the middle of the playoff pack.

13. Anaheim Ducks (40-27-5, last week: 17) Dan Ellis and Ray Emery are a feel-good story for the Ducks, but can they keep it going with Emerys bionic hip? This guy has some doubts.

14. Nashville Predators (38-25-10, last week: 16) The Predators have won five out of six games and shown a lot of heart in the process. Barry Trotz has Nashville ready to play its unlikely playoff song yet again this season.

15. New York Rangers (39-30-4, last week: 19) Four wins in a row for a team that all of the sudden looks like its smelling the playoffs. The way the Rags came back and responded to Cookes hatchet-man act last weekend was inspired.

16. Dallas Stars (38-25-9, last week: 14) The Stars go head-to-head with the Ducks and Predators this week in great late-season games against teams that theyre battling against for playoff position. The Stars have been wildly unpredictable in the second half.

17. Buffalo Sabres (35-28-9, last week: 13) The Sabres gave away a point to the red-hot Preds last weekend, but theyre still making a strong playoff push in the East. The Sabres are in good position and theres plenty of motivation with new ownership.

18. Calgary Flames (37-27-11, last week: 18) Withsevengames left and sitting on the outside of the playoffs, the Flames have to get extremely hot. No, that wasnt a play on words.

19. Carolina Hurricanes (33-29-10, last week: 22) The Hurricanes have hit a bit of a wall and Eric Staal hasnt scored a goal in six straight games. Looks like the young Canes arent elevating their game.

20. New Jersey Devils (34-34-4, last week: 15) The Devils streak has cooled ever so slightly, and big games with the Bruins, Penguins and Sabres loom this week. Make or break time for a team that cant stumble at all.

21. Toronto Maple Leafs (32-31-10, last week: 21) Toronto matched i poitsnt total from a season ago (74) after beating the Bruins last weekend, and sit only four points behind the Sabres for a playoff spot. The Leafs would be a great story if they can sneak through the playoff back door.

22. Atlanta Thrashers (30-30-12, last week: 23) The Thrash got crunched by the Sabres and appear to be fading from playoff view after a decent run. Looks like Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart arent going to be difference-makers.

23. Minnesota Wild (35-30-8, last week: 20) The Wild are 0-5-1 in their last six games, and coach Todd Richards said his team wasnt professional in an 8-1 shellacking at the hands of the Canadiens. Ouch.

24. Columbus Blue Jackets (33-29-10, last week: 24) The Blue Jackets have lost five in a row at home and Rick Nashs line was a combined minus-5 in a shutout loss to the Devils last weekend. The season cant end fast enough for the B.J.s.

25. St. Louis Blues (32-31-9, last week: 25) The Blues have already started planning for next seasons payroll. Thats all that needs to be known there.

26. Florida Panthers (29-33-10, last week: 26) Ten straight years with no playoffs. That is Panthers hockey.
27. New York Islanders (28-33-12, last week: 27) Good rebound for Rick DiPietro getting a shootout win last weekend in his first start after Brent Johnson basically broke his face.

28. Ottawa Senators (27-36-9, last week: 29) The Senators hope theyve solved their goaltending problem by signing Craig Anderson to a four-year contract. Theyre really hoping.

29. Colorado Avalanche (27-36-8, last week: 28) The Avs snapped a 10-game losing streak and finally gave goalie Brian Elliott a victory. What a horrible trade in the short term for Colorado.

30. Edmonton Oilers (23-39-10, last week: 30) Looks like the Oilers will be getting themselves another young superstar in the draft. Theyd better hope its a defenseman this time around.

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

Carlo "ready for everything" as he looks to build on strong camp

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Carlo "ready for everything" as he looks to build on strong camp

BRIGHTON, Mass. -- Brandon Carlo enjoyed about as good a game as one could possibly hope for in his preseason debut earlier this week.

The 19-year-old was smooth and poised with the puck on his stick, and picked up an assist when Danton Heinen redirected his point blast to the back of the net. He was also a little dirty, mean and nasty in his own end throwing bodies around in front of the net, and at one point taking a penalty call when he was a little overzealous throwing an opponent down in the crease.

So the 6-foot-5 prospect gave a pretty good glimpse into what he can offer at his best, but the youngster also knows it will keep getting more and more difficult as the games get closer to the end of the preseason.

“In that first game I felt like I was doing a lot of really good things. I was moving the puck well, playing well and doing all of the things that I wanted to do. So I’m really excited to build on that opportunity. I feel like I started myself off well, but it’s about building throughout the camp to reach your main goal at the end,” said Carlo, who may be in line for top pair duties again on Friday night after skating in that role in his first game. “Throughout camp I got three games last year, and I noticed that with each game the action got harder and faster. So I’m ready for that. I feel like it’s going to be a lot of fun out there. I’m ready for the speed, and I’m ready for the physicality. I’m ready for everything.”

Carlo will again team with veteran puck-mover John-Michael Liles on Friday night in a road exhibition game against the Detroit Red Wings, and both he and the Bruins will be looking for him to build on that first outing’s promise. If the youngster can keep it up then the Bruins will have a really difficult choice on their hands with seven D-men already signed to NHL contracts ahead of the young prospect types, so Carlo would have to displace somebody.

But that’s another problem for another day, and will require young Carlo to keep impressing on people , and being extremely hard to play against, when the Bruins take the ice against the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena on Friday night.

Bruins ‘expect better effort’ tonight in Detroit with cuts looming

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Bruins ‘expect better effort’ tonight in Detroit with cuts looming

BRIGHTON, Mass. – The Bruins had a pretty humbling experience hosting the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night when they were outhustled, outworked and vastly outscored in a lopsided, 5-1 loss at TD Garden.

So, they’re clearly looking for a much crisper, cleaner and competitive result at Joe Louis Arena on Friday night for the first road exhibition game in a rematch with the Wings. Adam McQuaid had a rough night in his first preseason game as the most experienced guy on the D-men group iced that night, so he’s looking for a better performance personally and team-wide against Detroit this time around.

“It goes without saying that our last game was pretty bad from top to bottom,” said McQuaid. “There are a lot of areas to improve on. Guys were working hard at times, but the battle, and getting in on guys and battling, you have to make sure you’re on top of them when you defend quick players like that. Yesterday was a good up-tempo [practice] and guys were battling with each other, and hopefully that carries over into [the game].”

Helping matters will be a much more experienced group as the solid pairing of John-Michael Liles and Brandon Carlo will be added to the mix and Joe Morrow will be making the trip as well. Up front, Ryan Spooner and Matt Beleskey will be playing in their second consecutive games after generating some decent offense against Detroit. They will have 19-year-old speedy Zach Senyshyn added to their mix.

“The last game we had a bit of a hard time with our breakouts, so we worked on that a little bit,” said Spooner. “I don’t think we were very happy with how we played. The compete level, especially when he got down 4-0, I don’t think it was high enough. So we talked about, and we expect a better effort for sure.”

Young prospects Danton Heinen and Peter Cehlarik will also be in the mix with Riley Nash and Dominic Moore bringing experience down the middle of the ice. Perhaps that combined with the growing intensity in each succeeding preseason game will pull a better result out of a group facing the first cuts of training camp following the two games this weekend.