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

Acciari glad to be back with B's after missing a month

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Acciari glad to be back with B's after missing a month

BOSTON -- Noel Acciari missed a month of game action with a lower body injury, so it would have been perfectly acceptable to show plenty of rust in his game upon returning to the Boston lineup.

But the former Providence College standout didn’t look rusty, a step behind or out of place in any way as he played the fourth line energy forward role to a perfect fit after missing the last 13 games. Acciari did get in one game with the Providence Bruins prior to suiting back up for the Black and Gold on Saturday, and perhaps that helped him manufacture a couple of shots on net to go along with three thumping hits against the Maple Leafs.

The 25-year-old Acciari didn’t factor into the scoring at all for the Bruins, but that’s just as well given that his focus should be on killing penalties, being hard to play against and taking the body whenever the chance presents itself. Claude Julien reformed the B’s energy line that had so much success earlier in the season with Acciari, Dominic Moore and Tim Schaller, and didn’t hesitate tossing them back into the mix together while looking for energy and a spark for an offensively stunted team.

“It’s good to be back with my linemates, and you know, I think we kind of picked up where we left off, but there’s definitely things we need to work on. That’ll come with a couple more practices and games together,” said Acciari, who finished theSaturday loss with three registered hits packed into 11:35 of ice time. “Kind of getting back to our familiarity and kind of get back to where we were before I got injured.

“It was a good start tonight, but we definitely just weren’t clicking like we used to, but that’ll come. I think that will come. Like I said, a couple practices and just kind of getting some games in [are good things]. I thought we were pretty good tonight, but, you know, should get more pucks to score [goals].”

Clearly there is room for improvement for everybody including Acciari, but it was encouraging to see the fearless competitor again flying around on the TD Garden ice playing high intensity hockey for a fourth line that could use every little bit of that. 

Backes: "Offensive frustration is warranted at this point"

Backes: "Offensive frustration is warranted at this point"

BOSTON -- This may not come as a surprise, but the Boston Bruins are having some trouble putting the puck in the net.

Despite outshooting the Maple Leafs by an 11-2 margin in the first period and outshooting them by a 32-21 margin over the balance of the 60 minute game, the Bruins scratched for just a single goal in a frustrating, constipated 4-1 loss to Toronto at TD Garden. Clearly some of the offensive difficulty was caused by a solid Frederik Andersen, who improved to 6-0-0 in a career against Boston that’s beginning to take on Bruins Killer proportions.

But a great deal of the B’s struggles to finish scoring chances on Saturday night is a malady that’s dogged the Bruins all season, and marked the 20th time in 29 games this year that Boston has scored two goals or less. In most of these games the Bruins have dominated puck possession and outshot their opponents, but still have come away mostly empty handed in the goals scored department while dropping deep in the bottom third of NHL offenses this season.

“It seems like every game we’re out-chancing teams, but we don’t outscore teams. That’s where the biggest issue is right now. Our scoring is not there and if you don’t score goals you don’t win hockey games,” said Claude Julien. “Because of that we criticize everything else in our game, but our game isn’t that bad.

“If we were scoring goals people would love our game right now, but that’s the biggest part. There’s not much more I can say here except for the fact that if we don’t score goals it’s going to be hard to win hockey games.”

But the Bruins aren’t scoring goals consistently, their power play is below average while trending in the wrong direction and the team has been forced to watch steady offensive players like Patrice Bergeron suddenly slump in a concerning way. Clearly David Pastrnak is doing his part with 18 goals scored this season in 24 games, and others like Brad Marchand and Dominic Moore have also performed above, or beyond, their acceptable level of play.

But there are other players failing with the chance to make an offensive dent: Austin Czarnik has been on the roster for nearly two months, and has zero goals and two points in his last 15 games as the offense is again dried up on the third line. He missed wide on a shorthanded chance in the third period after a Moore centering pass set up him all alone in front, and was critiquing himself for fanning on a perfect dish to him in the slot.

Moments later the Leafs had an insurance score from James van Riemsdyk to make it a 3-1 game, and it was all over for the Black and Gold at that point.

Czarnik is an easy target because he’s young and inexperienced, but there is more than enough struggle and frustration to go around with a bunch of offensive players that can’t seem to get out of their own way. David Backes admitted it’s reached a point where the Bruins are frustrated when they can’t score enough to beat a team like Toronto, and that it falls squarely on the lead guys in the Black and Gold dressing room that are underperforming.

“I think offensive frustration is warranted at this point; we just haven’t done a good enough job scoring goals. We played a heck of a first period. We limited them to two shots and we had an opportunity to have a team that’s coming in here that’s a younger team, to really put them behind the eight ball,” said Backes. “Instead, they think they got a second lease on life and they were able to capitalize. All of the sudden, they were up 2-0 and we’re fighting an uphill battle again rather than -- we have that opportunity to play a heck of a first period and we don’t find a way – it’s easy to talk about, but it’s going out there and doing the job and putting it past or through the goalie, or however it needs to happen. “You’ve seen our goals; you want to do a study on it unless you’re Pasta [David Pastrnak] with the one-timer on the side, it’s been ugly, it’s been rebounds, it’s been greasy goals and that’s our equation and we need more of it, and we didn’t do it. They did a good job of being in front of their net and boxing out, eliminating those second chances. But, we’ve got good players in here that need to create more and find those second chances and win those battles, find those loose pucks, and throw them in the net.”

The Bruins have been talking seemingly all season about the need to get to the “dirty areas in the offensive zone”, and for players to jump all over the second and third chance opportunities currently going by the board unchallenged on goalie rebounds.

Now it’s about speaking with action for the B’s, and more specifically speaking volumes with goals and offensive finish instead of “chances” that aren’t doing much of anything if they’re not being snapped into the back of the net.