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

Chara probable vs. Panthers, Beleskey misses morning skate

Chara probable vs. Panthers, Beleskey misses morning skate

BRIGHTON, Mass. -- There were both expected and unexpected absences from Bruins morning skate on Monday morning at Warrior Ice Arena ahead of tonight’s game at TD Garden against the Florida Panthers. Matt Beleskey was the expected absence after getting knocked out of Saturday’s game with a lower body injury caused by a Tyler Fedun check to his right leg, and Torey Krug was also missing from the ice after pulling workhorse duty over the last handful of games in the absence of Zdeno Chara.

Following practice Claude Julien confirmed that Chara was “probable” to return for tonight’s game vs. the Florida Panthers after missing the last six games, and that Krug is expected to play after succumbing to the same illness that felled Patrice Bergeron over the weekend. Beleskey was being checked by doctors on Monday, and it sounds like his absence might be a bit longer term than simply a “day-to-day” lower body injury. 

Noel Acciari took part in practice, and it appears they both could be closing in on a return to the lineup. Frank Vatrano also shot the puck around a bit at the very beginning of Monday’s skate, but came off the ice as the team began their preparations for tonight’s game. 

Here are the Bruins projected line combos and D-pairings vs. Florida based on the morning skate with Beleskey and Krug both absent:

Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak

Schaller-Krejci-Backes

Spooner-Nash-Czarnik

Blidh-Moore-Hayes/Acciari

Chara-Carlo

Morrow-McQuaid

K. Miller-C. Miller

Rask

Khudobin

Sources: Bruins engaged in trade talks involving Ryan Spooner

Sources: Bruins engaged in trade talks involving Ryan Spooner

This probably won’t come as a complete shock to those watching the way things have played out with him this season, but the Bruins have engaged in discussions with multiple teams about a Ryan Spooner trade, per multiple sources with knowledge of the situation. 

The 23-year-old Spooner was mentioned casually a few months ago as possible fodder in a Jacob Trouba deal with the Winnipeg Jets, but that deal never really materialized prior to the Jets signing their young, frontline D-man to a two-year deal. The Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders and San Jose Sharks have all expressed interest in Spooner, per one hockey source, as it appears that things simply aren’t going to work out for him in Boston. 

It’s been a challenging year for Spooner with pedestrian numbers of three goals and eight points in 24 games, but there are plenty of mitigating circumstances behind the slow start. Spooner has been pushed into playing left wing for the bulk of the season rather than his natural, preferred center position, and he’s been dropped to the fourth line by Claude Julien over the last few weeks. At times he’s also been pulled from the Bruins power play where he racked up six goals and 17 points working off the half-wall last season.  

Julien talked about the former second round pick in frank terms after this week’s win over the Carolina Hurricanes, which featured a Spooner snipe to the top corner during a successful shootout for the Black and Gold. 

“I think at times that [David Krejci] line goes quiet, other times it’s better. We’ve tried different guys on the left side right now and one [Spooner] might give them speed but doesn’t win as many battles,” said Julien of his search for stability at left wing alongside Krejci and David Backes. “The other way [with Tim Schaller] guys are a little harder right now, and they spend more time in the O-zone. So we’re really trying hard to find the right balance there.”

Trade talks have increased the past few weeks because A) the situation has worsened recently with Spooner’s prolonged stint as a miscast fourth line winger and B) the speedy, skilled forward will most likely be a man without a spot when 22-year-old left winger Frank Vatrano returns sometime around the mid-December range. 

According to one source, the Bruins are asking for a “top six forward” in exchange for a package including Spooner, and it’s a lead pipe certainty they’re looking for some goal-scoring given their 24th ranked offense this season. That represents a bit of an organizational sea change after the Bruins searched low and high for a top-4 defenseman in trade over the summer. The emergence of 20-year-old Brandon Carlo, and the Boston defense’s performance across the board, has lowered the Black and Gold’s priority list need to trade for a D-man. 

The Bruins have scored two goals or fewer in 18 of their 25 games this season and badly need somebody that can put the puck in the net from one of the wing positions. Unfortunately for the Bruins, there aren’t a lot of top-6 forwards readily available that could make an immediate impact. It’s highly doubtful any team is going to fork one over for an asset like Spooner that’s been downgraded due to the way he’s been utilized by the Bruins this season. He hasn't played with the same creativity or confidence this season after posting 13 goals and 49 points as their third line center last season. 

So it remains to be seen what the Bruins will get for Spooner after they offered him and a draft pick to Buffalo for rental forward Chris Stewart a couple of years ago. That was a deal Sabres GM Tim Murray turned down before trading Stewart for considerably less at the trade deadline.

The bottom line: the Bruins are working the phones discussing possible Spooner deals, and it feels like there is some motivation from B’s management to move a player that doesn’t seem like he'll ever be a proper fit in Julien’s system.