NHL Power Rankings: Wide open East

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NHL Power Rankings: Wide open East

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

Injuries continue to wreak havoc with the power rankings.

Sidney Crosby has been out more than a month while the Penguins have treaded water, but now they've lost another of their stars (Evgeni Malkin), and this time for the entire season. The Bruins, too, will be without one of their top players (Marc Savard) for the rest of the year.

One thing is certain, though: With injuries in Pittsburgh and goaltending questions in both Philly and Washington, the East is wide open for the Bruins if they can get their act together.

1. Vancouver Canucks (34-10-9, last week: 2) The Canucks are riding a five-game winning streak, theyre owners of the tightest defense in the Western Conference as Ryan Kesler has taken it to a different level this season. The Canucks are for real.
2. Philadelphia Flyers (35-13-5, last week: 1) The Flyers are setting the pace in the East and enjoy the best depth in the NHL, but it should tell you something that theyre fooling around with signing Ray Emery.

3. Pittsburgh Penguins (34-16-6, last week: 4) Evgeni Malkin is done for the season with a knee injury and word on the street is that Sidney Crosby might not be back until March. Somehow the Pens keep on winning, but they cant go on like this forever without their two big guns.
4. Tampa Bay Lightning (33-16-5, last week: 5) Marc-Andre Bergeron steps into the Tampa lineup as a power-play specialist defenseman and notches two assists in his first game. Its really starting to look like their year, isnt it?
5. Detroit Red Wings (32-15-6, last week: 5) The Wings hit a skid as soon as Pavel Datsyuk returned to the lineup, and you cant make this stuff up. That should be a temporary phase for the Winged Wheels.

6. Boston Bruins (30-16-7, last week: 7) Its going to be difficult without Marc Savard, but the Bruins have found a way without him before. Theyll be able to do it again and have become much more consistent in the last month.
7. Washington Capitals (29-15-10, last week: 7) The Caps did a good job of weathering the storm against the Penguins last weekend, and dodged a bullet when hatchet man Matt Cooke couldnt quite take out Alex Ovechkin with a knee-on-knee hit.

8. San Jose Sharks (28-19-6, last week: 14) The Sharks have gone 7-0-1 in their last eight games and Logan Couture looks like hes Calder Trophy worthy this season. San Jose is finally making its move.
9. Montreal Canadiens (30-19-5, last week: 10) The Habs arent lighting anybodys world on fire, but theyve got a big Northeast Division showdown in Boston on Wednesday.

10. Nashville Predators (28-19-7, last week: 9) The Preds scored a big win over the Red Wings, and Sergei Kostitsyn has posted career highs in goals and points for Nashville. They continue to keep pace as a playoff team.
11. Anaheim Ducks (29-21-4, last week: 11) It looks like Jonas Hiller is hitting a wall as he had to be pulled from a loss to San Jose with fatigue and lightheadedness. Thats not good for the Ducks.

12. Phoenix Coyotes (27-19-9, last week: 13) The Desert Dogs have been stuck in neutral for a bit, but it looks like Ilya Bryzgalov is about to heat up between the pipes.

13. Dallas Stars (30-18-5, last week: 11) It may take the Stars to recover from the epic butt-kicking suffered at the hands of the Bruins that saw both Adam Burish and Krystofer Barch go down with fractured orbital bones in hockey fights.

14. Los Angeles Kings (29-22-2, last week: 18) Kings captain Dustin Brown is donating 50 to Childrens Hospital Los Angeles for every registered hit he records this season. Thats a pretty cool gesture from a pretty gritty forward.

15. Calgary Flames (27-21-7, last week: 21) The Flames have done an amazing job of climbing from 14th in the Western Conference all the way to a playoff position out West. Its amazing what happens when theres a Sutter surgically removed from the organization.

16. New York Rangers (29-23-4, last week: 12) The Rangers problems in a nutshell: Chris Drury is a fourth-line forward and penalty killer and he was a 7 million cap hit.17. Minnesota Wild (27-20-5, 17) I have nothing interesting or pithy to write about the Wild. I take that as a poor reflection on their team.

18. Carolina Hurricanes (26-21-6, last week: 20) If I had a nickel for every time I heard that Jeff Skinner was the NHLs version of Justin Beiber during All-Star weekend, Id be a rich man.

19. Chicago Blackhawks (27-22-4, last week: 15) The Blackhawks are on the outside looking in with 30 games left to go in the season. Time for Chicago to wake up as San Jose has done recently.
20. Colorado Avalanche (25-21-6, last week: 16) Perhaps Peter Forsberg can do something to rescue the Avs from their doldrums, but it appears their defense is the big bugaboo.

21. Atlanta Thrashers (24-22-10, last week: 22) The Thrashers have two wins in their last 10 games, and have dropped out of the Eastern playoff race for now.

22. St. Louis Blues (23-20-8, last week: 23) The Blues are 7-12-5 on the road this season, which makes then the worst road team in the NHL.

23. Buffalo Sabres (24-22-5, last week: 22) Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff are both in trouble with new ownership arriving in Buffalo. A good, old-fashioned housecleaning may be coming for Buff.
24. Columbus Blue Jackets (25-22-5, last week: 23) The B.J.s are 5-2-2 in their last nine games, and are giving GM Scott Howson some food for thought with the trade deadline approaching.

25. New Jersey Devils (19-30-4, last week: 27) The winning streak for the Devils is fools gold, but the Martin Brodeur knee injury certainly wouldnt seem to hurt them very much.

26. Florida Panthers (23-23-6, last week: 25) Tell me again why Dennis Wideman is the only Panthers defenseman with a negative plusminus rating?

27. Toronto Maple Leafs (21-26-5, last week: 27) Claude Julien must be rolling his eyes at all of the Phil Kessel complaints being aired about Ron Wilson these days.

28. Ottawa Senators (17-28-8, last week: 30) The Sens have been horrible, but small consolation is that Jason Spezza is back after missing 15 games.

29. New York Islanders (17-28-7, last week: 29) Rick DiPietro should probably quit trying to be the tough-guy goalie for a while after Brent Johnson broke his face with one punch.
30. Edmonton Oilers (15-29-8, last week: 30) One win in 10 games means the great fade has begun in Edmonton, and the spare parts should be flying fast and furious sooner rather than later.

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

Haggerty: For better or worse, Bruins need to make a call on Julien

Haggerty: For better or worse, Bruins need to make a call on Julien

The Bruins coach and leaders in their dressing room spoke out this weekend, and their words all basically spread the same supportive message.

Claude Julien and his longtime players aren’t ready for a change at the head coaching position for the Black and Gold and they hope the longtime bench boss is in Boston for as long as possible after 10 mostly successful years on the job.

Still, it may not go down that way this season with real pressure on B’s management, coaches and the players to end a two-year playoff drought. Things are currently going pretty badly with the Bruins in the middle of a three-game losing streak before facing the reigning Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday afternoon.

The heat has been dialed up as high as it’s ever been on Julien in his 10 years of employment with Boston and everybody seems to know it.

“Right now we’re all confident in Claude, and we all want to be here and play for him. If [saving Julien’s job] is the extra motivation you need for the games then so be it,” said Patrice Bergeron. “But we’re all professionals and we’re here to win hockey games. I’ve said this before that I’ve been with Claude for 10 years, and he’s the guy that I believe in and that I want to play for.”

Similarly, the Bruins captain has been with Julien for the long haul in Boston and has worked closely with the coach keeping lines of communication open in good, Cup-winning times and bad, non-playoff times. Chara bestowed Julien with every bit the endorsement that Bergeron did, and it’s clear much of the core group wants to keep the longtime coach in place.

“We don’t pay attention [to the chatter]. Claude is our coach and Claude will be our coach. We have confidence in him,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. “He’s proven to be a coach that does a lot of good things for this organization. We just have to come up with some wins, battle it and we’re all in this together.”

One thing that’s a legitimate question: Is the devotion of players like Chara and Bergeron toward Julien a defining reason to keep the longtime coach?

There isn’t a sense the Bruins have tuned out their coach, as can happen in dysfunctional NHL situations, but there is a feeling that longtime B’s players with status are pretty comfortable with iron-clad no-movement clauses in their contracts and a relationship with the coach where there’s a level they may not be getting pushed toward very often.

Comfort isn’t always a good thing in an NHL dressing room and it’s felt altogether too comfortable at times in some of those no-show performances from the Black and Gold over the past couple of failed seasons. 

For his part, Julien doesn't think that was the case and intends on continuing to work his way through the struggles with a mix of youth and veteran players who clearly have enough to be a playoff team.

“If we’re going with what we said we were going with and there’s going to be some growing pains along the way, so be it,” said Julien. “I think we put ourselves in a position earlier in the year where we could all of a sudden believe that we’re a playoff team...absolutely. I still think we’re a playoff team. Whether we can do it or not we’ll find out at the end of the year, but my job is to do everything I can to get us into the playoffs and that’s what I’m going to do.

“As far as the [firing] rumors are concerned, they’re out there and I know that. But I don’t worry about it because worrying is wasting a lot of my time. And my time is spent trying to fix things here.”

It would be ridiculous and pointless to compare this season’s Bruins roster to the groups that won Cups, made it to the Finals twice and even won a President’s Trophy in 2013-14. Clearly, this particular roster isn’t as deep, or as difficult to play against, as those talent-stuffed hockey clubs, but this team also has enough high-end talent that they should edge teams like Toronto, Ottawa and Philadelphia out of a playoff spot.

This is where the theoretical move to fire Julien comes into play.

The Bruins are at a critical stage of their season where things are slipping away from them and the team is showing some of the maddening characteristics of the past two seasons.

They are unprepared to play on too many nights. They take opponents lightly on too many nights particularly in the past couple of months. A tiring Tuukka Rask isn’t able to bail the team out as much as he was in the first couple of months. Because the Bruins are being strangled by a roster of immovable players with no-trade clauses and can’t even entertain trading their blue-chip prospects Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy, the trade options just aren’t there for Don Sweeney and Cam Neely right now.

It would take a brilliant, creative GM to swing a hockey deal that could pump life back into the reeling Bruins. The B’s front office hasn’t shown those qualities in the past few years running the team. Instead, they have GMs from other teams lining up and making one-sided offers to the desperate Bruins in hopes that Sweeney/Neely will buckle under the pressure to push into the playoffs this spring.

So, the only impactful card the Bruins can play is firing a coach in Julien who probably isn’t the coach of the future when the next generation of B’s prospects is ready to go. The hope is that move can light a fire under their meandering hockey club if it doesn't start reeling off some wins in a row. An argument can be made that a coach such as current assistant Bruce Cassidy could get more out of some of Boston’s younger players they’re relying heavily on this season. The former Providence Bruins coach might fit a little better into the overall philosophy that management is looking to instill.

It might just be that making a coaching change is the best midseason card that Bruins management has to play given all of the circumstances.

Still, the one thing that B’s management can’t do is keep Julien twisting in the wind and answering all the questions about his future with no clear vote of confidence from his bosses. Julien is the winningest coach in Bruins history and led them to their glorious Stanley Cup run in 2011. He’s earned a wealth of respect around the league for the professional, classy way he’s always conducted himself on and off the ice and he won’t be out of work long if/when he is relieved of his duties on Causeway Street.

So, if the Bruins intend to make the move with their coach then they need to do it sooner rather than later.

People around the NHL are watching the Bruins intently to see how they handle this situation with a world-class coach in Julien, and Neely and Sweeney continue to be radio/TV silent, despite the Bruins media requesting to speak with them on Friday morning in the throes of their losing streak.

It’s high time for Bruins management to step up and make a decision on Julien for better or for worse, and treat him the way they’d undoubtedly like to be treated if it were them suddenly in the danger zone should they miss the playoffs again this spring.  

Sunday, Jan. 22: Jimmy Vesey's rookie wall

Sunday, Jan. 22: Jimmy Vesey's rookie wall

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while proud of my wife and daughter for taking part in the Women’s March on Saturday.

*The day-to-day NHL grind may be getting to Jimmy Vesey a bit, and causing him to hit a bit of a rookie wall after his Harvard career.

*Alex Radulov has gone from being an NHL headache to being an impact playmaker for the Canadiens in a quick pivot for the Russian player.

*Melrose native Conor Sheary seems to have found a home for himself on the Pittsburgh Penguins skating on a line with a guy named Sidney Crosby.

*The Chicago Blackhawks are always looking to improve, and they’ve reportedly kicked the tires on Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar with Detroit.

*St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock is nearing another coaching milestone in what’s been a long, distinguished career behind the bench.

*P.K. Subban is slowly approaching a return to the Nashville Predators lineup from injury, and the Preds need him as soon as possible.

*For something completely different: Greg Poppovich hits the nail on the head here, and it never ceases to amaze me that he’s such a smart, well-versed human being.