NHL Power Rankings (December 7 to December 19)
by Jason Schwartz - 12/23/2006
The Eastern conference continues to become extremely competitive, and outside of the Philadelphia Flyers there are no teams left to beat up on. Speaking of competitive, how about the Northwest Division? I have never seen such tight division. Edmonton, Colorado, Vancouver, Calgary and Minnesota all have 17 wins each and first and last place are only separated by two points. Thankfully, you will not see them all bunched up together in my rankings as they are not all playing equally good (or bad) hockey as of late. The teams that jumped the most in this edition of the power rankings were the Colorado Avalanche and the Chicago Blackhawks by moving up seven spots. The team that dropped the most, and this is not the first time, is the Ottawa Senators, who continue to make my rankings look a bit idiotic by dropping 11 spots.
1. Anaheim Ducks 26-4-6 (1) - They managed to sweep their road trip against four teams of from the Southeast Division. The Ducks continue to get great goaltending when necessary, and are able to elevate their play in the final period. Even though their road trip should be considered a success, the blown lead in the third period against the San Jose Sharks must have left a bitter taste in their mouths.
2. Buffalo Sabres 24-7-2 (2) - For the first time this year I can surprisingly say that the Sabres' offense has cooled down a bit the last couple of weeks. The Sabres lose to Ottawa for the third time this season, kind of odd considering what a disappointment Ottawa continues to be this season. But I guess they still want revenge from last year's playoffs.
3. San Jose Sharks 24-10-0 (3) - It looked like the Sharks were in bad shape when Anaheim came to town, as they had lost to the Los Angeles Kings, 4-2, the previous night at the Shark tank. San Jose managed to pull off a dramatic 4-3 win against the Ducks after falling behind 2-0. San Jose continues to remind us that Anaheim is far from having the Pacific Division locked up regardless of their amazing first half of the season. Momentum is definitely going to be on the Sharks' side in the upcoming weeks as they have two key games at home vs. Dallas and once again against Anaheim.
4. Montreal Canadiens 20-8-5 (7) - I said that I thought the Canadiens were slipping under the radar going into the season, but I did not expect them to have a season like this so far. One of their top young scorers, Chris Higgins, is back from injury and will add some more offense to an already red hot Montreal team. Buffalo better get their offense rolling as Montreal is slowly catching them in the standings.
5. Nashville Predators 22-8-3 (5) - Nashville really showed that they have some great depth on their team as they have managed to battle through injuries to some key players without hurting their spot in the standings. Backup goaltender Chris Mason continues to be excellent in relief of Tomas Vokoun and he was named one of the league's three stars this past week. The Predators should really be tested when the Buffalo Sabres come to town on Dec. 21.
6. Detroit Red Wings 19-9-4 (6) - Detroit continues to do well despite the lack of scoring depth. They finally beat New Jersey on the road for the first time since 1993, and overall had a good two weeks regardless of the two unexpected losses they received. Now Detroit is getting ready to face Minnesota three times and Columbus another two times in the upcoming weeks.
7. Dallas Stars 21-12-0 (8) - Injuries really took a toll on Dallas the past two weeks as top players like Mike Modano and Brendan Morrow were both out of the lineup with injuries. Dallas has lost three straight home games as their offense just could not support them. Brendan Morrow is back in the lineup, but Mike Modano still has yet to return. Dallas has a really tough schedule coming up against Anaheim, San Jose and Nashville.
8. Atlanta Thrashers 19-10-6 (4) - Top offensive threats Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa hit a cold streak, and, predictably, so did the team as a whole. After a brutal 8-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Thrashers went on to go winless in their next four games. The winless streak included a blown lead against Washington in the last minute of the game and a 6-0 defeat at the hands of the New York Islanders. After an impressive performance against New Jersey, Marian Hossa looks to be back on track once again.
9. New Jersey Devils 18-12-3 (10) - After their 5-game winning streak came to an end following a 3-2 loss to Buffalo, New Jersey went on to lose their next three games. That streak was put to rest with a convincing 6-1 victory over one of their rivals, the New York Rangers. New Jersey has been finding themselves on the wrong end of close games lately, which was a way different story during the first quarter of the season.
10. New York Islanders 17-12-3 (11) - The Isles were more than happy to welcome Alexei Yashin back to the lineup (which is a bit surprising compared to the past couple of years) after being manhandled by Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 7-4 loss. In Yashin's return, the Islanders won 6-0 against the Thrashers and recently followed it up with a victory against an injury-riddled New York Rangers team. Despite their two-game winning streak, I see tough days ahead for the Islanders.
11. New York Rangers 18-13-4 (16) - Things were finally going well for the Rangers during their impressive five-game winning streak. Henrik Lundqvist was brilliant in goal, and even when their top guns went cold for a couple of games, they found a way to get scoring from other sources. But unfortunately the flu bug hit the team, and apparently took a toll somewhat in back-to-back embarrassing losses to the Toronto Maples Leafs and the New Jersey Devils in which they were outscored in both games by a margin of 13-3. The flu has knocked top centre Michael Nylander out of the lineup and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. On top of that, the Rangers also had their second-line centre Matt Cullen and one of their top defenseman, Marek Malik, out with minor injuries that left their third- and fourth-line centers to try and pick up their slack. Although the Rangers have been unimpressive in their last three games, it should only be temporary until some of the injured are healed.
12. Colorado Avalanche 17-15-2 (19) - The Avs have really started to step it up as of late, winning five of their last seven games and even playing well in the two losses they suffered. The offense has finally caught fire, and their power play is becoming more of threat. Right now I think they are looking the best out of all the teams in the Northeast Division. Unfortunately though, they are the only team in the Northeast that has trouble finding consistent goaltending.
13. Calgary Flames 17-12-3 (15) - A new franchise record was set after a 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild, as the flames won their 10th straight home game. I am still not too sold on them being Stanley Cup contenders though; their road play continues to suffer and their road wins are usually against mediocre teams. The best news for Calgary is that they are getting great offensive production from Jarome Iginla; he has six goals and 14 points in his last seven games.
14. Carolina Hurricanes 17-4-4 (12) - The loss of captain, and leading scorer Rod Brind'Amour really set the team backwards in the five games that he missed. During his absence the Hurricanes went winless in four of five games. They were victorious in his return to the lineup, though, and knowing the Hurricanes, they are definitely keeping a close eye on Dec. 28 and 29 when they will play back-to-back games against Buffalo and Anaheim. A couple of wins against the top dogs would definitely give them the confidence that they can contend once again this season.
15. Washington Capitals 15-11-7 (20) - I thought Washington's surprising start to the season was finally ready to take a downward spiral after blowing a 4-0 lead to the Penguins in a 5-4 loss. However, they showed some great resiliency since then. They stole two points in Atlanta, and followed it up with their 3rd straight win this season over Philadelphia. They nearly came back from a three-goal deficit against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but came up just short near the end. Alexander Ovechkin continues to score at a rapid pace, as he is now tied for the league lead in goals with 24.
16. Minnesota Wild 17-14-2 (14) - The Wild are starting to look like most of the teams in the Northwest Division as they are pretty much two different teams on the road and at home. After winning all three games during their homestand, the Wild went to the road, where they ended up losing three straight. Overall the Wild are winless in their last seven road games, and part of the reason why they are struggling is because the performance of goaltender Manny Fernandez has dropped off lately (especially on the road). I expect him to pick it up again soon, though.
17. Pittsburgh Penguins 15-13-5 (22) - The Penguins have been a very exciting team to watch lately as Sidney Crosby has taken over as the league's leading scorer and Evgeni Malkin is ready to start running away with the rookie scoring race. The Penguins pulled off the first four-goal comeback of the season with a thrilling 5-4 shootout win over the Washington Capitals. In their next game Sidney Crosby racked up six points against the team he always dominants, the Philadelphia Flyers. The explosive Penguins' offense will have to continue to carry the team until goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury breaks out of the slump he has been in during the month of December.
18. Chicago Blackhawks 14-13-5 (25) - Well, you can credit coach Denis Savard partly for the Blackhawks turnaround, but the main reason the Hawks have been better lately is because of the return of Martin Havlat from that long-term ankle injury. Havlat scores big goals and he makes players around him better. Havlat scored two goals in his return to the lineup against Minnesota and he ended the Hawks 0-for-36 drought on the power play, Chicago went on to win four out of its next five games. The Hawks also added some offense to the lineup by signing former 50-goal scorer Petr Bondra. He is not as effective as he used to be but could still add some help to the Hawks brutal powerplay unit.
19. Boston Bruins 16-13-2 (17) - I don't feel right dropping the Bruins a couple of spots in the rankings because they haven't been playing bad, it is just the teams in front of them have elevated their game. Their offense continues to move the puck around better, and Marc Savard has helped rejuvenate Glen Murray's career with his playmaking skills. Murray is playing his best hockey since Joe Thornton left town. After Boston's 7-3 pounding of the Ottawa Senators on Dec. 19, goaltender Tim Thomas is now a career 5-1-1 with a 2.12 goals-against-average and a very impressive .941 save percentage against Ottawa. Don't know why, but Thomas sure raises his game when facing the Sens.
20. Edmonton Oilers 17-14-2 (13) - Goaltender Dwayne Roloson should be relieved that he will not be playing the Colorado Avalanche until February, as he has allowed 16 goals in his last three games against them. Outside of a rare win on the road against Dallas (just their fourth win there since 1993), the Oilers did not have much to be happy about over the past two weeks. They already got the wizardry offensive skills of Ales Hemsky back in the lineup, hopefully leading goal scorer Ryan Smyth can come back from injury before the New Year.
21. Ottawa Senators 17-17-1 (9) - Ottawa looked dreadful with the absence of Daniel Alfredsson in the lineup. They lost four of five, and could have easily lost all those games if Ray Emery had not stolen a game against Detroit. I don't think any team moves up and down these rankings like Ottawa does, as they cannot put together a consistently good effort. For head coach Brian Murray's sake the Sens better start picking up some wins soon.
22. Toronto Maple Leafs 16-14-5 (18) - The offense has finally come back to life for the Maple Leafs as they have scored 21 goals in their last four games. All momentum stopped for the Leafs a couple of games ago as they lost, 7-3, to the Florida Panthers. I must say their defense looked like they were out to lunch in that game. With their offense flowing and their defense struggling, the Leafs are going to be a safe bet to usually go over the goal total.
23. Vancouver Canucks 17-16-1 (23) - The Canucks' play has definitely improved since the last power rankings, but not enough to really move them up the list. Their power play has been looking much better as they have capitalized on 30 percent of them in their last six games. The Canucks continue to be a team that is capable of contending for a playoff spot throughout the season with their good puck control play, they definitely need their captain, Markus Naslund, to step up.
24. Tampa Bay Lightning 15-17-2 (21) - Although Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier have been playing unbelievably this season, it just does not seem to be enough to help them catch the Atlanta Thrashers in the Southeast Division. The Lightning are having trouble winning games in which they outplay their opponents and it can get really frustrating for the players. This results from the weak goaltending they are getting from Marc Denis, and of course their awful penalty killing unit. General Manager Jay Feaster might be pressed to trade one of his top stars to either get some goaltending, or at least a shut down defenseman.
25. Columbus Blue Jackets 12-17-3 (29) - Just like the Chicago Blackhawks, the Blue Jackets continue to thrive under their new coach, as they have gotten points in seven of their last 10 games. The Blue Jackets finally picked up their first ever win at American Airlines Arena in Dallas. Their offense has been much more effective as of late with the emergence of Rick Nash who has not been having a strong season so far. Columbus is currently using rookie Fredrik Norrena in goal as of late because of minor knee injuries to Pascal Leclaire. Norrena had played stellar early on, but the constant amount of games he's been starting in is slowly starting to wear him out.
26. Florida Panthers 12-18-6 (24) - The Panthers needed to start getting their offense going along with some decent goaltending if they wanted to stay somewhat within the playoff picture; and they proved that they still are not dead yet. They beat Buffalo at home, and then they unfortunately went on a five-game winless skid in some close games against some of the top teams in the league. Once the tough part of their schedule was done, they managed to pick up two straight road wins for the first time this season. The Panthers strong powerplay has also started to pay dividends on the road (which was their Achilles heel for the first two months).
27. Phoenix Coyotes 12-19-1 (26) - With an injury to Curtis Joseph, the Coyotes were forced to use newly acquired goaltender Mikael Tellqvist in net as of late, and his performance started off good but got weaker as he was not used to the heavy workload. The Coyotes had an average week, playing some decent hockey at home and falling badly on the road. On a positive note, they finally scored a goal against Dallas after getting shutout by them in their first three meetings; unfortunately they lost the game, 4-3, in overtime.
28. Los Angeles Kings 12-18-6 (28) - With injuries to both goaltenders, the Kings were forced to throw goaltender Barry Brust in his first NHL game against the San Jose Sharks. Unexpectedly, the Kings went on to win the game and it looked like they could feed off of a big road win. However, they went on to lose their next two games at home against Dallas and Calgary. The Kings should have Matheiu Garon back in net soon, and it would be great considering that Dan Cloutier is not getting the job done this season.
29. St. Louis Blues 8-19-6 (30) - Coach Mike Kitchen finally got fired, as he was replaced by former Los Angeles Kings coach Andy Murray. The Blues ended their 11-game winless streak with a surprising road win over the Pittsburgh Penguins last game. The Blues have been looking much better defensively under Andy Murray, and I think teams will stop walking right through them like they were during the first half of the season.
30. Philadelphia Flyers 8-21-4 (27) - Forsberg keeps going in and out of the lineup and the offense is drying thin while goaltender Antero Niitymaki is suiting up game after game thanks to the injury to his partner in goal, Robert Esche. Teams are just manhandling Philadelphia at this point in the season and it has turned into an overall disaster The more time Peter Forsberg misses, the uglier it is going to get for them (they are already winless in 10 games when he was not in the lineup this season).