Sam McCaig’s weekly Power Rankings column will appear on Saturdays.
POWER RANKINGS: The NHL’s top 10 teams
1. Chicago Blackhawks: They just set an NHL record for the best start to a season, earning a point in their first 17 games (14-0-3) and counting. Who else would be No. 1?
2. Anaheim Ducks: Speaking of streaks, the Ducks are on a five-game run and have won nine of their past 10. They’re scoring (3.3 goals per game, T-2nd) and backup goalie Viktor Fasth was so good in his first nine games (8-0-0, 1.78 GAA, .933 SP) that Anaheim gave him a two-year extension.
3. Boston Bruins: The B’s are top-10 in goals for and goals against, and they’ve got the best PK in the league (51-for-54, 94.4 percent). They can play it playoff rough or Sunday matinee smooth.
4. New Jersey Devils: Nobody really expected the Devils to make the Stanley Cup final last season. Nobody really expected the Devils to shrug off the loss of UFA Zach Parise and have the best record in the East this season. But they’re Lou Lamoriello’s Devils. They win. That’s what they do.
5. Vancouver Canucks: Ryan Kesler and David Booth have rejoined the lineup, and Roberto Luongo has the best GAA in the league. Don’t forget about these guys.
6. Pittsburgh Penguins: The news that Evgeni Malkin may have concussion symptoms after being hit by Florida’s Erik Gudbranson is certainly cause for concern, but if there’s one team that can survive a superstar’s extended absence due to head trauma...
7. Montreal Canadiens: It starts with Carey Price and a mobile defense corps, but don’t overlook the contributions of veteran forwards Tomas Plekanec (eight goals), Max Pacioretty and Rene Bourque or the Habs’ top-to-bottom depth.
8. Nashville Predators: It’s not exactly The Pekka Rinne Show every night, although sometimes it feels like it.
9. St. Louis Blues: They’ve been hot, cold, hot and now they’re feeling a chill again after back-to-back losses. But the Blues have the manpower and the coaching, not to mention a lethal power play that’s been scoring on nearly one out of three chances.
10. Carolina Hurricanes: There’s a lot of pressure on a handful of forwards and goalie Cam Ward. Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner & Co. are scoring; Ward’s trying to find his game.
Rising Up: Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs have won three of their past four – despite the extended absence of top-line winger Joffrey Lupul as well as No. 1 goalie James Reimer – to move into the upper reaches of the East standings. Toronto has been very consistent this season, with a chance to earn points in virtually every game they’ve played.
Falling Down: Detroit Red Wings
Long losing streaks haven’t been associated with the Wings for years (and years and years), but they’ve dropped five in a row as they deal with rampant injuries and new players in new roles.
ALL-STAR TEAM OF THE WEEK
Center: Henrik Sedin, Vancouver. With two goals – his first of the season – and five assists last week, Sedin passed Markus Naslund for top spot on the Canucks’ all-time scoring list.
Right winger: Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia. His performance against the Penguins – a hat trick, with the game-winner late in the third – was impressive enough, but the Flyers winger also has a four game-point streak (including a career-high four-point game against the Isles, all assists).
Left winger: Max Pacioretty, Montreal. After failing to score in the first 10 games of the season, the Habs power forward had four goals – and three assists – in his past four games while ringing up a plus-6 rating.
Defenseman: Shea Weber, Nashville. He’s back. Weber had only one assist in the Preds’ first 13 games, but he’s riding a three-game goal streak while logging more than 26 minutes a night.
Defenseman: Duncan Keith, Chicago. With five assists in three games and five blocked shots in a win over the Kings, Keith is doing it all for the Blackhawks. As usual.
Goaltender: Ben Scrivens, Toronto. The Leafs backup won three of four starts, with back-to-back shutouts against Ottawa and Florida for the first NHL whitewashes of his career.
Rookie: Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida. The Cats kid had a four-point game against the Flyers and has taken over the goal-scoring lead among NHL freshmen with eight.
GAMES TO WATCH
1. Vancouver at Detroit, Sunday. It’s usually a high-skill display when the Canucks and Wings get together. Vancouver’s trying to chase down Chicago for top spot in the West, while Detroit’s trying to climb back into the playoff picture.
2. Anaheim at Los Angeles, Monday. The Ducks have been as good as anybody this season while the Kings, as you may recall, concluded last season as NHL champions. L.A. has some work to do to recapture their Cup-winning form; perhaps knocking off their California rivals would set them on their way.
3. Montreal at Toronto, Wednesday. The Canadiens have looked great this season – except when they face the Leafs, who’ve manhandled Montreal.
LAST MINUTE OF PLAY
– Four of the five starting goalies in the Southeast Division had a goals-against average above 3.00: Braden Holtby, Washington (3.62); Jose Theodore, Florida (3.37); Cam Ward, Carolina (3.27) and Anders Lindback, Tampa Bay (3.12). The exception was Winnipeg’s Ondrej Pavelec, who took a 2.97 GAA into Saturday’s game against the Flyers.
– Matt Cooke’s errant skate ended Erik Karlsson’s season, perhaps opening the door for teammate Kris Letang to claim his first Norris Trophy. The Penguins defenseman could very well lead all D-men in scoring, plus-minus and ice time by the end of the season.
– Toronto (508), the Rangers (497) and Philadelphia (495) lead the NHL in hits, and have pulled away from the rest of the league. Ottawa was fourth (427). The Flyers were also second in blocked shots (288), sandwiched between Colorado (291) and Nashville (287).
– Nashville has gone to extra time in nine of 18 games, the most in the NHL, compiling a 4-5 record in overtime and the shootout. Pittsburgh and Toronto have gone beyond regulation just once this season (and both the Penguins and Leafs won when they did). Florida and New Jersey have had the least success, with matching 1-4 records beyond 60 minutes.
– On average, the Blackhawks have scored 1.3 more goals per game than they give up, the biggest differential in the NHL. Chicago was averaging 3.3 goals while surrendering 1.9. Anaheim and Pittsburgh were tied for second (+0.8 goals per game).
– Fifteen of the Minnesota Wild’s first 16 games were decided by two-or-fewer goals, with the only exception a 4-1 loss to Vancouver on Feb. 7. Meanwhile, nine of Florida’s first 17 games were decided by three-or-more goals; the Panthers had a 3-6 mark in blowout games.
– The Wild were the lowest-scoring team in the first period (six goals in 16 games) and the third period (nine goals). Nashville, the lowest-scoring team in the NHL (2.1 goals per game), was the weakest team in the second period with nine goals in 18 games.
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