Sam McCaig’s weekly Power Rankings column will appear on Saturdays.
POWER RANKINGS: The NHL’s top 10 teams
San Jose Sharks: Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, the Sharks emerge as the NHL’s last unbeaten team. How are they doing it? Well, red-hot Patrick Marleau was the first star in San Jose’s first four games, then it was goalie Antti Niemi in the past three games.1.
2. Chicago Blackhawks: Shootout losses to Minnesota and Vancouver have been the Blackhawks’ only blemishes. Special teams have been key as Chicago’s power play was clicking at over 20 percent and the penalty kill was in midseason shutdown mode at 30-for-31.
3. Boston Bruins: Despite a lopsided loss in a grudge game against Buffalo – Boston’s first defeat in regulation time – the Bruins have been the best team in the East in the early going.
4. St. Louis Blues: They’ve never won the Stanley Cup and haven’t been to the final since 1970. The times, they might be a-changin’.
5. Tampa Bay Lightning: A lot of pressure on the top guys to produce and the jury’s still out on new No. 1 goalie Anders Lindback. But so far, the Bolts are a success story.
6. Ottawa Senators: The surprising Sens have leaned on Erik Karlsson’s sublime skill set and Craig Anderson’s goaltending heroics, but the loss of Jason Spezza for at least two months (back surgery) is devastating.
[Super Bowl XLVII: When and where to watch the big game]
7. Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks are doing it with their 5-on-5 play and an abundance of secondary scoring in the form of Daniel Winnik and Saku Koivu.
8. New Jersey Devils: The Devils join the Sharks and ‘Hawks as the only teams without a loss in regulation, though New Jersey has dropped three extra-time games in a row.
9. Montreal Canadiens: Carey Price is rock-solid, rookies Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher have provided a spark, Andrei Markov is healthy for the first time since 2010 and P.K. Subban has rejoined the team.
10. Edmonton Oilers: The young Oilers have wandered the wilderness since their surprise run to the 2006 Stanley Cup final. They have a lot to prove before they can truly be taken seriously, but a good start was the first step.
Rising Up: New York Islanders. They haven’t won a playoff round since 1993, and they’re probably too green and lacking in overall depth to do so this season. But Long Island’s long-suffering franchise has a chance to at least qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2007.
Falling Down: Winnipeg Jets. Three straight losses – all on the road, where the Jets struggled mightily last season – and the second-worst goals-against average in the league (3.88) have erased the good feelings of a 3-1-1 start.
ALL-STAR TEAM OF THE WEEK
Center: John Tavares, NY Islanders. If you’re looking for the main reason for the Isles’ competitiveness, look no further.
Right winger: Martin St-Louis, Tampa Bay. Too small? Too old? Don’t believe it. St-Louis’ latest contribution of note was a four-assist effort against Philadelphia.
Left winger: Patrick Marleau, San Jose. He didn’t make the team last week and since you can’t talk about the early days of the 2013 season without mentioning Marleau, we’re mentioning him now.
Defenseman: Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis. Another player who was overlooked last week, but whose hot start continues. After collecting eight assists in seven games, he scored his first goal of the season on Friday night.
Defenseman: Michael Del Zotto, NY Rangers. With two goals and four points in his past three games – and a plus-5 rating – he’s earning the two-year, $5.1 million deal he signed on the eve of the season.
Goaltender: Roberto Luongo, Vancouver. Our pick for the NHL’s goalie of the week, thanks to two wins and a shutout – and a sparkling GAA (0.95) and save percentage (.963). Let’s just say he’s the best backup in the league and leave it at that.
Rookie: Cory Conacher, Tampa Bay. Martin St-Louis isn’t the only undersized, undrafted player who’s lighting it up for the Lightning these days.
GAMES TO WATCH
1. Pittsburgh at Washington, Sunday. The NHL bravely scheduled four games on Super Bowl Sunday, but wasn’t foolish enough to go head-to-head against the NFL’s championship spectacular. The Penguins and Capitals drop the puck at 12:30pm (ET) on NBC, and the other three contests will be over before San Francisco even begins to beat the stuffing out of Baltimore. (You read it here first!)
2. Chicago at San Jose, Tuesday. The two teams that went the longest without losing – the ‘Hawks started 6-0-0, the Sharks 7-0-0 – face off with Western Conference bragging rights on the line.
3. Boston at Montreal, Wednesday. As classic confrontations go, it doesn’t get much better than the Bruins versus the Habs.
LAST MINUTE OF PLAY
- With the Montreal Canadiens and Dallas Stars re-signing P.K. Subban and Jamie Benn, respectively, Ryan O’Reilly of the Colorado Avalanche is the best RFA waiting for a new deal.
- Vancouver rookie Jordan Schroeder scored the shootout winner versus Chicago on Friday night, but he’s still looking for his first NHL goal.
- It must be noted that the Islanders entered the weekend with NHL’s most potent power play (37.5 percent) and second-best penalty kill (96.0 percent). The Blackhawks had the stingiest PK, operating at 96.8-percent efficiency.
- He’s better when he’s busy: Ottawa’s Craig Anderson is rocking a .968 save percentage despite facing more shots than any other goalie (219 in seven games).
- Just making sure you’re aware that Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek had two five-point games in his first six outings, while Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg stuck a five-spot on the Blues Friday night.
- The Capitals, Flyers and Rangers entered the season as three of favorites in the East. Now they’ve entered the weekend with a combined record of 7-15-1.
- The Carolina Hurricanes were taking 37.5 shots per game. The Senators and Phoenix Coyotes were tied for second (33.2).
- The Sharks’ Patrick Marleau scored two more goals while you were reading this.
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