Welcome to the new era of mediocrity in the Lone Star State.
Yes, reader Ken in Arkansas, I am willing to eat those words now. That was my comment for the Dallas Stars in the season-opening Power Rankings – a list published after Texas' finest went 4-4 in the preseason, scoring 29 goals and allowing 29.
For a while, the Stars played to their ranking. What's wrong with Marty Turco? was the Week 4 comment for Dallas, a team that opened the season 6-5-1 while its goalie struggled with a 3.64 goals-against average.
The turnaround began between the pipes. In the early going, Turco looked lost. He gave up juicy rebound after juicy rebound as he appeared to struggle with either the new rules or the fancy new goalie equipment that arrived as a package deal.
Then the Stars sat him down for back-to-back games, giving goalie coach Andy Moog some extra time to work with his pupil. Since then Turco has won 13 of 16 starts, allowing two or fewer goals 11 times. He's still a long shot for Team Canada, but team organizers will give him a look.
Then there's Mike Modano, who suffered through a distracted 2003-04 season and recorded a career-worst minus-21 rating. There was talk of cutting him loose, but Modano has rebounded – averaging right around a point per game with a plus-16 rating.
For dessert, teams 1-30:
(Records and rankings through Thursday, December 15.)
1. Ottawa Senators (22-5-2; Previous: 1) – Bad time for Jason Spezza to slip into a scoring slump. Slowed by a bum hip, the center has just two points in six December games. Team Canada will be announced Wednesday, and Spezza is battling Sidney Crosby and Eric Staal for a roster spot at the Turin Games.
2. Dallas Stars (20-8-1; Previous: 4) – The schedule makers saddled Dallas with four road games in six nights beginning Wednesday at Buffalo. Who knew they were doing the Stars a favor? Turco shut out Ottawa Thursday as Dallas improved to 6-0 in the second game on consecutive nights. That's 14 wins in 17 games for the Stars, by the way.
3. Buffalo Sabres (20-10-1; Previous: 8) – The Sabres don't have a single player among the NHL's top 50 scorers (leading scorer Tim Connolly ranks 78th). What they do have is four solid lines and a goalie, Martin Biron, who just set a team record with wins in 11 straight starts. Wednesday's victory over Dallas sent a message.
4. Vancouver Canucks (20-9-2; Previous: 11) – Talk about a statement week. Vancouver faced two Eastern Conference division leaders (Ottawa and the New York Rangers), beat them both and then threw in a win at Philadelphia for good measure. Coming up: five straight at home, where the Canucks are an NHL-best 13-1 on the season.
5. New York Rangers (20-9-4; Previous: 2) – The Rangers were really outplayed by the Canucks Tuesday. New York surrendered 17 first-period shots in an eventual 3-2 home loss. Only rookies Petr Prucha (two goals, giving him nine in five games) and Henrik Lundqvist (28 saves) kept the Rangers in it.
6. Calgary Flames (18-9-4; Previous: 3) – Coach Darryl Sutter gave his players three days off during a rare six-day break in the schedule. General manager Darryl Sutter took no such break. Calgary's coach/GM is reportedly shopping for offense in hopes of invigorating an attack that has generated only 21 goals in its past 10 games. Names being thrown about, according to the Calgary Sun, include Owen Nolan, Doug Weight and Marc Savard.
7. Carolina Hurricanes (20-9-2; Previous: 5) – Scoring depth has been a concern, but Carolina is starting to get production from guys not named Staal. Right wing Justin Williams has 18 points in his last 14 games and Craig Adams has seven points in four games. Ray Whitney needs to come alive – and stay healthy.
8. Detroit Red Wings (21-9-3; Previous: 7) – Losing back-to-back games to Atlanta and Florida is no way to climb the rankings. With Jiri Fischer facing an uncertain future, the Red Wings are more desperate than ever to regain the services of defenseman Niklas Kronwall. He's reportedly targeting a return just after the Olympic break in February.
9. Tampa Bay Lightning (18-11-3); Previous 10) – Quietly, the Lightning have won 10 of 12, a run that includes quality wins against Carolina, Philadelphia and Nashville. Watch out if Tampa Bay ever gets its power play invigorated. Only four teams have fewer power-play goals than the Lightning.
10. Nashville Predators (19-7-3; Previous: 6) – In the three games since goalie Tomas Vokoun tweaked his knee, Nashville has been outshot 29-16, 41-34 and 38-31. That's pretty much routine for the Predators, but without Vokoun back there Nashville dropped two of three. He can't come back fast enough.
11. Philadelphia Flyers (18-8-4; Previous: 10) – Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and goalie Robert Esche all left Thursday's game with assorted injuries. What is going on with the Flyers? Goals leader Simon Gagne and team captain Keith Primeau were already out, and Philadelphia's defense has been hit hard by the injury bug. It's starting to look like one of those seasons.
12. San Jose Sharks (13-12-4; Previous: 16) – It's nice to see left wing Nils Ekman having fun again – fun that has translated into points on the scoresheet. Last year's surprise 22-goal scorer had just three goals (all in October) before Joe Thornton arrived. Since then the Swede has two goals in five games. Take a bow, Nils.
13. Edmonton Oilers (17-11-4; Previous: 12) – Edmonton scored only six goals on its recent three-game road trip, but still came away with four of a possible six points. Goalie play was crucial, and a surprise contributor was Ty Conkin, who made 27 saves in Tuesday's 2-1 shootout loss. Conkin was rewarded with another start Thursday in a win over Montreal.
14. Los Angeles Kings (18-13-1; Previous: 13) – Jeremy Roenick has been moved to a line with Pavol Demitra and Craig Conroy in coach Andy Murray's latest move to try to get more offense from the 35-year-old. Roenick didn't score in his first game with his new mates, but he registered five shots against Washington, his most active night in that category since Oct. 11.
15. Phoenix Coyotes (16-14-2; Previous: 14) – Team Canada executive director Wayne Gretzky is miffed that he has to name his team in December rather than waiting until February when the IOC needs an official roster. The fact that he must mix in scouting trips on off nights can't help his focus behind the Coyotes bench.
16. Colorado Avalanche (16-12-3; Previous: 15) – The Avs still look like a playoff team, but do they have a goalie who can carry them there? Rookie Vitaly Kolesnik has started four straight games but doesn't look like a long-term option. Now David Aebischer is upset and Peter Budaj is rusty. Can they swing a deal for Roberto Luongo? Can they pry Jean-Sebastien Giguere from Anaheim?
17. Toronto Maple Leafs (16-12-3; Previous: 14) – Last week coach Pat Quinn was experimenting with Eric Lindros and Mats Sundin on the same line. This week the Maple Leafs are bracing themselves for the possibility that Lindros may miss a month. According to the Toronto Globe and Mail, the center may have to rest for up to four weeks if a special brace does not allow him to play with torn ligaments in his right wrist.
18. New York Islanders (15-13-2; Previous: 18) – Jason Blake will miss at least one game after suffering a concussion Tuesday. Blake had really kicked his game up with linemate Shawn Bates on the shelf.
19. Montreal Canadiens (16-9-5; Previous: 16) – Montreal finishes December out with six out of seven on the road, with games at Minnesota and Ottawa kicking it off. Things will get worse before they get better.
20. New Jersey Devils (14-12-5; Previous: 20) – You have to like your chances in overtime with Martin Brodeur protecting your net, but New Jersey lost three in overtime (one via the shootout) last week.
21. Chicago Blackhawks (12-16-2; Previous: 21) – Chicago played 20 of its first 30 games on the road, so in a way it should be thankful to be within nine points of a playoff spot. How good are the Blackhawks? We'll have a better idea after they play 16 of their next 21 at home.
22. Anaheim Mighty Ducks (14-13-5; Previous: 22) – J.S. Giguere has been just average since returning from injury on Dec. 6. His December save percentage of .886 represents a season low.
24. Boston Bruins (11-15-6; Previous: 24) – Now that Ed Olczyk is out in Pittsburgh, the chopping block is on the way to Boston. Adjusted for holiday shipping traffic, it should arrive by Dec. 25. Who is it addressed to? Mike Sullivan? Mike O'Connell? Maybe a his-and-his set?
25. Atlanta Thrashers (13-16-4; Previous: 25) – The Thrashers beat Detroit Tuesday and won at New Jersey Thursday. Defense remains a concern, and probably will until goalie Kari Lehtonen returns. Atlanta has allowed at least five goals in three of its last five games.
26. Florida Panthers (11-18-4; Previous: 28) – Back-to-back wins against Nashville and Detroit could get Florida going in the right direction.
27. Washington Capitals (10-17-2; Previous: 26) – Washington has the worst special teams in the NHL. The Capitals rank 29th in both power-play effectiveness and penalty killing.
28. Columbus Blue Jackets (8-19-0; Previous: 27) – That Dec. 15 target date for Rick Nash's return came and went with no sign of the talented winger. Predictably, the Blue Jackets scored one goal in a loss to Carolina, the 14th time this season the team has scored one or fewer goals. Nash may return in a week.
29. St. Louis Blues (6-17-4; Previous: 29) – The Blues have two wins against teams with winning records this season. Curiously, one was against Western Conference power Detroit.
30. Pittsburgh Penguins (8-17-6; Previous: 30) – New coach Michel Therrien is a tough, defensive-minded leader. And he's not afraid of dishing out a little discipline. It's interesting that coach Ed Olczyk was sacked just days after a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette described the coach as someone who bypasses punishment drills.