Sam McCaig’s weekly Power Rankings column will appear on Saturdays.
POWER RANKINGS: The NHL’s top 10 teams
1. Chicago Blackhawks: Running out of ways to describe the ‘Hawks and their stunning start. How’s this: They entered Friday’s game against Columbus fourth in the NHL in goals per game (3.10) and second in goals against (1.70). Do the math, and they were plus-27 in goal differential through 20 games. The Ducks were the only other team in the West in double-digits (plus-16).
2. Anaheim Ducks: Thanks to their West Coast locale and Chicago’s record-breaking ways, the Ducks have been able to fly below the radar. Then you realize they’ve won 11 of their past 13 games, in large part due to a potent offense (3.33 goals per game, second overall) and a killer power play (29.3 percent).
3. Boston Bruins: Camouflaged by the fact they’ve played the fewest games in the league, the Bruins have the second-best point percentage (.824) behind Chicago. Boston boasts two scoring lines, but of course they really do it with defense – they’re fourth in goals against (2.06) and first in penalty killing (93.9 percent).
4. Montreal Canadiens: Who thought the Habs would rise so high? They’ve won seven of their past nine, and the two losses were in extra time. Montreal is getting offense from everybody – 17 players have scored a goal, including 13 who have scored at least two – and Andrei Markov’s presence is great for impressionable younf D-men such as P.K. Subban, Raphael Diaz and Alexei Emelin. Carey Price’s brilliance continues.
5. Vancouver Canucks: It’s a good thing the Canucks have proven they can win without Ryan Kesler, because the two-way star is back on the IR. Vancouver was pounded 8-3 by Detroit last weekend, but it was with backup goalie Roberto Luongo in net. And he’s just no good at all, everybody knows that...
6. Pittsburgh Penguins: It’s been a two-steps-ahead, one-step-back kind of season for the Penguins, who won five of six before stumbling against the Panthers and Hurricanes. In a curious twist, it’s Evgeni Malkin sidelined with concussion symptoms and Sidney Crosby vying for the NHL scoring lead.
7. Los Angeles Kings: The defending champions have finally arrived in the top 10. The Kings have won five in a row and seven of their past eight, including victories over Anaheim, St. Louis and Detroit. They’re not going gangbusters offensively, but they’re scoring enough to win. Still waiting for Jonathan Quick and Drew Doughty to hit their stride.
8. Ottawa Senators: Erik Karlsson and Craig Anderson might have been the Norris and Vezina leaders – and MVP candidates, too – when they went down with injury and Ottawa is also without No. 1 center Jason Spezza. But the Sens keep chugging along, winning five straight before falling in the shootout to Boston on Thursday.
9. New Jersey Devils: They’ve hit the skids with losses in five of six games, a span that basically coincides with Martin Brodeur’s time on the sidelines with a sore back.
10. St. Louis Blues: Ken Hitchcock’s team can play defense, of course, but three goals in their past four games isn’t enough for the Blues. Heck, it’s not even enough for the Blue Jackets.
Rising Up: Winnipeg Jets
The team that couldn’t win on the road last season just returned home after a 4-1-0 trip. The Jets have been streaky, winning a few and then giving back those gains with a losing stretch. They were exposed defensively a few times in the opening weeks of the season, but have settled down since an 8-3 loss to Tampa on Feb. 1.
Falling Down: Tampa Bay Lightning
Speaking of the Bolts, they’ve lost 10 of 13 since that win over the Jets. Steven Stamkos, Martin St-Louis & Co. can score, but Tampa gives up way too much – the Lightning allowed 49 goals in 14 games in February, an average of 3.5 per outing.
ALL-STAR TEAM OF THE WEEK
Center: Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles. The Kings’ most skilled offensive player led the champs’ charge up the standings with two goals and eight points – and a plus-6 rating – in four games last week. Kopitar put a dazzling deke on Jimmy Howard for the game-winner against the Wings on Wednesday, and also won 53 of 83 faceoffs (64 percent).
Right winger: Corey Perry, Anaheim. The Ducks power forward had a two-goal game against the Jackets – including his second game-winner in a row – and a three-assist game against the Predators. Altogether, Perry piled up seven points in three games and seems to have found his groove after a stop-and-go start.
Left winger: Evander Kane, Winnipeg. The ever-improving had goals in four consecutive games – and points in eight straight – before being shut out by the Devils on Thursday. After being a minus player six times in the first 10 games, Kane has been even or a plus player in his past 10 contests.
Defenseman: Niklas Kronwall, Detroit. The Wings’ best all-around defenseman had back-to-back three-point games against Nashville and Vancouver.
Defenseman: Francois Beauchemin, Anaheim. Rugged veteran assisted on all four goals in win over Colorado last Monday, and six helpers in three games overall. He was minus-1 last week, though, to fall out of first place in plus-minus. He’s still near the top at plus-13.
Goaltender: Tuukka Rask,Boston. He won three straight games last week, stopping 100 of 103 shots for a .971 save percentage. That’s not perfect, but it’s close.
Rookie: Justin Schultz, Edmonton. The Oilers defenseman was riding a three-game point streak and had the winning goal against Dallas on Thursday.
GAMES TO WATCH
1. Chicago Blackhawks at Detroit Red Wings, Sunday. NBC’s afternoon matinee is a doozy, with the ‘Hawks trying to extend their NHL-record, season-opening point streak to 22 games (if they earned a point against Columbus on Friday night).
2. Tampa Bay Lightning at Pittsburgh Penguins, Monday. They shouldn’t even bother with goalies in this one.
3. Ottawa Senators at Toronto Maple Leafs, Wednesday. The Battle of Ontario hasn’t been relevant for years as the Sens or Leafs – mostly the Leafs – have struggled in recent seasons, but they’re both in the playoff picture right now.
LAST MINUTE OF PLAY
— Steven Stamkos was the big shooter with 14 goals in 20 games, but it was Jets captain Andrew Ladd who led the league with 10 even-strength goals. Stamkos and Toronto’s James van Riemsdyk were tied for second place with nine; van Riemsdyk had 12 goals in total.
— Pittsburgh Penguins’ power winger James Neal counted eight power-play goals among his total of 13, which was the most on the man advantage. The islanders’ Matt Moulson and San Jose’s Patrick Marleau were next with six PP goals apiece.
— Marleau’s teammate on the Sharks, meanwhile, was setting the pace by setting the tone: Logan Couture had scored the first goal in a game five times (out of eight goals), the most in the NHL. Thomas Vanek (12 goals), Tomas Plekanec (8), Ales Hemsky (8) and Daniel Sedin (7) had opened the scoring four times each.
— It’s not going well for the Buffalo Sabres, but Ryan Miller is doing everything he can. Miller had faced 636 shots, which was over 100 shots more than any other NHL goalie. The Flyers’ Ilya Bryzgalov, who had 20 starts to Miller’s 19, was second (523 shots). Miller also made over 100 saves more than the next netminder (583-472), which was also Bryzgalov.
— Ottawa’s Craig Anderson, still sidelined with an ankle injury, was the NHL leader with a sparkling .952 save percentage when he went down. Fortunately for the Senators, Ben Bishop has stepped in and stopped pucks at a .933 rate.
— It seems Minnesota is liking Ryan Suter more and more, and vice-versa. The Wild defender has taken over as the NHL’s busiest player, averaging 27:34 in ice time per game. The Devils’ Ilya Kovalchuk continues to lead all forwards – by a long shot – and was 10th overall at 25:51 per contest. Stamkos was second among forwards, 64th overall, at 21:58.
— Alexei Kovalev, where are you?
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