Sam McCaig’s weekly Power Rankings column will appear on Saturdays.
POWER RANKINGS: The NHL’s top 10 teams
1. Chicago Blackhawks: One day, the ‘Hawks will lose in regulation time. But with five straight home games on the schedule, it might not be anytime soon.
2. Anaheim Ducks: Viktor Fasth has been a revelation in net – especially with Jonas Hiller bruised and bumpy – but make no mistake, the Ducks are doing it with their offense. Only Tampa Bay scores more than Anaheim’s 3.4 goals per game, and the Ducks are dominant 5-on-5, outscoring opponents by nearly a 2-to-1 margin.
3. Boston Bruins: Take away the two losses to arch-rival Buffalo and the Bruins would be undefeated in regulation time, too.
4. New Jersey Devils: David Clarkson’s power forward prowess is (deservedly) the hot topic in Jersey, but 36-year-old Patrik Elias is leading the team in scoring (18 points in 14 games) and plus/minus (plus-10). Not to mention, the octogenarian goaltending tandem of Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg are playing like they’re half their age.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins: The Pens have won seven of their past nine, with the only blemishes a pair of back-to-back losses to the Devils. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are in the top 10 in scoring and climbing. Marc-Andre Fleury has been solid after a slow start. Watch out for these guys.
6. Vancouver Canucks: The return of Ryan Kesler eases the loss of Manny Malhotra, who is done for the season – and probably his career – due to eye concerns. Even though he still hasn’t scored yet, Henrik Sedin had 10 assists in 13 games and nudged Markus Naslund for the all-time franchise scoring lead with 757 points.
7. Nashville Predators: Stop us if you’ve heard this one before, but the secret to the Preds’ success is top-to-bottom defensive commitment. Oh yeah, and Pekka Rinne, he’s important, too.
8. Carolina Hurricanes: The ‘Canes won four of five on the road with the Staal reunion leading the way. Jeff Skinner survived a nasty tumble into the boards and is scoring in bunches, while Alex Semin has fit right in and bolstered the attack.
9. Detroit Red Wings: It’s been a win-three-lose-two kind of season for the Wings, and they’re giving up too many goals as they deal with an extended injury list. But the star players are leading the way, and everybody knows you can never dismiss Detroit.
10. Montreal Canadiens: They’ve been getting great contributions from a mobile defense corps and a couple of undersized rookies, but in the end the Habs will go as far as Carey Price can carry them.
Rising Up: Washington Capitals
Just when we were ready to start talking about their chances in the draft lottery, Alex Ovechkin started scoring again and the Caps ran roughshod over the state of Florida.
Falling Down: San Jose Sharks
Remember the good ol’ days, a couple weeks ago, when the Sharks scored on every second shift and winning was easy? That was then, this is now. And now San Jose can’t score, they can’t win, and they’ve fallen back to the pack after bolting out to a stunning start. Speaking of Bolts, the Tampa Bay Lightning are doing the same thing in the East.
ALL-STAR TEAM OF THE WEEK
Center: Eric Staal, Carolina. The Hurricanes captain is riding an 11-game scoring streak, the longest in the league this season.
Right winger: Troy Brouwer, Washington. He scored four times, including twice on the power play, helping the Caps win three straight games and – perhaps – start to turn their season around.
Left winger: Alex Steen, St. Louis. The Blues winger scored in four straight games, helping St. Louis snap a five-game losing skid and win back-to-back road games in Detroit and Calgary.
Defenseman: Dion Phaneuf, Toronto. The Leafs captain had two goals and four points – and a physical, on-the-edge presence – in three games.
Defenseman: Joe Corvo, Carolina. After going scoreless in January and being scratched three straight games in early February, Corvo has collected two goals, five points and a plus-6 rating in his past four games.
Goaltender: Pekka Rinne, Nashville. The Predators goalie is coming off consecutive shutouts and leads the league with three whitewashes on the season. His stats – 1.61 goals-against average, .938 save percentage – are stellar.
Rookie: Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida. It was a quiet week for NHL freshmen, but Huberdeau hit the back of the net twice against Washington to give him five goals on the season.
GAMES TO WATCH
1. Los Angeles at Chicago, Sunday. Even if the Kings are stumbling, it’s still the defending Stanley Cup champions against the hottest team in the league.
2. San Jose at St. Louis, Tuesday. At times, these teams appear to be heavyweight contenders. Other times, they play like they’re punch-drunk. But given their depth and talent, they should be a lot closer to Tyson than a tomato can.
3. Philadelphia at Pittsburgh, Wednesday. Couldn’t you just watch these two teams play all day long?
LAST MINUTE OF PLAY
Erik Karlsson’s injury means the NHL will have a new scoring leader among defensemen. Winnipeg’s Tobias Enstrom and St. Louis’ Kevin Shattenkirk hold the early lead, but it might be one of their teammates who ultimately ends up on top. The Jets’ Dustin Byfuglien and Blues’ Alex Pietrangelo figure to be in the mix all season.
Buffalo’s Jhonas Enroth (4.75 GAA, .847 SP), the Islanders’ Rick DiPietro (4.62 GAA, .842 SP) and Florida’s Scott Clemmensen (4.32 GAA, .837 SP) had the worst goals-against average and save percentage among goalies who had played at least 100 minutes.
The Devils were the only team with six home wins and they had the best home record in the NHL (6-1-1). Meanwhile, the Islanders were the only team with one home win and – you guessed it – they had the worst home record in the NHL (1-5-0).
The Blackhawks, as you’re surely aware, are 8-0-2 on the road. Columbus and Tampa Bay are at the other end (1-4-0), while Philadelphia (2-7-0) isn’t exactly lighting it up away from home, either.
The Blues are first in the NHL in power-play efficiency (19-for-53, 35.8 percent). And St. Louis is equally lethal at home and on the road: they’re second in the league at home (10-for-29, 34.5 percent) and first on the road (9-for-24, 37.5 percent). The Lightning (13-for-34, 38.2 percent) have the most dangerous power play at home.
Boston still hasn’t scored a power play goal at home (0-for-23) and Detroit hasn’t scored one on the road (0-for-23). The Wings are 24th overall on the power play and 25th on the penalty kill, the lowest special-teams combined ranking in the league.
The Wings are the only team in the NHL to surrender three shorthanded goals, while the Devils are the only team to score three times while down a man.
Carolina’s Eric Staal, the Rangers’ Marian Gaborik and the Leafs’ Matt Frattin were tied for the NHL lead with seven even-strength goals. Gaborik and Frattin had seven goals in total, while Staal also had one on the power play.
Rookies don’t play much. They need to earn the trust of their coaches and teammates first. And this was certainly evident in Montreal, where undersized Alex Galchenyuk (12:02) and Brendan Gallagher (11:04) were getting fourth-line ice time. But they were making the most of it, holding down spots among the league’s top 10 rookie scorers and plus-minus leaders.
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