Sam McCaig’s weekly Power Rankings column will appear on Saturdays.
POWER RANKINGS: The NHL’s top 10 teams
1. Chicago Blackhawks: After opening the season with a 24-game point streak, the ‘Hawks endured the indignity of back-to-back regulation-time losses against Colorado and Edmonton before stabilizing with a shootout win over Columbus. All in all, not a bad showing for their worst week of the season.
2. Anaheim Ducks: Everybody’s favorite runner-up, the Ducks have won five consecutive games – surrendering a total of four goals – and have 17 victories in their past 21 contests.
3. Boston Bruins: The B’s won three times in four outings, which is on par with their pace this season. No big surprise, but the Bruins look more playoff-ready than any other team in the East.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins: With Evgeni Malkin sidelined, The Crosby Show is playing to rave reviews. The Penguins’ team defense might be causing coach Dan Bylsma a few sleepless nights, but they’re scoring enough to stay out of trouble.
5. Montreal Canadiens: The Habs are hanging in atop the East, though the Bruins and Pens are pushing hard. Montreal is riding a four-game winning streak, including three in a row on the road.
6. Los Angeles Kings: Just when you think they’re heading straight to the top, the Kings take a step backwards. But there’s been a lot more progress than pitfalls in the past few weeks.
7. St. Louis Blues: With four wins in five games, the Blues are shooting for the No. 4 seed in the West and putting some space between themselves and the playoff bubble teams.
8. Vancouver Canucks: They’re battling hard with the Wild for the lead in the Northwest; the Canucks have won claimed the division title four years in a row.
9. Carolina Hurricanes: The best team in the league’s worst division, the ‘Canes can’t afford to let up because only one team in the Southeast might make the playoffs.
10. Minnesota Wild: See what a couple of $98-million contracts will get you?
Rising Up: Winnipeg Jets
Winnipeg has been hot-and-cold this season, and right now they’re hot. The Jets are 4-0-1 in their past five outings and 7-2-1 in their past 10. Keep it up and they’ll fly past Carolina and into first place in the Southeast Division, grabbing the No. 3 seed in the East in the process.
Falling Down: Toronto Maple Leafs
After making their debut in the top 10 last week, the Leafs promptly dropped four games in a row. It was around this time last season when Toronto lost nine consecutive games, effectively killing their playoff chances. Will history repeat itself?
ALL-STAR TEAM OF THE WEEK
Center: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh. The Penguins captain takes the honors for the second week in a row on the strength of eight points – and a plus-9 rating – in four games, highlighted by a five-assist game against the Islanders.
Right winger: Pascal Dupuis, Pittsburgh. Crosby’s right-hand man had five goals and a league-leading 23 shots last week, ringing up a plus-7 rating in the process.
Left winger: Chris Kunitz, Pittsburgh. Crosby’s left-hand man also had five points against the Islanders, including his second hat trick of the season. Overall last week, he had four goals and eight points with a plus-6 rating.
Defenseman: Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg. The jumbo Jet scored the game-winner against Florida and followed up with three assists against the Leafs and two more helpers against the Rangers.
Defenseman: Shea Weber, Nashville. With a goal and five points in four games, the heart-and-soul of the Predators is back on top of his game.
Goaltender: Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus. Yes, there’s a Blue Jackets goalie who’s having success. Bobrovsky has taken over the starting job; last week, he was 2-0-2 with a 0.94 GAA, .969 save percentage and a shutout.
Rookie: Brendan Gallagher, Montreal. The 5-foot-8, 175-pound Canadiens rookie scored two goals in four contests, including the game-winner against Tampa Bay.
GAMES TO WATCH
1. Boston at Pittsburgh, Sunday. The top two teams in the East face off for the second time in less than a week, and it’s a Sunday matinee on NBC. Buckle up.
2. San Jose at Anaheim, Monday. Who knew that shifting Brent Burns from defense to the wing would give the Sharks such a boost? Head coach Todd McLellan, apparently.
3. Minnesota at Detroit, Wednesday. The Wild are movin’ on up in the West, the Wings are fighting for their playoff lives. Welcome to the NHL, circa 2013.
LAST MINUTE OF PLAY
– Don’t understand the criticism of Kaspars Daugavins’ razzle-dazzle shootout attempt against the Bruins. No, he didn’t score this time, but he’s had success with that crazy Phil Bourque-ian, spin-o-rama move in the AHL in past seasons. And he’s obviously proven to Ottawa coach Paul MacLean that it works in practice. If he’s got the skill and confidence to do it, then why not?
– Russian machines never break: Ilya Kovalchuk, Sergei Gonchar and Andrei Markov are all riding five-game point streaks, the longest active streaks in the league.
– Here’s your problem: The Florida Panthers are giving up half-a-goal a game more than anybody else. The Cats are averaging 3.7 goals against; the Flames and Islanders are next-worst at about 3.2.
– Don’t look now, but Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin might be forcing his way into the Calder conversation. The 24-year-old rookie has five goals and 11 points in 23 games, including four goals and nine points in his past 10 games. And he’s plus-10, the best mark among NHL freshmen, and plays with an edge. Yes, it would be a huge surprise if he’s one of the final three nominees – unless he keeps playing like this.
– Speaking of fine young defensemen, P.K. Subban has been putting up nearly a point-a-game since rejoining Montreal. He had 20 points in 21 games, including a blueline-best seven goals.
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