Sam McCaig’s weekly Power Rankings column will appear on Saturdays.
POWER RANKINGS: The NHL’s top 10 teams
1. Chicago Blackhawks: It was a heckuva ride, but The Streak is over. (Long live The Streak!) But because of that incredible 24-game run to open the season, the 'Hawks can put it in cruise-control a bit in the second half and still make the playoffs in style.
2. Anaheim Ducks: You know, if the ‘Hawks hadn’t gone half-a-season without a regulation loss, we’d all be praising the Ducks’ incredible rise from the dregs of the standings last season.
3. Boston Bruins: They lost two in a row, but don’t worry – the last time that happened the B’s bounced back with six straight wins. Perhaps beating Toronto on Thursday night was the first step toward another six-game fun run.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins: First, the good news: They’ve won three in a row, five out of seven and eight out of 11. The bad news? The Pens have surrendered at least three goals in eight of their past nine contests. So they’re scoring and winning, but the defense and goaltending need to improve.
5. Montreal Canadiens: The Bruins and Penguins might rank higher on this list, but the Habs are leading where it counts, sitting in first place in the Eastern Conference.
6. Los Angeles Kings: The defending Stanley Cup champions have shaken off a sluggish start and caught up with everybody in the West who aren’t the Blackhawks or Ducks. Like last season, L.A. could use a few more goals. Except Jeff Carter. He’s second in the league with 16 (although he’s tied for 417th in assists with just two.)
7. Toronto Maple Leafs: If Bruins coach Claude Julien says the Leafs are “legitimate contenders,” then who are we to argue? Everybody take a deep breath and just try to calm down.
8. Vancouver Canucks: They’ve been streaky this season, and they’re trending downwards with five losses in their past six games. So let’s take a moment and praise parity that a team can slide and still snag a spot in the weekly Power Rankings…
9. San Jose Sharks: The Sharks’ streakiness makes the Canucks look like a model of consistency. If you don’t like San Jose making the cut, switch them out and insert the Blues because they’ve been taking hot-and-cold turns all season.
10. Carolina Hurricanes: The ‘Canes outlasted Tampa’s great start and watched the Bolts fall back to the pack (and then, fall slightly behind the pack). Now it’s Washington, suddenly alive again, in Carolina’s rearview mirror.
Rising Up: Dallas Stars
With back-to-back wins over rivals Los Angeles and St. Louis, the Stars climbed back into a playoff position in the ultra-tight West. Starting goalie Kari Lehtonen, who missed a couple of weeks in February, has won eight of his past nine outings.
Falling Down: Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers have lost five in a row, surrendering 21 goals and picking up just one point in the painful process. With a couple of wins, they can get back into the playoff race. A couple more losses, though, and they might find themselves in last place in the league and falling further behind.
ALL-STAR TEAM OF THE WEEK
Center: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh. He took over the lead in the NHL scoring race with two goals and eight points in three games. (Overall, he’s got 39 points in 24 games.) Crosby’s riding a six-game point streak and has been held off the scoresheet just once in his past 11 outings.
Right winger: Tyler Seguin, Boston. The Bruins speedster clicked for four goals and six points in four games. True, he was a minus-1 in a 4-3 overtime loss to Washington on Tuesday, but it’s the only game in which Seguin has been a minus player this season.
Left winger: Rick Nash, NY Rangers. The Blueshirts power forward returned to the lineup with a vengeance, scoring six goals and nine points in his first five games back.
Defenseman: Kris Letang, Pittsburgh. The early favorite for the Norris Trophy piled up seven assists – only two on the power play – and collected four helpers in that wild 7-6 overtime win against Montreal last Sunday.
Defenseman: P.K. Subban, Montreal. The Habs defender scored three times – and added three assists – in four games to move into a tie for the lead in D-men goals with six, despite missing the first couple weeks of the season.
Goaltender: Braden Holtby, Washington. The Capitals stopper went 3-0-0 last week with a 1.33 goals-against average, .959 save percentage and a 3-0 shutout victory on the road against Winnipeg. In the bigger picture, he’s started 11 in a row for the Caps, winning eight of those games.
Rookie: Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida. The Panthers rookie scored four times in five games, including his second successful penalty shot of the season. He’s up to 12 goals overall which is five more than Tampa Bay’s Cory Conacher, who’s second among NHL freshmen with seven.
GAMES TO WATCH
1. St. Louis at Anaheim, Sunday. The Blues and the Ducks could be the last teams standing in the playoffs in the Western Conference. Well, assuming the ‘Hawks and Kings somehow eliminate each other.
2. Boston at Pittsburgh, Tuesday. If you like black-and-gold and great hockey teams, the Bruins and Penguins are facing off just for you.
3. Ottawa at Montreal, Wednesday. Two of the league’s pleasant surprises try to keep the good times going.
LAST MINUTE OF PLAY
Few people are on the fence when it comes to Chris Pronger. If you’re pro-Pronger, he was one of the greatest defensemen of his generation. If you think he’s the anti-Chris, he was arrogant and one of the dirtiest players of the past two decades. But love him or hate him, he deserved a better ending to a 20-year career that will one day put him in the Hall of Fame.
There wasn’t a more frightening sight this week than Marc Staal collapsing to the ice, grabbing at his face, legs kicking. The Rangers defenseman flailed around and writhed in pain after being struck in the eye area by a deflected slapshot against the Flyers on Tuesday night – and the NHL’s visor debate was off and running. There are already too many examples of hockey players who have suffered career-ending eye injuries and loss of vision. Visors are inevitable. So why not put them on now instead of waiting for a tipping-point tragedy?
If there was a more frightening sight this week than Marc Staal collapsing to the ice, it was David Dziurzynski collapsing to the ice after being knocked unconscious by Frazer McLaren. The Ottawa Senators rookie did not flail around and writhe in pain because he was out cold after wrongly deciding to tangle with the Toronto Maple Leafs tough guy – and the NHL’s fighting debate was off and running. In this corner, the NHL doesn’t need staged fights and one-dimensional enforcers. A spontaneous bout that rises from the action is one thing, but two guys whose only hockey attribute is being good at face-punching is quite another.
Although the lockout sometimes still feels like yesterday, we’ve reached the midway point of the 2013 NHL season. The Blackhawks’ record-setting point streak is the big story, with a few Chicago players front-and-center in the trophy races. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews (with Marian Hossa not far behind) are in the running for MVP, and the tandem of Corey Crawford and Ray Emery deserves a mention for the Hart as well as the Vezina. (Yes, we’re aware that goalie tandems can’t win the Hart or Vezina. So they might have to settle for the Jennings for lowest team GAA.) Surprisingly, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook haven’t been part of the Norris conversation, but that just makes Chicago’s stunning start all the more impressive.
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