The 2013/14 NHL season is now 10 weeks old, and it is time for my bi-weekly power rankings. The rankings below are on a "per game" basis, so there is no reward for playing more games than another team, I use a formula based on points per game (shootout wins not included), and goal differential as of Sunday Dec 8th. My rankings are not a matter of personal preference, I plug the standings into a simple formula and crank out a rankings list. Then I write a blurb for each team.
1. St. Louis Blues (last rank 1): They are still the best team in the NHL, but have lost 3 of their last 4 games and may be losing steam (in those 3 losses, they gave up 14 goals). Jay Bouwmeester is quietly having a very strong season for the Blues, putting up even better numbers than Alex Pietrangelo. The active NHL ironman who has never missed a game as a pro has certainly earned himself a spot on the Canadian Olympic team, and will likely be named to Team Canada.
2. Chicago Blackhawks (last rank 5): As of Sunday night the Blackhawks sat in first place in the NHL, despite having lost 3 of their last 4 games. They thumped the struggling Panthers to break a 3 game losing streak, and are getting balanced production from up and down the line-up. I was thinking the other day, just imagine how things would have been different if the Penguins had drafted Toews instead of Jordan Staal, and the Hawks had drafted Staal. They might not have any Stanley Cups, let alone 2.
3. San Jose Sharks (last rank 3): After winning 9 of 10 games, the Sharks have now lost 3 games in a row. The sky is not falling, and everything is sunshine and lollipops in San Jose. Over their last 11 games, they have 7 forwards with at least 6 PTS. Most teams would kill for that kind of scoring depth, which the Sharks have in abundance. Despite the fact that they tend to run hot and cold, following up winning streaks with losing streaks, this team will easily make the playoffs and give some unlucky opponent a very difficult time.
4. Boston Bruins (last rank 4): The Bruins have won 6 of their last 8 games, thumping the Leafs on Sunday night without Loui Eriksson, who has been lost to another concussion after being their most productive forward for the previous 10 games. That being said, forward Reilly Smith, who was a throw-in to the Eriksson-Seguin trade has been very good, scoring 9 PTS in his last 12 GP, giving him 20 PTS in 30 GP so far this season. Not many pundits predicted that kind of production from Smith when the trade was made in the summer time. He has been even better than Eriksson!
5. Colorado Avalanche (last rank 2): Where have you gone Matt Duchene, your team turns their lonely eyes to you. With just 1 point in his last 7 games, Matty has gone cold while he is still auditioning for a spot on Team Canada's Olympic roster. He's going to have to find that magic touch again if he wants to book a plane ticket to Sochi. As a team, the Avs are 3-3 in their last 6 and are barely clinging on to a playoff spot (losing to Vancouver on Sunday night hurts, since that is one of the teams chasing them).
6. Pittsburgh Penguins (last rank 7): With both Crosby and Malkin producing at this high of a level, good luck slowing down this offense. They have won 5 of their last 6 games, and suddenly Malkin has missed a few games with an undisclosed "lower body injury". Hopefully that injury is not serious, because Malkin has scored 21 points in his last 11 games, and had been the hottest player in the league (the 2nd hottest being James Neil with 19 PTS in his last 13 GP).
7. Anaheim Mighty Ducks (last rank 6): The Ducks had a big win over the Blackhawks on Friday and the Blues on Saturday, as they establish themselves as one of the best teams in the conference, first place in the Pacific division. Granted those two big wins came on the heels of losing 7 of 10 games, so if anything they stopped the bleeding. Over their last 11 games, Perry, Getzlaf, Penner, and Bonino have combined for 47 PTS. Their next 4 best forwards Cogliano, Palmieri, Winnik, Koivu, have 13 points over the same 11 games, which helps illustrate how top heavy the Ducks offense has been.
8. Montreal Canadiens (last rank 10): Don't look now, but the suddenly red hot Habs have won 10 of their last 12 games and have shot up the standings like a bottle rocket. What a difference David Desharnais makes, as he has 9 points in those 12 games (second only on the team to Max Pacioretty). Mad Max is playing great hockey, Carey Price is providing rock solid goaltending, and with the Russian hammer Alexei Emelin back in the line-up, the rest of the Atlantic division needs to be take notice.
9. Los Angeles Kings (last rank 9): Life without Jon Quick is going better than expected, with an 8-4 record since their Conn Smythe goalie has been out (including 3 wins in a row). The offense hasn't exactly been firing on all cylinders, but they are getting enough goals to maintain their status as a top 10 team. Personally, I would have expected a bigger decline from Quick to Scrivens, but I was wrong. They are getting it done. Go figure.
10. Tampa Bay Lightning (last rank 13): All hail Ben Bishop, who is winning games for this team in the absence of Stamkos. They have lost 7 of their last 10 games, but any success they have had can be attributed to Big Ben. Valtteri Filppula has started to slow down, while Martin St. Louis is managing to maintain his production near a point per game, where many expected a sharper decline without his favourite sniper. The 9th place team in the Eastern Conference is just 5 PTS behind the Lightning, so they just might find themselves outside the playoff race when Stamkos returns.
11. Vancouver Canucks (last rank 14): They have won 5 of their last 6, and the guy everyone is talking about is Ryan Kesler, playing once again at an elite level. They had very nearly fallen out of playoff contention, but have since passed the Coyotes (who still retain 3 games in hand) into the #4 spot in the Pacific. Mike Santorelli continues to produce, scoring 3 points in a Sunday night victory over Colorado. Probably the biggest disappointment for GM Mike Gillis has to be Zack Kassian. Players with the skill of Cody Hodgson are hard to find, bull-dozers are a dime a dozen. But still, as of this moment, the Canucks are sitting in a playoff spot. We'll see how long that lasts.
12. Detroit Red Wings (last rank 15): I'm not quite sure how the Wings managed to win 5 of 7 games without Datsyuk, but take Zetterberg out of the line-up too, and this is not the same team. They have unreal depth at the forward position to keep them competitive, but the next 2 weeks might hurt. Over their last 12 games, the two leading forwards on the Wings are Johan Franzen (14 PTS) and Tomas Tatar (10 PTS). Darren Helm has been terrific since returning from an extended injury, but he suddenly finds himself back on the injured list with a bad shoulder.
13. Minnesota Wild (last rank 8): They lost 2 games to the Colorado Avalanche last week, and blew an opportunity to pass their division rivals in the standings (an opportunity they seized with a big win on Sunday). But before you go telling your radio audience that the Wild have fallen apart (I'm talking to you David Pratt), 3 of the Wild 4 losses last week were to St.Louis and the Avs. Then on Saturday night they beat Chicago, which is a huge win. On Sunday they beat the Sharks 3-1, so they are still showing an ability to beat elite level teams. They could benefit from a little more consistency, but they are nowhere near "falling apart".
14. Seattle Coyotes (last rank 12): Markham city council has killed the arena project, so we can scratch Toronto from the list of possible destinations. The Coyotes continue to hold the spot of dead last in NHL average attendance. I'd love for someone with intimate knowledge of the terms of sale to tell me, can the Coyotes be moved as soon as the new owners hit $50M in losses, or do they need to wait 5 years no matter what? Who cares how the team is doing? Clearly Phoenix doesn't.
15. Dallas Stars (last rank 20): They need to get healthy, but are proving to be a scrappy team none the less (3-3 over their last 6 games). The Stars are one of the best teams currently sitting outside a playoff spot and are slowly closing in on Minnesota (6 PTS back with 3 games in hand). Over the last 9 games, Valeri Nichushkin has 8 PTS, Cody Eakin has 7 PTS, and Jamie Benn has 4 PTS. Tyler Seguin had not scored a point since Nov 17 before scoring a hat trick and 4 PTS on Dec 7. Welcome back Tyler.
16. Washington Capitals (last rank 16): They are a middle of the pack team at best, despite some of their high end talent. They have won 4 of their last 5 (including a huge win Sunday against the Rangers) and remain comfortably in a playoff spot. Some people might say that they are only in a playoff spot because their division is so weak, maybe so, but that's nothing new for the Caps. I expect them to make the playoffs, which would put them up against another team in the Metropolis division, which they could win. They can't beat Pittsburgh though.
17. Toronto Maple Leafs (last rank 11): The upcoming schedule is going to be vicious for the Leafs, who continue to find themselves depleted due to injury. They have lost 6 of their last 8 games, and might fall right out of the playoff race in December if they're not careful. Over their last 10 games, they have given up an average of 40 shots per game. That's not the recipe of a playoff team. If you require extra-spectacular goaltending to win, that is not sustainable. Somehow the coach needs to figure out a way to put a lid on this, unless it is a personnel issue.
18. New Jersey Devils (last rank 19): I'm still trying to figure out how this team is good, or if they are any good. I expected them to challenge for dead last, and they have been far from the worst. They have lost 6 of their last 9 games and continue to rely on Elias and Jagr for most of their offensive production. The strength of this team is goaltending, but it remains mostly unlikely that the Devils will make the playoffs. They just don't have the weapons. Put Kovalchuk on this team and they might contend for a championship, but he's not and they won't.
19. New York Rangers (last rank 17): It seems a little bit strange that Lundqvist got this big fat contract extension right around the time that the Rangers had started to bench him for his better performing back-up. The last time they beat a team sitting in a playoff spot was Nov 16. They can beat the bottom feeders, but struggle against quality competition. Over their last 13 games, Mats Zuccarello is their leading scorer with 10 PTS (7 Rangers forwards have at least 6 PTS over that span). They are getting plenty of scoring depth, Carl Hagelin notwithstanding (3 PTS in his last 13 GP).
20. Carolina Hurricanes (last rank 24): It looks like maybe Eric Staal really wants a spot on the Canadian Olympic hockey roster (14 PTS in his last 12 GP). The Canes have a winning record since losing Semin to a concussion, winning 5 of their last 7 games. Jordan Staal is slowly creeping back towards mediocre. Getting Cam Ward back helps, except that Peters was playing respectably in his absence. The big difference on this team right now is that the Staals have stepped up production, especially since Semin got hurt. Losing Semin has made this team better.
21. Philadelphia Flyers (last rank 18): The Flyers went 9-6 in November, and have realized their potential as a barely average team. Claude Giroux is a top 60 player again, and is helping to re-affirm his status as a favoured Canadian Olympian. We can probably attribute that slow start to his golf injury. It will be tough for the Flyers to make the playoffs, but not impossible. Over their last 11 games, Giroux and Couturier each have 10 PTS, while Matt Read and Scott Hartnell each have 8, even Steve Downie has 7 PTS.
22. Winnipeg Jets (last rank 23): The Jets are 4-6 in their last 10 games, and are fighting to stay playoff relevant. Evander Kane and Andrew Ladd have struggled over the last 11 games, while Dustin Byfuglien is by far a team worst -11 (the next closest is -5). They need Big Byf to be far more than just a booming slapshot on the power play. If he's going to be a legit #1 defenseman, he's going to need to be far better than this defensively.
23. Columbus Blue Jackets (last rank 25): This was not a good time to lose Sergei Bobrovsky to injury. I doubt the Blue Jackets will even come close to a playoff spot. That being said, they are currently undefeated since the Bobrovsky injury, beating Minnesota 4-0. The Vezina winner goes down, and his mostly shitty back-up steps up with a shutout. Well done. Ryan Johansen has become their best player while Marian Gaborik remains injured.
24. Ottawa Senators (last rank 22): The Senators are slowly fading from the playoff picture, a lot like Michael J Fox's slowly fading family picture in Back to the Future. Kyle Turris had 18 PTS in his first 18 games this season, but has scored just 4 PTS in his last 12 GP. The Sens have won 3 of their last 11 games, due largely to their inability to prevent goals from being scored against them, the team's strength last season. Either Paul MacLean sold his soul to get this team into the playoffs last year, or he has tried unsuccessfully to take more offensive risks, leading to more goals against. They are now looking like a longshot to even make the playoffs. Too bad Ottawa.
25. Nashville Predators (last rank 21): Life could have been much worse without Pekka Rinne in net, but his replacement Marek Mazanec was named rookie of the month and has been doing a great job in his stead. That being said, Nashville has lost 5 in a row and find themselves firmly outside of the playoff picture. In fact, they have almost no chance of making the playoffs. The may want to consider tanking the rest of the season.
26. Calgary Flames (last rank 26): Hey don't look now, but the Flames have won 3 of their last 4 games (over which time they have given up just 6 goals). Getting Marc Giordano back is a big help, although he got back just in time for Dennis Wideman to get himself injured. Jiri Hudler is by far their most dominant offensive player, with 27 PTS in 29 GP. The diminutive forward is on pace to score a career best 76 PTS (19 PTS better than his previous best). This is a level of Jiri Hudler that nobody has ever seen before.
27. North Pole Oilers (last rank 28): After an offensively challenged start to the season, the Oilers have discovered their scoring touch. Over their last 11 games, they have 7 forwards with at least 7 PTS. It almost doesn't matter that Nail Yakupov has just 9 PTS in 29 GP and is -17, but it does. They are 6-4 in their last 10 games and may be ready to turn a corner; but don't expect this group of offensively gifted, defensively mediocre forwards to take them to the playoffs.
28. Florida Panthers (last rank 29): They are 3-6 in their last 9 games, but the good news is that they are not the worst team in the league. The bad news, they continue to draw fewer fans than high school football (but still good enough to beat Phoenix in attendance). They have a rich new owner who is a graduate of West Point, but how long is he willing to look at all those empty seats before he starts thinking about moving the team?
29. NY Islanders (last rank 27): They surprised many by making the playoffs last season, leading many to be optimistic about their chances this season. Early on, things were looking good. Then they traded Matt Mouslon, and it has been a free fall ever since. If a single trade could ever cost a GM his job, this one would have to be close. After a terrific start to the season, Frans Nielsen has dried up with 2 point in his last 10 games. They just can't score enough goals to make up for their goals against, which is a shame with John Tavares on the roster.
30. Buffalo Sabres (last rank 30): The major house cleaning that recently swept through their front office has done little to inspire the product on the ice. LaFontaine has sent several of their young players either to the minors or back to junior; either to avoid exposing them to this train wreck, or they are in denial about their current stage in the rebuilding process. Over their last 10 games, only Tyler Ennis has more than 4 PTS for a forward. Lafontaine got rid of the youth, but it also turns out that they have plenty of dead weight in the system.