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Posted: Tuesday October 20, 2009 1:08PM; Updated: Wednesday October 21, 2009 2:10PM
Allan Muir Allan Muir >
NHL POWER RANKINGS

Surprising Avs make steep climb

Story Highlights

The Penguins remain on top even with little offensive output from their top guns

It may be too early to get a real read, but the Avs' four road wins were impressive

Penalty-killing woes sent the Kings tumbling; the Leafs are a confusing mess

Biggest climb: Phoenix Coyotes (5 from 20)

Biggest drop: Los Angeles Kings (22 from 7)

A reminder: rankings are based mainly on quality of play and my uncannily intuitive gut calls rather than a simple rehash of the standings. Also note that stats and records are through Sunday, so Monday night's action isn't part of the equation.

Want to send me a comment about the rankings? Scroll to the bottom of this page for my Mailbag. I read 'em all and if you're halfway civil -- or at least clever in your skewering of my decisions -- I'll try to get back to you.

NHL Power Rankings
1Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 1
Since being manhandled by the Coyotes on Oct. 7, they've reeled off five wins without a player in the top-10 scorers. The Pens are thriving on across-the-board contributions. Case in point: Jay McKee establishing himself as a free-agency steal. His seven blocks against Tampa gave him 28, tops in the NHL. Last week: 3-0
 
2Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 14
They impressed by taking four on the road, but the way they hunted down the Wings in Detroit powered their climb. Joe Sacco's boys played like they had tire treads on their backs through two, but turned three Wings mistakes into third-period goals before stealing it in the shootout. Hard to find context yet, but this may be a benchmark win. Last week: 4-0
 
3New York Rangers
Last Week: 4
The seven-game win streak has fans fawning over Marian Gaborik (eight-game scoring roll) and rookies Michael Del Zotto and Matt Gilroy. Also, a tip of the cap to the resurgent Wade Redden, last season's whipping boy. John Tortorella's emphasis on skating and puck control is bringing out the best in the veteran blueliner. Last week: 3-0
 
4Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 5
Saturday's 4-1 win over LA wasn't as impressive as Tuesday's 2-1 disposal of Calgary. "It is not as if we have everything rolling right now," coach Ken Hitchcock told the Columbus Dispatch. "But the confidence [comes from knowing] somebody in that dressing room can make a difference, and it can be a different guy every night." Someone on the back end must step up with top defenseman Jan Hejda out 4-6 weeks (knee). Last week: 2-0
 
5Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 20
It's a little early yet to engrave Dave Tippett's name on the Jack Adams Award, but the miracles he's working give him a serious head start. His surprising team gave up just three goals while manhandling the Sharks, Blues and Bruins, leaving supposed Cup contenders in awe of Tippett's trapping scheme. Last week: 3-0
 
6San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 3
A little discipline would go a long way. The Sharks are averaging 19.1 minutes in penalties per game, fourth most in the NHL. The penalty kill has been decent, but the effort is wearing them down and throwing off their rhythm. Thursday's loss to the Capitals can be attributed directly to having played at least one man down for nine minutes of the first period. Last week: 1-1-1
 
7Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 10
They needed the greatest comeback in team history to salvage a Cristobal Huet outing (6-5 OT win over Calgary), but couldn't bail him out after two brutally soft goals decided Saturday's 4-3 loss to the Stars. He was quick to accept blame, but needs convincing games rather than mea culpas to avoid scrutiny. Last week: 3-1
 
8Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 15
Is that hot enough for you, Ilya? They hit the road and took out two quality foes -- Devils and Sabres -- by 4-2 scores. Word out of Atlanta suggests that Kovalchuk feels the love and may be willing to extend his commitment as early as next month. We'll see. Last week: 2-0
 
9Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 13
Criticized for an offense that doesn't qualify as a misdemeanor, they responded with felonious six-goal assaults on the Wings and Islanders. Powered more by effort than finesse, they should get a boost when sniper Thomas Vanek returns this week well ahead of schedule. Last week: 2-1
 
10Washington Capitals
Last Week: 9
They broke a four-game skid with wins over the Sharks (impressive) and Preds (not so much), but more important were early signs of defensive improvement. They gave up just eight goals in their last four games after allowing 15 during a similar 2-1-1 run to start the season. Staying out of the box helped, as did cutting down on shots allowed. Last week: 2-0-1
 
11Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 2
With one game in 12 days, they spent time in Florida enjoying a deep sea fishing tournament and boat race. Unfortunately, they slipped the sandals back on after a solid first period against the Panthers on Friday and were outworked by a team desperate to snap a four-game skid. Now mired in a three-game slump, Philly could use a jolt with three games in four nights starting Thursday. Might help if Simon Gagne (34 goals in 2008-09) got off the schneid. Last week: 0-1
 
12Calgary Flames
Last Week: 6
You say you like your hockey '80s-style, jam-packed with scoring and gussied up with the occasional throw-down? Then brother, this is the team for you. It stands second in goals (30, despite ranking 29th in shots per game) and goals-allowed (28). Newcomer Brandon Prust keeps the Don Cherry crowd happy with his league-leading five fighting majors. Last week: 1-1-1
 
13New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 17
Subtract Patrik Elias (groin surgery), add Jacques Lemaire and it's no surprise they rank among the NHL's least fearsome offenses. At some point the power play has to click at better than 14 percent if they hope to be a playoff squad. Elias' return in early November will help. In the meantime, a little more rotation might make their play with the extra man less predictable. Last week: 2-1
 
14Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 11
Newcomers Pascal Leclaire and Matt Carkner are making their marks on a much-improved penalty kill. A middling unit last season, this group ranks second overall on the strength of 17 consecutive kills. Saturday's 3-1 win was highlighted by a 1:55 five-on-three chance that saw more Montreal shots blocked (six) than reach the net (three). Last week: 2-1
 
15Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 8
It's tough to play puck possession by throwing the biscuit away. Plenty of excuses for the slow start, but none more easy to address than the NHL-leading 95 turnovers. The defense has been sloppy with Niklas Kronwall and Nicklas Lidstrom coughing it up 20 times between them. Injuries play a part -- players on make-shift lines aren't always hitting their marks on the breakout -- but a few safer decisions won't hurt. Last week: 1-1-1
 
16St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 21
If they're to take the big leap to legit contenders, they'll need significant contributions from their sophomores. Three were dynamite in Saturday's 5-0 whitewash of the Ducks. Erik Johnson had three assists; T.J. Oshie scored the final goal and was a physical presence. Patrik Berglund netted a power play marker, but his consistent effort after a two-game benching suggests he's ready to move past his early season struggles. Last week: 1-0-1
 
17Dallas Stars
Last Week: 19
Dallas Stars (3-1-3)
No one should talk about a goalie controversy. Take Alex Auld's two strong outings for what they are: evidence the veteran is a reliable backup who can be counted on to spell Marty Turco. Auld was brilliant in the first period of Saturday's 4-3 win over Chicago, holding the fort while Dallas was outshot 14-5. Last week: 2-1
 
18Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 12
Shut out twice in their last three, they're wondering who blew out the offense's pilot light. Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu have yet to click. Joffrey Lupul is bouncing between the second and third units. Ryan Getzlaf (think Team Canada hype is weighing on him?) is oh-fer-the-season. The power play is in an 0-for-17 slump. Part is execution, but it won't be long before coach Randy Carlyle's systems are under fire. Last week: 1-1
 
19Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 16
They've won three of their last four, but some wins are more about good fortune than quality effort. In each (and the loss to Chicago), they were outplayed and outshot by a wide margin (145-78). If not for their foes' shaky goaltending and some stellar work by Nikolai Khabibulin, they'd be looking at a four-game skid. Last week: 2-1
 
20Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 18
Don't be surprised if Roberto Luongo comes down with a case of Flames flu on December 27. Bobby Lu has been lit up for nine goals on 41 shots (.780 save percentage) in the Saddledome and didn't survive to the third period in Friday's 5-3 loss. Last week: 1-2
 
21Boston Bruins
Last Week: 22
What exactly was that flawless two-way showing in a 3-0 win over Dallas? A sign they can get back the discipline that helped rack up the East's top record last season, or a tease from a team that lacked energy and focus in frustrating losses to the Avs and Yotes? The B's are struggling to establish an identity. It'll be interesting to see if their trade of third-liner Chuck Kobasew shakes them out of the funk. Last week: 1-2
 
22Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 7
Their season-high six-game road trip started off well with a win over the Isles and a loss to the Rangers in which they dominated play. But consecutive defeats to Detroit and Columbus extended the skid to three and highlighted penalty killing woes. No team has given up more shorthanded (12). Last week: 1-3
 
23Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 24
It would help to get something out of Vincent Lecavalier (no goals in his last 14) and Alex Tanguay (nada in 10), but after losing their last two by a combined 11-2 it's clear the sputtering first line is just one of many problems. Nearly team-wide timid play is forcing the Bolts to spend too much time in their own zone, draining them physically and leading to scads of mental errors. Last week: 1-2
 
24Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 25
They're generating plenty of power play chances -- just four teams have had more than their 36 -- but lack of finish is costing them wins. They have just four goals with the extra man and rank 29th in PP efficiency. Have to wonder if their brief four-game preseason slate compromised their ability to work on systems and hit the ground running. Last week: 0-1-1
 
25Florida Panthers
Last Week: 28
They simply don't have enough talent to win without maximum effort, but when they get it, they can be formidable. After sleeping through the first period against Philly, the Cats responded to a blistering from coach Peter DeBoer with their best 40 minutes of the season en route to a 4-2 win. The trick now is to reach that level without a tongue-lashing. Last week: 1-1
 
26Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 26
They've lost five straight, but the Andrei Markov-less defense hasn't been their downfall. The hapless offense (two goals or less in five of seven games) and loading the top line with Mike Cammalleri, Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta (12 points combined) did little to break the slump. Cammalleri finally got his first goal of the season, against the Sens on Sat. Last week: 0-2
 
27New York Islanders
Last Week: 27
They're still looking for their first win because they're still waiting for their first 60-minute effort. When you're icing this kind of talent, 20 minutes -- about what they brought in Saturday's 4-1 loss to the Sharks -- won't cut it. It's easy to understand how losses can weigh on this group, but the desire to compete is the one thing a young team should be able to deliver on a nightly basis. Last week: 0-3
 
28Nashville Predators
Last Week: 23
Glass half-full types will find something positive in the comeback effort in Saturday's 3-2 shootout loss to the Caps, but it's cold comfort next to the shortcomings. After scoring twice in that game, the Preds had totaled nine goals -- equaled individually by Alex Ovechkin. At some point, David Poile has to offer fans more than another minor league call-up as a solution. Last week: 0-3-1
 
29Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 29
Hard to judge the efficiency of Todd Richards' new system when four of the top-six forwards are watching from the press box, but the 0-5 road trip has some fans openly longing for the trappist ways of Lemaire. Things may start to click when Martin Havlat and Petr Sykora return mid-week, but you have to wonder if lack of size and speed up front means there isn't enough talent to activate the coach's plans. Last week: 0-3
 
30Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 30
David Lynch's Inland Empire had a more coherent structure than this shambling mess. Undone again by soft goals at inopportune moments (guess Joey MacDonald won't be the savior after all) and a feckless power play, the Leafs lost seven straight for their worst start in 92 years. The schneid will end, but it won't be soon. A scheduling quirk has the Leafs in mothballs, where they belong, until Saturday. Last week: 0-3

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