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Posted: Tuesday January 12, 2010 2:13PM; Updated: Tuesday January 12, 2010 2:14PM
Allan Muir
Allan Muir>NHL POWER RANKINGS

Blackhawks cling to top perch

Story Highlights

Despite unsightly losses, the Blackhawks are still the class of the NHL

The Wild may have turned their season around with a dazzling comeback

The Flyers (who needs Ray Emery?) continued their impressive rise

Biggest climb: New York Rangers (13 from 21)

Biggest drop: Boston Bruins (16 from 10)

A reminder: Rankings are based on many factors, and not one is scientific. They're heavily influenced by recent play, taking into account expectations versus achievement, quality of opponents, injuries, hot or cold streaks, lucky bounces, bad breaks, travel schedule, and my uncannily intuitive gut calls on how each team stacks up against the rest of the Original 30. Please note that I, unlike most referees, do not have it in for your team. Also, stats and records are through Sunday, so keep in mind that Monday's action doesn't factor into the equation.

Want to send me a comment about the rankings or maybe a cool video clip that cries out to be shared? 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
1Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 1
They lost a pair to inferior foes (when you're first overall, everyone's inferior, right?), including a 6-5 fiasco in Minnesota that featured a blown 5-1 third-period lead. Tough to swallow, but they happen. So do games like the follow-up, where they outshot the Ducks 43-12 but came out on the short end of a 3-1 score. Frustrating, but keep things in perspective: They've lost just twice in regulation in their past 11 and still boast the NHL's best record. Last week: 2-1-1
 
2New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 3
Now we know what it takes to get Yann Danis some playing time. The seldom-used backup was pressed into duty when Thursday night's suspended game against Tampa Bay resumed on Sunday afternoon. He faced just seven shots in his fifth appearance of the season, but his efforts provided a welcome reprieve for Martin Brodeur, who ranks second to L.A.'s Jonathan Quick in minutes played (2,394:02). Last week: 2-1
 
3San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 2
San Jose Sharks (28-10-7)
You know how coaches are. They forget eight-game win streaks and holding foes to two or fewer regulation goals in 10 straight games as soon as cracks show. For Todd McLellan, there was plenty to address after two losses by a combined score of 10-3. The games against Detroit and L.A. were characterized by mental errors that led to costly turnovers (an issue that plagued San Jose during last spring's aborted playoff run). Expect it to be quickly addressed. Last week: 1-2
 
4Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 4
Buffalo Sabres (28-11-5)
They have one regulation loss in their last 12, thanks to a balanced attack that's finally getting input from the moneyed class. Tim Connolly, reminding Brian Burke that he's available in February, has five goals and 14 points in a nine-game streak. Derek Roy has seven points in his last eight. "It's nice to have balance," said coach Lindy Ruff, who has six players with at least 10 goals, "but it'd be nicer to see someone rip off 10 goals in 10 games." Last week: 2-0-1
 
5Washington Capitals
Last Week: 5
Alex Ovechkin had just one of their 17 goals in a three-game win streak. Not a bad thing. His teammates did a nice job of spreading the offense: 16 of 18 skaters chipped in at least one point. The Caps are also getting the sort of performance from rookie Michal Neuvirth (five wins in seven; two goals or less-allowed in six) that suggests Jose Theodore may soon be looking for work. Last week: 3-0
 
6Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 11
Even a laser-toting Canucks fan couldn't stop the Flames from snapping their four-game win streak. The 3-2 contest was nowhere near as close as the score suggests, so getting a point out of it says a lot about Roberto Luongo (38 stops before waving at all three in the shootout) and the Sedins' ability to create magic at any moment. The duo was dynamite again last week, propelling linemate Alex Burrows to the team's first back-to-back hat tricks in 23 years. Last week: 2-0-1
 
7Calgary Flames
Last Week: 12
Calgary Flames (26-14-5)
Who exactly are they? The team that delivered the all-hands-on-deck road performance that smacked the Canucks back into second? The one that looked trepidacious at both ends while losing to reeling Columbus? Against Vancouver, they were on "the path" that Brent Sutter routinely references, firing 21 of the first 27 shots and outhitting them 39-22. Tough to match that domination, but they've got it in them. Time to show that kind of effort consistently. Last week: 2-2
 
8Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 13
After dismissing the Kings and Sharks over the weekend, they've won four of five, and each victim was ranked above them in the West playoff race. They're riding rookie Jimmy Howard hard, starting him in eight straight, but the kid is rewarding their faith. He's held foes to a single goal in six of his last nine starts, including a 51-save effort against the Kings that earned the Wings two points they didn't deserve. Last week: 2-1
 
9Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 6
Phoenix Coyotes (26-15-5)
They haven't won in regulation since Boxing Day, but they scraped points together in five of seven outings, including a gritty three-goal comeback OTL against the Isles. Amazingly, that offensive fire rained down despite the absence of Snipin' Scottie Upshall, who returns this week after three games (upper body injury). The Yotes are writing a nice story, but if they plan on entering the postseason with Upshall as their go-to scorer, they'll be on summer vacation by the middle of April. Last Week: 1-1-1
 
10Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 9
Losing back-to-back vs. East bottom-feeders (Canes, Isles) spoke to inconsistent effort, but the 4-3 win over Buffalo may have been more depressing. They stole the extra point on Matt Hendricks' 11th-round shootout tally, but coughing up a two-goal lead in the final 10 minutes? You'd like to see more out of Paul Stastny (one goal in his last 14 games). Can't blame him for accepting $6.6 million a year, but it's impossible not to correlate salary and production. Right now, he's not earning his paper. Last week: 1-2
 
11Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 7
Sure, they put the brakes on a five-game skid, but wins over the freefalling Leafs and Thrashers aren't exactly bellwether indicators of full recovery, especially when they sandwich a 7-4 blowout by the Flyers. That's the way it's been: good news countered by negative. Sergei Gonchar returned after four games and chips in two goals vs. Toronto, but Evgeni Malkin's long slump continues. Tough to get that 29th-ranked power play on track when he goes without a goal in 11 of 12 games. Last week: 2-1
 
12Nashville Predators
Last Week: 8
Nice to have Martin Erat return and score a goal in Saturday's 3-2 loss to Anaheim. The Czech Olympian was on fire before missing four games (knee injury), scoring 10 goals and 18 points in his previous 14 games. But even at that pace, he couldn't have kept up with Patric Hornqvist, who has 12 Johnny-on-the-spot goals since Dec. 14, including the other marker vs. the Ducks. Last week: 1-2
 
13New York Rangers
Last Week: 21
John Tortorella's not getting any Jack Adams buzz, but with his team on an 8-1-3 roll after a demotion (Chris Drury) and benching (Wade Redden, Ales Kotalik), he clearly deserves it for a display of bold, decisive coaching. New York's back in the playoff hunt and, going by Saturday's 3-1 win over Boston, has figured out that the secret to staying there is an aggressive forecheck and relentless assault on the net. Last week: 3-0-1
 
14Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 20
The big news in Philly is that the imminent return of Ray Emery isn't exactly big news. Credit the sensational play of waiver-wire gem Michael Leighton (7-0-1, .928 save percentage, 2.13 GAA), who has given the regrouping Flyers the stability they needed. They're expected to go three deep in net until Emery proves he's healthy. When he does, look for Brian Boucher to be the odd man out and don't be surprised if Leighton gets the bulk of the starts. Last week: 3-0
 
15Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 14
They started the week riding goals from six different scorers to continue a season-long mastery of San Jose (3-0-1). But instead of building on that 6-2 road win, they kicked off their season-high seven-game home stand with losses to the Wings and Blues. No one was pointing fingers after they outshot Detroit 52-24, but their sluggish start against the struggling Blues cut their lead on the ninth-place Wings to a single point. Last week: 1-2
 
16Boston Bruins
Last Week: 10
Boston Bruins (22-15-7)
Maybe Blake Wheeler read last week's column. After being called out for not scoring in 15 games, the large-bodied but ham-fisted winger chipped in with four goals on the week. His timing couldn't have been better. With Marc Savar joining Patrice Bergeron on IR for the next few weeks, Boston's 27th-ranked offense is in danger of sinking further without standout effort from the supporting cast. Last week: 1-3
 
17Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 15
The offense is stagnant (five goals in the last four games; no surprise that three were losses). Andrei Kostitsyn (knee injury), out since New Year's Eve, is keenly missed on the top line. Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri don't seem to have the same spark without the Belarusian winger, whose surgery on Friday will shelve him for another six weeks. Uh-oh. Last week: 1-1-1
 
18Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 18
Minnesota Wild (22-20-3)
Sometimes a win is worth more than two points. After snapping a four-game skid, their doors were being blown off by the Hawks when something happened. Down 5-1 to start the third, they reeled off four goals and sent the game into OT, then battled eight shooters deep into the tiebreaker before sealing the greatest comeback in their history. You need hindsight to understand the exact moment a team turned its season around, but if they earn a spot in the postseason dance, that will be the game that brung 'em. Last week: 2-1
 
19Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 24
Anaheim Ducks (20-19-7)
He was No. 2, but it looks like Jonas Hiller has tightened his grip on No. 1 in Anaheim. The NHL's Second Star (4-0, 1.50 GAA, .962 save pct.) put an exclamation mark on his week with a larcenous performance on Sunday, leading the Ducks to a 3-1 win when they were outshot 43-12 by the league's top team. "He was Velcro-ish," said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville. Last week: 4-0
 
20Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 19
It took two days, a lighting malfunction in New Jersey, two goals by Steven Stamkos 43 hours apart, and a spectacular performance by Mike Smith, but they finally snapped their 10-game skid vs. the Devils. Including a less successful side trip to Philly (4-1 loss), the Bolts are 4-2-1 in their last seven and within hailing distance of the East's final playoff spot. Last week: 1-2
 
21Dallas Stars
Last Week: 16
Dallas Stars (19-15-11)
They remind me of the final scenes of Reservoir Dogs. Probably won't draw down on each other, but Marty Turco doesn't trust his defense to take care of assignments. The defense doesn't trust the forwards to compete on the back-check. No one trusts Turco to go 60 minutes without allowing a killer softie. That translates into tentative or overreaching play as mistakes pile up. It's evident on the road (1-7-3 in their last 11; a stat that doesn't bode well for a team that plays five of its next seven away from the AAC's friendly confines). Last week: 1-3
 
22Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 17
Ottawa Senators (22-20-4)
Four's an unlucky number. Their skid stretched to a season-high four with a listless 4-1 loss to last-place Carolina. The ranks of walking-wounded swelled to four (leading goal-scorer Milan Michalek is now out indefinitely with a UBI), and they're in danger of slipping out of playoff position after their current four-game trip. Much like Dallas, they're thinking too much and relying on individual play, to disastrous effect. Last week: 0-4
 
23New York Islanders
Last Week: 25
Not sure what coach Scott Gordon was watching, but it's hard to imagine anyone calling Rick DiPietro's season debut "a great first game." Douglas MacArthur's second trip to Manila this was not. Instead, Rickety looked exactly like someone seeing his first NHL action in more than a year, allowing a couple of softies and misreading several plays as the Isles lost to the very beatable Stars. But hey, he lasted 60 minutes. That's something, right? Last week: 2-1
 
24Florida Panthers
Last Week: 22
Another decent effort, another loss. "You don't get points in this league for playing good games," said Stephen Weiss after dropping another close one to the Habs on Thursday. "We've got to find a way to put the pucks in the net and get results and get points." They finally got the results they wanted in Saturday's 3-0 win in Ottawa, but their inability to string wins together suggests another season inexorably slipping away. Last week: 1-2
 
25St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 27
St. Louis Blues (18-19-7)
They finally snapped a seven-game skid and gave Davis Payne his first NHL win with Saturday's 4-3 nailbiter. L.A. scored a pair late to make it close and Davis was embarrassed by a lineup card error, but it gave them three points on their three-game trip. Nice to see youngsters like T.J. Oshie and David Perron flashing creativity, and bangers Brad Winchester and B.J. Crombeen bringing the noize. Might make for an interesting second half if they can find consistency and minimize third-period meltdowns. Last week: 1-1-1
 
26Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 23
After giving up eight power play goals -- including Buffalo's 3/3 that decided Friday's 3-2 loss -- their penalty kill is a league-worst 68.3 percent. Goaltending's a big part of the problem -- Vesa Toskala and Jonas Gustavsson are reliable for at least one sketchy goal per night -- but the inability to win defensive zone draws and stifle the opportunities they create is killing these Leafs. Last week: 1-3
 
27Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 28
The bodies are piling up, but so are the wins. They overcame injuries to Tuomo Ruutu, Scott Walker and Sergei Samsonov to take three of four, a stretch that featured solid performances against the Sens and Avs. Cam Ward stopped 31 of 32 in the win over Ottawa and has allowed just nine goals in his last five games. "He's giving us exactly what we need right now," said captain Rod Brind'Amour. Last week: 2-1
 
28Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 26
Prior to the season, Ilya Kovalchuk said he wanted a sense of their direction before he committed to a long-term extension. With 10 losses in their last 11, including an 8-1 depantsing by the Caps on Saturday, he probably has a pretty good idea that this team doesn't have a lot of compete in it. Talks are said to be ongoing, but you wonder why. There's no good reason for him to stay, and the money it will take would cripple the franchise. Last week: 1-2
 
29Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 30
Wins over Edmonton, Calgary and Dallas won't salvage a lost season, but six points in four days may have saved Ken Hitchcock. After weeks of cajoling, they finally responded with the tight checking, stifling defensive style that made them last season's surprise success story. It's hard work, but the payoff's obvious. They've allowed two goals or fewer in seven of their last nine, helping Mathieu Garon (.940 save pct., 1.46 GAA) earn the NHL's Third Star honor. Last week: 3-1
 
30Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 29
Edmonton Oilers (16-23-5)
Fighting back twice from two-goal deficits to steal a point from the red-hot Yotes wasn't bad, but defender Sheldon Souray's willingness to waive his no-trade clause is huge. "I wouldn't at this point hold them back from doing anything that makes the team better," he said, opening the door for the sort of significant deal this team desperately needs. The return may not help them pull out of their 1-11-1 tailspin, but at this point, all eyes are on next season. Last week: 0-1-1

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