Posted: Wednesday December 29, 2010 3:14PM ; Updated: Wednesday December 29, 2010 5:11PM
Brian Cazeneuve
Brian Cazeneuve>NHL POWER RANKINGS

Idle week costs Flyers top spot

Story Highlights

In a Winter Classic preview, the No. 1 Penguins topped the Caps

The surging Canucks are proving to be fearsome road warriors

The Kings are playing like they're well over their November funk

NOTE: All records and stats are through the games of Monday, Dec. 27.

NHL Power Rankings
1Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 2
In a preview of the much-anticipated Winter Classic, the Pens beat the Caps, 3-2, on a goal by Pascal Dupuis in the seventh round of a stirring shootout. "You think sometimes these games are overbilled," said Pens coach Dan Bylsma, "but this was a playoff-type game." You can't overbill Sidney Crosby, whose point streak was starting to approach Mats Sundin's 30 of 1992-93. Last week: 2-1-0
 
2Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 1
Having a week off could be seen as a blessing -- a breather and chance to prepare for the coming road haul (nine of their next 10 games are away) without the injured Chris Pronger -- or a curse, as in a chance to gather some holiday fat and rust. Last week: 0-0-0
 
3Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 3
It was a testament to the way they feel about Chris Osgood that when Niklas Kronwall scored the overtime winner in Dallas, the Wings sped to the opposite end of the rink to mob their veteran backup, who'd made 46 saves in his 400th career win, one of his best outings. "This one was really special," Osgood said. "This is one I'll never forget." That bright spot aside, the week was darkened by the loss of Pavel Datsyuk (broken hand) for the next month. Last week: 3-1-0
 
4Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 4
Rude guests, they've hauled in 11 of 12 points during their last six road contests, including a brutal 7-3 beating of the Blue Jackets. Back home three nights later, Kevin Bieska scored the winner with 24 seconds left to play against Edmonton, a heartening development. The offensively inclined blueliner had struggled and was moved to a shutdown role by coach Alain Vigneault. "In all his games now," Vigneault said, "he's been very dependable in both ends of the rink." That bodes well for this surging club. Last week: 2-0-1
 
5Washington Capitals
Last Week: 11
Before Alex Ovechkin ended his eight-game goalless drought by scoring against Carolina, the Caps beat the hapless Devils with goals by John Carlson, Andrew Gordon and Jay Beagle. Gordon and Beagle were recent call-ups from Hershey. "They played with passion and enthusiasm," said coach Bruce Boudreau. "When you do that, usually, no matter what league you're in, you're going to have success." And after the brutal stretch the Caps went through during the first half of the month, a little success is plenty sweet. Last week: 2-0-1
 
6Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 5
With Vinny Lecavalier rounding into form (three goals in his last two games) after missing 15 matches due to a broken hand, the Bolts grabbed a share of first place in the Southeast with the resurgent Caps. Another good sign: once this team gets an early lead, it doesn't cough it up. Sunday's 3-2 win over Atlanta extended its record to 16-0-1 when leading after two periods. Last week: 2-0-1
 
7Dallas Stars
Last Week: 7
Dallas Stars (22-11-4)
They've improved this season by feasting on the East. Dallas was 7-9-2 against the opposite conference last season, but is already 10-2-0 for this campaign. One hiccup (or maybe cough) to watch: a seasonal illness was going around the dressing room as the week ended, which may explain that lethargic 1-0 loss to Phoenix. "We're a much better team when we take charge," defenseman Stephane Robidas noted. "When we don't, we're in trouble and that's what happened." Last week: 1-1-1
 
8Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 14
They forged a perfect week with four wins against conference foes. In winning nine of their last 12, they've outscored their opponents, 16-4, in the third period. They held a 15-1 shot edge at the start of their 4-0 win in San Jose, and a win against Edmonton broke their odd slump of five straight home shootout losses to the Oilers. That November funk feels like ancient history now. Last week: 4-0-0
 
9Boston Bruins
Last Week: 13
Boston Bruins (20-11-4)
Shawn Thornton, of all people, was the catalyst in a 4-1 win over Atlanta. He fought a marathon bout with Eric Boulton two seconds after the game started and his two goals helped break Boston's scoreless skid of 102 minutes, 57 seconds. "I thought it was as good of a time as any to get the guys going," Thornton said, "maybe show that we're here to play, show some emotion. Get a little spark." Last week: 2-0-0
 
10St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 22
St. Louis Blues (19-12-5)
Their wave of injuries didn't appear to matter during a perfect week, thanks largely to goalie Jaroslav Halak. Shelled in two prior outings against Detroit, he held off the Wings in an impressive 4-3 victory. "The bottom line," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock, "was the cellophane they had from post to post." Last week: 3-0-0
 
11Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 6
Their six-game win streak ended with a 5-0 thud against the Kings -- at home where they'd enjoyed a 7-0-1 run. It was the first of three defeats at Pepsi Center during the week. Coach Joe Sacco pulled struggling goalie Craig Anderson two nights later against Minnesota after a blueline shot caromed off the boards and bounced off his pads only to be batted out of the air and into the net by the Wild's Matt Cullen. "Craig knows he needs to be better," Sacco said, "but right now we all do." Last week: 0-2-1
 
12San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 16
San Jose Sharks (19-12-5)
After they scored three straight power-play goals to beat Phoenix, Joe Thornton proclaimed, "We might not get teams in the first period, but I think we're just grinding teams down with our size in the second and third." Then they gave up four third-period goals in a 4-0 loss to L.A. So much for grinding and their four-game win streak. "We turned into individuals when it didn't go our way and they picked us apart," coach Todd McLellan groused. Last week: 2-1-0
 
13New York Rangers
Last Week: 12
It's always nice to beat the feathers out of the rival Islanders, 7-2, especially when Long Island-born defenseman Matt Gilroy scores twice. But their more impressive game may have been that 11-round, 4-3 shootout loss to Tampa Bay. The Blueshirts were without injured scorers Ryan Callahan and Marian Gaborik, but still put up a gutsy fight. Callahan will be out for several weeks with a broken hand, but this scrappy bunch may be fine without him. Last week: 1-0-1
 
14Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 17
They upped their win streak to four games with a solid 4-1 performance against Columbus as Marty Turco (subbing for the flu-stricken Corey Crawford) shook off the cobwebs to make 26 saves in just his fourth start in Chicago's last 15 games. Also blowing off dust: Marian Hossa, who contributed two assists in his first outing after 10 games on the shelf with a lower body injury. His return looms larger now that Jonathan Toews (shoulder) is out two weeks. Last week: 2-0-0
 
15Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 9
In their third straight loss, and ninth in a row to Tampa Bay (the NHL's longest such active streak), they showed signs of the meltdown many have anticipated after such a surprising start. Dustin Byfuglien's boarding penalty with 11 seconds left in regulation led to the Bolts' OT winner. "We've got to be smarter," Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay said, his team winless in five of its last seven and outscored 8-2 on the power play during its last 10 games. "We have to stay disciplined throughout the game, no matter what's happening around us." Last week: 0-2-1
 
16Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 10
As a blizzard gathered force and only 3,136 hardy souls bothered to show up, the sleepy Habs were buried, 4-1, by the surprisingly hot Isles at Nassau Coliseum, where they'd been 12-0-3 in their previous 15 visits. "We had too many penalties and not enough discipline," grumped coach Jacques Martin, "and we simply didn't come with enough intensity. We can't afford that now." Not with Carey Price slumping, they can't. Last week:. 1-2-0
 
17Nashville Predators
Last Week: 8
After an 8-1-1 run, they showed up with peashooters in half-hearted losses to Chicago, Ottawa and St. Louis in which they were outscored, 12-2. Things got so bad that Martin Erat, one of their few scoring threats, went down untouched with an injury against the Senators after fouling up a breakaway. Last week: 0-3-0
 
18Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 15
Anaheim Ducks (18-17-4)
Tuckered out by their seven-game road trip, they were outscored 9-3 in losses to Buffalo and Los Angeles. Of their 4-1 stinker against the Kings, coach Randy Carlyle groused, "Everyone made critical mistakes, let's face it. Our guys fumbled the puck and our goaltender missed shots he knows he should have stopped." Such ingredients are not the traditional recipe for success, no? Last week: 0-2-0
 
19Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 18
Phoenix Coyotes (16-11-7)
They were 12-1-4 when scoring first. Then they got thumped, 4-1, in San Jose after notching the opening goal, a dose of bitter medicine on a six-game road trip that started 1-3-1. "Sometimes it's good to go through stuff like this just to get us back to where we need to be," observed goalie Jason LaBarbera, who later made 29 saves in a 1-0 shutout in Dallas. Last week: 1-1-0
 
20Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 25
Ottawa Senators (16-17-4)
A team that's begging for optimism may have found a bit in two starts by maligned goalie Brian Elliott, who turned away 69 of 71 shots in wins against the Preds and Pens. "You need to have your goaltender be your backbone," coach Cory Clouston noted. "Brian had had some criticism thrown at him. It was nice to see him respond the way he did." Last week: 2-0-0
 
21Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 21
Rick Nash became the franchise assists leader (206) as well as its all-time goal-scorer (244) and points man (450). Also of note: In his first start since Dec. 16, Steve Mason, who'd been pulled more often than rotten teeth (three of his previous four starts), made 37 saves in a win over the Wild, a bright spot in a week that included a putrid 7-3 loss to Vancouver that moved coach Scott Arniel to say, "I want to apologize to the fans." Last week: 1-2-0
 
22Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 20
Minnesota Wild (16-14-5)
Their three-game win streak ended with the sound of boos-ic as their fans hooted them off the ice between the second and third periods of a lethargic 4-1 loss to Detroit, which seems to enjoy visiting (8-2-1 in its last 11 in Minnesota). "We're frustrated," center Matt Cullen said, after his team managed a paltry 17 shots for the evening. "To take a step back like that, especially in front of a great crowd, we should have probably been booing ourselves." Last week: 1-1-1
 
23Calgary Flames
Last Week: 27
Calgary Flames (16-18-3)
Just as they shook things up at the top, with Jay Feaster replacing Darryl Sutter as GM, two underperforming Flames caught a spark. Alex Tanguay scored the tying goal with 1:21 to play and the shootout winner against Dallas, and Olli Jokinen potted his sixth goal in nine games (after one in his first 25) against Buffalo. But this team is going to need a whole lot of sustained improvement to avoid the wrecking ball. Last week: 2-1-0
 
24Florida Panthers
Last Week: 23
A little less Christmas spirit they can do without. After dropping a 5-2 decision to the Pens, they generously relinquished leads against Buffalo and Boston: first a 3-0 advantage to the Sabres before hanging on to win, 4-3; then falling for the first time after regulation, 3-2 to the B's in a shootout decided by Blake Wheeler's weird pinball shot off the post and the ankle of goalie Scott Clemmensen. Last week: 1-1-1
 
25Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 19
A sure sign that it's not your week: dropping a tough 3-2 decision thanks to a five-minute boarding major on Erik Cole that led to two Montreal goals. Cole agreed it was "a terrible play on my part," but coach Paul Maurice noted Habs defender Jaroslav Spacek's awkward pre-hit posture and said the call was akin to "arresting a telephone pole after a drunk driver hits it." Last week: 0-2-2
 
26Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 28
In their only game, Jonas Gustavsson made 29 saves and Colby Armstrong scored twice as they beat the hapless Devils, 4-1, in New Jersey, where the Leafs also enjoyed four hours of team camaraderie while trapped on a bus in a raging blizzard. Coach Ron Wilson praised his club's professionalism in playing before roughly 3,000 souls, who headed for the exits early. "I don't know how many fans come to their games anyway," Wilson said. Yeah, but at least they don't throw waffles...yet. Last week: 1-0-0
 
27Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 26
Buffalo Sabres (14-18-4)
The week began on a high note, as captain Craig Rivet, who had been scratched more often than a bedbug bite (11 straight games), recorded a goal and an assist in a 5-2 win over Anaheim, his first appearance outside the press box since Nov. 20. Then came a 4-3 loss against Florida in which their leading scorer, Derek Roy, went down for the season with a torn quadriceps tendon. His production will be nearly impossible to replace. Last week: 1-2-0
 
28Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 24
Edmonton Oilers (12-16-6)
With losses in three one-goal games, they looked very much like the young, pressing team that they are. In San Jose, they had ample chances to tie the game before falling 2-1. As coach Tom Renney lamented, "We had four turnovers on our 5-on-3, and that tells you that we're trying to do something that's not there." Last week: 0-2-1
 
29New York Islanders
Last Week: 30
Before a 7-2 waxing by the rival Rangers, they'd actually won three straight games for the first time since, oh, the days of Potvin and Trottier. John Tavares' overtime winner against Tampa Bay was his first goal since Nov. 24, and Dwayne Roloson made 38 saves to beat Montreal before 3,136 fans and earn NHL First Star of the Week honors. "Our work ethic has been great," said Roloson. "We knew this was coming." Hope they enjoyed it while it lasted. Last week: 3-1-0
 
30New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 29
The more things change...Jacques Lemaire's first week of his third term wasn't much better than any of John MacLean's during his abbreviated first stint as this woebegone bunch was outscored 14-3 in three losses. After a 5-1 eyesore against the Isles, in which the suddenly creaking Martin Brodeur stopped just 9 of 14 shots, Lemaire remarked, "They looked like they lost their ability to play the game, which is very strange. I have never seen this in the past. Never." Last week: 0-3-0

 
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