Posted: Tuesday November 1, 2011 1:51PM ; Updated: Tuesday November 1, 2011 3:00PM
Adrian Dater
Adrian Dater>INSIDE THE NHL

Gritty Penguins reach the top

Story Highlights

Sidney Crosby's return is still a ways away, but it hasn't stopped the Penguins

Edmonton's scary-good kiddie corps has sent the Oilers on a meteoric rise

It's time to panic in Boston as the lethargic Bruins have almost hit bottom

I wrote this week's installment with a Gene Simmons KISS mask perched on my head, like a goalie taking a water break, because it was Halloween, nobody else was home, and little trick-or-treaters kept ringing the doorbell. It is in a giving mood, therefore, that these new NHL Power Rankings come to your eyes.

There's some candy to go around for all of the Original 30, as The Boston Globe's Kevin "Moose" Dupont so aptly calls the NHL. Only a couple of teams had truly bad weeks in this parity-conscious league. We even have something nice to say about the Columbus Blue Jackets. But we do have a new No. 1 team, with the Washington Capitals finding the going a little tougher out West after their torrid 7-0-0 start. Note: All stats and records through games of Monday, Oct. 31.

Without further ado, let's shout these rankings out loud:

NHL Power Rankings
1Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 2
Take your time, Sid. While Crosby continues to convalesce, the Pens continue to coalesce under the excellent tutelage of coach Dan Bylsma. And while Penguin watchers are optimistic the captain will return soon, it won't be this week. "Same old story: We haven`t had a ton of time to practice, but the next little while there will be some opportunities; so it will kind of be a bit more of a test there with some days in a row to get some contact and game-situation stuff," Crosby told reporters Monday. Meanwhile, James Neal (nine goals) has been picking up the slack and blueliner Kris Letang is tied for the NHL lead with 10 assists. Last week: 2-1-0
 
2Washington Capitals
Last Week: 1
We'll keep some faith in Bruce Boudreau's group, though it stumbled over the weekend with losses in Vancouver and Edmonton. Sorry, Caps fans, your team won't go 82-0-0. The NHL's second-best penalty-killers last season (85.6), the Caps allowed four goals on 13 power plays in those setbacks. "We have to get our penalty kill back to best in class," owner Ted Leonsis stated in Captain Obvious fashion on his blog. "In Vancouver, our penalty killing was subpar as well." The great news: Alex Ovechkin is off to a hot start (four goals, nine points) in his first nine contests. A summer of workout room dedication and newfound discipline at the dinner table has been noticeable in his quickened stride. Last week: 0-2-0
 
3Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 6
Defenseman Nick Leddy (seven points in his first 11 games, plus-4) has speed and good decision-making skills, and Hawks insiders are shaking their heads at the good fortune of having him around at such a tender age. The player Chicago dealt for Leddy -- Cam Barker -- was bought out by Minnesota and now plays in Edmonton. On the downside, Duncan Keith left Monday's game against Nashville with an "upper body" injury and is day-to-day. (Aren't we all? Thank you, Vin Scully.) Chicago might have to lean Leddy, even more now. Last week: 3-1-0
 
4San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 16
OK, so it was a bit strange to hear Joe Thornton call the Rangers the "softest" foe his squad faced on its just-completed six-game road trip. Uh, Jumbo Joe, you guys lost, 5-2. And about that playoff history. But let's not spoil what was otherwise a terrific week for the Sharks, who took five of six on the road and got back over .500. This strong, deep team looks better with rugged, two-way Brent Burns on the blue line (though we don't like his choice of number with San Jose: 88). Another bad trade by the Wild in this masked man's opinion. Last week: 3-1-0
 
5Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 22
A scout in the press box said over coffee recently, "I wouldn't want to play these guys in three years." The Oil is white hot as it goes on the road for 10 of its next 12 games. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is going to be a player, folks. At 18, he put up 11 points (five goals) in his first 11 NHL games, making the decision to keep him past the nine-game mark easier than predicting Kim Kardashian hitting her one-year anniversary. The kiddie korps up front (including Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle) is already good and it's scarier than the face beneath my mask to think how much better it will become. Keep in mind: goalie Nik Khabibulin has won a Cup and is playing great (NHL's Third Star for October). Last week: 4-0-0
 
6Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 4
These guys are darn good, but there always seems to be one head-scratching loss every few games, like getting blanked at home by New Jersey. That just shouldn't happen, not in 2011. The Kings had lost three of their last four entering Tuesday (one was in overtime, at Phoenix), but goalie Jonathan Quick still has fans buzzing over his recent three straight shutouts. The reason lots of hockey people like the Kings over the long haul is the team's size and skill at the top three center spots, with Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and Jarrett Stoll. Richards might not literally be a big man, but he certainly plays that way on skates. Last week: 1-2-1
 
7Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 9
We don't like their goal differential (36-35 entering Tuesday), but there's nothing not to like about Phil Kessel, who leads the league with 10 goals and 18 points was named its First Star for October. "He's got one of the best shots I've ever faced in the game," said Colorado goalie and former Leaf, Jean-Sebastien Giguere. There was cause for alarm last week when goalie James Reimer (concussion symptoms) was unable to suit up ? he may not until Sunday -- after being run into by Montreal's Brian Gionta. Leafs personnel seem optimistic that Reimer won't have any lingering effects, good news considering backup Jonas Gustavsson's wobbly performances (3-3, 3.72 GAA, .888 SP). Last week: 2-1-0
 
8Dallas Stars
Last Week: 10
Dallas Stars (8-3-0)
We're not yet sold on this team being for real, but for now it continues to get great goaltending from Kari Lehtonen (NHL's Second Star for October) and timely scoring. Too bad nobody in Dallas seems to care. Through their first six home dates at American Airlines Center (without any competition from the NBA champion Mavericks, Mind you) the Stars were dead last in attendance (9,671 per game). No doubt, the Texas Rangers' run to Game 7 of the World Series had fans focused elsewhere, but those are alarming numbers. Last week: 2-1-0
 
9Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 11
After some predictable panic in the local media after their slow start -- including a nutty, unsigned newspaper editorial that said goalie Roberto Luongo should be traded to Tampa Bay for Vincent Lecavalier -- the Canucks had a good win over Washington last weekend and will be fine. The only game in town (apologies, B.C. Lions), there is just not enough for said media to do other than obsess over every early loss. Fact is, this team is still going to win the Northwest. The Sedins are just too good, and Ryan Kesler is back. Last week: 1-2-1
 
10Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 3
They don't lose four in a row too often, but that was the case entering Tuesday. Is this just an aberration or was their 5-0 start? "It's frustrating," forward Henrik Zetterberg told The Detroit Free Press. "I think we're doing a lot of good things, but we don't get rewarded with goals and wins. It would have been nice to score two, three, four goals and get the confidence back, but maybe we just need to start in practice." At least defenseman Niklas Kronwall is feeling pretty good about himself. He signed a seven-year, $33.25 million extension on Monday. Last week: 0-3-0
 
11Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 5
If there's ever been an unlikely athlete to pull a Steve Carlton on Philly's media, it's likeable, quotable goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. After with a 9-8 loss to the Jets last week, "Breezer", in typically forthright fashion, said he had "no confidence." The Flyers overreacted, making him available only on nights he plays; questions limited to three. Rabid Flyers media successfully complained to the Professional Hockey Writers Association. Coach Peter Laviolette explained the brief muzzling: "I'm just trying to give him a break a little bit. There's just too much coming out. We're trying to protect him." Bryzgalov's next press briefing should be interesting. Last week: 1-2-0
 
12Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 8
Center Matt Duchene emerged from coach Joe Sacco's doghouse to score the decider in a 3-2 win over LA on Sunday. He'd spent a game on the fourth line and Sacco spoke openly of frustration with the speedy 20-year-old's mercurial play. "I try to skip to step 10 before I start step one. I miss some of the little things along the way," Duchene told The Denver Post. "I've always wanted to run before I could walk." Also of note: Semyon Varlamov's fine play has to be frustrating Caps fans as Washington owns Colorado's 2012 first-round pick, thanks to their trade for the goaltender. Last week: 1-2-0
 
13Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 25
You have to tip your hat to captain Shane Doan, who at 35 had 10 points in his first 10 games as the Yotes kept winning to continued apathy (average attendance through their first six home games: 10,012, 29th in the league). One of these days, somebody besides the die-hards might care again about this team. Let's hope so, before it really is too late. Last week: 2-0-1
 
14Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 7
Winning six of their first 10 is perfectly respectable, but all the money spent by new owner Terry Pegula has still produced only a bit better than .500 record and ongtime coach Lindy Ruff was moved to put his team through the paces on Monday, vowing line changes after a 3-2 home loss to Florida. "Probably the hardest practice in the last few years," center Derek Roy told the Niagara Gazette. Ruff blew his stack during the practice, yelling, according to the Gazette: "If you want to coast, I'll set up a different (bleeping) drill!" Last week: 1-2-0
 
15Florida Panthers
Last Week: 15
They blew an extra point at home to Winnipeg on Monday, losing a 4-3 OT game after leading with under a minute left. But it's still been an encouraging start for GM Dale Tallon's team. Newcomer Tomas Fleischmann appears to be fully recovered from the pulmonary embolism that sidetracked his 2010-11 season with Colorado. In his last 33 games, dating to last season, Fleischmann has 31 points. Last week: 1-1-1
 
16New York Rangers
Last Week: 14
In Monday's 5-2 win over the sizzling Sharks, the Blueshirts outshot a foe for the first time this season despite being a bunch of softies, according to Joe Thornton. Ryan Callahan scored twice, much to the delight of John Tortorella. "He played well," the temperamental coach said in his postgame spiel. "With each game that goes by, he's getting better and better." And, hey, what could be better than Sean Avery coming back this week. He was put on recall waivers, with the Rangers concerned about veteran Mike Rupp's balky left knee. Get those tape recorders ready. Last week: 1-1-1
 
17Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 13
Is Dwayne Roloson getting his game back in order? A Saturday night home shutout of Winnipeg was an encouraging answer. Roloson, 42, had a 5.11 goals-against average in his first four starts. "He has bounced back, absolutely no surprise there," coach Guy Boucher told The Tampa Tribune. "I knew he would and I can certainly vouch for his character. His mindset has never changed and he will continue to prove it over and over." Not so great has been the play of right wing Steve Downie (one goal, two points, minus-6 in his first 11 games). Last week: 2-1-0
 
18New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 19
His strong final third of last season salvaged some of his reputation after signing his gargantuan contract with the Devils, but winger Ilya Kovalchuk is off to another mediocre start (two goals, six points in nine games). His old self would likely have the Devils higher in the standings, though New Jersey did enter Tuesday with four fewer games-played than Pittsburgh. It's simply imperative for Kovalchuk to regain his 40-50 goal form if the Devils are to get out of their rut. In his first 90 games as a Devil, he was minus-31, with 33 goals. Last week: 1-2-0
 
19Nashville Predators
Last Week: 23
Barry Trotz is slowly getting his team back on track, the accent on "slowly." The loss of veteran Mike Fisher (concussion) won't speed things up. Fisher (two goals, four points in his first three games after surgery) took a blindside hit from Anaheim's Francois Beauchemin that looked on video to be a violation of Rule 48. Beauchemin escaped suspension, as did the Rangers' Wojtek Wolski who nailed Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson. "Players are really confused," Fisher wrote in tweet to Ottawa journalist Ian Mendes. "I'm out because of a similar play and no dice as well. I don't get it!" Last week: 2-1-1
 
20Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 26
There didn't look to be a worse team in the league just two weeks ago. Now the red-hot Sens have won six in a row. What happened? No one, including the Sens, seems to know, but the team isn't trying to psycho-analyze things. They just want to have the good times last as long as they can, though captain Daniel Alfredsson (concussion symptoms) will be out at least a week after a hit from Wojtek Wolski, who has long been regarded as one of the league's least physical players. GM Bryan Murray was aghast at NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan's decision not to suspend the Ranger. "An elbow to the head ? I was under the impression there would be a suspension. Since our player was hurt in that particular incident, I can't agree with the ruling," Murray told reporters. Last week: 4-0-0
 
21Calgary Flames
Last Week: 27
Just when it seemed that GM Jay Feaster was ready to peddle his wares to other teams, the Flames got a couple of good wins and are back to respectability. Remember: this team has a goalie (Miikka Kiprusoff) who can shut you out on any night, and a legendary goal scorer (Jarome Iginla) who still gets it done. Under coach Brent Sutter, the Flames always play a tough, grinding game. A lot of teams don't like to play them. Last week: 2-0-0
 
22Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 29
After outright panic in the Montreal media (shocker, yes) over their start, the Habs are soothing the agitated hordes. A couple of victories over Boston will do that. Jacques Martin's job appears safe for another week, at least, until the next two-game losing streak anyway. There is no tougher market to play, and none better when things are going well. That's just the way it is in La Belle Province. Goalie Carey Price, the target of some boo-birds early on, won the NHL's First Star of the Week honors with his three-victories. Last week: 3-0-0
 
23Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 17
What happened to that awesome first line? Where's the offense in general? Through 11 games, the Ducks scored only 22 goals (with 29 against) amid concerns about Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan. Let's not get too carried away though: each player entered Tuesday with four goals each. But the line generally considered to be hockey's best hasn't gotten things cranked up yet and it's keeping Anaheim in the middle of the pack. "We're having our ups and downs," Perry, the reigning MVP, told the Orange County Register. "Our line's supposed to play in the offensive zone for the majority of the time and create those down low chances, and we haven't been doing that. And we know that." Last week: 1-2-1
 
24St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 18
Just when it looked like they were coming around, they dropped a couple over the weekend, getting outscored 7-3 by Calgary and Edmonton. High-priced goalie Jaroslav Halak continues to be terrible, coming into Tuesday with a 1-5-0 record, 3.58 GAA and .843 save percentage. If not for backup Brian Elliott, who has been terrific, the Blues would be at the bottom of the conference. Last week: 1-2-0
 
25Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 24
The record is respectable, but the "internals" aren't. Carolina's goal differential is bad (28-35) and star center Eric Staal is minus-13 with only five points. Jeff Skinner and Jussi Jokinen are off to good starts, though, so the 'Canes are hanging in there. Last week: 1-1-1
 
26New York Islanders
Last Week: 20
After eight points in two games (Oct. 13 and 15), third-year forward John Tavares has cooled: only three in his next five contests, all losses (though two were in OT). "Consistency" just has not been in the vocabulary of Long Islanders for a long time, at least not with this hockey team. That doesn't look like it will be changing anytime soon as the Islanders face a brutal November schedule. Last week: 0-1-2
 
27Winnipeg Jets
Last Week: 28
The former Atlanta Thrashers are actually going on the road and winning some games of late, including that 9-8 defensive struggle over the Flyers last week. Getting a clutch win in Florida on Monday night was a nice two points, too. Last week: 2-1-0
 
28Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 21
Yeah, I know they have, technically, a winning record. But this team has a lot of problems that are sure to surface before long. It still can't score goals (just 21 in its first 10 games), but goalie Niklas Backstrom at least has been good. Mikko Koivu, who signed a huge contract a couple years ago, went scoreless in his first 10 games. Last week: 1-1-0
 
29Boston Bruins
Last Week: 12
OK, maybe it is time to panic just a little. The defending Cup champs look completely uninspired most nights, which chafes Claude Julien to no end. But the coach is no quitter. "You've got to keep trying," he told reporters. "If you show any signs of discouragement, how can you expect your players to work hard and work out of it? So you've got to lead by example and that's the tough part of my job right now to lead by example and find solutions." Indeed. Last week: 0-2-0
 
30Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 30
Everybody get off their backs. They bagged a couple of wins. Things, however, remain, shall we say, unsettled everywhere in the organization with nobody quite sure whether GM Scott Howson and/or coach Scott Arniel will keep their jobs much longer. A report in the Columbus Dispatch said the Jackets had contacted former coach Ken Hitchcock about coming back and made inquiries to former NHL GM Craig Button. It could be another interesting week -- off the ice anyway -- in C-Bus. Last week: 2-2-0

 
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