Posted: Tuesday March 6, 2012 2:18PM ; Updated: Tuesday March 6, 2012 4:33PM
Adrian Dater
Adrian Dater>INSIDE THE NHL

Canucks still on top -- just barely

Story Highlights

A favorable home schedule puts the Western title within reach of Vancouver

The Rangers are the class of the East, with injuries chipping away at the Penguins

Andrew Ladd's season makes you wonder how loud Winnipeg will be this spring

With a month to go in the regular season, we can pretty safely establish the top 10 or so teams and who will be the also-rans. The New York Rangers have the Eastern title all but wrapped up, but there is much more of a battle in the West for home-ice advantage throughout the conference playoffs.

There should be some good races for the seventh and eighth playoff berths in each conference, and there is quite the battle for the Central Division title going on with St. Louis, Detroit, Nashville and Chicago all having mostly solidified spots in the playoffs. And now, we give you this week's SI.com NHL Power Rankings...

A DISCLAIMER (of sorts): These rankings are based not just on each team's record, but an empirically tested formula that includes a) realistic near-term future expectations; b) consensus talent level and payroll considerations and; c) whatever the Magic 8-Ball I've had since I was seven years old tells me will happen. One more thing: Rest assured that I don't have it in for your team. OK, so I once hated the Philadelphia Flyers with a passion bordering on the psychotic, but that was 30-something years ago and Dave Schultz has long since retired. I welcome your emails to the link attached to my name above, and I always respond -- even to the ones that start with "Dear Idiot."

All stats and records through games of Monday, March 5

NHL Power Rankings
1Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 1
Let's overlook a Saturday night stinker at home against Buffalo and recognize that these guys are the NHL's best right now -- but just barely. The game I'm choosing to focus on more is their 2-0 shutout of St. Louis, with Roberto Luongo looking strong. (Granted, he wasn't so strong against the surging Sabres, but he had only one regulation loss in his previous 14 starts before the Buffalo setback. The Canucks have 11 of their last 16 games at home, so a conference title is realistic. Last week: 1-1-1
 
2New York Rangers
Last Week: 5
In a thrilling game on Sunday at Madison Square Garden, the Blueshirts may have proved once and for all that they are the best team in the East now. The Bruins outshot them 33-17, but Henrik Lundqvist outplayed Tim Thomas in net. The Rangers were playing, as coach John Tortorella put it, their "third game in two-and-a-half days. They're not always going to be pretty. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the guys in there, how hard they had to work just to get something accomplished and score one more than [Boston] did." Home ice throughout the Eastern playoffs seems guaranteed. Last week: 2-0-1
 
3Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 2
Injuries are starting to take a toll. On Monday, the Wings practiced without Pavel Datsyuk (knee), Nick Lidstrom (ankle), Daniel Cleary, Todd Bertuzzi (groin), Jimmy Howard (lower body), Jonathan Ericsson (wrist) and Patrick Eaves (concussion). Detroit still has plenty of points in the bank to ensure a playoff spot, and all of the aforementioned except maybe Eaves should return before the end of the regular season. On Sunday, Lidstrom missed just his 10th home game in 20 seasons. Last week: 2-1-0
 
4St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 3
St. Louis Blues (41-18-7)
They went 5-1 on what looked like a tough road trip. Now they have 10 of their next 12 at the Scottrade Center, where they are 26-4-4. Look out. Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk is playing lights-out for coach Ken Hitchcock, with six points in his last four games. Last week: 2-1-0
 
5Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 8
They looked strong in back-to-back road victories in Dallas and Colorado last week. Evgeni Malkin continues to tear it up, taking the lead in NHL scoring on Monday night, and he has to be considered the front-runner for the Hart Trophy as league MVP. As usual, though, injuries remain a worry. Sidney Crosby is practicing, but won't say much about a return. Now Kris Letang is on the shelf with a concussion after taking hit from Dallas' Eric Nystrom. Last week: 3-0-0
 
6Nashville Predators
Last Week: 4
They've been a little up-and-down lately, but it's not much to worry about. Goalie Pekka Rinne tied the franchise's single-season wins record (36) with a 3-1 victory at Florida in which the Panthers outshot the Preds 40-23. Nashville has a three-game homestand the rest of the week. They're mighty tough in Bridgestone Arena (21-7-5). Last week: 1-1-0
 
7Boston Bruins
Last Week: 6
Boston Bruins (38-23-3)
Let the Marty Turco Era begin in Beantown. Wait, what? Marty Turco is back in the league? It's true. The veteran netminder who has spent most of this season in the broadcaster's chair signed a contract with Boston on Monday after Tuukka Rask was diagnosed with a lower abdominal strain that will keep him out 4-6 weeks. The B's still have the best goal differential in the league (+59), but something seems a bit off with the defending Cup champs. Last week: 1-3-0
 
8Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 11
Times have changed since they lost nine in a row last month. Yes, Jonathan Toews remains sidelined with concussion symptoms, though on Monday coach Joel Quenneville said that Toews had a "good day" with an off-ice workout. On Tuesday night in St. Louis, the captain will miss his eighth straight game, but the Hawks have won three in a row without him, and goalie Ray Emery was named one of the NHL's three stars of the week. Last week: 3-0-0
 
9Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 9
It seems like every game I watch, they lose. A 1-0 defeat in San Jose last week was the latest chunk of time I'll never get back. But their overall record suggests that this must be a pretty good team. Ilya Bryzgalov is playing better in net. He's won his last two starts and his saves percentage (.901) is back over the Mendoza line. Just in time for the playoffs? We'll see. Last week: 2-1-0
 
10Dallas Stars
Last Week: 14
Dallas Stars (35-26-5)
Count me among those who believe that left wing Jamie Benn might be the best player in the league nobody knows about. With 51 points in 55 games, his per-game average is near the top of the league. The streaking Stars are 7-1-2 in their last 10, with Benn and center Mike Ribeiro leading the way. Ribeiro has points in nine of his last 10 games. Props as well to goalie Kari Lehtonen. Dallas could easily sneak into the playoffs. Last week: 2-0-1
 
11New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 10
They're only 5-4-1 in their last 10 after being red hot and were shut out 1-0 by the Islanders over the weekend -- the first of three times they'll play the Isles this week, with a tilt against the Rangers in the mix as well. "It's a league that's unforgiving, and it's an unforgiving time of year, so we've just got to keep moving forward," coach Peter DeBoer told reporters afterward. "We've got some tough games ahead." Last week: 1-1-1
 
12Florida Panthers
Last Week: 16
Florida Panthers (31-22-12)
Somebody has to win the Southeast Division, and the Panthers entered Monday with a four-point cushion. But they can beat you one night, and get blown out the next. They've given up the first TWO goals of a game in three of their last four outings, but won the last time it happened, against Ottawa on Sunday. Coach Kevin Dineen delivered a blistering speech that spurred his team to the 4-2 win. "We had a little chat," he said of his Knute Rockne special. Last week: 2-2-0
 
13San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 12
San Jose Sharks (33-24-7)
There is some real alarm about them and where they stand -- eighth place as of Tuesday. But fear not, they still have three games in hand over Colorado, and Martin Havlat should be back soon. That will solidify an offense that has struggled of late. Not to give them a pass -- they've been terrible of late and need to get it going -- but they will make the playoffs. Last week: 1-2-0
 
14Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 20
Jeff Carter potted his first two goals as a King over the weekend, which must have GM Dean Lombardi breathing a little easier, but the Kings entered Monday out of the playoff picture. The pressure remains intense on a team that was picked by many to finish in the top four. There is still time for a nice late run and perhaps a division title, especially with Phoenix and San Jose starting to struggle. Last week: 2-0-0
 
15Winnipeg Jets
Last Week: 17
Winnipeg Jets (32-27-8)
Andrew Ladd is having a tremendous season, with 21 goals, and a rousing home victory over Buffalo on Monday kept them solidly in eighth place in the East, three points ahead of Washington. They could still win the Southeast, too, as they are only two behind Florida. How loud would it be in Winnipeg for a playoff game this spring? LOUD. Last week: 2-0-0
 
16Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 7
Phoenix Coyotes (33-24-9)
There is still too much pressure on the defense and goaltending, which makes it tough to sustain any long-term success. You can't win every game 2-1. That was the score the Coyotes lost by in Pittsburgh on Monday night, their third straight defeat. Included among the three was a coyote ugly 5-2 home loss to Columbus of all teams. Last week: 1-3-0
 
17Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 13
Just when you think they're going somewhere, they get shut out by Columbus on home ice. A win that night and the Avs would have gained sole possession of eighth place in the West, but remained on the outside looking in. On the bright side, Semyon Varlamov is heating up in net. He recorded his fourth shutout of the season in a much-needed 2-0 win at Minnesota on Sunday. Last week: 1-2-0
 
18Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 15
Ottawa Senators (34-25-8)
Erik Karlsson, whose 66 points lead all defensemen by far, is going to win the Norris Trophy. Count on it. But the Senators will need to lean on him and their other top position players down the stretch, as goalie Craig Anderson continues to recuperate from a hand injury he suffered in his kitchen. Last week: 1-2-0
 
19Calgary Flames
Last Week: 21
Calgary Flames (29-25-12)
They lost in the final minute of regulation in Anaheim last week, then coughed up another crucial point on Saturday in a shootout against Dallas. But they've got the Canadiens and Jets at home in their next two, then the Wild on the road. A little hot streak and they're right there in the playoff conversation. Last week: 1-1-1
 
20Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 23
It's not over yet for the Bolts, which is fairly remarkable considering how cooked they looked just a few weeks ago. They took a four-game winning streak into Tuesday's huge game against the Senators, and might get defenseman Victor Hedman back, too. In other news, GM Steve Yzerman was named to lead Team Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics, although the NHL hasn't committed to sending players. Maybe Stevie Y will have to suit up. Last week: 3-0-0
 
21Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 25
Buffalo Sabres (30-28-8)
Tough loss for Lindy Ruff's squad on Monday in Winnipeg. A win would have moved them into a tie for eighth in the East with the Jets, but Buffalo has still accomplished much in the last two weeks to get that close. A terrific Western swing was responsible for their improvement, and the Sabres look like they will be sharp and tough down the stretch. Last week: 3-1-0
 
22Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 22
Last week, Ron Wilson was the latest NHL coach to learn that this is a tough business. After getting a contract extension (and tweeting about it on Christmas day), he was sacked in favor of harder-nosed Randy Carlyle, the coach who gave GM Brian Burke his only Stanley Cup, in Anaheim in 2007. Carlyle won his first game behind the bench at home against Montreal, but the playoffs are going to be tough to make. Last week: 1-2-0
 
23Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 18
Anaheim Ducks (29-28-10)
Hope remains flickering. They ran into some trouble last week, losing to the Avs, Kings and Sabres, but got a win Monday against Edmonton to reach 68 points and still have a shot at the eighth spot. Last week: 2-2-0
 
24New York Islanders
Last Week: 27
They can now officially be called "respectable", which was not the term that was used to describe them much of the last, well, let's move on? They still have a puncher's chance at the playoffs, though they'll probably have to come close to running the table. For a team with a -40 goal differential, that will be tough. Last week: 2-1-1
 
25Washington Capitals
Last Week: 19
It's been a lost season in Washington. No passion, no chemistry. That describes the Caps, who were blanked at home by Philly and continue to stumble along. Yeah, they're still close to eighth place, but I see these guys tanking down the stretch. Last week: 1-2-0
 
26Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 24
Minnesota Wild (28-28-10)
It's all fallen apart for Mike Yeo's team, which at one time topped these rankings. How long ago that seems. Mikko Koivu and Niklas Backstrom could miss the rest of the season with injuries, leaving little hope that there will be any late playoff run. Last week: 0-3-1
 
27Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 26
Eric Staal has an 11-game point streak, with assists in 10 straight. His helper streak tied the franchise record held by, believe it or not, Dave Keon, who did it for the Hartford Whalers in 1979. Last week: 1-1-1
 
28Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 29
What a dismal season it's been around Rue St. Catherine. Nothing to do now but play out the string and take some guesses about who the new GM and coach will be. Last week: 1-2-0
 
29Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 28
Edmonton Oilers (25-34-6)
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is back, at least, but the losses continue to pile up nonetheless. Ales Hemsky, he of the two-year $10 million contract extension at the trade deadline that caused that Flames tweeter such mirth, has no goals and is minus-3 since being rewarded. Oil change? This team is a mess again. Last week: 0-3-0
 
30Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 30
If you are still reading to this point, you are a true hockey fan. Hey, the Jackets are proving to be good spoilers since the trade deadline, having gone into Colorado and Phoenix and knocked off both hosts. And, lordy be, Rick Nash and Scott Howson seem to be getting along some again. Maybe Nash's days in Columbus aren't quite as numbered as most people think. Last week: 2-1-0

 
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