I am suspending, for one week, my self-imposed rule against self-referential treatment in the Power Rankings and using a small part of this space as a dedication.
Hockey lost a fan last week when my uncle, Robert G. Tolman, passed away. When he was at the top of his game, in addition to being among the flat-out funniest influences in our lives and an everyone-knew-him sort of entertainment funnel cloud, sucking friends and family and neighbors and strangers into the vortex of his comic relief, he was also the patriarch of the first hockey family I knew. (In lieu of flowers, it was asked that donations be sent in my uncle's honor to a local youth hockey program.)
Before I could lift a puck or skate backward, I wanted to play near the regulation hockey cage at the bow of my uncle's driveway. And I was fascinated by the hockey equipment in my cousins' cellar. Idolatry being an affliction of the young, the game probably hooked me somewhere between the driveway and the basement of that home.
To this day, hockey is still a part of my world, and whatever entertainment or sense of humor seeps into this space is now and has always been, through marriage and a generation or two, in some way a part of that funnel cloud that swept through our family before we were lucky enough to know what hit us.
NHL Power Rankings
Boston Bruins Friday, Nov. 28, overheard in the FleetCenter, Section 320, Row 5, Seat 3: "This place will never get as loud as the Garden." With some reasonable attendance figures -- and what are you waiting for, Boston? -- things should change. The post-Thanksgiving matinee, thanks especially to Joe Thornton, who makes more moves than a kid with his reach has any physical right to, was nearly worth the price of admission.
Vancouver Canucks The difficulty in rewarding a hot streak with a No. 2 ranking -- besides the vertigo, of course -- is that eventually Vancouver will start pulling bad cards and this run will be thing of the past. That's when the Power Rankings critics will pounce. But let's keep in mind that this dealer isn't into the forecasting game and that the Canucks haven't lost since Nov. 9.
Dallas Stars When one sets sail into the waters of a box score, he or she is unlikely to find such choppy seas as these: Ron Tugnutt (15 shots, 11 saves; record: 3-2-2).
New Jersey Devils Just like old times: A scoreless tie in regulation. They also happened to earn a win in OT on Dec. 2 -- to beat the Flyers (just like old times) and secure a lead in the division (just like old times).
Philadelphia Flyers The Flyers have dropped three games at home this season -- one to the Maple Leafs (Nov. 29), and two against the Devils, the most recent being Monday night (Dec. 2) -- and have been shut out in each. A recent theme, incidentally; in five games since Nov. 23, they're 1-3-0-1 with four goals scored.
St. Louis Blues The schedule-making Santa chose coal this December for the Blues: After Tuesday's game in Boston, the Blues will host Ottawa before hitting the road for Philly, Detroit, New Jersey and Nashville. St. Louis plays only five of 15 games this month at home.
Ottawa Senators Since Nov. 16, the Senators are 6-0-2-0, which takes some weight from the statement "Ottawa is undefeated when Marian Hossa scores a goal." It should be noted, however, that Hossa did score eight during that span.
Tampa Bay Lightning Another small bump in the road, or evidence that the Lightning's early schedule was almost as soft as a Liz Taylor commercial's lighting?
Carolina Hurricanes Rewind the way-back machine to Oct. 21, when they were 2-3-0 with questionable goaltending and a minus-five deficit in goals scored vs. allowed. By Tuesday, that had become a plus-three (64-61) with the help of two-goal wins over Detroit and Columbus.
Minnesota Wild Since a Nov. 10 win over slumping San Jose, the Wild have just three wins in 10 games. Their victims? Nashville and Washington (twice). A winless streak began anew last week with losses to Vancouver and Dallas, before they salvaged a point at home against Columbus.
Colorado Avalanche If they'd won half of the eight games they've tied this season, the Avalanche would be sitting pretty at 12-6-4-3.
Los Angeles Kings We were looking for a way to say they seem to be treading water (1-1-1-0 last week, 1-0-1-1 the previous week, 1-1-0-1 the week before that), waiting for the return of so many injured players, when Mattias Norstrom helped us out: "We're in survival mode," he told the Los Angeles Times. "That's kind of the hockey we have been playing the last few weeks."
Anaheim Mighty Ducks Is the glass half full (one regulation loss in their last 13 games)? Or half empty (three OTLs, only one game above .500 in that span)? How about we rank them halfway down the list and call it a day?
Edmonton Oilers Welcome back, Tommy Salo. Salo had been shaky earlier this season (.837 save percentage in his first 11 games, including outings of .400, .688 and a few sub-.850s). But since Nov. 12 he is 6-1-1 with a pair of shutouts and has allowed four goals over his past five outings.
New York Rangers We know this borders on heresy in New York, but we're beginning to think that the big nights from Pavel and Petr and Lindros are the anomalies.
Columbus Blue Jackets Marc Denis isn't facing as many shots per game as some goaltenders, but let's be honest, when you've seen at least 112 more shots than any of your peers, that is of small consolation.
Toronto Maple Leafs It was mentioned earlier that forecasting is not the domain of this space. So, we'll just casually point out that Toronto plays the Islanders on Thursday. Those who know why this is important may assume the worst.
Montreal Canadiens Observation from their 4-2 loss in Boston: There is a term, "fighting the puck," and Jose Theodore was its poster child. Saves that might have been made with gloves were made with arms, redirected pucks weren't always pushed to safe areas, trickling rebounds proved elusive, etc.
Chicago Blackhawks According to STATS, Inc., the Blackhawks' are playing to 62.7 capacity at the United Center, the lowest home figure in the NHL. The good news is that they don't rank last in average attendance; Phoenix holds that distinction.
Washington Capitals Five of their last six losses dating back to Nov. 16 have been of the one-goal variety. Peter Bondra last scored on Nov. 9. There's a coincidence here. We just don't have time to find it.
San Jose Sharks Every once and a while we're afforded a headline that even Mr. Magoo could see was a sign of the times: "Slumping Sharks fire Sutter, assistants."
New York Islanders Adrian Aucoin is the only player in the NHL who averages more than 30 minutes of ice time per game. If we weren't distracting you with this trivial pursuit, we'd be forced to point out that they're on the verge of giving back the ground they gained with three wins and a tie two weeks ago.
Atlanta Thrashers You may not want to wager on a Stanley Cup appearance, but if you're at the window, think about betting the over, even with Byron Dafoe. In four games between Nov. 23 and Dec. 1, the Thrashers and their opponents have combined to score 34 goals.
Florida Panthers As of Dec. 3, only four teams had lost fewer times in their previous 10 games, but Florida's 1-2-5-2 record during that span isn't driving it too far north.
Phoenix Coyotes The Coyotes are home between Dec. 3 and 20, and Bobby Francis doesn't like it one bit. "I'm going to dread the month of December," Francis told the Arizona Republic. "A whole month at home, complete with all the distractions. It's a recipe for ... well, let's just say I don't like it." No surprise there, considering that before the franchise's longest home stand (nine games), Phoenix was 2-5-3-0 at America West.
Nashville Predators Motivated by a last-place ranking here in Week 8, Nashville actually went out and won a couple of games last week, thereby doubling its win total for the season.
Buffalo Sabres During a four-game homestand in October, the Sabres' average home crowd was 11,620. Over their last four home games (not including the geographic rival Maple Leafs, which drew an impressive 18,690), they were playing to an average of 14,109. So there are signs of a hockey pulse in Buffalo. In the stands.
Calgary Flames A sampling of words from the most recent headlines in Calgary: "mystify," "help," "crisis," "free fall." For those keeping score at home, that last listing was two words, but they all seem to say the same thing. Calgary took the pipe in four games last week (average score was 5.5-2) and Greg Gilbert took the fall.