Forgive us for our absence last week. The Power Rankings staff heard rumblings that Anna Kournikova was available, so they left stacks of work on their desks and took off in a frenzied search to profess their collective love. Once tracked down, and taught the error of their ways (hockey players, kids ... she likes hockey players), they returned, heartbroken but ready to work, and we are again flying at full staff. By the way, from here on out, we'll keep the Anna/Sergei stuff to a minimum.
Truth is, we were on vacation and, unfortunately for this exercise, missed quite a bit of puck, so bear with us during the lean comments. Thanks to the scores who e-mailed to say how much they missed the rankings (much appreciated, Mom) or to complain that rankings were woefully out of date (next time, a "hope you’re enjoying your time off" will suffice).
NHL Power Rankings
Vancouver Canucks While away we caught literally (and is that word ever necessary?) three periods of hockey. Among them, the only one the Canucks really needed to make the Bruins look very bad on March 3 and, in turn, extend their road unbeaten streak to nine games. Vancouver also broke a franchise record in Boston with its 21st road win of the season.
Ottawa Senators We've always hoped for the day when a hockey team's players would get together in the locker room and pool their millions to add a player for the stretch run and playoffs. And then, when words such as "selfless" and "altruistic" were being tossed around, those players would call a news conference to remind everyone it wasn't as if they wouldn't eventually be paid.
Detroit Red Wings In the Red Wings' four games between Feb. 22 and March 2, Nicklas Lidstrom, thanks to Detroit's 22 goals, was a combined plus-12. The wheels came off in Columbus, though, when Lidstrom finished the game even. Detroit survived to win its sixth straight.
Dallas Stars Sending them from first to fourth (their lowest ranking in five editions, which include the All-Star break and the over-alluded-to vacation) might be harsh. But this has more to do with their record since Feb. 19 (2-2-3-0) than with the injuries to Bill Guerin and Marty Turco.
New Jersey Devils After sputtering through early February with an uninspiring 4-4-1-0 mark, the Devils played three consecutive OT games last week. Thanks in large part to Jamie Langenbrunner, who scored three of the team's eight goals, New Jersey salvaged four points against the Rangers, Islanders and Capitals.
Philadelphia Flyers Beating up on the slumping Blackhawks (twice) and Bruins -- who share two wins in their previous 20 games combined -- won't always earn teams a raise, but the fact Philadelphia scored 17 goals in five games from Feb. 20 to March 1 does at least make things interesting.
Toronto Maple Leafs After another installment of the Battle of Ontario (we might be the only ones still using that phrase, but we're still using Titan sticks and Northland helmets, too) on March 4, followed by a trip across the pond to Buffalo, the Leafs will play four consecutive games against the Western Conference. All the while, they'll be thinking of the Flyers, who, as of March 4, have a two-point lead on the Leafs for the final home ice slot in the first round.
St. Louis Blues They're still on solid footing in terms of a playoff spot, but with Detroit cruising, the Blues probably aren't looking at the division crown with which they were flirting a few short weeks ago.
Minnesota Wild This is the only team in the league to win half as many games as it played, which is merely a number that, put in context, ranks 10th in the league, just behind St. Louis.
Washington Capitals There is no great shame in losing to the Devils in OT. A dash, perhaps, of shame for being run out of the rink by Detroit (Feb. 22). Another helping of shame for a five-goal loss to Toronto (Feb. 20) and more for the 3-1 loss to Tampa Bay (Feb. 17). All that aside, we're catching the Caps on a four-game undefeated streak that includes the point in New Jersey.
Tampa Bay Lightning John Grahame's struggles against Buffalo notwithstanding, the Lightning seem interested in making the playoffs after all. Consecutive wins over Anaheim, Florida and in Ottawa, not to mention the two games it has in hand, have Tampa Bay honking in Washington's rear view mirror.
Anaheim Mighty Ducks Curiously, Paul Kariya hasn't historically been a great barometer of the Ducks' success from game to game. The past few weeks, however, suggest otherwise. Since Feb. 9, Anaheim won only one of the five games in which Kariya was held pointless. When Kariya did score a point, the Ducks were 6-1-1-0.
New York Islanders One of only two NHL teams as of March 4 to have scored as many goals as it had given up. The Isles had more wins, points and goals than this heretofore unnamed team, also known as the …
Nashville Predators ... Predators. Nashville, while winning more games in its previous 10 than every team but the Red Wings, has scored 17 fewer goals in one fewer game than the Islanders.
Edmonton Oilers When one stat-happy fool lists the NHL's teams from 1-30 based on the number of points they earn per game (c'mon, who doesn't?), four separate groups emerge. Team Nos. 12-18 (the Oilers are No. 16) average between 1 and 1.1 points per game, and while that group's aggregate goal differential is -2, it would be a +8 if Edmonton wasn't factored.
Boston Bruins At 2:37 p.m. EST Tuesday, a coworker stopped by to ask if it was worth writing a check for Bruins playoff tickets. Whether Boston makes it into April is almost secondary to the question of why one might watch a team that can play such sloppy hockey.
Los Angeles Kings There's no truth to the rumor Bryan Smolinski will play only every other game for the rest of the season. Too bad, too, because Smoke alternated two-goal games for a total of six in L.A.'s previous five games.
New York Rangers Swallow hard, Rangers fans. Of the 13 games remaining on the schedule (more than half the NHL has yet to play 66), three are against sub-.500 teams. There's time, of course, but this is a team that has only once won three consecutive games this season.
Phoenix Coyotes Small surges down the stretch are sure to be slightly soured by several rumors of swaps.
Montreal Canadiens Grabbing that final Eastern Conference playoff spot wouldn't be such a crazy notion if they hadn't gone two weeks without a win.
Chicago Blackhawks If they can keep things close down the stretch, which seems unlikely (one win since Feb. 10) but not impossible (encouraging OTLs vs. Nashville and Colorado last week), they have meetings with two of the teams above them in the current standings to make up further ground.
San Jose Sharks While there are dreamers in the West, San Jose's 59 points pretty much keep the Sharks daring to dream.
Pittsburgh Penguins As the season slip-slides away, so, too, does Mario Lemieux's plus-minus, which took a minus-five dive in three games between Feb. 27 and March 2.
Florida Panthers They rank 28th in goals per game and goal differential and 29th in points per game. But they're 24th in overall points, so we'll stick 'em at 25 and hope no one notices.
Columbus Blue Jackets Of the three teams that were sitting on 33 losses as of March 4 (Columbus, Carolina and Atlanta), the Blue Jackets had the best winning percentage and the most points. Hopefully that's explanation enough for ranking a team as the fifth-worst team in the league.
Atlanta Thrashers After seven consecutive games on the road, the Thrashers will play eight of nine at home as of March 7, when the playoff push begins in earnest. Oh, who are we kidding?
Calgary Flames They've won only three of their previous 14 games (10 of which were on the road), and yet picked up points in half of them. None of that changes the fact that they rank last in the Western Conference.
Buffalo Sabres Not only has Buffalo not been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but if the Sabres finished the season undefeated, there's also a chance -- slight, considering it would necessitate Ottawa's losing every game the rest of the way -- they could finish in a two-way points-tie for both the division and conference lead.
Carolina Hurricanes The Hurricanes have their sights on at least one distinction this season. Let's just say that if the Thrashers think they're going to run away with the worst goal-scoring deficit in the league, they're sorely mistaken.