Posted: Tue February 26, 2013 5:53PM; Updated: Tue March 5, 2013 3:27PM
Adrian Dater

Blackhawks still rolling atop my Power Rankings

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Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks
Captain Jonathan Toews and his record-smashing Blackhawks are bound to cool off, but when?
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The NHL Power Rankings are starting to seem as fixed as a Tammany Hall election in the 1920s (look it up, kids). For the fifth straight week, we have the Chicago Blackhawks at the No.1 spot. Their Original Six brethren, the Boston Bruins, remain at No. 2 for the third week in a row with the Anaheim Ducks (3) and Pittsburgh Penguins (4) again on their tail.

The defending champion L.A. Kings made a nice jump on the list this week, cementing a great seven-day stretch with a convincing win over crosstown rival Anaheim on Monday night. And we have a new team at the bottom of the list.

Say it ain't so, Buffalo.

To the countdown...

1Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 1
Is it all happening too soon? Since we can't actually say anything bad about the Blackhawks in the tangible sense right now, we might as well start worrying if their record start will actually be bad for them come playoff time. Of course, the Ducks went the first 16 games of 2006-07 without a loss in regulation and won the Stanley Cup. But history hasn't usually been all that kind to President's Trophy winners, which the Hawks are on the way to becoming. Vancouver has won it the last two years, and still doesn't have a Cup. Washington ran away with it the year before that and didn't make the final. So we have a long way to go before we crown the Hawks. But, yes, they do look good, and goalie Corey Crawford is back after missing four games with an upper body injury. Marian Hossa checked out OK after his scary spill caused by a forearm shiver from Vancouver's Jannik Hansen, who got a one-game Shanaban for his trouble. Last week: 4-0-0
2Boston Bruins
Last Week: 2
Boston Bruins (11-2-2)
The Bs are off to their best start in 36 years, with their 34 goals-against the fewest in the league. And how about that spin-o-rama, top-cookies backhand goal (VIDEO) by Zdeno Chara against Florida? As ESPN's John Buccigross said on the Sunday Night Top-10 countdown, the shot landed where "mom keeps the thin mints." Chara's teammate Daniel Paille opined, "That was a beauty. Props to Z for that." Props, too, to Tuukka Rask, whose play has spurred talk of a contract extension -- something that GM Peter Chiarelli has confirmed. Last week: 2-0-0
3Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 3
Anaheim Ducks (13-3-1)
Who will be their starting goalie for the playoffs? That's already the hot topic on Southern California radio sports talk shows these days. Oh wait, that's right. I drove for hundreds of miles around the L.A.-Anaheim area during the weekend and never heard one second of hockey chatter on the radio. Not one second, in a region that has the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings and the red-hot Ducks. All anyone would talk about was Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard, and that was IT. Do I sound mad? Frankly, I am. The Ducks certainly deserve a lot more notice than they're getting. Viktor Fasth and Jonas Hiller will battle it out to prove to coach Bruce Boudreau they should get the starting nod during the postseason. And now Brian Burke is back in the organization as a scout. I never heard that mentioned on the radio, either. Last week: 1-1-0
4Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 4
The playoffs seem assured, but the only thing that Pens fans can think about right now is Evgeni Malkin's condition. It was something of a bizarre news update on the Penguins' website Sunday when coach Dan Bylsma confirmed that Malkin has a concussion after being sent into the boards by Florida's Erik Gudbranson and would miss at least the next three games. Bylsma added that Malkin was suffering from short-term memory loss, but "he's feeling fine and his memory is returning." Let's hope Malkin returns soon, but does anyone ever really know how long it's going to take? On Monday, he was placed on injured reserve, retroactive to Feb. 22. Meanwhile, Sidney Crosby, who has had his own concussion history, looks like he's feeling fine. He was dominant in Sunday's 5-3 win over Tampa Bay, with two goals and an assist. Last week: 2-1-0
5Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 6
We'll forgive Sunday's hiccup in Detroit. More like an inappropriate belch, actually, but these things happen. Will allowing eight goals to the Red Wings push Roberto Luongo back to being Cory Schneider's caddy? Maybe not. He did enter the game with a league-leading 1.45 goals-against average, after all. The Canucks have a fine team, but they still frustrate their fans with performances like Sunday's and the shootout loss in Chicago last week -- a game Vancouver probably should have won. Defenseman Kevin Bieksa's absence against Detroit probably had something to do with that outcome. Having a great season, Bieksa now is out with a groin injury, though coach Alain Vigneault said it isn't serious. If the Canucks are to go anywhere in the playoffs, they must have Bieksa healthy and in form. He's a tremendous two-way player and locker-room leader. Last week: 2-1-1
6Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 8
Seeing his Rangers get beat twice by Montreal last week had to really eat at John "None of your business" Tortorella. Any loss steams New York's intense bench boss, but the Habs are winning with the style his Rangers employed last year --- tight-checking, blocking a lot of shots, timely scoring, and simply outworking opponents. Coach Michel Therrien really has done a nice job so far. Case in point: he saw Alex Galchenyuk struggling with a heavy load of responsibilities at center, so on Saturday he moved the talented rookie to wing on a line with Lars Eller and Erik Cole. Galchenyuk, able to focus more on his offense, responded with a goal in Montreal's 3-0 win over the Rangers. Last week: 2-0-2
7St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 9
After a mildly worrisome slump, the Blues seem to be getting back on track. Still, one wonders why scoring has been such a problem of late. They were shut out in Colorado last week, and eked out a 2-1 win over Columbus on Saturday. But they are returning to their hard forechecking ways, the kind of game that coach Ken Hitchcock so highly prizes. Now they get a little break before taking on the Blackhawks on Thursday. That should be a good one. Good, too, for the Blues: goalie Jaroslav Halak is back after a groin injury. Not so good: talented rookie forward Vladimir Tarasenko is out with a concussion. Last week: 1-1-1
8New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 5
Living legend Martin Brodeur missed Sunday's game against Winnipeg (a 4-2 loss) because of a sore back. He said he's been bothered by the problem for a little while, but told reporters "It's no big deal" and that he hoped to be back in net, maybe for the game in Winnipeg on Feb. 28. The Devils have cooled off some lately, scoring three goals or less in their last five games, four of them losses. But the points they banked with their solid in this short season make reaching the playoffs look like a good bet. Last week: 1-2-0
9Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 18
Ever since they lost a heartbreaker in Detroit on Feb. 10, the defending champs have gotten their game together, and their 5-2 home win over the Ducks on Monday night was another strong sign that the Kings are serious again. Anze Kopitar was a beast in Saturday's easy 4-1 victory over Colorado. It's still amazing how little fanfare he gets for being the best player on a Stanley Cup-winning team,. For my money, he's the best power forward in the game. He can just rub players right off the puck, then make sick-sauce passes and shots. Ask a lot of GMs who'd they'd pick first to start a team, and Kopitar comes up fairly often. Jeff Carter (goals in three straight games entering Monday; nine overall) is heating up again too. Last week: 4-0-0
10Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 10
Just when you get ready to panic about this team, it comes back with a solid win to settle things down. The 'Canes broke a three-game losing streak with a 4-2 win over the Islanders on Sunday by overcoming a 2-0 deficit, but the best news that Caniac fans got all weekend was that Jeff Skinner is feeling much better after suffering a concussion on Feb. 14. (One sidelined him for 16 games last season.) He took part in Saturday's practice, albeit in a non-contact jersey, and said he believes he'll be back very soon. "It's definitely different from last time. It's a lot less intense, less severe," he told the Raleigh News and Observer. Last week: 1-2-0
11Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 21
The Senators used to be full of talent, but a bit short on grit. Not anymore. Erik Karlsson (Achilles) is out for the season. Jason Spezza (back) is out indefinitely. Now Craig Anderson (ankle sprain) is on the shelf. Yet the Sens are hangin' tough and coach Paul MacLean deserves a bunch of kudos for keeping his team's belief in itself strong despite the loss of such marquee names. Ben Bishop took over for Anderson in net and earned the league's Third Star of the Week honors, and Colin Greening won Saturday's Hockey Night in Canada showdown with the Maple Leafs, 3-2, by scoring with 24 seconds left in regulation. Monday's 2-1 OT win over Montreal was Ottawa's fifth straight victory. Last week: 4-0-0
12Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 11
Entering the weekend, James Van Riemsdyk was the NHL's leading goal scorer (11). He potted two of them last Thursday against the Sabres to spoil the coaching debut of Ron Rolston, his former U.S. development team coach. "Ron made me into the player I am today," JVR told reporters. On Monday, though, he sweated his return to Philadelphia where he was kept off the score sheet and ended up in the box for four minutes late in the third period while his team hung on to beat the Flyers, 4-2. "It's a challenge here, but we did enough to get the win," he said after the game. "We were all in, we all went in the right direction, we all pulled the rope. There were no passengers and that's what we needed." Last week: 2-2-0
13Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 16
They are becoming the classic box-of-chocolates team. You never quite know what you'll get on any given night. The Wings can lose to Columbus at home in the final minute, like they did last Thursday, then shut out the Predators, 4-0, on Saturday and whup the Canucks, 8-3, on Sunday. A spate of injuries has been a factor -- 109 man-games lost by this past weekend -- but coach Mike Babcock doesn't want to hear any excuses. "I don't care about that stuff," he said. "The bottom line is we've done a lot of good things, but we've made some big mistakes in games that have cost us. Just taking care of the puck, and decision-making, we have to get better at." As long as Pavel Datsyuk is around, there will be hope. His goal last week against Nashville (VIDEO) was one of the best of the season. Last week: 2-1-1
14San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 12
They came into Tuesday's game with the Avalanche 1-6-3 in their previous 10. So much for that crazy good start, and so much for valuable power forward Ryane Clowe, who was suspended by the NHL for two games for leaving the bench to start an altercation with the Blackhawks even though the league acknowledged that he'd made a legal line change. You figure it out, I can't. Meanwhile, coach Todd McLellan is trying to figure out how to right his sinking Fish. "More of the same," he lamented after Saturday's 3-1 loss to Dallas. "Pretty good effort, but you can't take consolation in that. You have to put points in the bank, and we're not doing it right now. It's the same thing. It's over and over. We've got to find ways to fix it." Last week: 1-2-0
15Nashville Predators
Last Week: 13
Add in overtime/SO losses and this is an dub-.500 team. But since the parody-loving, sorry, parity-loving NHL likes to pretty up such normally unsightly records, we'll keep the Preds in our top 15. With the firing of Lindy Ruff in Buffalo, Barry Trotz is now the longest-serving coach in the NHL (since the puck dropped on the 1998-99 season). "I'm pretty fortunate," he told the Nashville Tennessean. "I was asked what the secret to my longevity was, and I said it's just having good people and a good organization around you. Just surround yourself with good people. That's the only secret I've got." Would also be nice if Trotz could surround himself with some scorers -- Colin Wilson (15 points) and Martin Erat (11) are the only two Preds in double digits -- and Nashville has been shut out five times, including twice last week. Last week: 2-2-0
16Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 17
Their 69 goals, entering Monday, led the NHL, but their big problem has been at the other end of the ice, where their 58 against rank in the bottom 10. Expect GM Steve Yzerman to be active at the trade deadline. With that potent offense, he's got a fighting chance to get his team into the playoffs if he can land some solid blueline help. Last week: 2-2-0
17Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 19
They've already played 21 games -- six more than the Bruins, four more than the Rangers, etc. -- and are only a point out of the eighth playoff spot in the East. But the bottom line is that they're in danger of finding themselves with real ground to make up and fewer games than their Eastern competitors with which to do it. Ilya Bryzgalov -- yes, my weekly target again, but let's tell the truth here -- has been an outright disaster since signing his huge contract. He still has some apologists in the media, maybe because of his colorful statements on meteors and the universe, but to quote a Hockey Hall of Fame media member -- the Boston Globe's Kevin "Moose" Dupont -- Bryzgalov has a "technicolor 5-hole" to rival that of old Bruins netminder John Blue. Had to love all the stick-tossing that Bryz did in last week's 5-2 loss to the woeful Panthers, a game in which he was yanked. Last week: 2-2-0
18Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 14
The Wild must make the playoffs, or it will cost Yeo his job. That's what I'm hearing anyway. A 3-1 loss to the desultory Flames on Saturday found the Wild still hanging around the .500 mark and in the bottom half of the Western standings. There's no power in Minny's power play and the Wild's overall lack of offensive production (28th in the NHL) has fans grousing about the team's dump-and-chase system. "Pittsburgh dumps the puck," Zach Parise told Michael Russo of the StarTribune. "The highest-scoring teams in the league ... everybody dumps the puck. The difference, though, is they dump it and forecheck the right way to get it back. That's our problem." Last week: 2-2-0
19New York Rangers
Last Week: 7
It's been bad enough that this team has not played the kind of "togetherness" hockey that made it successful last year. Now bodies are piling up in the sick bay and there is speculation that Rick Nash has a concussion (the Blueshirts have lost three in a row without him) and that struggling Brad Richards will be bought out after the season. He'd better getting going. I think he has enough left to make a positive difference down the stretch. Last week: 0-2-1
20Dallas Stars
Last Week: 22
Dallas Stars (9-8-2)
They've lost three of their last four -- tough one on Monday night against the Predators, 5-4 in overtime -- but are hanging around in the West's the top eight. Highlight of the week was Jamie Benn's Gordie Howe hat trick in a 3-1 win over the reeling Sharks. Michael Ryder is heating up, scoring a goal in that one and chipping in with three points against the Preds. One of the few mistakes made by Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli in recent years was not re-signing Ryder. Yeah, Chiarelli had some cap issues after the B's won the Cup in 2011, but he should have found a way to keep Ryder. Last week: 1-1-1
21Winnipeg Jets
Last Week: 24
They entered Tuesday as winners of three of their last four games, including nice victories over New Jersey, Buffalo and Carolina on the road. But that was some really tough luck for promising defenseman Zach Redmond, whose femoral artery in his right leg was severed by the skate of teammate Antti Miettinen at a practice in North Carolina last week. Redmond had four points in eight games for the Jets, but will be lost for the season. The accident was considered serious enough that, if quick action hadn't been taken by the Jets' medical staff, it could have been fatal. "You can't really put into words what goes through your mind when a teammate is hurt like that on the ice, " winger Blake Wheeler said after the win over the Hurricanes. "I think all you can really do is just try to channel those emotions into going out and putting your best foot forward and trying to win one for your teammates." Last week: 3-1-0
22Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 20
Dave Tippett's team continues to tread water, lurking just outside a playoff spot in the West. They blew a third-period lead and lost in regulation to Calgary on Sunday, leaving their coach to lament, "That's two games in a row that we had a lead and we gave it away. We have to find a way to close these games out. That's not who were are as a team." On the plus side, the Coyotes are scoring enough goals to stay in the hunt. Their 50 entering Tuesday ranked seventh in the conference. Last week: 0-1-1
23Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 15
They're still well in the chase for a playoff spot and they gave the Blackhawks a tussle before losing 3-2 in OT on Monday night, yet I'm starting to slip off the bandwagon. I thought their offense would offset their defensive and goaltending problems, but the Oilers are underwater in goal differential (42-49), Taylor Hall got himself suspended for a couple of games for a dirty hit on Minnesota's Cal Clutterbuck. He has to be smarter than that. And when is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (one goal, seven points) going to wake up? Last week: 1-2-1
24Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 15
Captain Gabe "don't call me Gabriel anymore" Landeskog returned to the lineup Saturday after missing nearly a month with a concussion. Too bad that wasn't enough to jump-start the underachieving top-line duo of Paul Stastny and David Jones, who entered Monday with a combined 15 points and minus-16 for the year. The absence of defensemen Erik Johnson (concussion) and Ryan Wilson (ankle) is badly hurting the Avs in their own end. The unfortunate Ryan O'Reilly saga continues too, with a trade only a question of when, not if. Last week: 1-1-1
25Calgary Flames
Last Week: 28
Credit first-year coach Bob Hartley for keeping his Flames respectable and with sniffing distance of a playoff berth, especially since goalie Miikka Kiprusoff went down with a knee injury in early February. Kipper has returned to practice, so a run is still possible if Jarome Iginla is actually breaking out of his long scoring funk. He tallied two goals on Sunday in a win over Phoenix, upping his total to three for the season. Last week: 2-1-0
26New York Islanders
Last Week: 25
The Isles continue on their up-and-down path, but least they don't have to play Rick DiPietro anymore. The oft-injured goalie with the 15-year, $67.5 million contract he signed in 2006 was placed on waivers after a couple of awful outings. There were no takers (shocker!), which means he will be parked at AHL Bridgeport. Now Isles fans can see what Kevin Poulin brings in the backup role behind Evgeni Nabokov and enjoy watching John Tavares, whose assist (VIDEO) on Thomas Hickey's game-winner in Montreal last week (his first career goal) was one for the highlight reels. Last week: 2-2-0
27Washington Capitals
Last Week: 29
Alex Ovechkin temporarily shut up his critics with a great hat-trick, four-point performance on Saturday in a win over the Devils. And despite Braden Holtby's mediocre showing so far this season, Capitals management signed the young goalie to a two-year contract extension. Holtby, like the rest of his team, has started to play a bit better of late. But, the key word is "late." The Caps are, as of this writing, six points out of a playoff spot and really need to put a run together. Last week: 1-1-0
28Florida Panthers
Last Week: 27
They got away with mediocre defense and goaltending last season, but won't this time, especially not with Kris Versteeg (back) on injured reserve, Stephen Weiss earning a trip to the bench, and the team struggling to win at home. At least rookie Jonathan Huberdeau is around; he posted a two-goal, four-point effort in a win at Philadelphia last week, vaulting him into solid contention for the Calder Trophy. Last week: 1-2-0
29Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 30
The Jackets got a nice 3-2 win in Detroit last week on a goal by 38-year-old forward Vinny Prospal in the final minute of regulation. They are better off than they were last year, even without Rick Nash and there is hope now that new GM Jarmo Kekalainen is taking over. It's a good year to have a master judge of talent coming into the front office. The Jackets own three first-round picks. Last week: 1-2-0
30Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 26
Here they are in the basement. They finally jettisoned Lindy Ruff in favor of Ron Rolston, but haven't exactly rallied around their new coach, losing their first two games under him by a combined 7-1. It was clearly time for Ruff to go, but he is a smart hockey man who will find another job. It seems hard to figure how GM Darcy Regier is going to survive this disaster. Angry Sabres fans were calling for his head along with Ruff's, with ample reason. Regier's trades and free-agent signings the past two years have mostly been duds, and he stuck by Ruff for far too long. Last week: 0-3-0
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