Posted: Tue March 5, 2013 4:10PM; Updated: Tue March 5, 2013 4:58PM
Adrian Dater

NHL Power Rankings dominated by Blackhawks

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Chicago Blackhawks
Despite close calls and a bunch of one-goal games, the Blackhawks have refused to lose in regulation.
Duane Burleson/AP

We're almost to the halfway mark of this shortened season, if that can be believed, and the Chicago Blackhawks have a stranglehold on the top of our Power Rankings. It's been this way for six straight weeks. True, the Hawks needed a couple of shootouts to reach their record 19-0-3 start, but the numbers are the numbers. Meanwhile, the biggest risers this week were teams like Phoenix, Toronto, Philadelphia and Minnesota. Tampa Bay, Carolina, New Jersey and Edmonton took sizable plunges.

On to the countdown...

1Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 1
They have become a national story, the zero in that second column is the biggest number in sports right now. Detroit almost had 'em Sunday, but started pitch-forking pucks into the stands and drawing delay-of-game penalties. The Red Wings, who set an NHL record with 23 straight home wins last season, are suitably impressed by their Original Six brethren's streak, even if some of it has come at their expense. "It's amazing," said coach Mike Babcock. "In a competitive league, they're not making it competitive. In saying that, they're [12-0-3] in one-goal games. So they find a way to win. That's depth and that's skill." Now everyone wonders what team will turn that zero into a one. The next to get the chance is the Wild on Tuesday night, followed by the Avalanche, who get two cracks at it. God speed, Wild and Avs. Last week: 3-0-0
2Boston Bruins
Last Week: 2
Boston Bruins (14-3-2)
What a great game on Sunday in Beantown. The Canadiens-Bruins rivalry just got a lot better, what with Zdeno Chara going after Alexei Emelin in retaliation for a big hit on Tyler Seguin, the Habs using Chara's 17 minutes in penalties to get a comeback 4-3 win, and B's coach Claude Julien ripping Montreal's tactics. "It's frustrating because tonight as everybody saw, there's a lot of embellishment," Julien told reporters. "And this is embarrassing for our game, the embellishing. And right now they've got over 100 power plays, so far, and it's pretty obvious why." The Bs will use the loss as good motivation. They're still the best team in the East right now, even though Montreal has two more points. But the Bruins have three games in hand. Last week: 3-1-0
3Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 3
Anaheim Ducks (15-3-3)
It's the Good Ship Lollipop for coach Bruce Boudreau's crew. Not only is this team winning, it's having fun off the ice. During a day off in Arizona over the weekend, several Ducks went to the spring training camp of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and some -- including Cam Fowler, who played baseball in high school -- took some cuts in the batting cage. The Ducks continue to get balanced scoring plus some good goaltending from Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth, although Hiller looked a bit shaky in Monday's game against the Coyotes, the second of three consecutive tilts with Phoenix. Last week: 2-0-2
4Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 4
The best news of the week was Evgeni Malkin returning from his concussion against Tampa Bay, and he did in style with a highlight goal and an assist in a win over Tampa Bay that boosted the Pens' home mark to 6-4-0. Sidney Crosby's 34 points led the league entering Monday, and Chris Kunitz, who had 27, has been outstanding of late as well. With Malkin back, Tthis team could get on a real roll again. Last week: 2-2-0
5Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 6
Max Pacioretty, one of the NHL's Three Stars of last week, certainly has picked up his play after a slow start. His game-winner against the Bruins on Sunday was his eighth goal of the season, and all eight have come in his last eight games. First-year coach Michel Therrien looks like a strong candidate for the Jack Adams Award. "We are coming a long way," he said after the big 4-3 win in Boston. "We believe that if we stick to our plan we have a chance to win every game." The Habs' only hiccup of the week was Carey Price allowing seven goals to Pittsburgh at home on Saturday night, but that can happen against the high-powered Pens. Last week: 2-0-1
6Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 5
They lost Saturday night to the Flames, which shouldn't happen considering that Calgary remains without goalie Miikka Kiprusoff. But we'll give Vancouver a pass on that one, as their flight didn't arrive in Calgary until about two hours before the puck dropped because of weather-induced travel delays. GM Mike Gillis, though, doesn't want to hear any excuses right now. He is concerned about his team's lack of consistency. "We have played some really good games against top teams in the league and we have played some average games against other competition," he told the Vancouver Sun. "I think it's more about us than it is anybody else. We just need to get to a 60-minute game where we are competing all the time. Like a lot of other teams, we still haven't done that very much this year." Also of note: the bad luck continued for indispensable center Ryan Kesler, who suffered a broken right foot and will be out for several weeks. Last week: 1-2-0
7Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 12
Don Cherry took to Coach's Corner on Saturday night and unleashed a fusillade of told-you-so's about center Nazem Kadri, who is finally living up to his potential after time too much time -- for Grapes' taste -- in the AHL. "Why they picked on this kid is beyond me, it was a wasted three years in the minors as far as I'm concerned," Cherry said. Kadri has nine goals and 23 points (including a tally and a helper on Monday against the Devils), which is two more points than he produced in his first 51 career games for the Leafs spread over three seasons. Toronto is winning with good, old meat-and-potatoes hockey under coach Randy Carlyle, who will be in the hunt for the Adams if the Leafs keep it up. Last week: 2-1-0
8Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 9
Their five-game win streak was soundly snapped, 5-2, Saturday in Vancouver. But things remain on the upswing for the defending champs after their slow start. Getting defenseman Alec Martinez back from injury will help keep the Kings in good stead. Jeff Carter quietly is having a great season. He scored his 12th, 13th and 14th goals of the year Monday in a win over Nashville, which prompted hats to fly to the Staples Center ice. Carter now has 10 goals in his last 10 games. Last week: 2-1-0
9St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 7
Their five-game road trip got off to a bad start on Saturday in Dallas, where the Stars prevailed 4-1. Goalie Brian Elliott got his first start since Feb. 11, and didn't look good again. Fans are chirping that rookie Jake Allen should be brought up from the minors again to replace him as the complement to Jaroslav Halak. Coach Ken Hitchcock is starting to sound impatient with his team again, though the absences of forwards Vladimir Tarasenko, Andy McDonald and Alex Steen are tough to overcome. "Too many average performances," Hitchcock said after the loss in Dallas. "Average performance doesn't get it done on the road." Now the Blues have Los Angeles, Phoenix, Anaheim and San Jose ahead on the trip. Indeed, average isn't likely to cut it against those teams. But the Blues are a good team that will make the playoffs. Last week: 1-2-0
10Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 18
They're starting to get it together, with a 6-3-1 mark in their previous 10 games entering Tuesday's contest with the Blackhawks. Could the Wild be the team that finally beats Chicago in regulation? We'll see, but Mike Yeo's club is playing better fundamental hockey and getting great goaltending from Niklas Backstrom, whose three straight wins earned him the NHL's Third Star of the Week. Have the $98 million twins, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, been great so far? No, but they're contributing to a winning product, and that's a hopeful sign for playoff-starved Wild fans. Last week: 3-1-0
11Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 11
Tough week for the M.A.S.H tent Sens, whose five-game win streak coming in was chilled by losses in three straight one-goal games (one in OT, another in a shootout) with Ben Bishop and Robin Lehner valiantly holding down the netminding while the stellar Craig Anderson recovers from his ankle injury. Ottawa's injury list grew when defenseman Mike Lundin was concussed on Saturday by the Flyers' Harry Zolnierczyk, who was given a four-game suspension. On the plus side, winger Milan Michalek (knee) is expected to return this week and hopefully give some kind of boost to a 29th-ranked offense that has squeezed out only 21 goals in its last 12 games. Last week: 0-1-2
12Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 22
Let's hear it for Coyotes fans, who are starting to finally show up in good numbers to support what is proving to be another good team. Entering Monday's game with Anaheim at Arena, Phoenix was averaging 13,183 fans per game -- up nearly 800 on average from last season. Yeah, that still ranks 29th in the league, so things aren't perfect for hockey in the Valley of the Sun, but it's a start. Let's hear it, too, for the Yotes' underrated left wing Mikkel Boedker, who had 16 points in 21 games entering Monday. The eighth overall pick in the 2008 draft, Boedker has some serious wheels, and is often coach Dave Tippett's first choice in shootouts. Speaking of shootouts, the Coyotes got their second of back-to-back 5-4 SO wins over the Ducks on Monday. This team just finds a way. Last week: 3-1-0
13San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 14
The Sharks came into last week on a 1-6-3 slide and showed some signs of life by beating the Avs, falling the Wings in a shootout, and bagging a 2-1 victory over the Predators. Coach Todd McLellan's message to has team had been "shoot the puck more" and they did just that against Nashville, unleashing 39 shots on Pekka Rinne. "That message had been there for five years," McLellan told reports. "It was just a matter of reminding them. The shooting part is great. But it's the re-attacking of the net, it's getting to the blue paint, it's doing it over and over again." We'll see if they keep doing it this week against the Canucks, Flames, Blues and Avs. Last week: 2-0-1
14Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 13
Their last three games have ended with 2-1 scores: a win, a loss and a shootout loss. Goalie Jimmy Howard has been solid of late, which is great news for coach Mike Babcock, who keeps having to use a patchwork lineup most nights because of injuries. Howard was outstanding Sunday against the Blackhawks until a late Patrick Kane goal sent the game to overtime and that eventual SO loss. Valuable forward Valtteri Filppula (shoulder) returned to practice Monday, but likely is a ways off from playing. Last week: 1-1-1
15Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 17
They're movin' on up. I'll admit I gave up on these guys at one point. Silly me. They entered this week in the top eight of the Eastern Conference, and their fans got a lift with the return of old favorite Simon Gagne, who potted a goal in his first game after a trade from the Kings. Ilya Bryzgalov, on whom I've dished plenty of snark, is shutting me up good with outstanding play of late, including a 33-save performance in a 2-1 win over Ottawa on Saturday. Last week: 2-0-0
16New York Rangers
Last Week: 19
Brad Richards hasn't played great this season, but Rangers fans were still breathing easier after Sunday's game in which he seemed to emerge OK after taking a dangerous hit into the boards by Buffalo agitator Patrick Kaleta, who was slapped with a five-game Shanaban. Apparently, Richards was hurt after all and his playing status was uncertain for New York's next game: at home vs. the rival Flyers. Tough time to lose him. Energized by the play of Rick Nash, the Rangers are riding a two-game win streak with a key test coming up. After the Flyers, the Rangers play five of their next six on the road, where they're 2-4-1. Last week: 2-1-0
17New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 8
Things are really going to hell for the defending Eastern Conference champs. They're working hard, but have little to show for it. Their loss on Monday in Toronto dropped them to 2-6-2 in their last 10. Goalie Martin Brodeur remains sidelined with a bad back, which has something to do with the slide -- backup Johan Hedberg has been shaky -- but this team isn't getting consistent scoring. The Devils publicly insist that Brodeur's condition isn't serious, but theirs is in danger of becoming that way in the standings if they don't get untracked in a hurry. Last week: 0-2-1
18Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 10
They took a three-game winning streak into Tuesday, but suffered a giant loss when goalie Cam Ward went down with a knee injury (sprained MCL) that is expected to keep him out 6-8 weeks. There is no getting around it: Ward's injury could cripple the 'Canes' playoff chances, which looked very good. But maybe backup Dan Ellis will rise to the occasion for coach Kirk Muller. It won't be easy, however. "Obviously, we can't replace a player like Cam Ward," GM Jim Rutherford told USA Today. Last week: 3-1-0
19Dallas Stars
Last Week: 20
Dallas Stars (11-9-2)
These guys have been better than I thought they'd be. After a 4-1 win over St. Louis on Sunday, the Stars found themselves in the West's top eight, having scored three or more goals in 12 of their previous 13 games. You've just got to love 41-year-old Jaromir Jagr leading the team with 15 points. But the Stars' real MVP so far has been goalie Kari Lehtonen, whose .930 saves-percentage is among the league leaders. Newcomer Erik Cole has looked pretty good so far in the kelly green Stars uniform, too. It was a strange trade in some ways, the Stars' dealing Michael Ryder and a draft pick to get Cole. But he did score 35 goals last season for Montreal, and has won a Stanley Cup. This could still prove to be a good deal for Dallas. Last week: 2-1-0
20Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 24
The Avs were ambushed by the Flames with a two-year, $10 million offer sheet for center Ryan O'Reilly, which Colorado matched. The deal includes a staggering $6.5 million salary for next season, which is about $3 million more than the Avs wanted to pay the fourth-year player. Now the question becomes: will the Avs really use O'Reilly as a third-liner, as they did in his first game, Sunday in Columbus, or will Matt Duchene have to go back to playing left wing again to make room for him in the top six? Many Avs fans wish the team would jettison center Paul Stastny for other needs, instead of having played such hardball with the younger O'Reilly. Stastny, making $6.6 million, posted just 12 points in his first 20 games, with a minus-5. Last week: 1-0-2
21Winnipeg Jets
Last Week: 21
Winnipeg Jets (10-10-1)
They had a nice little uptick in their recent play, but, well, you still just can't get too excited. Their victory in New York over the Rangers was a good one, though, with Olli Jokinen and Evander Kane scoring two goals each in a 4-3 triumph, and they followed that with a home win over the Devils. But just when you were starting to buy in a little, they got shut out, 3-0, by the Capitals at home. Winnipeg's power play has been anything but of late: 1-for-32. Quarterback Dustin Byfuglien hasn't scored a goal since Jan. 27 against the Islanders (11 straight games). Last week: 2-1-0
22Nashville Predators
Last Week: 15
A 5-1 shellacking by the Kings on Monday night marked the third straight defeat for the reeling Preds. With 23 points, they are still well in contention for a playoff spot, but there is one problem: Nashville's 23 games were the most in the conference entering Tuesday. Teams such as Colorado, L.A. and San Jose all have three games in hand. Nashville's goal differential (47-59) is most unimpressive as well. But if any coach can find a way to get the most out of his team in the second half, it's Barry Trotz. Last week: 0-3-0
23New York Islanders
Last Week: 23
Picking these last few teams is no easy task, as they all seem pretty much indistinguishable from one another. Win one, lose one, rinse, repeat. The Islanders tease you some nights with genuinely impressive performances, then look thoroughly beatable the next. John Tavares and Matt Moulson remain a dynamic duo, though. Their 23 combined goals, entering Monday, was the most of any two teammates in the league. Evgeni Nabokov has been perfect in shootouts so far, stopping all four shooters for a 2-0 record. New York's next three games are at home, where they haven't played well, and the Candiens, Rangers and revived Capitals are coming in. A critical stretch, in other words. Last week: 1-1-1
24Washington Capitals
Last Week: 27
Goaltender Braden Holtby has been much better of late, which is as good a reason as any to not quite count the Caps out of the playoff picture just yet. Holtby has three shutouts in his last nine starts, with a 2.11 GAA and .931 saves pct. "You know what you sign up for as a goalie: You usually get too much credit for wins and too much criticism for losses," Holtby told the Washington Times. "You get used to it after awhile." First-year coach Adam Oates told the Times: "I really like the fire that he has. It looks he wants to play every single night, it looks like he wants that responsibility. That's a good feeling to see a guy that even when it hasn't gone his way, it looks like he still wants to be there." Last week: 2-1-0
25Calgary Flames
Last Week: 25
OK, let's lay off the Jay Feaster jokes. No, the Flames GM didn't seem to know about the little technicality that Ryan O'Reilly would have had to clear waivers before Calgary's offer sheet could be finalized by the league. (Had the Avs not matched, the Flames almost certainly would have lost out on not only O'Reilly, but first- and third-round picks. But nobody else in the hockey world seemed to know about it, either, except for Canadian Press reporter Chris Johnston, whose story pointing out the waiver rules caused a considerably embarrassing stir in Calgary. Feaster has been left to seek help in other place, the Flames' record is probably better than people expected, so hope is not lost yet. Still, we're probably not talking about a playoff team here. Last week: 1-1-1
26Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 23
Do these guys need yet another No. 1 pick to be a good team? Honestly, what's the deal? They already have three No. 1s on their roster, so maybe it's time for a change at the top, as GM Steve Tambellini just doesn't seem able to inspire anyone below him, despite all that young talent. After a good start, the Oilers look like they're close to quitting on another season, seemingly giving in to all the excuses they had stored up in case tough times hit. Justin Schultz has cooled off and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has had a stunningly bad season so far. While there are rumblings that he's been playing with a bad shoulder again, it's still a shock seeing him with just one goal and seven points after 20 games. Last week: 1-2-0
27Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 30
New coach Ron Rolston has gotten some better play from his team of late, and the playoffs are by no means out of reach. We've seen what can happen after teams get a new coach in mid-season (hello, Los Angeles), so don't count the Sabres out just yet. This week they hope to get Thomas Vanek, after their leading scorer (27 points) missed two straight games with an upper-body injury. The playoffs certainly won't happen if they have to go long without him. Last week: 3-0-1
28Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 16
Their losing streak reached five games after Monday's loss to the Penguins. Their defense and goaltending continue to be suspect, and coach Guy Boucher is rumored to be on the hot seat. "It's just little assignments we're missing, little things that sometimes you get away with in a game and no one ever talks about it and right now they're costing us," Steven Stamkos told reporters. "When you're on a streak like that, it's the little things. ... It's pretty frustrating." Last week: 0-4-0
29Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 29
Coach Todd Richards' team looked quite impressive Sunday in a 2-1 overtime win over Colorado, despite the absence of top players such as defenseman Jack Johnson and center Brandon Dubinsky. They also played Chicago very well in a shootout loss on the road. The Jackets skated and hit hard, and showed a battle level that was missing from last year's dismal squad. That said, this team still has a looong way to go before it is a winner. Last week: 1-0-2
30Florida Panthers
Last Week: 28
It just hasn't been the Year of the Cat so far. (That will be my one and only Al Stewart reference.) The defense and goaltending are a mess, with a league-worst 82 goals-against. Now, goalie Jose Theodore is on injured reserve with a torn groin muscle, probably out the rest of the season. Center Stephen Weiss (wrist surgery) has just been shut down as well. Florida kind of did it with mirrors last season, but the mirrors have cracked. Last week: 1-2-1
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