Posted: Tue March 19, 2013 3:44PM; Updated: Tue March 19, 2013 3:43PM
Adrian Dater
Adrian Dater>INSIDE THE NHL

Penguins blow Blackhawks off top of Power Rankings

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Evgeni Malkin
The red hot Penguins are poised to get reigning MVP Evgeni Malkin back from injury this week.
Jeanine Leech/Icon SMI

This lockout-shortened season has made every game important, and that's made fun to watch for the most part. Still, how much would we all want to see a Penguins-Blackhawks game right now? Or Blackhawks-Bruins? Ducks-Bruins? Ducks-Penguins?

Deciding who should get the No. 1 spot in this week's Power Rankings would be a little easier if we had some head-to-head results to go by, but we'll only see one East vs. West matchup this year: in the Stanley Cup Final.

As described below, if the Penguins played the Blackhawks in that final, I'd have to go with the Pens in a seven-game series. And that's why they

are the new No. 1 after seven straight weeks of the Hawks perched at the top.

On to the list, and the rationale:

1Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 3
Nine wins in a row is good enough to steal the top spot in this weekly kneejerk compilation. But seriously, the Pens are the best team in the league. At the moment. By next week, that could change, especially if their indispensable defenseman Kris Letang is out for long. Letang, who has 28 points so far, suffered the dreaded lower-body injury in Sunday's 2-1 win over Boston. Evgeni Malkin (dreaded upper-body injury) could return this week. Meanwhile, Chris Kunitz is en fuego, with points in nine of his last 11 games and a grandiose plus-24 rating. His 40 total points are just eight behind linemate Sidney Crosby. Brandon Sutter, too, has played really week. He has essentially made Pens fans forget about Jordan Staal --- though I've got a feeling that these two players, from two of hockey's most famous families, will have a healthy rivalry for a long time. Last week: 4-0-0
 
2Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 1
It wasn't easy dropping them out of the top spot, but if I had to pick the winner of a series between Chicago and Pittsburgh right now, I'd take the Penguins. Pittsburgh's power play has been better, even without Malkin (24.1 percent to 18.8) and the Pens are mightier in the face-off dot (51.7 percent to 50.1). Come playoff time, those two stats will matter a lot more. Patrick Sharp, out a few more weeks with an upper-body injury (suspected to be to a shoulder), remains a big loss for the Hawks. But it will be tough for these guys to not win the top seed for the Western playoffs, and Sharp should be back by then. Of course, now Marian Hossa's health is a concern. He was rocked by a big hit from Colorado's Ryan O'Byrne in the first period on Monday night and didn't return. The Hawks won, though. So for those of you keeping track, Chicago's new points streak hit three games. Last week: 3-0-0
 
3Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 5
They entered Tuesday's home contest against Buffalo as winners of five in a row and were atop the Northeast Division. The Habs are also an amazing 10-2-2 on the road. What a job new GM Marc Bergevin has done with this team. We've alluded to this before, but it has been such a great change from Pierre Gauthier's secrecy and dour nature to Bergevin's openness and humor. I firmly believe that teams with leaders like that do much better with today's players. Bergevin is giving daily proof of that. I'm not making him out to be a player's pushover -- just ask P.K. Subban about that, though center David Desharnais just got a nice new four-year contract extension. But you always know where Bergevin stands. That counts for a lot these days. Last week: 2-0-0
 
4Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 4
Anaheim Ducks (21-3-4)
They opened a five-game homestand on Monday night with a 5-3 win over the floundering Sharks. Corey Perry remains suspended for his hit last week on Wild rookie Jason Zucker, but his long-term playing future with the Ducks is now secure. On Monday, Perry agreed to an eight-year, $69 million contract extension, the same number of years that Ryan Getzlaf's recently got. The Ducks are now at about $53 million with 16 players signed for next season when the cap will be $64.3 million, so they could afford this deal. Obviously, that is great news for Ducks fans, who appeared ready to desert the team in the middle of last season. Now, they can root for a squad that's running away with the Pacific Division, has home ice in the first round of the playoffs and its top two players locked up for a long time. Oh, and the Ducks have won 12 straight games at home, a franchise record. Last week: 3-0-1
 
5Boston Bruins
Last Week: 2
Boston Bruins (19-5-3)
Milan Lucic's scoring drought is becoming a mild concern. After Sunday's 2-1 loss to Pittsburgh, his goal-less streak reached 12 games. He's still chipping in with some assists, including three against Washington on Saturday, but the Bruins need more goals from their premier power forward. His shooting percentage last season was 17.4, and 17.3 the year before that. It's only 9.1 now. The Bs are breathing easier now that David Krejci's x-rays have checked out negative after he took a big slap shot to the right leg from teammate Johnny Boychuk on Sunday. He's listed as day-to-day. Last week: 2-2-0
 
6St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 13
St. Louis Blues (16-10-2)
Chris Stewart has taken a lot of potshots about everything from his work ethic to his passion for the game. Last season, the jibes seemed to have some merit, as he did float through much of the season. Not now. The leaner, quicker power forward was named the NHL's First Star of the Week after posting five goals and seven points in his last three games. Stewart and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk continue to make Avalanche G.M. Greg Sherman look foolish with their combined 47 points (28 for Stewart on 14 goals) entering Monday. Erik Johnson, the main player that Colorado acquired from the Blues in the 2011 blockbuster? Zero goals, four points, in 16 games. Last week: 3-0-0
 
7Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 10
I can't filibuster against the Senators deserving a spot well inside the top 10 anymore. The fact that they have stayed in the East's top eight despite losing Craig Anderson, Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza has been nothing short of amazing. Netminders Robin Lehner and Ben Bishop have done a great job as Anderson continues to convalesce from his ankle injury. (Reports from Ottawa last week said he is still experiencing soreness.) They've had to be great because the Sens rank 25th with 2.38 points per game and their top scorer (Kyle Turris) has put up a grand total of 19. After going 21 straight games without a goal, Turris scored four and put up six points last week to earn the NHL's Second Star honor. Last week: 2-0-1
 
8Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 9
Minnesota Wild (16-10-2)
Ryan Suter got off to a bad start, but that was then. Now, with points in nine of his last 11 games (after Monday's tilt vs. Vancouver), he should be a top candidate for the Norris Trophy. Suter has been paired with rookie Jonas Brodin, and they could become the most dominant defensive pair in the game, if they aren't already. Brodin scored his first career goal last week against Colorado and got another on the power play Monday in Vancouver where Minnesota's win gave the Wild sole possession of first place in the Northwest Division. Last week: 3-1-0
 
9Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 6
Coach Darryl Sutter had some pretty high praise for Anze Kopitar, telling the Kings' website: "He's the best all-around centerman that I've coached, period. Period. Face-offs, last minute, first minute, penalty killer. Plays against everybody's top player, whether it's a defenseman, a center, a checking role or an offensive role. He plays 20-plus minutes. Doesn't take penalties. It's the whole deal. He can play it whatever way we want." Sutter is not a man given to such praise, so Kopitar (team-leading 27 points in 27 games) must be pretty darn good. So were the Kings on Monday night in a 4-0 shutout of Phoenix at home. The Pacific Division title is probably out of reach, but the playoffs look pretty certain and once there, this team is plenty capable of doing some damage. Last week: 2-2-0
 
10Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 16
Tough news for the Wings on Monday when they learned that defenseman Kyle Quincey would be lost for four to six weeks due to multiple cheek bone fractures. He was averaging 19:11 of ice time per game and plus-8. His absence will put even more pressure on workhorse blueliner Niklas Kronwall, who was already averaging a team-high 24:07 per game. Another area of concern: the power play. The Wings rank 22nd in the league, at 15.8 percent. That's the same ranking they had last season, too -- at 16.1 percent, but last year's team wasn't in danger of missing the playoffs. This one is. Last week: 2-1-0
 
11Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 12
Speaking of power plays that need to improve...The Canucks entered Monday's game with Minnesota on an 0-for-34 man advantage skid, with their last PP tally coming on Feb. 21. They finally broke through in the second period against the Wild. Still, that kind of power outage is almost impossible to fathom on a team that has the Sedin brothers healthy. But those are the numbers. It's clear that this team is in trouble and playing without much passion. The Canucks have missed Christian Ehrhoff on the point, where Jason Garrison got some time on the first unit on Monday, a move Canucks fans believe was long overdue. Fans are also starting to grumble about coach Alain Vigneault's passive, gum-chewing demeanor. A shake-up is needed, you say? Vancouver could be very active at the trade deadline. Last week: 2-2-0
 
12Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 8
With his falling Leafs on an 0-3-1 slide, coach Randy Carlyle put his team through a 90-minute practice on Monday and rearranged some lines. Mikhail Grabovski, who has only 11 points in 29 games, was dropped to the third line. "Why (do you) think I'm not happy?" Grabovski asked reporters. "I'm happy about every day. And I'm pretty happy because we're in a playoff position right now. That is more important than my game." Indeed. Then the Leafs went out and lost to the Jets, 5-4, in a shootout. The most positive sign: Joffrey Lupul returned from a broken arm suffered Jan. 23 and lit the lamp twice. Maybe he can get these guys going again. Last week: 2-2-1
 
13Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 7
After a great first period on Monday in New York against the Rangers, the 'Canes got conservative and lost in a shootout, 2-1. Goalie Dan Ellis has done a pretty nice job while starter Cam Ward (knee) remains out, but Carolina, with no wins in its last three games, has been caught by the Jets atop the Southeast and is finally feeling the effects of Ward's absence. At least Eric Staal and Alex Semin are still rolling. Staal has produced 16 points in his last 12 games and Semin (five-game point streak; 30 points in 28 games overall) has proved to be a great signing by GM Jim Rutherford, who says he hopes to keep the impending free agent winger in the fold. Last week: 1-2-1
 
14Winnipeg Jets
Last Week: 20
Winnipeg Jets (15-12-2)
Not only are their fans gaining a reputation as the best trash talkers in the league (see their mocking chant of "Crosby's better" at Alex Ovechkin), the Jets are giving them reasons to run their mouths. Winnipeg has played very well of late, save for Sunday's showing in a 4-1 loss to Ottawa. That was the Jets' third game in four days, though, so that kind of thing will happen. Before that, Winnipeg was 5-0-1 in its last six while climbing to the top of the Southeast and grabbing the seventh playoff spot. If this team ever really starts cooking at home (still only 6-6-0 there), a postseason appearance will be in the cards. Last week: 3-1-0
 
15New York Islanders
Last Week: 23
It feels good to type these guys into the 15th slot. They're usually so much lower, but the Isles deserve this lofty (for them) perch, this rarified air. This isn't a sympathy vote. They play hard, and it doesn't hurt having a genuine superstar like John Tavares on the roster. Maybe Tavares hasn't been sensational lately, but every night he seems to do something. The 22-year-old center has at least one shot on goal in every game so far this season. The last time he failed to put one on net was April 5 of last season against Winnipeg. In fact, SI.com's venerable Stu Hackel thinks Tavares may be the true definition of the league's MVP. After all, where would the Isles be without him? Now they play their next four games at home, against Ottawa, Montreal, Pittsburgh and Florida. If they do well against the tough teams and don't fritter points away against the woeful Panthers, the Isles will have a legit chance at the playoffs. Last week: 2-0-0
 
16New York Rangers
Last Week: 11
If the playoffs started today, the Blueshirts would be blowing the dust off their niblicks, donning their tam o' shanters and teeing up little white dimpled balls. Fortunately, they got a shootout win over Carolina on Monday night to snap a three-game losing schneid and keep them right behind New Jersey for the last spot. "Just getting the two points and winning is the confidence we need right now, and hopefully that will help move us forward," defenseman Michael Del Zotto told reporters. Let's not kid ourselves here though: the Rangers have been a big disappointment, and the heat is really on them to have a better second half. Much of that heat is rising from coach John Tortorella's collar. Last week: 1-3-0
 
17Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 19
Their amazing resurgence continues. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was again one of the NHL's three stars last week, going 1-0-2 with a 0.62 goals-against and .982 saves percentage. Bob is now the first player in Blue Jackets history to receive the honor two weeks in a row. If they are to -- gulp -- make the playoffs, the Jackets, who are currently two points out of a spot, will need to keep playing like the Blackhawks. Believe it or not, C-bus has not lost in regulation since Feb, 24, a span of 10 games. Last week: 1-0-2
 
18Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 17
Phoenix Coyotes (13-12-4)
They're having trouble scoring goals again, and they haven't been very good on the road (3-6-3 entering Monday, as opposed to 20-14-7 last season) where they've been shut out in their last three games -- the first such streak in franchise history. The best news for this team last week came off the ice, with the six-year contract extension given to defender Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who might be the league's best player that you've never heard of. It's also good to know that the Yotes are still in playoff contention even though they have not won more than two games in a row so far. Last week: 1-2-1
 
19New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 22
Martin Brodeur practiced for the first time since his last game, Feb. 24, and could return to his rightful throne in the Devils net on Thursday. "I've skated for the last week or so, but this is the first time I'm doing it as hard as that," he told reporters. "It's definitely the best I've felt so far on the ice, but I don't know how my body will react, so we'll go from there." The Devils haven't played well in his absence, but are hanging in there for a playoff spot. Obviously, Brodeur's return would give a boost to the defending Eastern Conference champs and not a moment too soon. Last week: 1-1-1
 
20Dallas Stars
Last Week: 21
Dallas Stars (13-12-3)
After a humiliating 8-1 home whuppin' by Chicago on Saturday, the Stars got some self respect back with a 4-3 win over the Flames om Monday. Loui Eriksson looked good in the win, and it's about time. The Stars winger scored his eighth and ninth goals of the season. He's been too spotty so far for a player of his talents, so maybe Monday was his coming out party for the second half. Still, that loss to the Hawks was a grim reminder of how far this team is from being elite again. Last week: 1-2-1
 
21San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 15
San Jose Sharks (12-10-6)
Coach Todd McLellan ripped his floundering fish and put them through a tough practice on Sunday after a desultory 5-2 loss to the Kings. The Sharks responded by losing 5-3 in Anaheim. "Effort was better, results are the same," said McLellan, whose seat is no doubt getting warmer. He's been the coach of this team since 2008, and it looks stale. It wouldn't surprise me if a shakeup happens soon. Sharks owner Hasso Plattner was asked about his team's struggles by the San Jose Mercury News, but he had no comment other than "the facts are the facts." And the facts ain't pretty. Last week: 1-3-0
 
22Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 26
Edmonton Oilers (11-11-6)
With seven points in their last four games, the Oil is back in the conversation again in the West. "We're feeling pretty good about what we're doing and I think that we made a point of cleaning up our end a little bit and really making hard plays in our end," goalie Devan Dubnyk told the team's website. "We're doing such a great job -- when we do get the puck in the other end -- of being responsible and working the other team. It's fun to watch." So has Taylor Hall. He has seven points in his last four games. Last week: 2-0-1
 
23Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 28
Of all the teams outside of the top eight in each conference, the 11th-place Lightning are the only one that has scored more goals (96) than it has allowed (86). Their 4-2 win over the Flyers Monday night was their second victory in a row and Steven Stamkos recorded his 200th career goal in it. He's now the fourth-youngest player in NHL history to reach that number, at 23 years 41 days old. Only Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Dale Hawerchuk did it at earlier ages. Last week: 3-1-0
 
24Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 25
They simply cannot string anything good together, be it wins or periods of solid hockey. Monday's loss to the Lightning was typical: the Flyers were right there at 2-2 midway through the third period on the road, but fell apart in the final 11 minutes and lost 4-2. "We need to win hockey games [as opposed to basketball games] and guys worked hard," coach Peter Laviolette explained, "but going into the third period and needing to pull it out in the third and not getting it done is disappointing, but it's not from a lack of effort." Lack of talent, perhaps? Last week: 1-2-0
 
25Nashville Predators
Last Week: 18
It was not a good night for Sergei Kostitsyn on Saturday. After turning the puck over, he departed the ice on a line change instead of backchecking and left a 2-on-1 going the other way. Lennart Petrell's goal gave the Oilers a 2-1 lead and changed the momentum of a game the Preds would lose, 3-2. "I can't give you a logical explanation for an illogical event," coach Barry Trotz moaned to the Nashville Tennessean when asked about the play. Martin Erat's lousy season so far hasn't helped matters, either, for the Preds, who remain outside the playoff field. He's scored only three goals in 28 games, after eight straight years of double figures. Last week: 1-3-0
 
26Washington Capitals
Last Week: 24
After a win over Buffalo on Sunday, Alex Ovechkin summed things up in a frank manner to the Washington Post: "It's biggest week for us. How we going to play this week, we can end the season this week or we continue to fight for the playoffs. We have to see what's in our side and we have to see what's going to happen situation when different teams going to play, Carolina, Tampa and Winnipeg as well." The Caps are in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night and that one is followed by critical back-to-back games against the rising divisional rival Jets in Winnipeg on Thursday and Friday. Ovi is right: it is biggest week for Washington. Last week: 2-2-0
 
27Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 14
Looks like the patented DaterJinx got these guys good. After they beat the Blackhawks nearly two weeks ago and followed that up with a good win over the Sharks, I got on the bandwagon and proclaimed them the possible team to watch in the second half. Yeesh. The Avs were brutal last week and are now last in the Western Conference. The defense is a mess, the goaltending has been spotty, and right wing David Jones looks like the worst free-agent signing of the off-season. Handed a four-year, $16 million deal, Jones now has three goals and was dropped to the fourth line. Good times. Last week: 0-4-0
 
28Calgary Flames
Last Week: 29
Calgary Flames (11-12-4)
Their 4-3 loss at Dallas on Monday night dropped 'em to 0-6-1 on the road in their last seven. "It seems like on the road we start slow and it takes time to get going," goalie Joey MacDonald told reporters. "You get down two or three and it's tough to battle back. We did a great job battling back, but it's just too hard on everybody." Everybody wants to know if the Flames will sell off players such as Jarome Iginla or Jay Bouwmeester at the trade deadline. GM Jay Feaster isn't saying much. But clearly some things need to change for Calgary. At least, on the road they do. Last week: 2-1-0
 
29Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 27
Buffalo Sabres (10-13-4)
More fun times in Buffalo. Longtime Buffalo News hockey columnist Bucky Gleason unloaded on the team and GM Darcy Regier. Under the headline "Sabres stay on road to nowhere", Gleason wrote, "It becomes dangerous when Regier, the man entrusted with making big decisions, is compromised by his uncertain future. There's been a sense for several years now that he's doing whatever is possible to save his fanny. It's the only conclusion I can draw because clearly he has no idea what's required to build a winner, a Stanley Cup contender." Oh, and now there is dissension in the locker room too. Patrick Kaleta blew his stack to the media after being a healthy scratch on Sunday in his first eligible game back after his five-game suspension for boarding Brad Richards. Upon hearing of Kaleta's spew, goalie Ryan Miller fired back via the media: "That's just drama and he needs to just grow up if he's going to say that. You know what? He had a stupid play in a game. He sat, he was punished. He has to get over it and move on. We handled it. He doesn't have to go to you guys and say that stuff." Last week: 1-1-1
 
30Florida Panthers
Last Week: 30
Expect a selloff in Florida by GM Dale Tallon. One of the more attractive players during the trade deadline could be Tomas Fleischmann, who is being offered up around the league. His contract (four years, $18 million, with two more years left after this one) could be a barrier to a deal. But he could also be a good pickup for a contender that needs scoring, a team like the Canucks or the Rangers for instance. What the Panthers will do at the deadline is the only drama left for this team in a dismal season. Last week: 0-3-0
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