Posted: Tue January 14, 2014 4:03PM; Updated: Tue January 14, 2014 5:23PM
Allan Muir
Allan Muir>NHL POWER RANKINGS

Metro Division teams rise to sink the Atlantic in Week 15

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Dion Phaneuf fights John Erskine
With Toronto taking it on the chin, the Maple Leafs' division is no longer superior to Washington's.
Alex Brandon/AP

Quietly, on January 9, the baton of shame was passed.

With Carolina's 6-1 win over Toronto, and Washington's 4-3 victory over Tampa Bay, the Metropolitan Division abandoned its place as the Jerry Gergich of the NHL, passing the snooty Atlantic in the accumulated standings. By Tuesday morning (Jan. 14), that lead had been stretched to 12 points, 406 to 394.

It's hard to pinpoint exactly when the Metro got tired of having sand kicked in its face and decided to go all Charles Atlas on the Atlantic. Certainly the decision by the Flyers to bring in Craig Berube as coach helped turn a 1-7 weakling into a (relatively) brawny 23-19-4 club and spark a revival. But it's been over the last four weeks or so that the Rangers finally figured out how to play defense. The Blue Jackets have started playing a confident, aggressive game with (almost) their full lineup for the first time this season. The doormat Islanders suddenly became unbeatable on the road, and the Hurricanes began riding the hot hand of Jeff Skinner.

That timing also coincides with the point when the Eastern Conference-leading Penguins apparently forgot how to lose.

Meanwhile, the eight teams in the Atlantic have been slowed by inconsistency, going a combined 40-28-12 during their most recent span of 10 games apiece, a sorry .575 overall winning percentage. While the Sabres are putting something together (8-0-2 in their last 10 at home), the Maple Leafs are furiously giving it all away, losing their composure in their own end and their touch in the attacking zone. The Red Wings are battered and barely recognizable, and the Panthers are apparently waiting for local government to kick in a few bucks toward a serious roster upgrade.

No telling if the Metro can hold this lead, but it's clear that the two Eastern wild card spots that were ceded to the Atlantic earlier this season are now fully in play.

Here's how the rest of the league sorts out after Week 15.

Notable rise: New York Rangers (19 to 11)
Notable fall: Toronto Maple Leafs (17 to 26)

NHL Power Rankings
1Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 1
Anaheim Ducks (38-8-5)
Five times in NHL history has a team won 17 games in an 18-game stretch. Five. The last two teams to do it, including these 2013-14 Ducks, were coached by Bruce Boudreau (the 2009-10 Caps were the other). Tampa's Jon Cooper may have the lead in the Adams Award race, but Gabby's doing a noteworthy job with this team, especially with his forward corps. He's not afraid to tinker with the lines—or send someone to the press box, if that's what's best—and the result has been the league's third-most prolific offense (3.31 goals per game). (Last week: 4-0-0)
 
2St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 3
A hard-fought 2-1 loss to the Canucks on Friday snapped the Blues' season-high winning streak at seven games, but there's no knocking what this team is accomplishing. Even with that loss, they have outscored their opponents 22-6 during their first five January games and look every bit the part of a Stanley Cup challenger with a league-leading even-strength goal differential of 1.60 per game. (Last week: 2-1-0)
 
3Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 2
Even the most die-hard Chicago fan would have to admit that the Hawks haven't exactly looked their best during the past couple of weeks, going 3-2-3 in their past eight games. Slow starts, and sometimes slow legs, have been a real problem. Certainly not a big deal in the long run, but we've come to expect so much from this club that even a brief letdown is jarring. (Last week: 1-1-1)
 
4Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 4
Their ugly OT loss in Edmonton reminded us that the Penguins are human, after all, but it was hardly a reason to be critical. Pittsburgh's still won 16 of its last 20 to take firm hold of the top spot in the East, and now has the luxury of a stretch in which the Pens will play just one game in eight days. A lot of rest, and maybe a little extra practice time, should go a long way toward keeping this team on a roll. (Last week: 2-0-1)
 
5Boston Bruins
Last Week: 5
Boston Bruins (29-14-2)
There's no shame in going 0-for-California these days—hey, all the kids from out of state are doing it--but the Bruins didn't exactly put up a fight to the finish against the Ducks and Kings. They were outscored 9-4 and spent way too much time scrambling around their own zone--highlighting (again) how badly this team misses Dennis Seidenberg on the back end. A 1-0 win over the Sharks on Saturday salvaged the road trip, but didn't alter the challenge that GM Peter Chiarelli is facing. (Last week: 1-2-0)
 
6San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 6
San Jose Sharks (28-12-6)
Inconsistency is becoming an issue for a team that has alternated wins and losses during its last eight games. Losing Logan Couture, who underwent hand surgery last week, doesn't help, but the Sharks did get Tommy Wingels and Tyler Kennedy back in the lineup, which should strengthen the bottom six. (Last week: 1-2-0)
 
7Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 9
The Avs took care of the Wild, 4-2, on Saturday night, capping off a season-high eight-game homestand that could end up being remembered more for Nathan MacKinnon's breakthrough than the team's solid 5-1-2 mark. Last summer's first-overall pick scored again in the win, his seventh goal in those eight games, and looks like he could have some chemistry with Matt Duchene. (Last week: 2-0-1)
 
8Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 7
Their 3-6-1 skid has sparked rumors that GM Dean Lombardi is in the market for someone who can juice this team's stagnant offense. Including Thursday's four-goal outburst against the Bruins, Los Angeles has generated more than two goals just twice in its past 10 games. Mike Richards is taking a lot of heat for going 21 games without a goal, but the team's inability to generate anything from the back end might be the bigger issue. If a deal is made, it might be to juice that group. (Last week: 2-1-1)
 
9Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 8
Lots of buzz about the damage that's possibly been done to the relationship between Martin St. Louis and the organization after GM Steve Yzerman left the Bolts' captain off Team Canada's initial Olympic roster last week. St. Louis responded well, scoring twice in a 4-2 win over the Jets last Tuesday, but the sting hasn't gone away. This'll be worth watching. On a more positive note, the Bolts got their MVP, Ben Bishop, back in the lineup after he missed three games with a hand injury. He should be good to start this week. (Last week: 2-2-0)
 
10Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 10
Ryan Kesler has been a disaster lately, looking worse for all the ice time that John Tortorella has gifted upon him. But, brothers and sisters, Kesler was back in full-on beastmode Monday night against the Kings, especially during a penalty-filled first period. He played 5:21 of that frame with the Canucks a man down and went eight-for-eight on the draw. In the second, he exacted a little revenge on LA's Dustin Brown for running over Roberto Luongo the last time the two teams tangled. So what if the Canucks ended up losing 1-0? This was the sort of game that Vancouver fans needed in order to believe that maybe this team isn't past its prime just yet. (Last week: 1-1-1)
 
11New York Rangers
Last Week: 19
The Blueshirts are one of the hottest teams in the land, going 8-2-1 in their last 11 games, including a big 3-2 win over the Hawks last Wednesday, but they're barely treading water at home. Back-to back wins over the Stars and Flyers moved them to 10-10-3 at MSG, and with five of their next six at home, they need to get on a roll. The power play should help. It's humming lately, providing nine goals in New York's last 12 games. (Last week: 3-0-0)
 
12Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 11
The Flyers ended the week with a pair of ugly, no-compete losses that echoed their early-season struggles, but there's no panic in Philly ... yet. The next two weeks, though, will be telling. On paper it's a soft stretch, but teams like the Sabres and Isles have upped their games of late. The Flyers need to get their heads right to avoid this dip from turning into a costly rough patch. (Last week: 2-2-0)
 
13Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 12
Led by a pair of goals by Andrei Markov, the Habs claimed an impressive—and thoroughly entertaining—win over the Blackhawks on Saturday night. Something to build on? Maybe. The schedule will be a challenge—after hosting the Devils on Tuesday, Montreal goes on the road for four straight. So will its floundering power play, which has connected on just three of its last 36 chances. Good thing that Carey Price looks like he's regained his form. Team Canada's Sochi stopper has allowed just a single goal in his last two appearances after three straight with at least four against. (Last week: 1-1-0)
 
14Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 13
The Wings have gone 2-2 on their current trip to extend their conference-leading road record to a stellar 14-6-3. Unfortunately, after Thursday's finale at MSG, they head back to the Joe, where they've won just six of 23, for a five-game homestand. With a tenuous hold on the East's final wild card spot, they need to figure out a way to win a few in front of their own fans. (Last week: 1-2-0)
 
15Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 15
The early returns on the team's massive investment in free-agent winger Nathan Horton have been solid. Since he made his season debut a little more than a week ago, the Jackets are 4-1 and have climbed to within two points of a wild card spot in the East. He's looked great skating on a high-tempo line with Artem Anisimov and Boone Jenner, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite players to watch. Horton is also providing real leadership in the room and on the ice. Columbus could be a team to watch. (Last week: 3-0-0)
 
16Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 20
Ottawa Senators (20-18-8)
GM Bryan Murray may have lost a trusted assistant (and nephew) in Tim Murray, who shuffled off to Buffalo, but he has a new contract extension, a promise from ownership to spend, and a red-hot team on a 6-1-1 tear that put it back in the thick of the playoff race. The turnaround is startling. The Sens are taking fewer penalties (just seven in their past four games), turning the puck over less frequently, and getting terrific goaltending from Craig Anderson. This could be the start of something big. (Last week: 1-0-1)
 
17New York Islanders
Last Week: 25
There was a point earlier this season when the Islanders were hockey's answer to the Washington Generals--designated patsies whose pratfalls seemed almost intended to make their opponents look good. Those Isles lost 10 straight on the road, leading to speculation that coach Jack Capuano's job was in jeopardy. Now? After a thrilling come-from-behind win over that Stars that saw them score three times in the last five minutes, the Isles are road warriors, winners of seven straight. And with eight wins in their last 10 games, they're officially the hottest team in the Eastern Conference. Go figure. (Last week: 3-0-0)
 
18Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 21
Minnesota Wild (25-18-5)
No Mikko Koivu? No Zach Parise? No Josh Harding? No problem. The Wild are red-hot, winners of five-of-six in January after blanking the Predators 4-0 with Darcy Kuemper in net on Sunday. The rookie was a disaster in his first two appearances, allowing six goals on just 16 shots, but he's been dynamite in his last two starts, making 39 stops against the Kings for his first NHL win before his whitewash of Nashville. Keumper's just one of the kids—including Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker—who are really stepping up during the team's injury crisis. (Last week: 3-1-0)
 
19Washington Capitals
Last Week: 16
Posting back-to-back wins for the first time in a month, the Caps managed to hold on to a playoff spot in the Metro... but is anyone really feeling good about this team? Hard to imagine anyone who paid to watch Washington's no-show performance against the Sabres on Sunday raced to the box office afterward to buy tickets to a future game. Adam Oates' decision to split up Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom makes sense on paper, but the results have been mixed. This experiment might be short-lived. (Last week: 2-0-1)
 
20New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 22
Points in four straight have them right in the thick of the playoff race, but another shootout loss, this time to Toronto, leaves them lamenting one more blown opportunity. New Jersey is now 0-7 in the skills session, with just one goal in 23 attempts. But as Pierre McGuire noted, you have to put some of the blame on the goalies, too. Cory Schneider stopped just six of the 11 shots he's faced in shootouts (a .545 save percentage). You just know this is going to kill their postseason chances, right? (Last week: 2-0-2)
 
21Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 23
So much for that five-game winning streak. The Canes have now been blanked in back-to-back losses, including a 2-0 defeat on Monday by the Flames, a team that Carolina should have been shutting out. But that's hardly the worse news. They now have four days off, and as the team's website points out, that's not a good thing. "Following a four-day break in October, the Canes lost five in a row. Following a five-day break in December, the Canes were winless in five straight." Yikes. (Last week: 1-2-0)
 
22Dallas Stars
Last Week: 14
Dallas Stars (20-18-7)
When the Stars miss the playoffs this spring—as their play of late certainly suggests they will—they won't have to look any further than their misadventures against the Eastern Conference to understand why they failed to secure a berth. Dallas allowed late winning goals to both the Rangers (1:58 remaining) and Islanders (1:24 left) to stretch its current losing streak to six games—the Stars' longest since 1995—and all were against Eastern teams. Slides like this are part of the process for a rebuilding team, but that doesn't makes the losses any easier to stomach. (Last week: 0-3-0)
 
23Florida Panthers
Last Week: 24
The good news? New owner Vinnie Viola says the Panthers will spend to the cap to be competitive. The bad news: They're kinda expecting taxpayers to foot the bill. It's fun to be rich, ain't it? And hey, as nice as it is that GM Dale Tallon has permission to spend like a drunken sailor, this problem remains: finding difference-making players who are willing to risk years of their careers with this club. At this point, that's a lousy investment few are likely to make. (Last week: 1-1-1)
 
24Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 18
Phoenix Coyotes (21-15-9)
The wheels have fallen off a team that operates with too slim a margin to afford anyone delivering less than maximum results. Goalie Mike Smith has been brutal of late, pitching sub-.900 save percentages in his past four appearances. All were losses, including a crushing 5-1 defeat at the hands of the struggling Jets. The pressure is building for GM Don Maloney to make some kind of move. (Last week: 1-3-0)
 
25Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 29
Buffalo Sabres (13-26-5)
Buffalo finally got its long-awaited front office makeover, with hockey ops president Pat LaFontaine bringing in Tim Murray as GM and Craig Patrick as a special advisor. Both are strong hires, which bodes well for the future. The present, though, is all about Ryan Miller. The electrifying puckstopper boasts a .950 save percentage in his past 10 games—which just happens to be the best such stretch of his career. As long as he's going like that, the Sabres have a chance to win. (Last week: 2-1-1)
 
26Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 17
A shootout win over the Devils on Sunday night slowed the bleeding, but with just two regulation wins in their last 24 games—let that grim reality sink in for a moment—the Leafs have finally squandered all the ground they gained with their hot start. The #fancystats crowd will crow that they saw it coming all along, but anyone with a functioning set of eyes can tell you any team that spends as much time in its own zone as the Leafs do is playing with fire. And safe to say, Toronto leads the league in hits (1,599) because these lads spend too much time chasing the puck. (Last week: 1-3-0)
 
27Nashville Predators
Last Week: 28
If they hoped to finally gain some traction during the course of a five-game homestand, well, it didn't exactly work out for them with just three points pocketed through the first four contests. The Preds were shut out for a league-leading seventh time on Saturday in a 4-0 loss to the Wild. Slow starts are killing them—they've given up 42 first-period goals, fourth most in the league, and are winning at a league-low .120 clip when trailing after 20 minutes. (Last week: 1-2-1)
 
28Winnipeg Jets
Last Week: 27
Winnipeg Jets (20-23-5)
Moving Dustin Byfuglien to forward didn't get the Jets back on the right flight path (surprise!), so GM Kevin Cheveldayoff finally wrapped his arms around the notion that doing something with the coach was better than doing nothing. So Claude Noel is out and Paul Maurice is in. The move was universally lauded, but unless Maurice is bringing a reliable NHL goalie with him, don't expect an overnight turnaround. This team is still several players away from competing and the pressure is now officially on Chevy to start bringing them in. (Last week: 1-2-0)
 
29Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 30
Edmonton Oilers (15-28-5)
Bruce McCurdy did an interesting piece in the Edmonton Journal that laid out the biggest problem for the Oilers: They're just not very big. Size isn't everything, but it is something and this team's inability to physically match up with the big dogs in the Western Conference has proved to be an issue time and again. (Last week: 1-2-0)
 
30Calgary Flames
Last Week: 26
Calgary Flames (16-24-6)
It had to be fun to turn the tables on Carolina on Monday night. After being shut out in five of their last eight starts—an absolutely epic run of fail—the Flames blanked the Canes, 2-0, for only their second win in their last 14 games. Nice that they were able to catch a fresh breath in the midst of plumbing new depths of ineptitude. (Last week: 1-3-0)
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