If the current trend continues, the Eastern Conference will establish an ignominious first in NHL history this season. Never before has one conference or division had its top team finish lower than sixth overall. And the only time that happened was in 1967-68 and 1969-70 when all the expansion teams were grouped in the same division.
Through one quarter of the season, though, the Boston Bruins are the top team in the Eastern Conference, but sit ninth in the overall standings. Thankfully, they’re not that far down this week’s Power Rankings. (Last week’s rank in parentheses.)
1. Los Angeles (11): The 2012 Stanley Cup champions will have to wear the scarlet letter of losing to Buffalo for eternity, but they’re the hottest team in the league at the moment with four straight wins and points in their past seven games. Jonathan Quick out a month with a wonky groin? Not a problem. We’ll just put in Ben Scrivens and watch him pitch two straight shutouts.
2. Minnesota (6): The only blemish on the Wild’s record of late was an absolute clunker in Montreal in which they lost 6-2, but with an 8-1-1 mark in their past 10, the Wild is for real. Between now and the end of the calendar year, they play 11 games on the road, which will be a test since they’re just 4-4-2 away from the Excel Energy Center. Ryan Suter is getting a lot of early buzz for the Norris Trophy.
3. Phoenix (3): The Coyotes are 6-2 in overtime and shootout games this season and have won three of their past four in extra time. They and the Anaheim Ducks are the only two teams that have not lost at home in regulation time this season. They must feel comfortable in small crowds. Despite being one of the best teams in the league, announced attendance for their last home game was just 12,562.
4. Boston (9): The Bruins are first in the Eastern Conference and continue to make their way up the standings as they make up the gap in games played. Defensively, the Bruins have been almost impenetrable lately, largely because of the play of early Vezina Trophy favorite Tuukka Rask. It will be interesting to see how the Bruins will do versus the Western Conference, against which they’ve played just four games this season.
5. St. Louis (5): When Ken Hitchcock coached in the Western League, his Kamloops Blazers were some of the most dynamically offensive teams in the history of junior hockey. And while the Blues aren’t exactly a murderers’ row, they have scored goals at a far more prodigious pace than most observers anticipated. Alex Steen has gone two games without a goal for the second time this season.
6. Chicago (1): All right, calm down everyone. The Blackhawks are not the fifth-best team in the league. These are Power Rankings, not standings. The Blackhawks have tumbled largely because they’ve been waxed (7-2 to Nashville and 5-1 to Colorado) twice in the past three games. The circus is in town, literally, and the Blackhawks will spend the rest of this month on the road.
7. San Jose (7): What to make of this Sharks team that came out of the gate with points in its first nine games, but has been inconsistent since then? The Sharks did not look good at all in dropping a 5-1 game to the Chicago Blackhawks Sunday night, but have had four days to regroup since then. Brent Burns, who has missed the past 13 games with a facial injury, could be back on the top line with Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl Thursday night.
8. Anaheim (2): What is it about Bruce Boudreau-coached teams that come out of the gate like gangbusters, then fade? The Ducks have not won a game since Nov. 10 and their five straight losses since then have all been against Eastern Conference teams. The Ducks found a rather novel way to lose to the New Jersey Devils Wednesday night, gagging up a lead with 1:01 before losing in overtime on an own goal when Ben Lovejoy banked one off Corey Perry’s shinpad.
9. Colorado (4): Could reality be finally setting in with the Avalanche? A convincing 5-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks Tuesday night put the brakes on a three-game skid in which they were outscored 13-5. But with a goal differential of plus-22, the Avs remain tied for second in the league in that category. Olympic hopeful Matt Duchene has missed one game with an oblique injury that the Avs thought would keep him out a week, but now they’re hopeful he’ll be back playing by the weekend.
10. Toronto (10): The Maple Leafs have done a good job keeping their heads above water with all the injuries and suspensions. The prospects improve considerably when Nazem Kadri returns from suspension Thursday night, but Tyler Bozak, who was hoping to return announced after the morning skate that he isn’t ready for action yet. As always, the Maple Leafs goaltenders have put in a yeoman’s effort.
11. Pittsburgh (14): The Penguins had two statement games in convincing back-to-back victories over the Anaheim Ducks and Washington Capitals, scoring four goals in each game and quelling fears that their offensive game had dried up. The Penguins have scored 12 goals in their past three victories and continue to get Olympic-caliber goaltending from No. 1 man Marc-Andre Fleury.
12. Tampa Bay (8): The Lightning is an even 2-2 since Steven Stamkos broke his leg, but had a lot of trouble defensively in successive losses to the Phoenix Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings. Martin St-Louis played the 1,000th game of his career Tuesday night against the Kings, which is 1,000 more than a lot of people ever thought he’d play. On the flip side, the Lightning has seven rookies on its roster at the moment.
13. Dallas (15): Don’t look now, but the Stars have won seven of their past eight games and are beginning to find their offensive game. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn have been lights out for the Stars, combining for eight goals and 17 points in the past four games. The news hasn’t all been good, though. Alex Chiasson took a puck to the face in practice Wednesday and is uncertain for Thursday night. Quirky stat: The Stars have yet to score a power play goal at home.
14. Washington (16): After winning three straight, the Capitals looked unengaged and impotent in a crucial game against the Pittsburgh Penguins Wednesday night. With a chance to take the lead in the Metropolitan Division, the Capitals lost 4-0. Goaltender Braden Holtby, who was an invite to the Canadian Olympic team’s orientation camp over the summer, continues to be plagued by inconsistency.
15. Vancouver (13): In the Knock Me Over With a Feather Department, Canucks coach John Tortorella is losing his patience with his team on the heels of a five-game losing streak in which the Canucks scored more than one goal only once. The Canucks have always had one of the most aggressive and offensive defence corps in the league, but the group has just 10 goals to this point. Perhaps they’re concentrating too much on blocking shots?
16. Detroit (12): There seem to be two scenarios lately in which the Red Wings are sure to lose. One is when they play at the Joe Louis Arena. The second is when they play in a game that goes into overtime. The Red Wings have not won a game since Nov. 2. They’ve played seven games since then. Five of them have been at home and the same number have gone to overtime or a shootout. Defenseman Dan DeKeyser is out long term with a shoulder injury and Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have been split up.
17. Montreal (18): The win-one, lose-one Canadiens looked impressive in a 6-2 shellacking of the Minnesota Wild Tuesday night, but the consistency of effort and results has been lacking. The good news is that Max Pacioretty got off the schneid (whatever that is) with a natural hat trick and David Desharnais finally made a contribution with two assists.
18. New Jersey (22): Ever since Martin Brodeur basically relinquished his No. 1 role to Cory Schneider and acknowledged he’d be open to a trade if the Devils are out of the playoff picture, he has been one of the best goaltenders in the league. Like, Canadian Olympic team consideration good. The Devils have won four of their past five and, just as importantly they appear to have located the back of the net.
19. Nashville (23): On the heels of impressive victories over the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings, the Predators ended a skid of four games in which they scored just two goals. By the way, who the heck is Marek Mazanec and what was he doing stopping 66 of 68 shots against Chicago and Detroit?
20. NY Rangers (19): The Rangers have scored two goals in their past three games and coach Alain Vigneault couldn’t be happier. Cheap shot? All right, then. Once Rick Nash finds his form after missing 17 games with a concussion, he should be able to make a significant contribution to the offense. After being a healthy scratch for three straight games, defenseman Michael Del Zotto is penciled into the lineup Thursday night for the start of a five-game road trip.
21. Winnipeg (17): The streaky Jets are all kinds of fun to watch, but they must be a nightmare to coach. It would certainly help things if Evander Kane would start scoring. He’s in the midst of a nine-game goal drought. After practice Wednesday, an exasperated coach Claude Noel had this to say: “We’ve just got to get better. What league are we in? Peewees? We start like Peewees?”
22. Columbus (28): Hey, somebody has to take this spot, and the Blue Jackets have won two of their past three games. On the downside, their compete level was embarrassingly bad in a 7-0 loss to the Edmonton Oilers Tuesday night. There are rumblings that GM Jarmo Kekalainen is looking around the trade market for something, anything, that can help them. Veteran leadership would be one place to start.
23. NY Islanders (25): So far, the only way the Islanders have distinguished themselves is in being the most prominent underachievers of the season through the first quarter. They have been utterly unable to sustain any sort of good play from the beginning of the season. Things will undoubtedly improve for the Islanders when they get Thomas Vanek back in the lineup Friday night in Pittsburgh.
24. Philadelphia (24): Don’t look now, but the Flyers have points in each of their past five games and in six of their past seven. Of course, two of those wins came against the Ottawa Senators and one against the Edmonton Oilers, but they don’t ask how… Thursday night’s game with the Sabres marks the first time two Native coaches (Ted Nolan and Craig Berube) have met in league history.
25. Carolina (21): After missing 11 games, Jeff Skinner is probable for Thursday night against the Detroit Red Wings. And the Hurricanes could certainly use his offense. With just 40 goals, they’re tied with the Philadelphia Flyers for fewest goals in the league this season. But where the injury list giveth, it taketh away: Alexander Semin is out of the lineup indefinitely with a concussion.
26. Florida (27): All right, let’s get this straight. The Panthers defeat the Anaheim Ducks, Colorado Avalanche and Vancouver Canucks and lose by one goal to the Minnesota Wild? Yup. Who said the teams from the Eastern Conference are bad? Well, they are and the Panthers are still among the worst of them, largely because until recently they couldn’t win on the road.
27. Ottawa (20): The Senators have a three-game road trip beginning this weekend in Detroit and it couldn’t come at a better time. They’re 4-6-2 at the Canadian Tire Centre so far this season and have been drawing terrible crowds to their Friday night and Sunday afternoon games. Clarke MacArthur, who was a solid free-agent signing, made a pass that will be a candidate for play of the year on an assist Wednesday night against the Minnesota Wild.
28. Edmonton (29): All right, the young Edmonton Oilers are finally on track after winning two straight games, including a 7-0 dismantling of the Columbus Blue Jackets Tuesday night. How many times have we heard that kind of talk before? But it is nice to see the Oilers young players contribute and the fact that Nail Yakupov has picked up his offensive game undoubtedly has everyone breathing more easily.
29. Calgary (26): With just six points in their past 10 games (2-6-2), the Flames are one of the coldest teams in the NHL at the moment. Their only victory since Nov. 3 came Monday night when they beat the Winnipeg Jets in a shootout. They haven’t won consecutive games since early October, the heady days when the Flames were playing way above their heads.
30. Buffalo (30): Hey, the Sabres are 3-0 in shootouts this season, so like, they’ve got that going for them, eh? Pat LaFontaine and Ted Nolan made it clear that their philosophy is not to expose their teenagers to a mountain of losses early in their careers. After winning his debut, Nolan and the Sabres have lost two straight.