Power Rankings: High-flying Blackhawks lifted by explosive offense

Ken Campbell
blackhawks-187615683

The Buffalo Sabres have not yet climbed out of the NHL’s basement, but they have moved out of the depths of THN’s Power Rankings, at least for the moment.

That has as much to do with how badly the Edmonton Oilers have played lately as it has anything the Sabres have done, but the Sabres deserve some love after all they’ve been through to start the season. And we’re at least a little encouraged that they have cleaned house, firing GM Darcy Regier and coach Ron Rolston. New hockey ops president Pat LaFontaine said he will name a GM soon.

That person will chart the future of a franchise that seems intent on a complete rebuild. That will mean tough times this season and a standing at or near the bottom of the league.

The defending champion Chicago Blackhawks, meanwhile, have rocketed up the rankings with an offense that has been lethal. (Last week’s rankings are in parentheses.)

1. Chicago (9): The Blackhawks have not lost a game in regulation in their past seven, but what has been even more impressive is that they’ve scored at least five goals in five of those games and at least four in six of them. The real test for the Blackhawks will come next week when they embark on a 12-day road trip with the circus coming to town.

2. Anaheim (2): Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau was not pleased that his team blew a two-goal lead and lost to the Florida Panthers and he shouldn’t have been. But the Ducks play on home ice has been literally perfect and rookie goalie Frederik Andersen is quickly becoming a part of the Calder Trophy conversation.

3. Phoenix (10): The Coyotes are 5-2 in overtime and shootout games and have served notice that their days of being offensive patsies are over. Captain Shane Doan is enjoying some kind of renaissance and Oliver-Ekman Larsson is vying to become the third Swedish defenseman to win the Norris Trophy. A 3-2 overtime win over St. Louis Tuesday night shows the Coyotes can play with the big boys.

4. Colorado (2): The Avs have lost two of their past four games, which would have been a good run for them last season. But when you lose only two of your first 14, it creates higher expectations. Still, the Avs have given up two or fewer goals in nine of their past 10 games. Their perfect record on the road came to an end when the Avs lost to the Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday night.

5. St. Louis (3): The Blues are still pulling up the rear in terms of games played – their total of 16 is lowest in the league – and that has put them lower in the standings than they deserve to be at the moment. That should be remedied in the next little while since they face a stretch starting tonight in which they play nine games in the next 16 days. With Steven Stamkos hurt, Alexander Steen’s main competition for the goals lead is Alex Ovechkin.

6. Minnesota (7): Back-to-back shootout victories gave the Wild points in six straight games and in 10 of their past 11. Losing goalie Niklas Backstrom and defenseman Keith Ballard will test their depth, but then again, the Wild has a lot more depth than it used to have. In the game Backstrom was hurt, Josh Harding came in despite not feeling well and got the victory.

7. San Jose (6): After losing five games in a row – four of them in either overtime or a shootout – the Sharks finally got it right, defeating the Calgary Flames in overtime, but not before they blew a two-goal lead. The more troubling development is that the Sharks had a lead at one point in each of those six games and blew it each time. Even more troubling, one of those losses was to the Buffalo Sabres.

8. Tampa Bay (8): That groan you heard Monday afternoon was the Lightning fan base after Steven Stamkos went down with a broken leg. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman has said the void left by Stamkos will have to be filled from within. That means it’s clearly time for the likes of Valtteri Filppula, Alex Killorn, Teddy Purcell and Ryan Malone to step up their games.

9. Boston (14): The Bruins seem to be finding their game with three consecutive wins and points in their past four games. So is center Patrice Bergeron, who has three goals in his past two games. Coming up for the Bruins: four very winnable games against Columbus, Ottawa, Carolina and the New York Rangers. But three of them are on the road.

10. Toronto (10): Losers of three of their past four, the Leafs are starting to dry up offensively. In fact, they’ve scored only three goals in regulation time in their past four games. When the Leafs were scoring all kinds of goals, they were having trouble defending. Now that they’ve tightened up ever-so-slightly, their offensive game has gone down the sinkhole.

11. Los Angeles (14): The Kings handed the Buffalo Sabres their first win on home ice this season, but what is of even more paramount concern is the health of goalie Jonathan Quick, who left the game with a groin or hamstring injury that looked rather serious. He was scheduled to have an MRI, but GM Dean Lombardi said he was told by the trainers that, “it was not good.”

12. Detroit (12): The Red Wings are 1-5 in overtime and shootout games this season and have lost each of their past three beyond regulation time. Part of the reason is the Red Wings are getting almost no scoring beyond Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Daniel Alfredsson and have dropped six straight at the Joe Louis Arena. In the Glass Half Full Department, five of those losses have been in a shootout or overtime.

13. Vancouver (11): A four-game road trip through the southwest United States produced just one win and three points. The Canucks have the best penalty killing in the league, but that is offset by the fact that only the Florida Panthers and Winnipeg Jets have worse power plays. That pretty much follows the pattern established by coach John Tortorella when he was with the New York Rangers.

14. Pittsburgh (5): In the past week, the most wildly talented offensive team in the NHL has lost three straight games – including one to the Philadelphia Flyers – and scored a total of three goals. While Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz continue to play well together, Evgeni Malkin is in the midst of a major goal-scoring slump. The Penguins have won only four of their past 10 games and have just seven goals in those six losses.

15. Dallas (19): The Stars have won five of their last six, including a three-game extra-time win streak on the road. Much of the reason for that has been the play of goalie Kari Lehtonen, who missed five games with a groin injury earlier in the season in which the Stars went 1-4-0 and had an .882 save percentage. Lehtonen is 6-2-2 since his return.

16. Washington (13): The Capitals have become accustomed to playing without defenseman Mike Green in their lineup over the past couple of seasons and it looks as though they’ll have to do so again, at least in the short term. The good news is that after a hot start, Mikhail Grabovski has started to heat up again and is back to being close to a point-per-game player, while scoring some big goals.

17. Winnipeg (21): The confounding Jets continue to ride the rollercoaster with three straight wins, and impressive ones, over Nashville, San Jose and Detroit. And with four of their next five games at home, the Jets have a real opportunity to get things back on the rails. After a terrible season in 2012-13, Bryan Little has 11 goals, four more than last season, with two of them coming shorthanded. Andrew Ladd remains one of the league’s most underrated players.

18. Montreal (18): The Canadiens have lost five of their past six games, with their only victory coming over the slumping New York Islanders. P.K. Subban has been replaced as the focal point of controversy by, of all people, newly elected mayor Denis Coderre, who publicly suggested the Canadiens should send David Desharnais to the minors. Rugged Brandon Prust, who was injured Oct. 21, is close to returning to the lineup.

19. NY Rangers (23): The Rangers busted out of the bottom third of the league with a 7-3-0 record in their past 10. No great achievement, but at least it’s a tick upward for a team that was dreadful to start the season. Henrik Lundqvist has been better, but was singled out by coach Alain Vigneault for failing to make a “routine save” on a goal in the Rangers’ 3-2 loss to New Jersey Tuesday night.

20. Ottawa (20): The Senators were riding high with a three-game win streak and appeared to have some of their problems righted when they served up a putrid 5-0 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on home ice Tuesday night. By the end of the game, not only were the fans booing the Senators, but many of them were also chanting, “Alfie!” In other news, some Canadian singer named Keshia Chante, who happens to be Ray Emery’s girlfriend, called Robin Lehner “an idiot” on Twitter for Lehner suggesting Emery should have been charged with assault for his attack on Braden Holtby.

21. Carolina (22): With points in each of their past four games, the Hurricanes have improved their level of play lately. Speculation surrounding the possible acquisition of John-Michael Liles from the Toronto Maple Leafs makes sense, only in as much as the Hurricanes seem intent on acquiring everyone who has ever appeared in a Toronto uniform.

22. New Jersey (27): Just when it looked as though Martin Brodeur was going to lose his job to Cory Schneider, he goes and pitches two shutouts and wins three in a row. Jaromir Jagr has defied the laws of nature this season and has been the Devils’ best forward since the beginning of the campaign. The Devils are not even at .500 (6-7-5), but find themselves three points out of a playoff spot, after considering the crossover.

23. Nashville (17): Not being able to score, coupled with allowing a lot of goals is always a bad combination. Usually, the Predators struggle with the former, but rarely the latter. But after being beaten 5-0 in back-to-back games by Winnipeg and New Jersey, then losing 3-1 to the previously slumping Islanders, it’s back to the drawing board for the Predators.

24. Philadelphia (28): The Flyers are slowly digging themselves out of the enormous hole they created for themselves with three straight wins and points in five of their past six games. After missing four games with a concussion suffered in a fight in just his first game with the Flyers, Steve Downie has assists in each of his past two games. But the hottest player has been Brayden Schenn, with three goals and five points in his past three.

25. NY Islanders (15): There is much debate over whether The Hockey News Curse ™ is imagined or real, but the Islanders promptly dropped four straight after we made them the subject of a cover story. All four losses were on the road, where the Islanders have lost twice as many games as they’ve won. With Thomas Vanek already out of the lineup, it’s possible John Tavares will miss Thursday night’s game after crashing hard into the boards in a 3-1 win over Nashville Tuesday night.

26. Calgary (24): The Flames fought back valiantly to force overtime Tuesday night against San Jose (which they eventually lost), but things are getting more dismal with every passing game after a promising start to the season. Someone on Twitter remarked after the trade with the Edmonton Oilers in which Ladislav Smid was the centerpiece was that it was tantamount to two Titanics throwing deck chairs at each other.

27. Florida (25): The Panthers ended a nine-game losing streak and gave Peter Horachek his first victory as an NHL coach with a gutsy, come-from-behind victory over the league-leading Anaheim Ducks Tuesday night. However, things don’t get any easier for the Panthers, who embark on a five-game road trip against Western Conference teams, who they have a 3-4-2 record against this season.

28. Columbus (26): Losers of six of their past seven, the Blue Jackets haven’t exactly made the most of their move to the Eastern Conference this season. After a promising start to the season, Marian Gaborik has gone seven games without a goal. What’s even more concerning is that his scoring chances have dried up along with his production. The Blue Jackets are 1-5-1 in those games, but Gaborik has had plenty of company in his struggles.

29. Buffalo (30): If the Sabres wanted to trade Ryan Miller, the best time would have been after their 3-2 shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings – their first on home ice this season – in which Miller stopped 43 of 45 shots. But as we all now know, the Sabres had other more pressing matters on their agenda. It will be interesting to see whether Ted Nolan will have enough success to lose his interim tag this season.

30. Edmonton (29): No team has extracted fewer points out of their past 10 games than the Oilers have (three) and no team in the league has a worse goal differential (minus-30). No team currently has a longer streak of regulation losses (four). But goaltender and savior Ilya Bryzgalov is on his way soon. He recently clarified that he once said Edmonton is like the North Pole, not that it is the North Pole. Glad he cleared that up.