Western Conference domination is still alive and well in the NHL, but at least a couple of eastern teams are beginning to put a dent in it. For the second time this season, an eastern team has made an appearance in the top five of THN.com’s Power Rankings and there are three in the top 10. (Last week’s rankings in parentheses.)
1. SAN JOSE (3): Consecutive wins over Los Angeles, St. Louis, Anaheim and Toronto and a record of 9-1-0 in their past 10 have the Sharks on some kind of roll. After winning five in a row at home, the Sharks are in the midst of a four-game road trip with three of them against Eastern Conference opponents. Joe Thornton has been a beast with 4-15-19 totals in his past 17 games. Let’s just hope he never, ever has a four-goal game.
2. CHICAGO (2): Go figure. The Blackhawks win six of seven difficult games on the road while the circus was in town, then drop their first one at home against the Dallas Stars. With 9-10-19 totals in 15 games in November, including four game-winners, Patrick Kane was named the first star of the month for November.
3. PITTSBURGH (14): It was really only a matter of time for Evgeni Malkin, wasn’t it? After a slow and uninspiring start, Malkin scored 25 points in November, 21 of them assists. His assist total was the most by any one player since Wayne Gretzky in 1996. The Penguins have won their past four games, scoring five goals in two of them and three in the other two. It seems the Penguins have finally realized their lot as an offensive juggernaut that prefers to have track meets over chess matches.
4. LOS ANGELES (4): Continuing to ride the goaltending of summer-trade throw-in Ben Scrivens, the Kings are winning a good number of their games despite the fact they are having the darndest time scoring more than two goals in regulation. In fact, they’ve done it only once in their past seven games, but have a 3-1-3 mark in those games and have lost only once in their past 12 games in regulation.
5. ANAHEIM (5): If the Ducks were even half as good on the road as they’ve been at the Honda Center, the engravers would be putting their name on the Presidents’ Trophy already. The Ducks went into the third month of the season without a regulation loss at home, but are a very ordinary 8-7-3 on the road. With road games coming up against Chicago and St. Louis, this would be a really good time to reverse that trend.
6. BOSTON (8): The Bruins looked downright dismal in a 6-1 loss to Detroit last week, but that was an aberration for a team that has been very solid since the start of the season. The only concern is the lack of a game-breaker. They have nothing approximating a point-per-game player on the roster and their top scorer, David Krejci, sits 59th in NHL scoring.
7. COLORADO (6): With five wins in their past six and two straight victories, the Avs probably would have preferred not to have four days between games before embarking on a three-game road trip through western Canada. Goalie Semyon Varlamov tweaked his groin during a 3-1 win over Minnesota last Saturday, but is expected to be fully recovered in time for the game against Edmonton tonight.
8. ST. LOUIS (1): Only the Sharks have posted a higher goals differential than the Blues, who have displayed a surprising ability to create offense this season. However, the Blues have lost both games to the San Jose Sharks this season by a combined score of 12-5. And after losing two straight and giving up nine goals against Los Angeles and the Sharks, coach Ken Hitchcock expressed concern his team was not prepared to play.
9. MONTREAL (10): Since losing 1-0 to the Rangers 19 days ago, the Canadiens have not lost a game in regulation and have witnessed the revival of both Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais. In that span, the Canadiens have charged up the Eastern Conference as the hottest and one of the most defensively responsible teams in the NHL.
10. MINNESOTA (9): Goalie Josh Harding has played behind a very good defensive team this season, but was full marks for his 8-2-2 record and third star designation for the month of November. On the more concerning side, Mikael Granlund has been placed on injured reserve and has essentially been shut down with a concussion.
11. PHOENIX (7): Losses in five of their past seven, including a 4-1 drubbing to Calgary Wednesday night have the Coyotes coming back down to earth after a red-hot start. Goalie Mike Smith, once a serious candidate for Canada’s Olympic team, has cooled off considerably, allowing four goals in five of his past six starts.
12. DETROIT (11): Giving up four third period goals to lose a game on home ice to a non-playoff team is not exactly Detroit Red Wings hockey. Prior to that, the Red Wings had won four straight and were looking poised for a run, given they had outscored their opponents by a margin of 18-4.
13. DALLAS (13): The Stars registered an enormous win over the Chicago Blackhawks Dec. 3, but unless the Stars begin playing as well at home as they do on the road, they will continue to squander valuable points and jeopardize their chance at a playoff spot. The Stars are without Tyler Seguin, who is out with concussion-like symptoms. Not a concussion, but concussion-like symptoms. Yeah.
14. VANCOUVER (17): The wildly unpredictable Canucks have been on something of an upswing of late with points in four of their past five games. If Alex Burrows thought his nightmare season couldn’t get any worse, he found out it could when he was hit in the face with a Chris Tanev shot and had his jaw broken earlier this week against Carolina.
15. TAMPA BAY (12): There have been times since the Steven Stamkos injury when the Lightning looked like it hadn’t missed a beat. The last two games, in which they have been shut out in both, does not represent one of those times. It also doesn’t help that Ryan Malone is expected to be out the next three or four weeks and that goalie Ben Bishop is a little banged up.
16. TORONTO (15): The Maple Leafs’ November freefall continued when they lost to San Jose in the first game of December. In fact, it seems the only thing piling up more quickly than losses for the Leafs are the injuries. With the Leafs getting virtually no offense from their defense corps and bottom six forwards, their depth is being challenged in a big way.
17. PHILADELPHIA (23): For the Flyers to climb back to the (artificially inflated) .500 mark after the start they had is an impressive feat indeed. The great thing about playing in the Metropolitan Division is you can be a .500 team in the second quarter of the season and be knocking on the door of a playoff spot.
18. Winnipeg (18): Mark Stuart and Anthony Peluso nearly came to blows in a battle drill along the boards on Wednesday, displaying the kind of emotion coach Claude Noel would like to see in games a little more often. The Jets continue to confound with their win-a-couple, lose-a-couple way of doing things.
19. WASHINGTON (21): Speaking of confounding teams…with all that firepower, the Capitals have scored more than two goals in regulation just once in their past seven games and that was in a 6-4 loss to Ottawa last week. The power play and penalty kill, once both tops in the league, are now fifth and 15, respectively.
20. NASHVILLE (16): The Predators lost two games to non-playoff teams before dropping a 3-1 game to Vancouver Tuesday night. Predators captain Shea Weber will miss his third consecutive game Thursday night, which is a cause for concern. The loss to Vancouver marked the first time in nine games the Preds had given up a power play goal.
21. NY RANGERS (20): The Rangers eliminated a major distraction when they signed goalie Henrik Lundqvist to a $59.5 million deal that will take him past his 39th birthday seven years from now. Perhaps now Lundqvist will be able to afford to go out and buy some nice clothes.
22. NEW JERSEY (22): Back-to-back losses to Montreal put a serious dent in the Devils playoff hopes, which had improved with wins over Carolina and Buffalo last week. The Devils would do themselves a few favors by perhaps winning a shootout now and again. They’re 0-5 in the skills contest and their 3-1 overtime record indicates they’re better when they end it before it begins.
23. CAROLINA (19): The goal-starved Hurricanes undoubtedly miss Alex Semin, but a healthy Jeff Skinner has picked up the slack. Coach Kirk Muller put Skinner on a line with Eric Staal and Tuomo Ruutu and the trio had a monster game – registering 15 of the teams’ 32 shots with Skinner contributing a goal and two assists in a 4-1 win over Washington Tuesday night.
24. CALGARY (25): The Flames are on a roll, or as much of a roll as you can expect from the Flames. They followed up an impressive 2-1 road win over Los Angeles on the weekend with an equally impressive 4-1 win over Phoenix at home Wednesday night. It was captain Mark Giordano’s first game back after missing 18 with an injury and he had a goal and an assist to give him 3-8-11 totals in just nine games this season.
25. OTTAWA (22): GM Bryan Murray stated he’s “happy” with the deal that sent goalie Ben Bishop to Tampa Bay for Cory Conacher last season. Well, that makes one guy. With 14 goals so far, summer acquisition Bobby Ryan is quietly putting together a pretty terrific season. So is Clarke MacArthur, who seems to do all the little things well and manages to contribute offense.
26. COLUMBUS (26): With an announced crowd of just 10,223 to see the Blue Jackets defeat Tampa Bay 1-0 Tuesday night, it appears the good people of Columbus are once again voting with their feet. To add to the misery, Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky will be out four-to-five weeks with a groin strain he suffered in the same game.
27. NY ISLANDERS (28): A season that never quite got on the rails is careening to disaster for the Islanders, who have lost seven in a row and scored more than two goals in regulation time in just one of those games. In their last two losses, both 3-2 in overtime to Pittsburgh and Washington, the Islanders had 2-1 leads in the third period.
28. EDMONTON (29): The Oilers have spent the last week or so following up impressive victories with equally unimpressive defeats. And in the We-Barely-Knew-Ye Department, goalie Ilya Bryzgalov was placed on injured reserve after being run over in a 3-2 shootout win over Dallas on the weekend. And he had actually played pretty well to that point.
29. FLORIDA (27): Outscored 14-5 in consecutive home-ice losses to the Rangers, Pittsburgh and Ottawa, the Panthers still believe they can make a push for the playoffs. Yeah, good luck with that. In case they haven’t checked lately, they’re 12 points out from the last wildcard spot. In a move that surprised no one, GM Dale Tallon announced rookie Aleksander Barkov would not be loaned to Finland’s WJC team.
30. BUFFALO (30): Well, now we know beyond a reasonable doubt that it wasn’t all Ron Rolston’s fault. The Sabres are 2-5-1 since Ted Nolan took over behind the bench, with both of those victories coming over the floundering Maple Leafs on home ice. The Sabres have given up 37 more goals than they’ve scored, the worst mark in the league.