Alex Steen. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
The St. Louis Blues jump four spots in our weekly rankings, knocking the Los Angeles Kings out of the top position.
1. St. Louis (5): The Blues have won their past five straight games by a combined score of 20-5 and just when you think Alex Steen is going to return to reality, he picks up the pace with his mind-boggling scoring. The Blues are healthy and productive and not only beat you on the scoreboard, but they punish you too. There is nary a shortcoming in this lineup at the moment.
2. Chicago (6): Even though the Hawks hold down first place overall in the NHL, they’re almost, but not quite as hot as the Blues. The defending champs have won four in a row and outscored their opponents 18-7. All four wins, though, have come on the road. A 3-2 win over the Calgary Flames Wednesday night marked the first ever career start and victory for Antti Raanta and extended Patrick Kane’s point-scoring streak to 12 games.
3. San Jose (7): Another team that hasn’t lost a game since last week’s rankings, the Sharks defeated the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 in a shootout Wednesday night in one of the most entertaining games in the NHL this season. After a slow start, captain Joe Thornton has points in seven of his past eight games and has posted totals of 2-12-14 in his past 14. Next up for the Sharks, Maxim Lapierre and the St. Louis Blues.
4. Los Angeles (1): The Kings have lost only once in regulation this month, with that loss coming 26 days ago. But they’ve also lost three of their past four in either overtime or a shootout. Backup goaltender Ben Scrivens continues to give the Kings outstanding play and leads the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage. The offense got a boost when Jeff Carter returned Tuesday night after missing 10 games with a foot injury.
5. Anaheim (8): The Ducks were on their way to a modest three-game winning streak when they collapsed and allowed three goals in 53 seconds in a 6-3 loss to the Dallas Stars Tuesday night. With Viktor Fasth out with an injury, Jonas Hiller was coming into form for the Ducks until he allowed five goals in the Dallas game. The Ducks have been a rather uninspiring 3-5-2 in their past 10 games, but are still the only team in the NHL without a regulation loss at home.
6. Colorado (9): Avs coach Patrick Roy and St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock did a little verbal jousting after the Blues defeated Colorado 4-1 Wednesday night to put the brakes on the Avs three-game winning streak. The loss left the Avalanche five points behind the Blues in the Central Division standings. Of more concern, though, is the Avs have lost both games to the Blues this season by a combined score of 11-4.
7. Phoenix (3): The Coyotes put an end to a three-game losing streak with a 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild Wednesday night. Of the top teams in the league, the Coyotes have given up by far the most goals with 79 goals against. GM Don Maloney didn’t like what he was seeing prior to the win and acted by putting defenseman Rostislav Klesla on waivers and recalling Connor Murphy from the minors. Klesla was assigned to the American League after he cleared waivers.
8. Boston (4): A 6-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings that prompted coach Claude Julien to say, “Everything we did tonight was just a disaster,” was one of the few limp efforts the Bruins have put forth lately. Rookie defenseman Torey Krug, with seven goals already, is on pace not only to outscore Ray Bourque (17) and Bobby Orr (13) in their first seasons, but could challenge Brian Leetch’s freshman record of 23 goals.
9. Minnesota (2): Injuries to Zach Parise, Josh Harding and Mikael Granlund led to two straight losses for the Wild, but both Parise and Harding could be back as early as Friday. With Charlie Coyle struggling to win draws, Wild coach Mike Yeo experimented with rookie Justin Fontaine, who has never played the position before, as a second-line center and moved Coyle to the right side of the first line in practice Thursday.
10. Montreal (17): After starting the month of November with a thud, the Canadiens have points in seven of their past eight games and regulation wins in four straight. After getting called out by new Montreal mayor Denis Coderre, David Desharnais has picked up his level of play considerably and has begun to contribute offensively. Andrei Markov has been by far the best defenseman for the Canadiens game-in and game-out this season.
11. Detroit (16): Red Wings coach Mike Babcock claims there is not a goalie controversy in Detroit despite the fact that backup Jonas Gustafsson has taken over the net. With a record of 6-0-1, he has earned points for the Red Wings in every game this season. Off the ice, veteran defenseman Jonathan Ericsson was rewarded with a six-year, $25.5 million contract extension. A cause for concern is Pavel Datsyuk, who hasn’t played since being elbowed in the head by Jared Cowen of the Ottawa Senators last weekend.
12. Tampa Bay (12): After losing five of their first seven games without Steven Stamkos, the Lightning posted back-to-back victories on home ice over the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers. Stamkos spoke for the first time since the injury earlier this week and said he won’t rush things just to get back for the Olympics. One player they hope can fill the void is Nikita Kucherov, who was leading the Syracuse Crunch in scoring and was one of the top scorers in the American League when he was recalled.
13. Dallas (13): Even though his team had lost two straight games by a combined score of 9-3, Stars coach Lindy Ruff was pleased with his team’s play, but not with how his young charges were responding to crucial situations. And they turned that around in a hurry, turning a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead in the space of 53 seconds Tuesday night against the Anaheim Ducks. The game against Anaheim was Ray Whitney’s first after missing 17 with an injury.
14. Pittsburgh (11): Remember back earlier this month when the Penguins were struggling to score goals? Never mind. The Penguins have scored at least four goals in four of their past five games, including a 6-5 shootout win over the Toronto Maple Leafs Wednesday night. Defenseman Kris Letang, who has struggled this season and found himself off the first power-play unit, doesn’t seem terribly happy lately.
15. Toronto (10): After a promising start in which they defied all the analytics guys, the Maple Leafs are in a major freefall and are getting outshot on a regular basis by biblical proportions. The Maple Leafs have a 4-5-2 record in the month of November and have given up 12 goals in their past two games. Part of the reason they’re being outshot so badly is they refuse to take shots. In their 6-5 shootout loss to the Penguins, the Leafs took zero shots in the third period and in overtime.
16. Nashville (19): The Predators have weathered a storm in which they played nine of their 12 games on the road in November. The newly formed line of Craig Smith between Matt Cullen and Nick Spaling did most of the damage in a 4-0 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets Wednesday night. Rookie goalie Marek Mazanec, who has done an admirable job of filling the void through Pekka Rinne’s injury, picked up his first career shutout in the game.
17. Vancouver (15): In the past three weeks, the Canucks only victory has come over the struggling Columbus Blue Jackets. Bookending that victory were five consecutive one-goal losses. Thank goodness the Canucks have played a first quarter heavy with Eastern Conference opponents. The Canucks are 6-2-2 against teams from the east, but have a 4-8-3 mark against teams in the more difficult Western Conference.
18. Winnipeg (21): A modest two-game winning streak did nothing to quell coach Claude Noel’s satisfaction with his team’s effort at practice Thursday, when he stopped the workout because he wasn’t seeing enough intensity. Perhaps Noel is onto something. This is a group that seems to get pleased with itself a little too easily and slips into lethargic play after picking up a couple of consecutive wins.
19. Carolina (25): The Hurricanes scored four goals in back-to-back wins over the Ottawa Senators and New Jersey Devils, which might be enough to prompt a parade given the offensive woes they’ve experienced this season. Luckily for the Hurricanes, being a .500 team has not put them out of the playoff picture. In fact, they’re just one point out of second place in the Metropolitan Division, which is shared by the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers.
20. NY Rangers (20): Alain Vigneault came in this season wanting to play a more wide-open style with his team, but the Rangers have been giving him pause for thought on that one. They’re struggling to score with consistency so badly that he might be forced to play a more conservative style. In fact, prior to a 5-2 win over the Florida Panthers Wednesday night, the Rangers had scored two or fewer goals in 16 of 25 games this season.
21. Washington (14): Capitals coach Adam Oates had nothing good to say about his team after a 6-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators Wednesday night, another night in which the Capitals were unable to keep a lead safe. Martin Erat, who cost the Capitals top prospect Filip Forsberg last season, wants out of Washington, as does Dmitry Orlov who keeps getting called up and scratched. The Capitals are among the best teams in penalty killing and power play this season, but have been less-than-sterling 5-on-5.
22. Ottawa (27): The Senators have been getting outstanding goaltending from Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner, but that has been the only area of their game where they’ve been getting any consistency. Jared Cowen and Patrick Wiercioch, who were the Senators second defense pairing to start the season, were healthy scratches for a game against the Vancouver Canucks Thursday night.
23. Philadelphia (24): After a surge in which they picked up points in seven straight games, the Flyers lost both games in a road trip through Florida. The 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning Wednesday night marked the return of Vinny Lecavalier to his former team and the Flyers, despite the extra motivation, could not have come out of the gate more flat than they did in that game.
24. New Jersey (18): After putting together a good run that put them into contention for a playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division, the Devils lost three in a row. Backup goalie Cory Schneider, who was challenging Martin Brodeur for the No. 1 spot early in the season, is not at all happy with his lack of playing time. Neither is Damien Brunner, a free agent signing from Detroit in the off-season who was a healthy scratch for a 4-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes Wednesday night.
25. Calgary (29): With four games coming up against tough Western Conference opponents, things did not get any easier for the Flames after losing rookie Sean Monahan and defenseman Dennis Wideman for extended periods of time. Monahan was hurt when he was hit by a Wideman shot in practice Nov. 21, but just discovered a hairline fracture. Wideman has a broke bone in his hand and will be out for two months.
26. Columbus (22): The Blue Jackets followed up their best effort of the season in a 6-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs with a rather uninspired one in a 4-0 loss to the Nashville Predators. The Blue Jackets, who have been plagued with injuries this season, claimed Corey Tropp off waivers from the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday.
27. Florida (26): In 10 games under new coach Peter Horachek, a revived Scottie Upshall has three goals and eight points and shares the team lead in scoring with Brad Boyes. Unfortunately, a lot of the Panthers have not followed Upshall’s lead. Horachek has a respectable 4-5-1 record in his first 10 games with the Panthers, but they’re still giving up too many goals.
28. NY Islanders (23): All right, can we acknowledge now that we vastly overestimated and overhyped this team? With four straight losses in which they’ve given up 17 goals, the Islanders are officially in a freefall. When you’re seven points out of a playoff spot, that’s bad. When you’re seven points out of a playoff spot in the undisputed worst division in hockey, that’s putrid.
29. Edmonton (28): After watching the Oilers put together their first three-game win streak of the season, my thn.com colleague Brian Costello predicted the Oil would bounce back with a turnaround in the second quarter of the season. Then they went out and lost 5-1 to the defending champions on home ice. Ilya Bryzgalov is expected to get his first start as an Oiler Thursday night against the Nashville Predators, but Nail Yakupov, whose play has improved significantly lately, might miss the game after banging up his knee.
30. Buffalo (30): The Sabres are so bad that they’ve approached thn.com about signing a long-term lease for the No. 30 spot in our Power Rankings. Pat LaFontaine and Ted Nolan might prove to be a breath of fresh air when it comes to the long-term future, but Nolan’s team has lost five straight since he won his return debut with the Sabres.