Winners of six in a row, the Anaheim Ducks go into an emotional game next Monday against the Washington Capitals as the No. 1 team in our weekly rankings.
It should be an emotional return to the Verizon Center for Bruce Boudreau Monday night in his first appearance in Washington since the Capitals fired him in 2011. It might be hard for him not to say “I told you so,” to the Capitals, since his team is the hottest in the league and the one that fired him is mucking around the middle of the pack.
Thanks to a six-game winning streak, the Ducks lead our Power Rankings for this week. An Eastern Conference team makes it to No. 2 for the first time this season and the Buffalo Sabres have crawled out of the basement. (Last week’s ranking in parentheses.)
1. ANAHEIM (3): The Ducks are riding a six-game winning streak and haven’t given up more than two goals in any of those games. They’re still undefeated in regulation time at home. They have a three-game swing through the east with three very winnable games – New Jersey, the Islanders and Washington – before Christmas. The Ducks stars are getting it done, but Nick Bonino is quietly having a terrific season – already establishing career highs in goals (10), assists (15) and points (25).
2. PITTSBURGH (7): The more players who fall by the wayside with injury, the more the Penguins win games. Pittsburgh’s top four defensemen have all been healthy for just over one game this season, but they’re excelling largely because of huge contributions from Matt Niskanen and rookie Olli Maatta. The Penguins have gone 14-3-1 since the rash of injuries and are showing no signs of slowing down.
3. CHICAGO (1): The Blackhawks remain in first overall in the NHL despite long-term injuries to their No. 1 and 2 goalies. Thanks to Antti Raanta and his 7-1-1 record and their prodigious ability to score goals, the Blackhawks have more than kept their heads above water. In his bid to play for every organization in the NHL, journeyman Jason LaBarbera was traded to the Blackhawks last week and was recalled for possible duty.
4. LOS ANGELES (2): The most valuable member of the Kings organization these days might just be goaltending coach Bill Ranford. Rookie Martin Jones became the first goalie in NHL history to win his first seven starts and average one goal against in those games. The Kings have killed off 25 straight penalties and their win over San Jose Thursday night put them within a point of Anaheim for the lead in the ridiculously competitive Pacific Division.
5. ST. LOUIS (5): The Blues wisely signed Alexander Steen to a three-year deal worth $15.4 million – a great deal for the Blues – and he responded with two more goals in a 5-1 win over Montreal Thursday night. At this rate, the Blues had better hope they can somehow avoid San Jose in the playoffs. That’s because they’ve lost all three games against the Sharks this season by a combined score of 16-7.
6. VANCOUVER (11): The Canucks had points in eight straight games, seven of them wins, before losing 4-1 to Dallas Thursday night. Coach John Tortorella was not thrilled with his team’s defensive play going into the Dallas game, then watched his team give up two goals in 15 seconds in the first period. The Canucks are believed to be working on a contract extension for promising defenseman Chris Tanev.
7. BOSTON (4): Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli felt compelled to publicly disclose that he has no intention of trading Brad Marchand, who is having a miserable season offensively. But he’s not alone. In fact, Milan Lucic is the only player on the roster who has 10 or more goals so far this season. Reilly Smith, who came as part of the deal with the Dallas Stars in the Tyler Seguin, has been a pleasant surprise.
8. SAN JOSE (6): With six losses in their past eight games, the Sharks have fallen into third place in the Pacific Division. One of the big reasons for their slump has been their play away from the SAP Center. The Sharks are 2-5-0 in their past seven games on the road. Logan Couture, who was making a strong case for the Canadian Olympic team, has just two assists in his past seven games.
9. TAMPA BAY (15): As the Lightning continues to wait patiently for Steven Stamkos, the patchwork lineup keeps impressing with points in seven of their past eight games. When J.P. Cote appeared in a 4-2 win over Nashville Thursday night, it marked 2,875 between NHL games for him. His last NHL game was Feb. 4, 2006 for the Montreal Canadiens
10. COLORADO (9): Matt Duchene picked a very good time to get hot, scoring a goal and three assists in two games that were watched by executives from Canada’s Olympic team, then adding a goal and two assists in his next game for a total of three goals and four assists in three games. The Avs meanwhile, might be experiencing a renaissance on the ice, but their past two home crowds have been under 14,000.
11. MONTREAL (8): The Canadiens started a six-game Western Conference road trip with an uninspiring 5-1 loss to St. Louis Thursday night. It was a game in which Daniel Briere, who signed a two-year deal worth $8 million, was a healthy scratch. With just five goals and 10 points in 26 games, Briere is simply not providing the kind of offense the Canadiens expected when they signed him.
12. MINNESOTA (10): Goalie and team MVP Josh Harding will be out until after Christmas while he changes the treatment protocol for his multiple sclerosis, but not before he picked up back-to-back shootout wins over Columbus and Vancouver. Niklas Backstrom, who has been firmly relegated to the backup spot, started the three-game run with a loss to Pittsburgh.
13. PHOENIX (13): The Coyotes offense has suddenly dried up in a big way. They’ve scored only one goal in each of the past three games, all losses. They Coyotes were 8-1-1 against Eastern Conference team until losing in regulation to Carolina and Montreal and in a shootout to Toronto. Of greater concern is captain Shane Doan, who has missed six games with an illness. There is speculation he might have Valley Fever, an illness indigenous to the desert.
14. DALLAS (18): The Stars wish Erik Cole played against other teams the way he plays against the Vancouver Canucks. In 17 games against the Canucks, Cole has 12 goals and 17 points, including a goal and two assists in a 4-1 win over Vancouver Thursday night. Despite their strong rebound this season and their solid play of late, the Stars are still six points out of a playoff spot in the Central Division.
15. WASHINGTON (12): The Capitals gained only three of a possible six points in three games against Philadelphia and Florida. One of those losses was in a shootout, where the Capitals have picked up eight extra points this season and lost only three. Alex Ovechkin’s next goal, which we’re betting will come tonight in Carolina, will be the 400th of his career.
16. TORONTO (16): The Maple Leafs are like the little kid with the curl. When they’re good – as they were in a 7-3 win over Chicago last Saturday and a 2-1 shootout victory over Phoenix Thursday night – they’re outstanding. When they’re bad – as they were in a 3-1 loss to Pittsburgh Monday and a 3-1 loss to Florida the next night – they’re putrid. The offense has dried up somewhat, with the Leafs scoring just three regulation time goals in the past three games.
17. PHILADELPHIA (22): With points in four straight games, the Flyers are suddenly in a playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division. Claude Giroux, who has suddenly played his way back into serious consideration for Canada’s Olympic team, scored twice in the last four minutes in a 5-4 win over Columbus Thursday night. After going 2-7-0 in their first nine games under Craig Berube, the Flyers have gone 13-6-4.
18. DETROIT (14): The Red Wings had lost three in a row at home and six straight overall before beating Calgary in overtime Thursday night. Pavel Datsyuk had a goal and two points in his first game back from a concussion, then went without a point in four straight before getting three assists in the Calgary game. The Red Wings practiced outside this week at Comerica Park in anticipation of the Winter Classic Jan. 1.
19. FLORIDA (28): The Panthers are the second-hottest team in the NHL right now. Seriously. Winners of their past five and seven of the past eight, the Panthers are six points out of a playoff in the Eastern Conference and will need an enormous push in the second half of the season. They finish a four-game road trip through Canada in Winnipeg tonight.
20. NEW JERSEY (23): Martin Brodeur was in goal for successive wins over Tampa Bay and Ottawa – and picked up his 124th career shutout – but Cory Schneider is expected to start tonight against Anaheim. Off-season acquisition Ryane Clowe, who suffered a concussion Oct. 13, was hoping to play before Christmas, but it looks as though he won’t be back until early in the New Year.
21. NASHVILLE (20): Rookie Filip Forsberg is practicing again after experiencing a concussion, but goalie Pekka Rinne cannot come back fast enough for the Predators. Although Marek Mazanec and Carter Hutton have performed admirably for the Predators, this is a different team when Rinne plays in front of it. With the Predators 10 points out of a playoff spot, it might be time to pull the plug on this season.
22. WINNIPEG (19): With their only win in the past five games coming against the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets, the Jets are in the midst of a significant slump. The Jets should, however, get a boost when defenseman Zach Bogosian draws back into the lineup tonight after missing a month. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said he would like to make a move, but won’t do anything rash. This is not news.
23. CAROLINA (17): After a slow start, the Hurricanes have really come on, earning at least a point in six of their past seven games. And four of those were on the road against Western Conference teams, where the Hurricanes went 1-1-2. Jeff Skinner has certainly found his groove again. With nine goals in his past nine games, Skinner is one of the hottest goalscorers in the league of late.
24. NY RANGERS (21): The newly renovated Madison Square Garden has been a house of horrors for the Rangers this season. They’ve gone just 6-9-2 in their new digs and have lost five of their past six on a recent homestand (two of those losses have been in extra time). Newly signed goalie Henrik Lundqvist hasn’t exactly been sparkling since signing his contract and wearing state-of-the art pads. He’s given up four goals (including shootout winners) in five of his past six starts.
25. OTTAWA (25): GM Bryan Murray tore a strip off his team after its 5-2 loss to New Jersey Wednesday night, and they responded by going out and losing to the Florida Panthers the next night. He still believes the Senators can make the playoffs, but with five points between them and the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, time is running out for them. Already.
26. COLUMBUS (26): In another disastrous game in another disastrous season, the Blue Jackets blew a three-goal lead, allowed five in the third period and gave up two goals in the final four minutes to lost 5-4 to Philadelphia Thursday night. One bright spot in the season has been the play of Ryan Johansen and Cam Atkinson, two Blue Jackets who have hit double digits in goals so far this season.
27. CALGARY (24): The Flames are 2-1-2 since firing Jay Feaster and having Brian Burke take over as interim GM. Coach Bob Hartley shook up the lines prior to Thursday’s 3-2 overtime loss to Detroit, moving Curtis Glencross to a line with Matt Stajan and Lee Stempniak, a line that has worked well in the past. The Flames have a tough two games before the Christmas break – Pittsburgh on the road and St. Louis at home.
28. BUFFALO (30): These poor guys deserve a break, so our Christmas present to them is to pull the out of the basement of the Power Rankings for the first time this season. But like all good little girls and boys, they’ve earned it with some exemplary behavior, winning two in a row and gaining points in their last three games.
29. NY ISLANDERS (29): The Islanders have won just one of their past 14 games, but to be fair, their past two losses have been in overtime and a shootout. Much of the reason for the Islanders woes is they have blown nine third-period leads this season. And even worse, eight of those blown leads have occurred on home ice. GM Garth Snow has repeatedly said he will not fire coach Jack Capuano.
30. EDMONTON (27): The Oilers are in the midst of a nice little freefall, losing five in a row, scoring just six goals in those games and getting shut out twice. Young forwards Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle are the only ones producing offensively. The Oilers gave up a league-leading eighth shorthanded goal in a 4-2 loss to Colorado Thursday.