If the Penguins keep winning at their current pace, they could set a franchise record for points in a season. The Walking Birds are soaring, while the Ducks, who have occupied No. 1 for much of the season, seem to be temporarily grounded.
For the first time this season, an Eastern Conference team finds itself at the top of our weekly Power Rankings. Behind the stellar goaltending of Marc-Andre Fleury (your bad, Canadian Olympic team) and lots of firepower, the Pittsburgh Penguins are on a roll with two games remaining before the Olympic break. (Last week’s rankings in parentheses.)
1. PITTSBURGH (4): The Penguins notched their 40th victory in just their 57th game of the season – a 5-1 win over Buffalo Wednesday night – a mark that set a new franchise record. That put the Penguins on pace for 118 points this season, which would be one short of the franchise record established in 1992-93.
2. CHICAGO (5): The Blackhawks have picked up at least a point in each of the five games in their current road trip. Bryan Bickell, who has struggled mightily this season, was a healthy scratch in three of four games before scoring a goal in the Blackhawks win over Los Angeles Monday night.
3. ANAHIEM (2): The team that couldn’t lose on home ice has suddenly morphed into a team that can’t win on home ice. The Ducks have lost three straight and four of their past five at the Honda Center. Even though the Ducks are still in first overall in the NHL and have the league’s best goal differential, they have not looked particularly good lately.
4. BOSTON (3): With back-to-back wins over Edmonton and Vancouver, the Bruins improved their record to 13-4-3 against Western Conference teams. Their 29 points against the west is more than any other team in the Eastern Conference. The top line of David Krejci between Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla has combined for 18 points in the past five games. The Bruins face their last two games prior to the break without defenseman Zdeno Chara as he carries Slovakia’s flag in the opening ceremonies.
5. ST. LOUIS (1): The Blues goaltending has looked pretty leaky of late – no more than it did in a 5-4 shootout loss to Ottawa Tuesday night – to the point where there is a very real possibility the Blues will make a serious pitch for Ryan Miller before the trade deadline. Vladimir Sobotka fractured his kneecap last Friday night and will be out for at least a month, which means he’ll have to sit out the Olympics.
6. SAN JOSE (7): Martin Havlat scored his first points since December when he contributed a goal and an assist in the Sharks 2-1 overtime win over Dallas Wednesday night. One area of concern is the Sharks have not scored more than two goals in a game in their past six.
7. COLORADO (6): The Avs put in one of their worst performances of the season in a 5-1 loss to the Rangers Tuesday night, a game which snapped a four-game winning streak. After sitting out two games with a shoulder injury in January, Ryan O’Reilly has rebounded with seven goals and 12 points in his past 12 games.
8. NY RANGERS (11): Led by all-world goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers have been the hottest team in the league with four straight wins and a 7-3-0 record in their past 10 games. But there always seems to be a soap opera around the Rangers, the latest of which is whether or not they will trade captain and heart-and-soul player Ryan Callahan before the trade deadline. Callahan has made it clear he wants to stay in New York, but is not willing to take a hometown discount this summer.
9. TAMPA BAY (8): With Steven Stamkos out for at least another two or three weeks, the Lightning will have to soldier on longer without one of the league’s most dynamic scorers. Lightning rookies Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, Radko Gudas and Ondrej Palat, the last of whom was the NHL’s rookie of the month in January, have done a very good job filling in.
10. MINNESOTA (9): The moment Thomas Vanek turned down a seven-year deal with the Islanders, speculation began to mount about the Wild’s chances of getting him at the trade deadline. Ryan Miller is also prominently mentioned as a trade target for the Wild, a team that has held its head above water despite lengthy absences from Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Josh Harding.
11. TORONTO (10): Just when you’d thought the Maple Leafs had turned the corner, they give up 47 shots and are outshot by 26 against one of the worst teams in the league. On the plus side, Phil Kessel has been all-world lately and is giving every impression that he can be the kind of star around whom a franchise can build.
12. MONTREAL (14): The Canadiens finally ended their stretch of terrible play with a 2-0 victory over Calgary Tuesday night. And they did it largely because of Carey Price, who has been their undisputed best player this season while emerging as the odds-on favorite to be Canada’s No. 1 goaltender in Sochi.
13. COLUMBUS (22): After a brief dip in their play when they lost three in a row, the Blue Jackets have come back strong with three straight wins, including one over Anaheim on the road, in which they’ve score a total of 13 goals. The Blue Jackets have a real chance to prove their mettle prior to the Olympic break with road games against Los Angeles and San Jose before closing out their pre-Olympic schedule in New Jersey.
14. PHILADELPHIA (16): The Flyers took two of three on a road swing through California behind the play of captain Claude Giroux, who is the frontrunner to replace Steven Stamkos on the Canadian Olympic team. The Flyers have improved significantly on the defensive side of the game, giving up two or fewer goals in four of their past five games.
15. LOS ANGELES (13): The Kings finally got a little of their scoring mojo back when they put three in the net Monday night, but gave up five in a loss to Chicago on home ice. The Kings have lost nine of their past 10 and are suddenly in a free fall. You’d have to think GM Dean Lombardi will be looking for scoring at the deadline, with former King Matt Moulson as one of the likely targets.
16. WINNIPEG (23): The Jets are finally playing to their potential under new coach Paul Maurice, going 9-2-0 since he replaced Claude Noel and winning five of six on the road. Maurice has allowed the Jets to play a more aggressive style and it’s showing. Defenseman Jacob Trouba, as he did on the winning goal Tuesday night against Carolina, is jumping into the play and playing with confidence.
17. DETROIT (19): The Red Wings have picked up points in four of their past five games and seemed to have rediscovered their offensive touch. Captain Henrik Zetterberg, who missed two games with back problems, has been the driving force with two goals and 12 points in his past seven games.
18. PHOENIX (12): The win-one-lose-one Coyotes haven’t been that bad lately, but they have been inconsistent. In the past four games, the Coyotes have picked up big wins over Los Angeles and Pittsburgh, but followed those up by giving away valuable points in losses on home ice to Buffalo and Dallas.
19. DALLAS (20): The Stars will likely go into the Olympic break in the thick of the playoff race in the Western Conference. They certainly helped themselves by picking up points in each of a three-game road swing against Anaheim, Phoenix and San Jose. Tyler Seguin has led the way with points in each of his past seven games, amassing totals of 3-8-11 during that stretch.
20. OTTAWA (21): The Senators were talking about their 5-4 shootout win over St. Louis Tuesday night as their biggest win of the season. Star defenseman Erik Karlsson’s play has been a little up-and-down of late, but he still leads all rearguards in scoring by a comfortable margin with 53 points in 57 games.
21. VANCOUVER (10): The return of John Tortorella behind the bench did nothing to improve the Canucks play. They’ve lost five in a row and are trending downward in every way. Neither Daniel nor Henrik Sedin has scored a goal in the past 17 games, the longest stretch the twins have gone dry in their careers.
22. CAROLINA (18): Hurricanes goalie Anton Khudobin matched the franchise record for wins in a month with 10 and was named the NHL’s first star of January for his efforts. Unfortunately, Khudobin cannot play on the power-play unit, which is 3-for-31 in the past 11 games and failed to register a shot in 51 seconds of 5-on-3 time against Winnipeg Tuesday night.
23. NASHVILLE (26): The Predators haven’t played since losing 4-3 in a shootout to St. Louis last Saturday. Losing in shootouts has been no stranger to Nashville, who are 1-7 in the skills contest this season and could very well point to their lack of success in shootouts to the fact they almost certainly won’t make the playoffs this season.
24. WASHINGTON (17): The Capitals dip in penalty-killing success has unfortunately coincided with their penchant for taking more penalties. The Capitals have won just three of their past 10 games and in each of those seven losses, they were shorthanded four or more times in the game.
25. NEW JERSEY (27): The Devils have lost three of their past four, with two of those losses coming in overtime. Losing those games in overtime simply allowed the Devils to avoid losing in the shootout. No team has been as bad in shootouts as the Devils have this season. They’ve gone 0-for-8, but more remarkably Reid Boucher is the only Devil who has scored a shootout goal this season, despite the Devils taking 25 shots.
26. CALGARY (24): The Flames had a five-game win streak halted in a 2-0 loss to Montreal Tuesday night, but with the exception of that game, the Flames have been scoring lots of goals and playing an upbeat style of game. Kudos to the Flames for continuing to play with some vigor in what has been a terrible season for them.
27. EDMONTON (25): The Oilers only loss in the past five games was against Boston over the weekend. And they managed to win (lose?) the Aaron Ekblad Sweepstakes game when they defeated Buffalo on the road Tuesday night. That put them six points ahead of the Sabres in the race for last overall in the NHL standings.
28. NY ISLANDERS (29): Let the Thomas Vanek Sweepstakes begin. Losers of five straight before a 1-0 win over Washington Tuesday night, the Islanders will undoubtedly be looking for a big return for Vanek. And the fact that they can take on half of his $5.75 million cap hit with them, and there are teams looking for scoring, should give them that.
29. FLORIDA (28): The Panthers are allowing fans to cash in losing lottery tickets in exchange for tickets for their games, which means those fans usually receive the unique opportunity to experience defeat twice on the same ticket. That, however, was not the case Tuesday night when the Panthers fired 27 shots in an impressive 4-1 over Toronto. The win was Tim Thomas’ 15th of the season, which triggered a $250,000 performance bonus.
30. BUFFALO (30): The Sabres have been outscored by a 15-4 margin in their past three losses and have a 2-6-2 record in their past 10 games. Goalie Ryan Miller is resigned to the face he will be moved by the trade deadline. But don’t forget about pending UFAs Steve Ott, Matt Moulson and Henrik Tallinder.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. To read more from Ken and THN’s other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.