Every day I shake my head at how different the Eastern and Western Conferences are. If the NHL playoffs started today, only four of the Eastern Conference teams would qualify for the playoffs in the Western Conference. And aside from the Calgary Flames, all the playoff seeded teams in the Western Conference are on winning steaks.
This week the NHL Classy Power Rankings features jumps from the Ottawa Senators, New York Islanders, and, St. Louis Blues while the Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens dropped a few notches with poor play and bad losses.
NHL Classy Power Rankings – Week 16
30. Carolina Hurricanes (14-26-7, 35 pts; last week: 30)
29. Edmonton Oilers (16-26-5, 37 pts; last week: 29)
28. Toronto Maple Leafs (16-24-9, 41 pts; last week: 28)
27. Columbus Blue Jackets (18-23-9, 45 pts; last week: 23)
26. Tampa Bay Lightning (18-19-10, 46 pts; last week: 27)
For the first time in what feels like forever, the Edmonton Oilers might just knock Carolina out of 30th in the league. The Hurricanes are playing a bit better while the Oilers seem to lose every game, regardless of what the score may be after two periods. Of course, the Maple Leafs 28th position doesn’t seem to change and Tampa/Columbus aren’t going to make the playoffs this year. The only redeeming quality for these teams at this point is the upcoming draft. Ooops, sorry Leafs, I forgot you don’t have a #1 pick this year.
25. Atlanta Thrashers (21-19-7, 49 pts; last week: 23)
24. Florida Panthers (20-20-8, 48 pts; last week: 24)
23. Anaheim Ducks (22-20-7, 51 pts; last week: 21)
22. Philadelphia Flyers (23-21-3, 49 pts; last week: 18)
21. St. Louis Blues (21-19-7, 49 pts; last week: 25)
Just when I thought the Flyers had their problems figured out, they lose two in a row. Not the worst slide ever, but they need all the wins they can get right now. They still aren’t back in the playoffs yet. The two notable teams in this category are the Ducks and Blues who’ve both started playing much better recently. I’m not sure if the Blues can reproduce a similar run to last season, but for some reason, I believe the Ducks aren’t out of it (they are six points back of 8th)… yet.
20. Montreal Canadiens (23-23-4, 50 pts; last week: 16)
19. Minnesota Wild (24-22-3, 51 pts; last week: 20)
18. Dallas Stars (20-17-11, 51 pts; last week: 17)
17. New York Islanders (21-19-8, 50 pts; last week: 19)
16. New York Rangers (23-19-7, 52 pts; last week: 14)
Both New York teams have played pretty well lately and are sitting in playoffs spots, while the Canadiens, Wild, and Stars are all challenging for playoff spots. Honestly, I don’t like the odds of the Wild or Stars (at this point, they are six points back of 8th), however, Montreal are on the fringe (with the same number of points as the Islanders). In order for the Habs to get serious about flirting with the playoffs, they need to start winning games against Northeast teams. They are 7-7 against their own division and are losing critical points at an important part of the season.
15. Ottawa Senators (24-21-4, 52 pts; last week: 21)
14. Boston Bruins (23-16-8, 54 pts; last week: 15)
13. Detroit Red Wings (24-16-8, 56 pts; last week: 13)
12. Calgary Flames (26-17-6, 58 pts; last week: 6) ** playing
11. Los Angeles Kings (27-18-3, 57 pts; last week: 11)
All five of these teams are in playoff positions, and its worth noting that the Bruins, Senators, and Red Wings have all battled heavy injuries all season. The Flames don’t have the same excuse but they’ve lost three straight games. The Kings have been better of late with two straight wins in an extremely tight Western Conference.
10. Vancouver Canucks (28-18-2, 58 pts; last week: 8)
The Vancouver Canucks ended a three game winless streak with a win on Saturday against the Penguins and are 3-1-1 at GM Place this month. That’s good since four of their next six games are at home. The only regulation loss this month was against the Predators… yes… that game that featured Burrows vs Auger. The Canucks play the Oilers, Stars, and Blackhawks this week, hopefully without any more controversies or drama.
9. Pittsburgh Penguins (30-19-1, 61 pts; last week: 9)
Despite a good start to their Western road trip, the Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t end it well with an injury in Edmonton and a bad loss on Saturday in Vancouver. Marc-Andre Fleury fractured his finger during the Penguins-Oilers game and the team played Saturday’s game without an NHL goalie. The 6-2 loss shows that. Things don’t get any easier for the Penguins as they’ll play the Islanders and Capitals at home this week.
8. Colorado Avalanche (27-15-6, 60 pts; last week: 10)
The Colorado Avalanche have put together a three game win streak against some pretty good teams recently. They’ve defeated the Sabres, Flames, and Devils over the last week. Not everything is perfect in Colorado though. Forward Milan Hejduk is out 2-4 weeks with a knee injury. Fortunately for the Avalanche, their schedule isn’t too bad, starting with games against the Oilers and Predators this week.
7. Phoenix Coyotes (28-16-5, 61 pts; last week: 7)
The Phoenix Coyotes remain one of the surprise NHL teams this season with an impressive 61 points so far through 49 games. Ed Jovanovski missed a game this week due to suspension and Peter Mueller looked strong with a few nice goals. For a team who’s had great success this year without many of their young stars, it could get awfully scary for other Western Conference teams if players like Mueller can start to pick up their play.
6. Nashville Predators (29-16-3, 61 pts; last week: 11)
The Nashville Predators tore through Western Canada last week with wins over the Canucks, Flames, and Oilers. Star players in Nashville typically fly under the radar, but one player who’s caught my eye recently is winger Patric Hornqvist. Hornqvist has 19 goals this season and six of them are game winners. This is his first full season in the NHL and he’s only 23 years old. This week, the Preds face the Leafs, Coyotes, and Avalanche.
5. Buffalo Sabres (29-11-6, 64 pts; last week: 5)
The Buffalo Sabres haven’t lost a regulation game in their last 10 starts. In fact, their last regulation loss was December 23rd! I usually say this when talking about the Sabres, but they seem to get big wins with the least amount of goal scoring possible. Their leading goal scorer has 12 goals (although six players have 11 or 12 goals each) and Tim Connolly, their leading point scorer doesn’t even average a point per game (39 points in 46 games). The Sabres success this season can be centered around Ryan Miller’s terrific play and the tactics/coaching of Lindy Ruff. Kudos to the players for buying into a great system.
4. New Jersey Devils (32-11-1, 65 pts; last week: 2)
This wasn’t the New Jersey Devils best week. The team dropped two road games that were probably measuring stick games (against the Coyotes and Avalanche) and lost Patrick Elias to injury for an unknown amount of time. The Devils will look to bounce back this week when playing the Islanders, Panthers, and Canadiens.
3. Washington Capitals (30-12-6; last week: 4)
The Washington Capitals are hot, having lost only one of their last seven games. US World Junior Champion John Carlsson has recently been playing with the Capitals (and looked pretty good) and Alex Ovechkin is inching closer to the goals/point scoring lead with his hot play. It will be an interesting test this week for the Caps as they’ll play some pretty good teams in the Red Wings, Penguins, and Coyotes.
2. San Jose Sharks (31-10-8, 70 pts; last week: 3)
I can’t help but marvel at the play of Patrick Marleau this year for the San Jose Sharks. Never in a million years did I think removing his captaincy would have such a positive impact on his play. Marleau leads the NHL in goals and hasn’t looked this confident in years (or perhaps ever). It hasn’t been talked about too much, but Marleau is a UFA after this season. It will be interesting to see how the Sharks handle him and other UFA/RFAs (Setoguchi, Pavelski, Blake, Nabokov) beyond the 09/10 season. This week, the Sharks play the Flames, Kings, Ducks, and Sabres.
1. Chicago Blackhawks (34-11-4, 72 pts; last week: 1)
For two straight weeks, the Chicago Blackhawks are the top team in the NHL and in the Classy Power Rankings! This team doesn’t lose very often and it seems they always find ways to win. It’s impressive to watch, although for other Western Conference teams, it must be frustrating. By next week, I predict Chicago to have more wins than the Oilers have points. For that to happen, the Hawks must win their games against the Senators, Flames, and Canucks this week. The Hawks are in the middle of their eight game road trip and are 2-0 so far.
Stay classy, NHL rankings.