Adrian Dater: Bruins now No. 1 in NHL Power Rankings
Uninspired. Hung over. Those aren't just things that were said about me by those in my college orb. I said them about the Boston Bruins when they were ranked 29th in the Nov. 1 edition of the Power Rankings on this here site.
Ladies and gentlemen, times have changed. The defending Stanley Cup champions are back in the black and looking like gold. (I could make one pun after another for an hour if you want, but I'll stop now.)
And now, your new rankings through the games of Monday night, Dec. 5:1. Boston Bruins (17-7-1) ? They were 3-7-0 at the time of the aforementioned pronouncement. Trades rumors swirled the Hub. The team was put on the couch for the usual psychoanalysis of what happens to Cup winners the year after. Their record since: 14-0-1, their longest unbeaten streak since a 17-game run in 1983. After Monday's 3-1 win at Pittsburgh, there can be no more argument that the Bruins are again the best team in hockey. At least this week. Tim Thomas made 45 saves against the Pens, and helped beat back two 5-on-3s against Sidney Crosby and Co. Last week: 3-0-02. Pittsburgh Penguins (16-8-4) ? When Crosby collided at center ice with teammate Chris Kunitz at the end of Monday's game and stayed down for a couple seconds, the air went out of Consol Energy Center. Fortunately, The Franchise said it was "just a stinger, nothing major" involving his leg. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury let in a couple of softies in the loss and is starting to see his numbers come down a bit. Crosby has not scored a goal since potting two against the Islanders in his first game back. A concern? Not really. He's put 12 shots on net in his last two games. As long as the chances are coming, as they say in hockey, things will even out. Last week: 2-2-03. Detroit Red Wings (16-8-1) ? A hiccup in Colorado on Sunday night, but seven straight wins before that for the Winged Wheel. Their goal differential (+19, 75-56) was the best in the Western Conference (enjoy that name while it lasts, folks) and second-best in the league. Notably, Vezina Trophy candidate Jimmy Howard didn't start the game at Colorado, after 17 straight. Last week: 2-1-04. Florida Panthers (15-8-4) ? I'm starting to buy in a bit. After thinking, like many other observers, that the Cats were an early-season fluke, their numbers now firmly say otherwise. They are almost certainly not going to win the Stanley Cup, not without better goaltending, but we're inching closer to the midway point and these guys are well in place for a playoff spot. Tomas Fleischmann continues to amaze with a point pace better than one per game, close to what he averaged with the Avs last year before an illness. And how about some love for rookie coach Kevin Dineen? "He doesn't push things too much," defenseman Dmitry Kulikov told The Miami Herald. "Everyone likes him and he has the respect of the players. That's so important. We all know what he expects from us." Last week: 3-1-05. Minnesota Wild (17-7-3) ? I'm still not quite sold on these guys. They don't score a lot of goals (69 -- Chicago has 93), but they seem to believe in themselves more and more, so rookie coach Mike Yeo deserves as much praise as we can fit in here. He counts Dan Bylsma as a role model, and just like the Pens' coach did when he first took over, Yeo has gotten his players to commit to his system. Last week: 3-0-06. New York Rangers (15-6-3) ? Anyone who thought their record would be this good has a career in fortune telling ahead of them. The Blueshirts lost at home to Toronto on Monday, but showed character in making a game of it after falling behind 3-0. Brad Richards (23 points in 24 games) has officially become a rarity in recent Rangers history: a good free-agent signing. More happy news: All-Star defenseman Marc Staal (concussion) has resumed skating. Fun fact: New York is one win shy of becoming the fifth Original Six team to reach 2,500 (Chicago is only one behind). Last week: 3-1-07. Vancouver Canucks (15-10-1) ? Roberto Luongo was back starting in the net Sunday night, a 5-1 win over Calgary. He was slated to start Tuesday's game against Colorado too. In other words, Looie is again the No. 1 goalie in Vancouver. But he'd better play well, because Cory Schneider has plenty of supporters who believe he should be the top guy. This will be written about until the Canucks' last game of the season. Last week: 2-1-08. Philadelphia Flyers (15-7-3) ? Claude Giroux is going to the NHL All-Star Game. What's strange is that he doesn't seem to get any publicity despite playing in big-market Philly. Maybe that's changing. Entering Tuesday, he was just three points off the league scoring lead and could become the first Flyer to ever win the Art Ross Trophy. As coach Peter Laviolette told Philly reporters, "There's lots of good hockey players in the league, but there's always a few that take that next step and they push to become the elite players in the league. I don't think it would be shocking that Claude's done that." Last week: 2-0-09. Chicago Blackhawks (16-8-4) ? They're giving up too many goals (88 overall, tied with Columbus for most in the West). They've also scored more (93) than any team in the league. But goalie Corey Crawford's saves percentage has slipped badly of late (under .900) and on Monday against Phoenix he was pulled for the second time in three starts. Coach Joel Quenneville is not a patient man when it comes to goaltending, so there is real pressure on Crawford to get his game back together. Last week: 2-1-110. St. Louis Blues (14-9-3) ? They're 8-2-3 under coach Ken Hitchcock and just got forward David Perron back from a long concussion absence. He scored a goal in his first game back, though the Blues lost, 5-2, at home to Chicago. Power forward Chris Stewart has three-game point streak, but only four goals through his first 23 games is still a big drop from his last two seasons. He needs to step it up for this team to be for real next spring. Last week: 1-1-111. San Jose Sharks (14-8-1) ? Hard to believe that their record, if the season ended now, wouldn't be good enough to make the playoffs in the brutal Western Conference. Of course, part of the problem is they never seem to play any games. Their 23 was FIVE fewer than Chicago and Pittsburgh, for instance. It wouldn't hurt if veteran Martin Havlat (one goal in his first 19 games) got going. Last week: 2-1-012. Phoenix Coyotes (14-9-3) ? In just about every recap of the NHL's realignment, a "When the Coyotes relocate, the conferences will become balanced again" meme pervaded. Despite the continued chaos in the front office ? there's a real sense that this season could be it for Phoenix (though the league continues to say it's cautiously optimistic that a buyer will emerge) ? the Yotes keep on winning more than their share of games. Winger Radim Vrbata is quietly having an excellent campaign (11 goals, 23 points). Last week: 2-2-013. Toronto Maple Leafs (15-10-2) ? Their penalty killing is awful (27th in the league) and they've allowed as many goals as they've scored (87). But the power play ranks second (22.6 percent), James Reimer is back in goal after a concussion absence, and they bagged a nice win over the Rangers in New York. The local media got their knickers in a twist (imagine that) over coach Ron Wilson alerting them that Reimer would play Saturday (he'd said that Jonas Gustavsson would start). That led GM Brian Burke to take to Twitter and crack, "I love the quote about the liars in sports. Many gainfully employed in the media." Last week: 1-2-014. Dallas Stars (15-10-1) ? Goalie Kari Lehtonen is still at least three weeks away from returning from a knee injury, leaving veteran Andrew Raycroft as the man to keep Dallas in the upper reaches of the standings. Raycroft had a real good first couple of outings after Lehtonen's injury, but not so much in a 5-4 loss to the Isles during the weekend. Eric Nystrom, son of Islanders great Bobby, is having something of a career year at least. After scoring all of four goals in 82 games for Minnesota last season, he's got 10 through his first 21 as a Star. Last week: 1-1-015. Buffalo Sabres (14-11-1) ? Ryan Miller got hit again, this time by Nashville's Jordin Tootoo in his first game back after being hurt by Milan Lucic last month. That prompted coach Lindy Ruff to go on a rant, saying it was a "joke" what's happening to his star netminder, with no league punishment. (Tootoo later got a two-game ban.) At least the Sabres backed Miller up this time, pounding the Preds with a physical response while winning the game, 3-2. Last week: 1-2-016. Los Angeles Kings (13-9-4) ? Netminder Jonathan Quick continues to have an excellent season, but when are these guys going to start giving him some offensive support? Their 60 goals are tied for fewest in the West. At least Dustin Penner finally got one, in a 2-1 loss to Montreal on Saturday. In 34 games as King, he has three. Not bad for $4.25 million a year. Scoring won't get any easier with Mike Richards now on injured reserve (concussion). Last week: 1-1-017. Nashville Predators (12-10-4) ? They aren't playing very well: a 4-5-1 mark in their last 10 games and minus-3 goal differential overall (68-71). Most alarming, they rank 28th in shots-allowed (31.8 per game) and Ryan Suter popped off publicly about the frustration the defense corps is feeling. Newly enriched goalie Pekka Rinne is showing the effects, having been pulled in two recent games. Last week: 1-2-018. Ottawa Senators (13-11-3) ? Daniel Alfredsson still has some game at age 38 (he'll be 39 next week). Good ol' Alfie ripped one past Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson, an old-school slapper down the wall on the right side, while helping the Sens in their 4-2 win. The fact that they're in a playoff spot today is one of the season's minor miracles. Last week: 2-1-119. Edmonton Oilers (13-11-3) ? Ryan-Nugent Hopkins continues on the fast track to the Calder Trophy. The 18-year-old has posted 29 points his first 27 games, with a 21.8 shooting percentage. He'll need to keep scoring, as fellow No. 1 overall pick Taylor Hall remains sidelined with a left shoulder injury. But Hall has resumed some skating and shooting activities, a bit ahead of schedule. He could be back in a week or so if all goes well. Last week: 1-1-120. Colorado Avalanche (13-13-1) ? Center Ryan O'Reilly is quietly turning into one of the league's better two-way pivots. On a team with Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny ahead of him on the depth chart up the middle (Duchene has played some left wing), O'Reilly leads the Avs in scoring, with 21 points. His inspirational third-period play on Friday helped the Avs beat a Blues team that had been 11-0 when leading after two periods, and he followed that up with two goals in a genuinely impressive team win over Detroit on Sunday. Last week: 3-0-021. Montreal Canadiens (11-11-5) ? So, GM Pierre Gauthier said Andrei Markov's knee was "close" to full strength and the defenseman needed only "minor" surgery before returning soon. Markov is now listed as out another 4-6 weeks and the always-hot radio talk show phone lines are burning with anger at Gauthier for failing to level about Markov's condition after signing him to a three-year deal worth $5.75 million during the summer (he'd played only seven games last season). Legendary Montreal Gazette columnist Red Fisher says the Markov situation has become Gauthier's "worst nightmare." Last week: 1-1-122. Winnipeg Jets (11-11-4) ? Suddenly, they're back to .500 and near a playoff spot. No, they probably won't get one, but the already hyper-caffeinated Jets fan base is doing handstands. Goalie Ondrej Pavelec has been good of late, and so has left winger Evander Kane (six goals in his last five games). Kane, taken fourth overall in the 2009 draft, had a decent first couple of seasons in Atlanta, but was not quite what people had hoped. Now he's becoming, as Tom Wolfe would say, a man in full. Last week: 2-1-023. Washington Capitals (13-12-1) ? Remember when everyone was saying what a genius GM George McPhee was not only for heisting first- and second-round picks from Colorado for goalie Semyon Varlamov, but going out and signing veteran Tomas Vokoun for $1.5 million? By importing the mercenary goalie (who referred to himself the other day as a "team employee" -- how's that for inspiring confidence?), McPhee risked undercutting the confidence of Michal Neuvirth, and that appears to be a problem now. Neuvirth has been flat out terrible, and Vokoun just average. Meanwhile, Varlamov is one of the hotter goalies in the league right now. Last week: 1-3-024. Calgary Flames (11-13-2) ? No matter how many motivational speeches by Brent Sutter, or less-than-subtle threats from GM Jay Feaster about potential trades if things don't improve, they're still the same win-one, lose-one bunch of the past two years, with a roster full of older players who just can't seem to summon the hunger for anything much better. The Flames actually showed some spirit in a nice comeback win at Edmonton on Saturday night. Then they went into Vancouver and played a terrible game. They've actually been a bit better than earlier in the season, but that's not saying a whole lot. Last week: 2-1-125. Tampa Bay Lightning (11-13-2) ? GM Steve Yzerman said recently the Bolts didn't have as much depth as last season, and I'm not going to argue. There has been a general malaise since their near-run to the Stanley Cup Final last spring. They look interested for a period or two in, then fold when the other team fights back. Plus, the goaltending stinks. Dwayne Roloson may finally be showing his age (42) for good. Last week: 0-3-026. New Jersey Devils (12-12-1) ? On a brief Western sojourn last week, they looked positively awful. That especially includes winger Ilya Kovalchuk, who was minus-4 in a 6-1 loss at Colorado. Kovalchuk is a lazy backchecker who doesn't get his nose dirty in the tough areas. But then, the Devs knew that when they gave him $102 million. Right? Martin Brodeur didn't look much better, but he has a few more excuses than Kovalchuk. Last week: 0-3-027. New York Islanders (8-11-5) ? They've looked like a real NHL team lately. Matt Moulson certainly played a role by scoring EIGHT goals in his last four games, good enough to land the NHL's First Star of the Week honor. Moulson has become the best Canadian import on Long Island since Molson distilled the first of its cold, golden beverages in the distinctive green bottles. Last week: 2-0-128. Columbus Blue Jackets (7-16-7) ? At least they're back to respectability. It would help if Jeff Carter could stay healthy. His latest ailment is a sprained ankle. The Jackets were hoping for his return Tuesday night. The two Scotts (GM Howson, coach Arniel) still have jobs, which continues to astonish many around the league, but the Jackets have improved since their flat-line start. Last week: 1-2-029. Anaheim Ducks (7-14-5) ? Well, at least we know it was all Randy Carlyle's fault. The Ducks lost their first two games under new coach Bruce Boudreau, though one came in overtime. One has to wonder: did Boudreau jump in here just just a bit too soon? How do you go from several years in Washington, with a deep connection to the Caps community, to a team nearly 3,000 miles away and expect to push all the right buttons only 72 hours later? "Gabby" is a good man and coach, but the move smacked of desperation by GM Bob Murray. Last week: 1-1-130. Carolina Hurricanes (8-16-4) ? Well, at least we know it was all Paul Maurice's fault. Under new coach Kirk Muller, the 'Canes have looked even less able, losing their first three under their new bench boss. The play of Eric Staal has turned into one of the NHL's deepest mysteries. Few possess the kind of talent this pivot has, but his numbers (five goals, a minus-17 in 28 games) are stunning. Last week: 0-3-0http://feeds.feedburner.com/~r/rss/s...~4/HmKCXAJgVP8
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