As Bon Jovi infamously sang, we’re halfway there. Let’s see which top 15 teams in my own personal power rankings are going strong and who is just livin’ on a prayer.
1. Detroit Red Wings – The Wings may have lost an uncharacteristic three in a row last week, but with a 10-point lead in the standings over every other NHL team despite the bad week, it’s hard to deny them the top spot. Detroit has a player in the top of three out of the four offensive point-leader categories, the fewest goals against and a goaltender who is leading the league in goals against average. Enough said.
2. Anaheim Ducks – With the long anticipated return of Scott Niedermayer to the lineup to give a huge boost on a team lacking in size and experience, there doesn’t seem to be much that can stop the Ducks. Anaheim is one of three teams that have gone 8-1-1 in its last 10 games, and its scoring production has taken a turn for the better.
3. Philadelphia Flyers – The Flyers are another team that have gone 8-1-1 in its last 10 en route to playing some of the best hockey of the season. Currently battling for first place in a tight Atlantic Division, the Flyers recently blew out the conference-leading Senators by a score of 6-1. The Flyers are (knock on wood) healthy, giving incredible depth to the team. Several players have excelled in recent weeks, including Scott Hartnell, who was named to the League’s Three Stars of the Week for two consecutive weeks. Philadelphia fans finally have something to cheer about.
4. New Jersey Devils – The Devils are one of the two teams vying with the Flyers for the top spot in the Atlantic Division. While not producing a ton of goals, the Devils have allowed the second fewest goals against in the league just behind the Red Wings.
5. Ottawa Senators – Injuries seem to be catching up with the Sens, who have gone just 1-4 in their last five games. John Paddock’s Senators were embarrassed in their big loss to the Flyers Sunday, but if history holds true, Ottawa rarely stays down for long. It’ll be interesting to see how the conference-leaders can adjust to playing without Dany Heatley, who is out another four-to-five weeks with a separated shoulder, and with a less than-100-percent Jason Spezza in the lineup.
6. Montreal Canadians – Alexei Kovalev’s offensive play is heating up, leading the Habs to one of the best records over the last couple of weeks. With several teams struggling above them in the standings, the Canadians have a great opportunity to move up in the rankings.
7. San Jose Sharks – Despite an apparent lack of goal production, the Sharks are finding a way to get it done. San Jose has the best road record in the League but will have to start playing better at home if it wants to keep pace in the difficult Pacific Division and Western Conference.
8. Dallas Stars – While the Stars floundered slightly in recent play, they seem to be back to their winning ways to stay on top of the Pacific Division and League standings.
9. Pittsburgh Penguins – The Pens are another team on a huge winning streak, but their luck came to a screeching halt Friday night when captain/phenom/NHL poster child Sidney Crosby suffered a high-ankle sprain in the first period. Sid the Kid is just one of many injury-plagued Penguins, and the flightless fowl have recently had to dip deep into their farm team to call up some healthy bodies. The team’s hopes and dreams have now been put on the shoulders of the young Calder Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin to keep its place atop the competitive Atlantic Division.
10. Calgary Flames – The Flames are in contention to take over the lead in the Northwest Division, where the top four teams are within mere points of each other. Oh yeah, and they got some guy named CuJo to help between the pipes for them.
11. Phoenix Coyotes – The Great One’s Coyotes have gone 6-3-1 in recent play, bringing themselves back above the .500 mark. Phoenix is just five points out of a playoff spot and is in the midst of making a run for the postseason.
12. Minnesota Wild – The Wild has picked its pace back up in the past couple of games, picking up impressive wins over good teams such as the Red Wings, Ducks and the surging Coyotes.
13. Colorado Avalanche – It seems the injury-ridden Avs can’t catch a break lately. As if losing key players Joe Sakic and Ryan Smyth long-term weren’t enough, Colorado recently lost one of its young stars Paul Stastny to an appendectomy last week (yes, even big, grizzly hockey players are susceptible to appendicitis). Luckily, however, the Avs’ callups from their AHL affiliate have fit in well, and the goaltending tandem of Peter Budaj and Jose Theodore have left them clinging to the top spot in the challenging Northwest Division.
14. Vancouver Canucks – Vancouver hasn’t been playing its best hockey lately, and the Canucks have to step up their game if they want to hold onto their playoff spot in the West. One area to improve in: coming back from behind. The ‘Nucks are a ghastly 0-15-1 when trailing after two periods this season.
15. Washington Capitals – The Capitals are the only team here from the Southwest Division and are the only team with a winning record in the division over the past 11 games. The Caps have a new outlook on their hockey future with new Head Coach Bruce Boudreau. Lately they have looked like a team worthy of entering the race for the Cup. The Caps have gone 9-1-1 in their last 11 games and have swept the season series against the Senators. Even with two veteran players out of the lineup, including its captain, this young Washington team has a bright future for the rest of the season.