1) San Jose: After winning just three of their first seven games, San Jose has now won eight of its past 10, and Patrick Marleau is playing great hockey. For any other team this position would be a source of pride and a confidence builder. Not so in the Silicon valley where the Sharks are a perennial choker in the post season after posting strong regular seasons. So we are not going to get excited(and neither should they) about a good start.
2) Colorado: Very few, including us, figured we'd be placing the Av's anywhere near the top of the heap at any point during this NHL season, but thanks in large part to amazing goaltending from Anderson the boys from Denver find themselves tied for the Western Conference top spot. With recent losses we demoted them from the top spot, but many may have to reassess where they think they will end up as it would be difficult to imagine they will be anything less than a playoff contender
3) New Jersey: Another team that (as usual) we under estimated. Even a poor home record (3-4) can't keep them below the #3 spot. A impressive 8-0 away from The Rock says a lot about the Gum Chewers (Lemaire) squad. They are riding an impressive 8-2-0 streak in their last 10 games, which includes five straight wins. Their PP has help carry the day recently. Imagine how much better they might be if they start to win at home and with the return of Patrick Elias?
4) Calgary: Despite Olli Jokinen not contributing like many thought he would the Flame are still in the top 5 in goals/game. Jerome Iginla is playing as well as he ever has. Their PP with DION Phaneuf and Jay Bouwmeester on the points is running at a near 25% clip Add to that the goaltending of Miikka Kiprusoff and you can see why many may need to place the Flames (if they haven't already) as a serious Cup Threat!
5) Washington: Their fans might say their record is deceptive. However one can't overlook that they have the fewest regulation losses in the NHL. Jose Theodore seems to have regained his form and is carrying the team. They displayed their impressive depth against Florida last week when they scored 7 times without their 3 best offensive players: Ovechkin, Green and Semin. (Or perhaps the Panthers really suck?) They need to tighten up their PK to advance to the next level, but so far so good in the Nation's capital
6) Los Angeles: Anze Kopitar appears poised to become the player the Kings anticipated he would be. Right now he is a top the player point standings, and along with veteran Ryan Smyth is helping to carry the Kings. Drew Doughty is playing like a 10 year vet back on the defense. Now if they could learn how to kill a penalty or two and get more reliable goaltending from Quick we might have something here. All in all they are an exciting team to watch, and having a competitive team in the 2nd largest TV market is a good thing for the game.
7) Pittsburgh: The defending champs despite the loss of superstar Geno Malkin, Max Talbot, Sergei Gonchar,and Tyler Kennedy as well as Crosby not putting up big numbers (yet) still have the best record in the East! The rest of the conference better take notice also of the play of defensemen Alex Goligoski . The 24 yr old Michigan native has been a revelation on both sides of the ice. M-A Fleury has generally been solid in goal. Scary to think what they can/will do once healthy?!
8) Vancouver: After starting out the season looking awful they have turned things around rapidly in the past few weeks, going 7-3 in their last 10. If they can figure out how to win away from GM Place, they will compete for the West title. The Forsberg rumours persist. They might benefit from him, but he also could be Sundin's replacement (no help). Mean while Andrew Raycroft appears to have regained his Calder talent, helping carry the team in the absence of injured Roberto Luongo. A 936 save %, really Andy? Another team that could be formidable once healthy.
9) Philadelphia: If all games were decided solely upon special teams the Flyers would be a top the NHL. With The best power play and one of the leagues best PK units they are tough 5-4 or 4-5. That said they have been a tad inconsistent overall. Newcomers Chris Pronger and Ray Emery have contributed to the Flyer recent success, (6-3-1 in their last 10) Quietly(for Emery) he has put up good numbers. Pronger is helping to bolster one of the east's strongest defensive units. They will need players other than Carter and Richards to step up the offense a tad to be considered among the elite.
10) Chicago: In the preseason many, including us believed the Hawks were ready to become an elite team. Unfortunately off season pricey addition Marion Hossa has yet to play, and captain Jon Towes has misses most of the season with an injury. So the Hawks are having trouble scoring. Not what we expected. To make matters worse Huet in goal has only been ordinary. We wouldn't dig their graves just yet. Once healthy this team should be among the best out West and we expect they will turn things in that direction before all is said and done.
11) New York Rangers: Much like last season got off to a very hot start. Also like last year once that rush of adrenaline was gone the Blue Shirts have come back to Earth, going a very poor 3-6-1 in their last 10. Marion Gaborik has been every bit as good as the Rangers expected when they signed to Slovak to a big contract. As always though its not been his production but his brittleness that concerns us. Thus far he has missed only 2 games. If he can play 70+ a 50 goal season is possible. Also, are the Rangers in the Forsberg mix/ A good idea? Can Michael Del Zotto 1 year removed from the senior prom play a whole season as the team's PP QB?
12) Phoenix: Even playing near .500 is no small feat for the Yotes this time of year. In recent past seasons under Gretzky the desert dogs usually started off slowly only to find themselves too far out of it by the time they tuned things around in January. Ilya Bryzgalov started off the season on fire carrying the team. He has come back to reality somewhat recently, but still has solid numbers. Vets Shane Doan and Ed Jovanovski have been behind the offense which is a change from previous seasons when the Yotes relied heavily on a youth laden club. For this reason we think they will stay near .500 (or even better) throughout the season barring major injuries. Now will anyone show up to watch them?
13) Columbus: Despite a sophomore slump by goalie Steve Mason the Jackets remain right in the playoff mix out West. They will need him to regain his game for the team to stay in contention. Rick Nash is earning every penny of his new lucrative long term deal. On his way to a 50 goal campaign. If they can get regular contributions from other sources like Huselius and Chimera, etc as well as the aforementioned better goaltending they will stay right there.
14) Dallas: Much like Phoenix the Stars have played at or near .500 for much of the season. Better than we expected. Marc Crawford's group is producing goals: 3.18 per game, eighth in the NHL. James Neal is picking up where he left off in his rookie season, already with nine goals, but the main reason for the tepid success is the resurgence of Brad Richards and the strong play in net of Marty Turco. If they could somehow get decent PP/PK units they may actually compete for the playoffs.
15) Buffalo: Started off strongly, but have played inconsistently since the opening two weeks. The good news: The team has allowed the fewest goals in the NHL. Ryan Miller looks like an All star with an incredible 1.89 GA and .936 save %. The bad news: the team is having trouble scoring and their special teams have been anything but special. Injury prone forward Tim Connolly leads them in scoring. Not a good sign in our opinion. What happened to Vanek and Pominvile? If they are to compete in the East the Sabres will have to regain their balanced attack.
16) Detroit: We can't recall the Wings being anywhere but in the top 5 in any recent Power Rankings. They have 'earned' this position with a mediocre start to the season. Even a recent 'surge, going 5-2-3 has them only in 3rd place in the 'Norris' Division. As we expected goaltending has been an issue. Its not that Osgood has been bad (Backup Howard has been!), but with decreased scoring the Wings' margin for error is now minuscule compared with previous seasons. Despite this we expect them to rebound to some degree and compete for the division before all is said and done.
17) Montreal: They have yet to put together any meaningful win streak. Thankfully they have also avoided any prolonged losing skid. However the biggest red flag might be the fact that through 17 games the Habs have eight wins, and only one of them has come in regulation!! Their special teams have been anything but special, among the worst in both categories, where once they thrived in that department. The pressure is on everyone. from underachieving Scott Gomez(2 goals) to Carey price and his 894 save % to GM Bob Gainey for assembling this squad.
18) NY Islanders: Didn't think we'd see the Isles beyond the bottom 25 at any point. To their and Scott Gordon's credit they have been the hardest working team we've observed this season. Good thing as they have the weakest overall lineup. Have a very solid home record despite few fans showing up. They have but 1 win away from Uniondale. John Tavares has been what was expected. Decent numbers for a teen who is surrounded by a weak lineup. Biron/Rooson have given them enough to be competitive nightly
19) Tampa Bay: Haven't lost in regulation at home in 7. Too bad they have only 2 wins in 8 tries away from The Bay. Steve Stamkos and a sophomore slump? Apparently not as the 19 yr old has 12 goals already. Is that a misprint that Ryan Malone has 10 goals? Meanwhile reports out of TB say captain Vinny Lecavalier and his 2 goals and -4 is playing like he's regretting not being traded last summer. Biggest problem though is in goal where the expected #1 goalie Mike Smith has played below mediocre.
20) Boston: Wow, how bad have the Bruins been? Playing .500 through 16 games and with that talent has to make their fans uneasy. Their PP has been invisible thus far. Top add insult to this they are already without Marc Savard and Milan Lucic, but now forward David Krejci is out with swine flu!?! What was supposed to be their strong, point, deep balanced scoring, has yet to materialize. We can't blame their goaltending as its been reliable, but not enough to steal too many games thus far. We'd expect that once healthy the B's will surge back into the race.
21) Edmonton: The Oil have been decent/solid at Rexall Place, but a dreadful 2-5 away from home. Edmonton started strong, winning six of its first nine games, but has done a complete 180 the past two weeks losing five of six. Dustin Penner has been a bit of a revelation after being in the dog house much of last season, playing well, leading the team in goals and points (10-21). Nikolai Khabibulin hasn't been the problem, but neither has he been able to be the difference on most nights
22) Ottawa: Actually this is just about where we'd have placed the Sens in a preseason Power rankings. Not on the bottom, but not in the top 20 either. They largely have been a .500 team both at and away from Kanata. This despite Jason Spezza finally scoring his first of the season in Ottawa's 3-2 win against Tampa Bay last week. Jonathan Cheechoo is still looking for his first! Also pascal LeClaire after a decent start hasn't looked like the answer in goal for the Sens.
23) Atlanta: The Thrash have thus far survived the injury to super star Ilya Kovulchuk, playing at or near .500 since he went down. They actually have one of the better road records in the East (5-2-1), but have won but 2 in 6 tries at home. Bright spot has been Rich Peverley who has a team-best 17 points in 14 games. Meanwhile 22 yr old Czech Ondrej Pavelec is getting the lions share of work with the (annual) injury to Kari Lehtonen
24) Nashville: Might this finally be the end of the line for Barry Trotz? The Preds have an anemic attack that starts with an incredibly bad PP unit performing at 12%! Not that their PK unit is much better at 77%. When a defensemen is your biggest goal getter (Shea Weber-5) you know there's a problem. Ellis and Rinne have played adequately, but without much support they haven't been enough to keep the Preds in the playoff race.
25) Anaheim: The second best team in Southern California? That's the reality the Ducks find themselves in as the Kings are surging and they are sagging. Ominously they have 10 games at the Pond and won a mere 4 of them. J-S Guigere has clearly been demoted as the back up as Hiller has played the lions share of games and looking solid. (Trade bait?) Unfortunately the offense has been top heavy. Ryan Geztlaf has one goal! The big guy does have a ton of helpers, but they can't rely solely on Selanne-9, and Perry-11 to be the only goal scores. Might Carlyle be the fall guy?
26) St. Louis: One of the bigger dissapointments so far. They've been competative on the road, but have won but twice in 8 tries at home. They have one of the worst attacks in the NHL. When 45 year old Keith Tkachuk is your leading scorer with 9 points you know there is trouble. Unlike previous seasons when injuries could be blamed, this time they are relatively healthy. A change behind the bench, as much as JD would like to stick with Murray seems inevitable.
27) Minnesota: Thats no typo folks, the Wild are 1-8 on the road. Coupled with an anemic attack and not as tight a defense as in the past has placed them at or near the bottom of the Western Conference. The team has not transitioned well from Lemaire's close checking system to new coach Todd Richards more agressive system. So far its been a failure.
28) Florida: How bad have they been? They recently gave up 7 goals to Washington despite that team missing its 3 top offensive weapons! We wonder how they'd be doing if they'd retained Craig Anderson. Bet they are too as Scott Clemmenson has looked like the career AHL-er he was before last season! Horton and Weiss have never blossomed into the players the Panthers thought when they were drafted. Their 'make or break' season so far looks broken!
29) Toronto:Few expected the Leafs to compete much this season, but few figured they'd be among the bottom feeders either. They have more recently started to turn the corner with a 3-3-4 record in their last 10. Another team who's leading scorer is a defender, Kaberle-18. The return from injury of Phil Kessel will help the offense, but in goal things are unsettled as no one has played well and injuries have hampered both goalies the leafs were counting on before the season. The Leaf Nation will not be happy if they are a lottery pick team as that pick is owned by the rival Bruins!
30) Carolina: As FR outlined just last week things are bad in Raleigh. storm-warnings. Since that post things haven't improved as the Canes literally haven't won a game in weeks! Its almost at the point that the season is a lost cause. A far cry from what we anticipated for them.as they were four wins from playing for the Stanley Cup just six months ago! From an invisable offense, a PP going at a 12.5% clip and after initally playing well Cam Ward has been mediocre at best which has sped the skid even further. Rumours are that former cane star, and now hall of Famer Ron Francis might replace Paul Maurice before long