Photo: Evgeni Nabokov and the San Jose Sharks look down on the competition with their NHL-leading 63 points.
The NHL has been full of stories this season. From Sean Avery becoming the Dallas Stars sloppy seconds, to Tim Thomas' amazing goaltending for the Boston Bruins, the beginning of the 2008-09 season has been quite a ride.
It appears as though, finally, the San Jose Sharks may have a team that can get them over Lord Stanley's hump, but first they will have to face the ever dangerous Red Wings and an Eastern Conference power like Boston, Philadelphia, or Montreal.
2008 was seemingly the year of goaltenders. Steve Mason, Tim Thomas, and Evgeni Nabokov took their respective teams on their backs, while other teams netminders seem to be to blame for their teams' lack of winning.
For some teams, there is plenty of success to be built on. For others the hour glass is quickly draining on a chance at the playoffs.
1. San Jose Sharks
The Sharks hold the number one spot on this Power Rankings due to their sheer depth, talent, and amazing year thus far in the NHL. The Sharks have dominated the first half of the season and will likely continue to do so.
The Sharks' success has largely been due to offseason acquisitions on the blue line like Rob Blake and Dan Boyle. Additionally, stellar play in the net by Evgeni Nabokov has helped bolster the teams defensive zone presence.
On offense, the Sharks have dominated all season scoring 130 goals while only allowing 90 goals scored against them. This margin is the second largest in the NHL, second only to the team who holds our second position.
For the Sharks to truly yield success in the fall they must continue to develop their depth, especially as the injury bug continues to hit as the season wears on. Moreover, the Sharks must remain confident in their season totals, while at the same time not letting it sink in that only success can come from such a tremendous season.
2. Boston Bruins
The Bruins are having an amazing first half and are truly the first real surprise of the season. Both San Jose and Boston have run away with the power rankings and should continue to lead the NHL right up to the playoffs.
The B’s owe their success to the tremendous play of goaltenders Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez in the net (the pair were named co-recipients of the NHL's "First Star" award for December) and their stingy defense.
Boston can brag about scoring the most goals at 143, while allowing the least at 88. The Bruins amazing goals for average is in large part due to the stellar play of Marc Savard (49 points), David Krejci (41 points), and Phil Kessel (40 points).
While San Jose can boast the most wins at home in the NHL, the winning on the road award goes to Boston who yields a 15-4-3 road record, placing them at number one away from Bean town.
Boston will likely not run into many issues in-conference until the playoffs, and will likely see their success carry them deep into the playoffs. A talented team like this must begin looking to the Western Conference for their challenges and set their sights on San Jose and Detroit as the gold standard of competition for them.
3. Detroit Red Wings
The 2008 Stanley Cup champs are none too worried about chasing the San Jose Sharks for number one in the conference, they know the depth and talent they yield, and feel confident in their abilities come playoff time, as they should.
Detroit is basically the same team as last year, boasting talented, consistent goaltending in both starter and backup as well as a veteran defense that can wear down any team. Detroit’s forwards effortlessly break down other teams' defenses, especially the always talented Marian Hossa who boasts 37 points with his new employer.
The Red Wings may hold the third spot, but don’t be fooled by this team’s killer instinct come playoff time. If any team in the NHL can dismantle the San Jose Sharks it is Detroit.
4. Washington Capitals
The Caps saw an early exit from last year’s playoffs but thanks to impressive goaltending, solid defense, and great scoring, the Caps are deep in the thick of the fight this season.
Solid goal scorers like Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Niklas Backstrom propel the team offensively, while veteran leadership emulates from the young Mike Green. Green, a solid defensive threat also produces as the Capitals top defenseman scorer. Jose Theodore has led Washington in net, and while boasting a seemingly high goals against average, he is still claiming wins.
Going forward, the Capitals must find scorers when the superstars like Ovechkin and Backstrom are shut down in games. Scoring may win games, but scoring depth wins championships.
5. Chicago Blackhawks
Young talent like Patrick Kane and rookie Kris Versteeg has reinvented the Blackhawks' image, not only in Chicago, but the NHL. Having held an amazing Winter Classic, as well as playing a top team in the Detroit Red Wings showed the world the talent and speed this team has.
Boasting a two-goalie system so far this season, the Hawks’ haven’t had the usual need to choose a number one. If two works, why fix it? Nikolai Khabibulin and Cristobal Huet add stability and depth in the crease, while great defensemen in Brian Campbell and Duncan Keith protect the net-minder.
The Hawk’s only major issue in the first half of the season has been Division rival Detroit, if Chicago can figure out how to beat Detroit they are more than capable of finding themselves number three in the conference come playoff time.
6. Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers are one of the most offensively gifted teams in the NHL. Scoring talents like Simon Gagne, Jeff Carter, and Mike Richards lead this team to success night in and night out. Solid defense and goaltending also have the Flyers rated this high, but for the Flyers to go chasing a Stanley Cup, improvement in the defensive zone is needed.
The Flyers seem highly dependent on goal and points leader, Jeff Carter. If he were to get injured, I can’t help but think this team would stumble and tumble down the standings. The goaltending is solid but needs to be even more stable come playoff time.
For Philly, success may not come this year, but their team seems poised for greatness in the coming years, making them a team worth watching.
7. Calgary Flames
If this power ranking were rated on goaltending alone Kiprusoff and the Flames would hold a top spot. Jerome Iginla yet again has the Flames on fire with 46 points, and first year Flame, Mike Cammalleri, has amassed 34 points. Even Todd Bertuzzi, who in Anaheim rarely ever saw his name on the scoresheet is producing this year by contributing 30 points to his new team.
Dion Phaneuf is the ever present leader on defense, and his numbers are flawless. However, outside of Phaneuf I worry the Flames don’t have the talent to truly shut down a team as talented as San Jose or Detroit. A team can’t bank on stellar goaltending and scoring alone to win games.
With Vancouver nipping at Calgary’s heels for the Northwest Division title, Calgary must seize every game against the rival Canucks. Beating the Canucks as much as possible should ensure a Division crown and a top three spot in the playoffs.
8. New York Rangers
The Rangers were top dog in the Eastern Conference, and could easily climb back into that spot, but first they must win their division. Philadelphia only recently took over top spot in the Atlantic, but the Rangers haven’t seemed motivated to hold the spot for some time.
Markus Naslund has fit in nicely with his new team, and if Wade Redden could find the net more he would likely be back to his old form again. Good news for Redden is he has been solid defensively in helping make Henrik Lundqvist’s job of protecting the net easier.
For the Rangers to be in the best place possible come spring, they must beat the Flyers for the Atlantic Divison, and find what made this team click early on, to get back up into contention against top-team Boston.
9. Montreal Canadiens
While the Canadiens may boast more All-Stars than they deserve, this team is filled with talent. Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak form a two-headed monster in net for Les Canadiens, with Alex Kovalev and Robert Lang leading the team in veteran leadership and points.
Alex Tanguay has fit in nicely with his new team, recording 10 goals and 16 assists for 26 points.
The two issues for Montreal are a lack of defensive depth, and having to chase Boston for the rest of the season. Montreal is a better team than they are rated thus far, and can reach full potential, but first they must find the fire they possessed late last season.
10. Vancouver Canucks
Even with goaltending injuries, the Canucks are still finding ways to be successful. Adding Jason Labarbera from the Los Angeles Kings, adds tremendous depth while Roberto Luongo gets healthy.
The Sedin twins lead this team offensively, with the defense being led by Kevin Bieska. The addition of Pavol Demitra has helped this team be a dangerous force offensively and adding veteran Mats Sundin will only help the cause.
If Vancouver can find ways to beat the Calgary Flames on the schedule, they can likely take over the Division and ride high into the playoffs, but only if this team can get its best player in Luongo back.
11. New Jersey Devils
To say the Devils are dangerous is an understatement. Even without injured veteran, Martin Brodeur, the Devils have been able to count on the goaltending talents of Scott Clemmensen.
Zach Parise, Patrick Elias, and Brian Gionta lead this team offensively, and all three are making the team around them better. Depth is everything to this team. If the defense can get even stronger, this team could be very dangerous come playoff time.
12. Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks are one of the most dangerous teams offensively in the Western Conference. With Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry leading the way, this team finds the net often. Veteran stability and leadership seeps from the pores of Teemu Selanne and Scott Neidermayer who each add amazing talent to this roster.
J.S. Giguere and Jonas Hiller form an amazing goal tandem, making the Ducks one of San Jose’s biggest threats. The blueline depth is a little weaker than past years, but is still among the best. Young stud Bobby Ryan, nearly a point a game player, is showing the Ducks organization he deserved to be drafted in 2005 behind Sidney Crosby.
The Ducks face a hard division going forward. With Dallas improving and San Jose still running away with the top spot, the Ducks must battle hard to ensure they finish second.
13. Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres are riding high on the goaltending talents of Ryan Miller, who is always expected to have a bust year but always comes out strong. Additionally, Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy lead Buffalo with 35 points in 39 games. Vanek leads the goal scoring with 26, while Roy proves to be the teams leading assist-getter.
The Sabres may be in a tough division, with Boston and Montreal both ahead in the standings, but the Sabres do have the tools to win. The key focus for Buffalo going forward must be to stay healthy and to protect Miller.
14. Pittsburgh Penguins
With scoring threats Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, the Penguins still can't get out from under the weight of the Flyers and Rangers, pushing the team to this lower tier spot.
Outisde of Malkin (60 points) and Crosby (50 points), there is a huge drop off. Peter Sykora boasts 29 points in 36 games, which isn’t bad at all. Goaltending has served as a dramatic point since an injury early on for Marc-Andre Fleury forced the Pens to find out how deep they truly were in the crease.
The Penguins are still good, but not like last season. Unfortunately the shadow of the Flyers and Rangers is too much. The Penguins should focus on trying to win the second spot in the conference between now and April to ensure a good spot in the playoffs.
15. Carolina Hurricanes
With Ray Whitney leading the team in points and Eric Staal returning to his true form with 30 points, the Canes’ are a formidable team in the Southeast Division. Cam Ward has been strong in net, and with great defensemen like Dennis Seidenberg the Canes’ can feel comfortable going forward.
With Washington all but running away with the Division lead, the Hurricanes must focus on ensuring they claim second spot and stay strong enough for a playoff position. They have the team that could play a Cinderella come playoff time.