We've hit the unofficial halfway mark in the season, and the Detroit Red Wings are on fire.
Despite losing 7-2 to the Montreal Canadiens in the last game of the first half, the Wings have torched the rest of the NHL. Because of this, they take the No. 1 position in this week's power rankings, dethroning the Boston Bruins who have hit a rut recently.
Another team that's white hot are the Sidney Crosby-less Pittsburgh Penguins.
Evgeni Malkin has raised his game to another level, allowing the Penguins to win seven straight heading into the break. A few injuries to the All-Star team has allowed Penguins stars Kris Letang and James Neal to break the roster.
Here are the power rankings for the final week of the first half:
1. Detroit Red Wings (Last week: No. 3)
Winners of 17 straight at home, the Red Hot Wings have been led by Jimmy Howard, who has 30 wins already in the regular season along with a stellar 2.03 GAA.
What's most stunning is that they don't have a single 20-goal scorer heading into the break. They have a balanced scoring attack, though. All four lines can score. They have eight guys with at least 10 goals, and Henrik Zetterberg shockingly isn't one of them.
Their balanced attack, coupled with home-ice advantage in the playoffs can be a lethal combination for the Red Wings.
2. New York Rangers (Last week: No. 2)
The New York Rangers defeated the Boston Bruins finally getting past them in the rankings. However, Detroit's surge has been more impressive, and the Rangers sit at the two-hole again.
With Henrik Lundqvist playing so well in net, it won't be a surprise to see the Rangers take over the No. 1 spot sooner rather than later.
They had stunning victories against the Bruins and the Nashville Predators this week, both huge tests for a team that's playing with plenty of momentum heading into the break.
3. Boston Bruins (Last week: No. 1)
Despite still having the best goal differential in the league, (by a lot) the Bruins fall to No. 3 because of losses to the Rangers, and Capitals make them fall to No. 3. Their win against the Flyers could've very easily been a loss too as it was in a shootout.
The Bruins aren't as hot as they used to be but don't be surprised if they catch fire again in the second half.
On a side note, what a great country we live in where a professional athlete can criticize the president and the government and get away with it. Whether you agree with him or not, Tim Thomas' use of freedom of speech exemplified that we are blessed to live in a great country like the United States.
One thing's for sure: there's no way Thomas gets away with that in Ancient Rome.
4. Vancouver Canucks (Last week: No. 3)
I have two friends who are twins, and they had identical high school GPAs and identical SAT scores.
Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin have 52 and 51 points, respectively. Eerie.
5. Nashville Predators (Last week: No. 8)
The Nashville Predators have won nine of their last 10 games. They defeated the Chicago Blackhawks twice in four nights this week and are on an absolute roll.
And don't get this team wrong. It hasn't been just been home cooking for this team. They've won five of six on the road.
6. St. Louis Blues (Last week: No. 5)
Despite losing in two big tests, the Blues only lose one spot. Let's give them a break; they kept it close against the Red Wings and Penguins, who are the two hottest teams in the NHL.
So far, the Blues have exceeded expectations with head coach Ken Hitchcock and don't be too surprised if Brian Elliott carries this team deep into the playoffs.
7. Philadelphia Flyers (Last week: No. 6)
Ultimately, this team will go as far as Ilya Bryzgalov lets them. Their scoring hasn't been stunted with the losses of Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, but they've allowed 142 goals at the break.
Goaltending and defense will be the big questions heading into the second half.
8. Chicago Blackhawks (Last week: No. 7)
Of all the teams in the Central Division, the Blackhawks are the least consistent. After the break, they start a nine-game road trip which will be a telling measuring stick for the team.
The road trip consists of several tough games against Vancouver, San Jose, Nashville and the Rangers.
9. Pittsburgh Penguins (Last week: No. 14)
Don't think Kris Letang matters?
The Penguins are 16-6-4 with Letang in the lineup. He's scored two goals and two assists in his return, and the Pens are on a seven-game winning streak with wins against the Rangers, Capitals and Blues.
10. San Jose Sharks (Last week: No. 9)
Overall, a solid month for the Sharks, who had a plethora of road games. They went 5-2-1 on the road this month. Great practice for the big nine-game roadie coming up in February.
11. Los Angeles Kings (Last week: No. 11)
The team is 13-7-10 in one-goal games this season. The glaring number obviously are those 10 overtime losses. They had four of those this month. They better improve in that department because there's no charity in the playoffs.
12. Washington Capitals (Last week: No. 13)
All is normal in the Southeast Division again as the Capitals take over the top heading into the All-Star break. The Caps play the Florida Panthers three times in February. The Capitals can really break open the division by winning those games.
13. Ottawa Senators (Last week: No. 10)
Looks like the Sens were a little too excited about the All-Star break and they decided to take the week off.
14. New Jersey Devils (Last week: No. 12)
The Devils did not look good in losses to the Bruins and Flyers. In fact, in the last three weeks, the only teams they've defeated have been the Jets and the Oilers.
15. Toronto Maple Leafs (Last week: No. 16)
One week this team looks great, the next week they look awful. Then the next week, they're back at it again.
The Maple Leafs have been inconsistent this month. Their goaltending has been less than mediocre all season long. James Reimer has not been the guy the Leafs believed he would be, and this can cost the team in the second half.
Goaltending matters and the Leafs don't have it.
16. Florida Panthers (Last week: No. 15)
They lead the league in overtime losses, which is a sign of trouble. There's no charity in the playoffs, and at this rate, their lack of success in one-goal games is just another problem for a team that lacks goaltending and allows more goals than they score.
17. Minnesota Wild (Last week: No. 22)
The Wild won consecutive games this week for the first time in over a month. Both of those wins came against Colorado and Dallas, which is why they're ahead of them in these rankings.
18. Colorado Avalanche (Last week: No. 18)
The Avs have been mediocre since their hot streak. They're 4-5-1 in their last 10.
19. Calgary Flames (Last week: No. 21)
The Flames have played well in their last four games. Despite losing to the Sharks twice, they were one-goal losses and hard-fought games. They also defeated the Kings and Oilers, propelling them to the top 20.
20. Phoenix Coyotes (Last week: No. 16)
The Coyotes haven't won a road game since December 21.
21. Dallas Stars (Last week: No. 19)
The Stars finally snapped their losing streak, but after weeks of mediocrity, they're heading into a slow, downward spiral.
22. Anaheim Ducks (Last week: No. 24)
The Ducks are 8-1-1 since January 6. They're probably not big fans of this All-Star break. They would've loved to continue to play with all the momentum they have.
Secret to their success? Jonas Hiller hasn't allowed more than two goals in the last seven games.
23. Tampa Bay Lightning (Last week: No. 28)
Winners of four in a row, the Bolts look to carry their momentum to the second half.
They're only nine points behind the division lead. Don't be surprised with all the scoring they have, if they have make a push for a playoff spot.
Ultimately, their weak goaltending may end up doing them in.
24. Winnipeg Jets (Last week: No. 19)
I predicted before the month that road games would give Winnipeg plenty of trouble, and they'd eventually fall back out of the playoff picture.
I was right.
25. New York Islanders (Last week: No. 23)
The Isles didn't have a single power play in both of their losses against Toronto.
26. Carolina Hurricanes (Last week: No. 26)
The Canes have points in each of their last four games. They may sit in the cellar of the Eastern Conference, but they have the talent to turn it around in the second half.
27. Montreal Canadiens (Last week: No. 25)
A 7-2 win against Detroit can be a type of victory that will get a team together for a run.
The Habs hope the All-Star break doesn't take away some of the excitement from the win.
28. Edmonton Oilers (Last week: No. 30)
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' injury has really hurt this team.
29. Buffalo Sabres (Last week: No. 27)
They finally snapped their 12-game road losing streak. This is a team that has enough talent to turn things around like the Hurricanes.
They're only 10 points out and have a goalie who has gone on tremendous hot streaks throughout his career.
30. Columbus Blue Jackets (Last week: No. 29)
I don't see this team ever moving out of this spot again.
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