NHL Power Rankings: Does Sidney Crosby's Return Push Penguins to No. 1?

Andre Khatchaturian@AndreKhatchCorrespondent IIIMarch 15, 2012

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 31:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins listens to a reporter's question during a press conference held before the game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Pittsburgh Penguins on January 31, 2012 at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Crosby addressed the media concerning his injuries.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Teams in the NHL use the trading deadline as a means to upgrade their team. 

The Pittsburgh Penguins do things differently. They win nine in a row without their superstar and then wait for him to come off the injured reserve with 14 games left in the schedule.

Although they don't get a boost up to No. 1 just yet, they could very well be up there by next week if they continue this stretch. 

Meanwhile, cross-state Philadelphia is looking dangerous every game. Ilya Bryzgalov seems to have solved his problems in net. Other hot teams to look out for in the East are Washington and Buffalo.

In the West, the Sharks and Kings are tumbling out of the playoff picture, while Colorado is heating up at the right time. 

Finally, the St. Louis Blues are still on top of the NHL and approaching the century mark.


1. St. Louis Blues (Last week: No. 1)

The St. Louis Blues are literally running away with the Central Division. They've opened up a seven-point lead with less than a month to go. 

Their schedule the rest of the way isn't too daunting other than a few divisional battles against Chicago, Nashville and Detroit. 

That being said, it's impressive to see what the Blues have done in the league's most difficult division. Getting 98 points with three weeks left in the season in the Central is a far bigger accomplishment than doing the same thing in the Southeast. 


2. Pittsburgh Penguins (Last week: No. 2)

The timing of Sidney Crosby's comeback couldn't have been better. They trail the New York Rangers by six points with a game in hand. If they win the extra game and defeat New York tonight, they'll find themselves two points behind the conference lead.

Also, with Crosby's return, it'll be interesting to see who plays on his line. Chances are the Kunitz-Malkin-Neal line will stay intact and Crosby will play alongside Pascal Dupuis and Steve Sullivan.


3. New York Rangers (Last week: No. 3)

The Rangers bounced back nicely from their three-game losing skid with two wins over the lowly Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders. They face a true test tonight against Pittsburgh for Eastern Conference supremacy.


4. Nashville Predators (Last week: No. 7)

Nashville plays seven of their next nine on the road. They have two games in hand on the Detroit Red Wings, and the way their defense and goaltending has been playing all year long, it's conceivable to see the Predators take home ice in the first round.


5. Vancouver Canucks (Last week: No. 4)

After defeating the Blues, the Canucks have hit a little bit of a hiccup, losing four of their last five. What's most troubling is that these losses have all been at home and Luongo has allowed 16 goals in his last four starts without a win.


6. Philadelphia Flyers (Last week: No. 8)

The Flyers are finally getting what they paid for in Ilya Bryzgalov. They didn't pay him all that money to be a philosopher. Now, he's talking less universe and stopping more pucks and has recorded four shutouts in his last five starts. 

He's also only allowed two goals in that same stretch.


7. Detroit Red Wings (Last week: No. 5)

The Red Wings have lost four in a row on the road and are just 3-6-1 in their last 10 games. They now find themselves seven points behind St. Louis and would probably just be happy with the fourth seed at this point. 


8. Chicago Blackhawks (Last week: No. 9)

Two huge wins over the New York Rangers and St. Louis Blues gives Chicago a plethora of confidence heading into the postseason.


9. New Jersey Devils (Last week: No. 10)

The Devils have recorded points in six of their last eight games and won five of their last seven. They're still hanging in there in the Atlantic, but they have to like their positioning at No. 6 because they'll play the weak Southeast winner in the first round at that spot. 


10. Boston Bruins (Last week: No. 6)

We've mentioned in previous rankings how Boston is playing too complacently and just waiting for the playoffs to start. They really need to get their act together, though. Ottawa find themselves within striking distance for the Northeast Division lead, and all of a sudden, they lost Tuukka Rask.

Things aren't as easy as they once were for the defending champs.


11. Dallas Stars (Last week: No. 11)

The Stars finally lost, but their hot streak has continues as they widen their Pacific Division lead. They're 10-1-1 in their last 12.

Michael Ryder has been a major reason why the Stars have played so well. He's scored a point in 16 of his last 18 games.


12. Phoenix Coyotes (Last week: No. 13)

The Coyotes have points in each of their last four games. Nothing is safe, though. They only have a three point lead against the San Jose Sharks, who also have a two game lead on the Desert Dogs. 


13. Ottawa Senators (Last week: No. 12)

The Senators have opened up a seven-point lead over ninth-seeded Buffalo. They currently hold the No. 7 seed in the East, but are only one point behind the Boston Bruins.

The fact that the Senators could win a division this season is a testament to their hard work, but also shows how weak the Eastern Conference is this season. 


14. Florida Panthers (Last week: No. 15)

With Washington heating up, Florida find itself in a situation where they constantly have been keeping pace with the Capitals. So far, they've been doing that. However, don't be surprised if the Capitals take over the division lead for good by the end of this week.


15. Washington Capitals (Last week: No. 16)

The Capitals have won four in a row, albeit it was against mostly non-playoff teams and a struggling Boston team. They find themselves on a huge five-game road trip currently, and they need to continue their hot streak in order to capture the Southeast Division.


16. Colorado Avalanche (Last week: No. 21)

The Avalanche have won five of their last six, and as a result, they find themselves in the playoff picture.


17. San Jose Sharks (Last week: No. 14)

Like the Capitals, the Sharks haven't been able to get any sort of hot streak in a division they should have secured a long time ago.


18. Calgary Flames (Last week: No. 18)

The Flames still find themselves on the outside looking in, but they have two games in hand on the Avalanche.


19. Los Angeles Kings  (Last week: No. 17)

The Kings defeated the Blackhawks and Red Wings this week. Their problem isn't the gap separating them between the No. 8 seed; it's the number of teams that are in front of them. The Kings absolutely need to start playing their best hockey of the year if they're going to make the playoffs.


20. Buffalo Sabres (Last week: No. 20)

The Sabres are still within striking distance in the Eastern Conference. Washington has heated up and taken the No. 8 seed, but the Sabres have a trio of winnable games this week, including one against the Florida Panthers that they absolutely need to win. 

Time is running out for the Sabres, but making the playoffs is very much a reality. 


21. Winnipeg Jets (Last week: No. 19)

The Jets have two massive games against the Capitals in the next eight days. They're only four points behind Washington and five behind Florida for the division lead. They're great at home, but need more consistency on the road. Same old story.


22. Tampa Bay Lightning (Last week: No. 22)

A pair of losses on their Western Canadian road trip has pretty much ended the Lightning's season, as they find themselves seven points behind Washington. 


23. Anaheim Ducks (Last week: No. 23)

The Ducks came away winless on their three-game road trip. Now, they just have to wait until the draft and wonder what could've been if they had just played better in the first half of the season. 


24. New York Islanders (Last week: No. 25) 

The team needs to relocate to the Southeast and play in that division. There's just too much talent in the Atlantic for them to ever make the playoffs. 


25. Carolina Hurricanes (Last week: No. 26)

This will be the third consecutive season that the Hurricanes fail qualify for the playoffs. It will be the longest consecutive stretch for the Canes since they relocated from Hartford.


26. Montreal Canadiens (Last week: No. 28)

Good for the Habs, who are trying to end a dismal season on a positive note.


27. Toronto Maple Leafs (Last week: No. 24)

The misery continues.


28. Minnesota Wild (Last week: No. 27)

It'll be interesting to see if Mike Yeo keeps his job after such a great start, but even more atrocious finish.


29. Edmonton Oilers (Last week: No. 29)

The Oilers have nothing to play for except to build momentum for next season.


30. Columbus Blue Jackets (Last week: No. 30)

And the Blue Jackets go back to their losing ways, dropping three straight after winning four in a row.


Power Rankings History: Dec 13-19 | Dec 20-26 | Dec 27-Jan 4 | Jan 5-11 | Jan 12-18 | Jan 19-26 | Jan 31-Feb 14 | Feb 15-22 | Feb 23-29 | March 1-9


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