Power Ranking the 10 Best Games on the NHL Schedule for the Week of Feb. 25
The pressure is starting to build as teams try to prove that hot starts were not flukes in the NHL.
A team like the Chicago Blackhawks wants to keep its steak of not losing a game in regulation time as long as possible. The Blackhawks subscribe to the theory that it's not easy to turn the tap back on once it has been turned off, so you might as well keep the water flowing (source: Yahoo.com).
The Montreal Canadiens have risen to the top of the Eastern Conference, and they have dramatic games against two of their storied rivals.
The Canucks have played consistent hockey, but they will be tested by two key Western Conference rivals this week.
Here's our power ranking of the best 10 games of the week.
10. Phoenix Coyotes at Vancouver Canucks, Feb. 26
The Coyotes are barely on the outside looking in at the playoffs, but they have been playing much better hockey.
Head coach Dave Tippett has seen his team run off a 6-3-1 mark in its last 10 games and the Coyotes have proven over the last two seasons that they are talented and resilient.
Even though ownership issues have not come to an end, the team has done an excellent job of focusing on the task at hand once the puck is dropped. Credit captain Shane Doan for helping this team keep its mind on its collective business.
The Canucks are coming off an 8-3 pounding by the Red Wings. However, that game was simply an exception.
This is a strong, calm and veteran team. Despite their playoff devastation the last three seasons, the Canucks are playing with an eye towards the postseason and probably have as good a chance as anyone to make a run.
They need to bounce back from that painful loss to Detroit in this game. Defenseman Kevin Bieksa (groin) may not be able to play in this game. He was unable to suit up against the Red Wings.
9. Nashville Predators at Anaheim Ducks, Feb. 27
The Predators are an ultra-competitive team even if they have lost a bit in terms of star power this year.
Head coach Barry Trotz keeps his foot on the accelerator and his players are never intimidated. That's vital, considering they are playing one of the toughest and most physical teams in the league on its home ice.
While the Blackhawks have gotten all the publicity because of their undefeated start, the Ducks are playing sensational hockey and would be tough for anybody to beat in a seven-game series.
The goaltending of Viktor Fasth (8-0-0, 1.78 GAA and .933 save percentage) has been stellar. The Ducks have gotten sensational play from Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan, along with the golden oldies Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu.
8. Edmonton Oilers at Chicago Blackhawks, Feb. 25
Just how far can the Chicago Blackhawks take this thing?
They have not tasted defeat in their first 18 games. Lockout season or not, that's the longest any team has ever gone from the start of the season without putting at least a "1" in in the "L" column.
The Blackhawks are excellent offensively and they have also been doing a stellar job on defense.
However, they are not a team of supermen and they are certainly not going to keep this up forever.
Perhaps, the young, hungry and talented Oilers can stop them. The Oilers bashed the Blackhawks 8-4 a year ago as Sam Gagner scored four goals and added four assists in that game.
Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov have the talent to cause big problems if the Hawks don't come with their best game.
7. Ottawa Senators at Boston Bruins, Feb. 28
It looked like the Ottawa Senators would begin a precipitous fall down the standings when the injuries started to pile up.
First it was Jason Spezza's back. Erik Karlsson's Achilles tear (courtesy of Matt Cooke) followed. Now Craig Anderson, perhaps the hottest goalie in the league, has an ankle issue.
Despite all these injury problems, the Senators continue to win.
They must continue to play hard and they certainly won't be able to feel sorry for themselves when they take on the Boston Bruins. Boston returns home after a five-game road trip and the Bruins have been one of the hottest teams in the league.
While Tyler Seguin (three goals) has not hit a hot streak yet, the Bruins have great offensive depth with Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
The Bruins may have the best crew of defensemen in the league and Tuukka Rask has been more than adequate in replacing Tim Thomas.
6. Pittsburgh Penguins at Montreal Canadiens, March 2
The Pittsburgh Penguins may have the Montreal Canadiens right where they want them—on the Canadiens' home ice.
The Penguins have been sensational road warriors through the early part of the season, recording an 8-2-2 mark in games played away from the CONSOL Energy Center.
When Sidney Crosby takes his game on the road he focuses extremely well on the task at hand. Crosby already has 28 points this season, and a recent concussion (source: CBCSports.com) suffered by defending scoring champion and MVP Evgeni Malkin means even more is on Crosby's plate.
The Canadiens have played exceptional hockey because they keep mistakes to a minimum and capitalize on their offensive opportunities. Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty each have 13 points to lead the team.
5. Chicago Blackhawks at St. Louis Blues, Feb. 28
The sight of the powerful Chicago Blackhawks should bring out the best in the St. Louis Blues.
The Blues were expected to be one of the top teams in the Western Conference this season, and while they went through a rough patch, they appear to have righted the ship.
They are in fourth in the Western Conference as of Feb. 25, and there's nothing that head coach Ken Hitchcock would like to see more than his team punish the Blackhawks.
Left wing Alex Steen (16 points) and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (15 points) lead the St. Louis attack.
Credit Chicago captain Jonathan Toews for keeping this team focused and singularly unimpressed with their early-season accomplishments. Toews & Co. know that Gary Bettman is not going to stop all proceedings and award this team the Stanley Cup.
They know that each regular-season game is just one more step to establishing a playoff appearance and potential home ice advantage. There will be no let-up from the Hawks in this game.
4. Los Angeles Kings at Vancouver Canucks, March 2
After a miserable start, the Los Angeles Kings have found their legs again and are back to playing hard-hitting and opportunistic hockey.
The defending Stanley Cup champions are just one point out of a playoff spot as of Feb. 25 and they have won six of their last 10 games.
The Kings found their identity in last year's opening round series against the Vancouver Canucks. Not only did they beat the Canucks in five games, they won all three games played in Vancouver.
Vancouver has gotten excellent play this year from goalies Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider. The Canucks are once again led by Daniel (19 points) and Henrik Sedin (17 points). Alex Edler has 12 points from the blue line.
The Canucks will be at a disadvantage if defenseman Kevin Bieksa (groin) has not recovered from his injury.
3. Montreal Canadiens at Toronto Maple Leafs, Feb. 27
This is a game the Montreal Canadiens have been pointing to since Feb. 9.
On that date, they absorbed a 6-0 defeat from the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Bell Centre. The Canadiens have risen to the top of the Eastern Conference this season, but they are 0-2 on home ice against the Leafs.
This is the first of two meetings between the Habs and Leafs in Toronto. Montreal's success has been based upon rock-solid defense. Look for goalie Carey Price to be at his best in this game.
The Maple Leafs are currently in playoff position (seventh in the Eastern Conference as of Feb. 25), and they have won seven of their last 10 games for head coach Randy Carlyle.
2. Chicago Blackhawks at Detroit Red Wings, March 3
This is a measuring stick game for both teams.
These Original Six rivals often bring out the best in each other, and this nationally televised game (NBC) should be no different.
The Red Wings may have the advantage here. In addition to the game being played at the Joe, the Red Wings have demonstrated that they are not just another team despite the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom.
While that move has hurt Mike Babcock's team, the Red Wings still have Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. They play like an elite team on many nights.
The Blackhawks have been an elite team on all nights, but goaltenders Corey Crawford and Ray Emery will get tested severely by the skilled Wings.
1. Montreal Canadiens at Boston Bruins, March 3
The Boston Bruins beat the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 in their only meeting of the season in February at the Bell Centre. In that game, Montreal had a 1-0 lead and the edge in play for 40 minutes, but the Bruins struck for two quick goals early in the third period to take the game.
Another closely contested, hard-hitting game would not be a surprise.
With the Canadiens bouncing back from an awful 2011-12 season, this should be a sensational matchup of the league's best rivalry.
As usual, the Bruins have the edge in size and strength, while the Canadiens will try to use their quickness and agility to their advantage.
The game will likely come down to a goaltending showdown between the Habs' Carey Price and the Bruins' Tuukka Rask