NHL Power Rankings (Nov. 26): Western Conference Mess Muddles Rankings
There are currently seven win streaks of three or more games around the NHL, but the streaky stretches have done nothing so far to clear up the Western Conference picture.
Thirteen out of the 15 teams in the conference have between 22 and 28 points; just a mere three-win or six-point difference. Every team except one (Los Angeles) is also tied with another team with the same point total. What makes things even more complicated is the fact that the Northwest Division leader, Vancouver, automatically holds the third spot in the standings, but has six teams that should be ahead of them.
Compared to the East, where the three division leaders have the three highest point totals and only six of the 15 teams are tied with another, the Western Conference is a major logjam.
Additionally, it makes the teams even harder to sort out, even with other factors included. Should the fewer games played be the tiebreaker, or their play over the past week, or their record of success in previous seasons, or perhaps their goal differential; which really shows how well they play?
But power rankings are supposed to create controversy, and at least we know that this one won't fall short in that regard.
1. Detroit Red Wings (28 pts)
The Western Conference may be crowded, but the Red Wings stand out as the top team in every category. They've played only 19 games, fewest in the league...they are tied for the conference points lead with 28 and have the best record at 13-4-2...they have a history of winning teams...they are 7-2-1 in their last 10...they have the best goal differential in the conference at plus-14...and they are nearly unbeatable at home: 9-1-2.
2. Philadelphia Flyers (32 pts)
The Flyers, last season's Eastern Conference Champion, also fit much of the criteria. They have easily the league's best goal differential at plus-28, and their record (15-6-2) shows it. They've also been especially hot lately, earning 15 points in their last 10 games and winning three in a row. Also like the Wings, Philadelphia has been solid (9-4-0) in the newly-named Wells Fargo Center.
3. Washington Capitals (32 pts)
Just two regulation losses in their last 10 games have kept the Capitals on pace with the Flyers with an identical record. Washington, too, has kept with the trend that home success equals road success, as they're 10-1-1 in the Verizon Center. As anticipated, the overpowering Backstrom-Ovechkin-Semin line has been just as good if not better than usual, so expect the Caps to stay at the top for the entire season.
4. Phoenix Coyotes (27 pts)
After a slow start, the Coyotes have pulled off seven consecutive victories and jumped into the Pacific Division lead with an 11-5-5 record. They have only a plus-three goal differential and just five home wins, but lead the league with four different hat tricks to date and appear on track for another good season.
5. Columbus Blue Jackets (28 pts)
The Jackets have racked up five straight victories and come out on top eight of their past 10 games, tying them with Detroit for the Central Division and Western Conference lead. Their 47 goals-against ranks them best in the West and third-best overall, but it's actually been their winning ways away from home (an 8-1-0 road record) that have led them to an impressive 14-6-0 record.
6. Pittsburgh Penguins (28 pts)
At first, the new Consol Energy Center wasn't kind to the Penguins, but as they've settled in their new home, they've also begun to creep back to their usual place at the top of the standings. Four consecutive wins haven't hurt, either, nor does Sidney Crosby's second-in-the-league 36 points or the sudden shutdown goaltender duo of Brent Johnson and Marc-Andre Fleury.
7. Tampa Bay Lightning (28 pts)
Led by Steven Stamkos's league-high 21 goals and 38 points, the Lightning have fulfilled some lofty expectations so far, posting a 13-7-2 record through their first 22 games, 13 of which came on the road, good enough for fourth in the conference. They've also overcome an early-November 1-5-1 slump to win five games in a row.
8. Montreal Canadiens (29 pts)
Carey Price has certainly silenced the critics.
The surprise goaltender has also led the Canadiens to the Northeast Division lead and within three points of the NHL lead. The Habs have earned a point in nine of 13 home games and won seven of their last 10 overall, too.
9. St. Louis Blues (27 pts)
The Blues started on fire, faltered quite a bit, but now might be back on track with three straight wins. Even more beneficial has been the emergence of the Scottrade Center as a 12th man: The Blues haven't lost a single regulation game there in nine matches, going 8-0-1.
10. Boston Bruins (26 pts)
Boston hasn't been tested much this season, playing only 20 games to date, but they've played well nonetheless, posting a 12-6-2 record and an 8-2-0 mark away from Massachusetts. Furthermore, if Tim Thomas's decline was one of the biggest headlines from the '09-'10 season, his rise back to stardom is the lead story of this young '10-'11 season, as the Bruins have allowed just 1.95 goals per game, best in the NHL.
11. Los Angeles Kings (26 pts)
For a while, the Kings held the NHL points lead. They're now quite a ways out of that title, but Los Angeles is still keeping up the pace from last season, winning eight of nine home games and 13 out of 21 in all. The sudden scoring streak of team-leading Justin Williams has been a major bright spot, too.
12. Vancouver Canucks (25 pts)
The Canucks may be listed in third place in the West, but they really should be in seventh, as they've won only 11 of 21 games, in all fairness. Still, a 7-2-1 record in recently re-named Rogers Arena and Henrik Sedin's league-leading 24 assists have kept the Canucks in fine shape.
13. Colorado Avalanche (25 pts)
Ending a four-game winning streak from last week, Colorado dropped both games of a Wednesday-Thursday back-to-back but are still in the top eight, having posted a 12-9-1 record and best-in-the-conference 76 goals through 22 games.
14. Atlanta Thrashers (23 pts)
Three straight wins after a 1-5-1 slump have given the Thrashers a two-point lead on eighth place in the East, even with a mere 6-5-1 home record and minus-one goal differential. Newly-acquired Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien are the top two on the team in points, proving that the Southern Blackhawks might really have some potential.
15. New York Rangers (25 pts)
Winning away from the Garden has been the key this season for the Rangers, who are in seventh place with a 12-10-1 record. Watch for Martin Biron, 5-2-0 as a starter with a .917 save percentage, to amazingly start to get some ice time over typical superstar Henrik Lundqvist.
16. Anaheim Ducks (23 pts)
A four-game losing streak ended a six-game winning run for the inconsistent Ducks, but, even with a minus-12 goal differential, Anaheim is still right in the thick of the Western Conference playoff pile-up.
17. San Jose Sharks (24 pts)
The Sharks have not quite yet gotten to their usual regular-season pace, but they have maintained a 10-6-4 record, including a 7-3-2 mark in the Shark Tank. As always, the three members of San Jose's intimidating top line—Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley—are also the top three scorers. However, interestingly enough, it's Antero Niittymaki, not Antti Niemi, who's holding strong in goal.
18. Minnesota Wild (22 pts)
Back-to-back losses have soured a 6-2-0 run for the Wild, but Minnesota is still just one win out of eighth and has maintained a solid defense led by goalie Niklas Backstrom, who has posted a .924 save percentage and 2.36 goals-against average so far.
19. Dallas Stars (23 pts)
Dallas has just eight regulation losses in 20 games played, which is one of the best marks among all of the teams in the Western Conference logjam, but is stuck in 10th place. They've been a respectable 7-3-1 at home, but it's the lack of anything really special that's kept the Stars under the radar.
20. Nashville Predators (22 pts)
For Nashville, the first few months of the 2010-2011 NHL season have been plagued by missed opportunities. They've been beaten in regulation at home only once in eight games, but four overtime/shootout losses have limited the Preds to only 22 points, tied for 12th in the conference. The im-Pekka-ble goaltending of Pekka Rinne (yes, pun intended) has kept them in contention, though.
21. Chicago Blackhawks (24 pts)
For the defending Stanley Cup champions, they hoped that a flurry of offseason trades to free up cap space wouldn't severely hurt the roster. Unfortunately, it seems to have done exactly that. 24 points in 24 games is all the Blackhawks have to show for this autumn, the third-worst points-per-game ratio in the West.
22. Ottawa Senators (21 pts)
The Sens started poorly with just one win in their first six games, and have been unable to recover so far, currently sitting in ninth in the East with just 10 wins in 22 games. They also have a minus-16 goal differential, fourth-worst in the NHL, and have struggled to put the puck in the net.
23. Carolina Hurricanes (20 pts)
The Carolina Hurricanes, one of the youngest teams in the league, have been just as inconsistent, as proven by a stretch earlier this month where the Hurricanes lost two games by the scores of 8-1 and 7-2 sandwiched between two 7-2 victories. An ongoing 1-3-2 decline has also hurt their placement.
On the other hand, though, is future superstar Jeff Skinner. The seventh overall pick in last summer's NHL Entry Draft, Skinner leads all rookies with 17 points through 20 games and has already taken over the role of Fan Favorite from team captain Eric Staal.
24. Florida Panthers (18 pts)
A 4-7-0 road record and three losses in their past four games have hurt the Panthers, who currently sit in 13th with a 9-11-0 record. Tomas Vokoun continues to stand strong, though, with a .924 save percentage and 2.42 goals-against average.
25. Buffalo Sabres (19 pts)
The Sabres' winless streak at home ended last week with three consecutive victories in Buffalo, helping the Sabres climb somewhat out of the conference cellar, but then losses in both of their last games in HSBC Arena have put them back on the edge again. A holiday return-to-glory from Ryan Miller should be the top item on every Sabres fan's wish list this December, too.
26. Toronto Maple Leafs (19 pts)
Who's the worst team in the NHL right now?
Six points in their last four games have helped the Leafs recover from a five-game losing streak during the first half of November, and have also helped them climb back into 11th. Still, a mere 8-9-3 record isn't going to get it done in the very balanced NHL standings.
27. New Jersey Devils (16 pts)
Two wins in two games have helped a little, but the truth is that the Devils just can't get going this year. A losing record at home (3-5-2) and on the road (4-8-0) lead to, you guessed it, a miserable overall record of 7-13-2 and a dreadful goal-differential of minus-23. Most of the blame can be put on the offense, which has, despite big names like Ilya Kovalchuk on the roster, put up a league-worst 43 goals.
28. Calgary Flames (18 pts)
Just two wins in 10 games have put the floundering Flames in second-to-last in the Western Conference and four points, with an additional game played, no less, out of third-to-last. The distress calls are obviously beginning to sound in Calgary, especially on usual-cornerstone goalie Mikka Kiprusoff, who is struggling mightily.
29. Edmonton Oilers (16 pts)
Even with an exciting Thanksgiving night win over Colorado, the Oilers still haven't looked that much better than last year, even with their new infusion of youth. The record, which holds just six wins in 22 games, pretty much tells the story for Edmonton.
30. New York Islanders (13 pts)
The Oilers may not be looking good, but it's 10 times as hard to find something positive when you're talking about the Islanders, who have lost a whopping 14 straight and haven't seen two points added to their total since October 21st in Tampa. A coaching change hasn't even been able to stop the run, and the upcoming schedule doesn't hold much sympathy, either.
Mark Jones is currently Bleacher Report's featured columnist for the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes. In his two years so far with the site, he has written over 235 articles and received over 215,000 total reads.
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