NHL Power Rankings: Pittsburgh Penguins and Dallas Stars Are the Teams to Beat

Tom Schreier@tschreier3Correspondent IDecember 6, 2010

NHL Power Rankings: Pittsburgh Penguins and Dallas Stars Are the Teams to Beat

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    Dallas and Pittsburgh are hot. They are riding six-game and nine-game win streaks, respectively.

    Sidney Crosby has had a hat trick in two of his last four games.

    Philly looks great on even strength but struggles on special teams.

    The Rangers have started to play better, propelled by Marian Gaborik's solid play since returning from injury.

    Atlanta should not be ignored. The Thrashers have won seven of their last eight.

    Dany Heatley made his return to Ottawa, crushing his former team 4-0, but he did not score a goal.

1. Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Last week: 4

    Record: 18-8-2 (38 pts)

    The Penguins continue to win. Their 7-2 victory in Columbus made it nine straight.

    Sidney Crosby has had two hat tricks in four games and almost made it three against Columbus.

    Pittsburgh's only weakness is its power play, which is converting at 17.9 percent (11th in NHL).

2. Detroit Red Wings

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    Last week: 1

    Record: 17-4-3 (37 pts)

    Detroit has played fewer games (24) than any team in the league and still has 37 points.

    They are among the top 10 in all major categories, led by their league-best offense that is scoring 3.5 goals per game.

    The Wings went 2-1 in California, beating the Sharks and Ducks before losing to the Kings.

3. Washington Capitals

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    Last week: 2

    Record: 18-8-2 (38 pts)

    The Caps are among the top 10 in all four major categories.

    While they may be expected to play well offensively (fifth in NHL, fourth on the power play), they are 10th in the league with 2.6 goals against and are killing penalties at an 84.7-percent rate (eighth).

    The team, however, has struggled against hot teams, dropping games in Dallas and against Atlanta after winning four straight.

4. Philadelphia Flyers

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    Last week: 3

    Record: 17-7-4 (38 pts)

    The Flyers have the third-best offense in the league and have only allowed 2.4 goals per game (2.4), but they have struggled on special teams.

    Philadelphia has been inconsistent. After dropping games to Calgary and New Jersey and being shut out by Boston, the Flyers have won two in a row.

    Next week's national contest in San Jose on Wednesday will give the team an indication of where they are.

5. Montreal Canadiens

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    Last week: 5

    Record: 17-8-2 (36 pts)

    The Habs continue to play solid defense (second in NHL) and they have the best penalty kill (90 percent, first in NHL).

    However, Montreal has surprised on the power play. Its 17.9-percent conversion rate is 12th in the league.

    A loss to Edmonton at home is tough to swallow, but the Canadiens made up for it with multiple-goal victories in New Jersey and against San Jose.

6. Dallas Stars

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    Last week: 13

    Record: 16-8-1 (33 pts)

    Dallas has won six straight.

    Despite rumors that Ranger coach John Tortorella is trying to woo Brad Richards to New York—the two won a Stanley Cup together with Tampa in 2004—the star forward will probably stay in Dallas as long as the Stars continue to win.

    Games in Columbus and Chicago will test Dallas before it has a rematch with Carolina on Friday.

7. Vancouver Canucks

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    Last week: 7

    Record: 14-8-3 (31 pts)

    The Canucks are among the top 10 teams in all four major categories, including the best power play and third-best penalty kill.

    They had multiple-goal wins four straight games before losing to St. Louis 3-2 in regulation.

8. Boston Bruins

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    Last week: 17

    Record: 14-8-3 (31 pts)

    The B's have one of the best point differentials in the league (plus-22, tied with Detroit for third) but cannot find ways to win games.

    With the best defense in the league and a solid penalty kill (fifth), this team should be fine as long as it learns how to finish games.

    Last week the Bruins beat Philly 3-0 and Tampa 8-1 before losing to Toronto in a shootout.

9. Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Last week: 6

    Record: 15-9-3 (33 pts)

    Defense has been a big weakness for the Bolts.

    They are one of two teams with a negative point differential in the top half of the league...and they're minus-10. They're giving up 3.4 goals per game (29th in NHL).

    Tampa is going to have to shore this up or it risks losing more games like its last outing in Boston, when it was humiliated 8-1.

10. New York Rangers

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    Last week: 8

    Record: 16-12-1 (33 pts)

    The Rangers have played better recently, led by Gaborik's hat trick against the Islanders.

    A loss against the Senators doesn't look good, but they have a chance to get them back north of the border on Thursday.

11. Chicago Blackhawks

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    Last week: 9

    Record: 15-12-2 (32 pts)

    The Blackhawks need to step it up in their own end.

    They have given up 2.9 goals per game (21st in NHL) and are killing penalties at a 79.4-percent rate (25th).

    Still, the team has won four of its last five.

12. Atlanta Thrashers

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    Last week: 11

    Record: 14-10-3 (31 pts)

    With the league's sixth-best offense and second-best power play (24.8 percent), the Thrashers need to be taken seriously.

    The team has won seven of its last eight, including a win over Washington on Saturday.

13. Phoenix Coyotes

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    Last week: 15

    Record: 13-7-6 (32 pts)

    The Coyotes deserve some respect.

    They remain second in the Pacific mostly due to the efforts of Ilya Bryzgalov, who has started 10 of the last 11 games for the 'Yotes.

14. Los Angeles Kings

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    Last week: 16

    Record: 15-10-0 (30 pts)

    The Kings need help offensively. They are only scoring 2.6 goals per game (18th in NHL).

    They have won two straight but need to stay hot because a week from now they depart on a five-game road trip.

15. Nashville Predators

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    Last week: 21

    Record: 12-8-5 (29 pts)

    The Predators have played well defensively and are riding a three-game win streak.

    Contests against the Thrashers and Red Wings on the road will test this club.

16. Colorado Avalanche

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    Last week: 12

    Record: 13-10-3 (29 pts)

    Despite having the NHL's second-best offense, the Avs cannot join the league's finest due to poor effort in their own end.

    As a result of poor defense, the team has lost five of its last six.

17. San Jose Sharks

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    Last week: 18

    Record: 12-9-4 (28 pts)

    The Sharks picked up a 4-0 victory in Dany Heatley's return to Ottawa.

    However, former Ottawa 67 (OHL) winger Logan Couture stole the show. The 21-year-old scored two goals to lead all rookies.

    San Jose can make a big statement next week with two games on national television in Detroit and Philadelphia.

18. St. Louis Blues

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    Last week: 14

    Record: 13-9-4 (30 pts)

    The Blues dropped five straight, including a loss to Edmonton, before picking up a win in Vancouver.

    St. Louis needs to pick it up quickly or risk getting lost in the Central.

19. Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Last week: 10

    Record: 14-10-1 (29 pts)

    After winning five straight, the Blue Jackets look like they have fallen back to earth.

    They've dropped five in a row, including torturous losses in Buffalo (5-0) and against Pittsburgh (7-2).

    The reeling Blue Jackets need to turn things around quickly.

20. Anaheim Ducks

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    Last week: 19

    Record: 13-13-3 (29 pts)

    Anaheim is the most inconsistent team in hockey.

    In November they won six straight, lost six straight and then won two more.

    This month they started with a win but have been shut out in their last two contests.

    Nobody knows what is going on with this team.

21. Minnesota Wild

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    Last week: 20

    Record: 11-11-4 (26 pts)

    The Wild are going through a major slump.

    They've dropped seven of eight. They have to play three more games before coming home.

22. Carolina Hurricanes

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    Last week: 22

    Record: 11-12-3 (25 pts)

    The Hurricanes only have three wins in their last 11 games and have four more games away from Raleigh before facing Anaheim on the 18th.

    This is a bad time to be going through a slump.

    Too bad they face red-hot Dallas and St. Louis next week.

23. Edmonton Oilers

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    Last week: 29

    Record: 10-12-4 (24 pts)

    Edmonton has won four straight, including a 5-0 showing in Toronto, and it plays its next five games in Alberta.

    This young team is poised to gain a little respectability after a tough start to the season.

24. Buffalo Sabres

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    Last week: 24

    Record: 11-13-3 (25 pts)

    Buffalo has won two in a row, shutting out its opponents in both wins.

    Big game against division rival Boston on Versus next Tuesday. The Sabres would love to cool the hot Bruins.

25. Ottawa Senators

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    Last week: 23

    Record: 12-14-2 (26 pts)

    The Sens dropped three straight, including back-to-back shutouts, before beating New York 3-1 at MSG last week.

    This team appears to be missing All-Star winger Dany Heatley, who made his first appearance in Ottawa last week, beating the Senators 4-0.

26. Calgary Flames

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    Last week: 27

    Record: 11-14-2 (24 pts)

    Calgary is all over the board, shutting out Minnesota and losing to Vancouver 7-2 in the same week.

    It has a tough week ahead. The Bolts and Kings are up next.

27. Florida Panthers

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    Last week: 25

    Record: 11-14-0 (22 pts)

    The Panthers' power play scores eight percent of the time.

    That's putrid.

    Decent defense keeps this team from sinking to the bottom of the league.

28. Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Last week: 28

    Record: 9-12-4 (22 pts)

    The Leafs were shut out twice and dropped four before winning against Boston on Saturday.

    Three games on national television may provide a wake-up call for the dormant Leafs.

29. New Jersey Devils

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    Last week: 26

    Record: 8-16-2 (18 pts)

    After a short spurt of greatness, the Devils have returned to the bottom of the league.

    This team is too talented to have the worst offense in the league and get harassed every night...

30. New York Islanders

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    Last week: 30

    Record: 5-15-5 (15 pts)

    The Islanders have yet to win a game in December and have a minus-30 goal differential, tied with the Devils for worst in the NHL.

    They get Boston and Atlanta next week.