As the NHL enters Christmas week, an overcrowded Eastern Conference cellar and a tight Western Conference playoff race continues to mix up the power rankings.
A few teams, though, are taking the holidays "by the antlers", as Home Depot would say, and moving on up the standings on their own. Pittsburgh's incredible winning streak might've just been ended by back-to-back losses, but the Flyers, Hurricanes, Avalanche, and Canucks have taken their places among the hottest teams in the NHL.
Meanwhile, Washington, of all teams, has just ended an incredible eight-game losing skid and they are joined by Columbus, and, as usual, the Devils and Islanders as a few teams that need to get their act together.
Players are also going in opposite directions as the weather turns snowy in many places. Whether they're anxious for their gifts or looking forward to the Winter Classic, many stars are becoming more and more streaky. For this reason, as we break down each team one by one, we'll also point out "Who's Hot?" and "Who's Not?" for each top ten squad.
With that extra twist, we'll head into another confusing, complicated edition of NHL power rankings. Each of the top ten teams will be listed with several paragraphs of insight, while the teams ranked 11th to 30th will be grouped into tiers.
Note: Pt % means points percentage, or average points in the standings earned per game. Since the number of games played varies so greatly from team to team, the standings can often be skewed. This is a better indicator when judging teams mid-season.
The current five-game winning streak is only icing on the cake for the Flyers in the 2010 calendar year, a team that won the Eastern Conference last May and has only seven regulation losses out of 34 games this season.
Who's Hot? The entire team, but Claude Giroux really stands out with points in seven of his last eight appearances, totaling up for four goals, four assists and a plus-four rating over the time period. Also, Nikolay Zherdev has four goals and an assist his past three games.
Who's Not? It's hard to find one, but Daniel Carcillo, after becoming a major factor late in the season last year, has had some injury problems and has just two points and a minus-four rating through 19 games.
The Penguins' amazing 12-game winning streak and 15-game point streak were ended abruptly by two regulation losses to the high-flying Flyers and Rangers last week, but they're still right on track to contend yet again for a Stanley Cup. Pittsburgh has outscored opponents 57-32 since November 12.
Who's Hot? Well, who else could it be? Sidney Crosby's 20-game point streak is still intact, and with only six games left until then, don't you know the NHL would love it if he could carry it all the way until January 1? Furthermore, he's recorded more than one point in 13 of those and scored in 13 as well, putting him first in the league in goals, second in assists, first in points, and second in power play goals.
Who's Not? If Crosby's become the fan favorite in Pittsburgh, which indeed he has, it's Evgeni Malkin that's gotten the short end of the stick. Malkin has points in only seven games during Crosby's streak and is a minus-five for the season.
Detroit has won only four of their last 10 games and they are now being chased by a multitude of teams for the Western Conference lead. Still, the Wings' record remains very good and they'll remain a Stanley Cup favorite all season.
On a side note, who's measuring the Joe Louis Arena attendance numbers? According to ESPN, the average is 19,233 per game, which is sixth in the NHL and would fill up over 95 percent of the arena. From the games we've seen, though, the empty seats look a lot more plentiful than that.
Who's Hot? Red Wings 37-year-old defenseman Brian Rafalski didn't play his third game of the season until November 7, but he has 18 assists (and no goals) in 22 games and has recorded one in three games in a row. Rafalski is also plus-six and has taken just two penalties.
Who's Not? Johan Franzen leads the team with 14 goals, but he has points in just one of his last four games and is a minus-three over the span.
A six-game winning streak to end a four-game losing streak was all the Avs needed to pull within two points of the conference lead held by Detroit. Colorado's offense has really been on fire during this cold weather, scoring 35 goals over the last eight games, an average of 4.375 goals per game.
Who's Hot? Matt Duchene, the team's leading scorer, has points in 10 of his last 13 appearances and 10 goals over that span. The third overall pick in 2009, Duchene has blossomed readily for the Avalanche, with 34 points and a plus-eight rating to date.
Who's Not? The goaltending duo of Craig Anderson and Peter Budaj hasn't been too spectacular, as the two have each started 17 games and combined for a .900 save percentage, 3.05 goals-against average, and just one shutout.
Vancouver is 8-1-1 in their last 10 games and it doesn't look like the Canucks are going to stop anytime soon. Their 11-3-2 record in the newly-named Rogers Arena and latest three-game winning swing, made up of victories over the Leafs, Jackets, and Oilers, has the Canucks once again looking primed for the playoffs (and hoping they won't have to face Chicago again).
Who's Hot? Ryan Kesler has eight points in his last five games, including a two-goal, one-assist performance on December 8th against Anaheim and a hat trick, scoring all three of the 'Nucks goals, in a win last Wednesday against Columbus.
Who's Not? That's tough to determine, as there is really no one out in British Columbia who's in a slump right now. The issue has been more with injuries, as Sami Salo and Mason Raymond are both key players who are out of the lineup. Salo, in fact, hasn't played all season.
The Stars have used a 9-2-2 streak to climb within a single point of Detroit and take a four-point lead on the Pacific Division. An impressive 11-3-2 home record and consistent goal scoring by Brad Richards, Loui Eriksson, James Neal, and Brendan Morrow has gotten the Stars off to their best start in quite a long time.
Who's Hot? Team scoring leader Brad Richards is fifth in the league in total points with 38, and he's been just as good, if not better, lately. Richards has points in nine of Dallas's last 12 games and has three goals and a plus-two rating their last two matches against Columbus and Detroit.
Who's Not? Although he had two assists Sunday against the Red Wings, Jamie Benn, coming off a 22-goal rookie season, had scored only one point and had a minus-four rating in nine games prior to Detroit.
Losing Pekka Rinne hasn't been a big problem so far for the Nashville Predators. Anders Lindback has been nearly impeccable since Rinne went down, as it allowed the Preds to go on a 10-game point streak that only ended Saturday night. They are 9-1-1 in 11 games and have moved up into an unstable fifth place, still surrounded by opponents.
Who's Hot? Anders Lindback, of course! Lindback has gone 9-2-2 with a .925 save percentage, 2.27 GAA, and two shutouts in his first NHL season. It really reminds us of what Steve Mason looked like at first, but, then again, maybe Nashville doesn't want that.
Who's Not? Actually, Pekka Rinne! It obviously doesn't help when you're injured, but the Finn wasn't even that good before he was taken down. Rinne was an average 8-7-4 and was leading goaltenders with six penalty minutes. Otherwise, despite the fact that the top Nashville scorer, Steve Sullivan, has only 20 points, it's hard to find a struggling soul in the Music City.
The upstart Lightning held the NHL points lead a long while back, but after a fall from the top, they've steadied themselves in the Eastern Conference's top eight. A winning streak now stretching to three games has also improved the resume. Sticking with the trend among other top teams, Tampa Bay has been especially solid at home, posting a 9-2-2 record there.
Who's Hot? Ryan Malone, age 31, is still producing points. He's recorded at least one of those in eight of the Bolts' last nine games, with four goals and seven assists in total.
Who's Not? Simon Gagne's signing was one of the biggest of the 2010 offseason, but the hockey world hasn't heard much about him since, and there's a reason why. Because of an injury, Gagne has played in 14 games and has just six points and a horrific minus-12 rating in them.
Also on the "Not Hot" list are goaltenders Mike Smith and Dan Ellis, who have been bailed out by their offense a lot but have .883 and .876 save percentages and 3.20 and 3.23 GAA's, respectively.
The whole "Free Thrash" movement was a little over-the-top for me—it's only 5,000 tickets, people, that's really nothing—but the Thrashers themselves might be for real. They are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games and have the second-best offense in the Eastern Conference so far...even without Kovalchuk, who's not doing so well farther up the Atlantic Coast. Atlanta is also now within two points with a game in hand in the division race against Washington.
Who's Hot? For the second-best offense in the conference, amazingly it's the top defensive pairing that's the hottest on the team. All the fuss is over Dustin Byfuglien, who leads the team in points with 33, including 11 goals, as well as hits. However, his partner, Tobias Enstrom, is third in points (with 23, 20 of those being assists), second in blocked shots and a plus-five on his own.
Who's Not? Much-hyped Zach Bogosian, a former third-overall pick, is falling out of the spotlight in Georgia. He has only five points in 28 games and is a minus-seven. What's more, Bogosian has just two points in over a month and is second on the team in turnovers for the year.
The Sharks are still a so-so 8-4-3 in the Shark Tank, but they haven't needed much success at home with 10 of their last 13 games on the road. They're still 7-5-1 over that span and 6-3-1 over their last 10 games, though, and it's helped San Jose keep pace with a powerful Pacific Division.
Who's Hot? Rookie 21-year-old Logan Couture is taking massive strides in his development and the Sharks are reeping the benefits. Couture is fifth in the NHL and tops among rookies with 17 goals, including three in his last two games. Couture is also improving as the season goes on, with nine goals, two assists, and a plus-eight rating over his last 10 games.
Who's Not? Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, and Patrick Marleau have plus/minus ratings of minus-five minus-seven, and minus-15, respectively, but it's been Antti Niemi who's really been the disappointment of the first third of the Sharks season. Niemi, after winning a Stanley Cup for Chicago last spring, is 6-8-2 with a .897 save percentage and 3.15 GAA and has now lost the starting job to perennial backup Anterro Niittymaki, who is 11-3-3.
11. Montreal Canadiens (19-12-2, Pt % = 1.21)
The Canadiens hold a two point lead on the Northeast Division over Boston, despite being five spots higher than the Bruins in the standings, and have settled into a close-to-.500 routine after a flashy first month. Carey Price continues to lead the team with an 18-10-2 record and 2.13 GAA.
12. Los Angeles Kings (18-12-1, Pt % = 1.19)
With only one overtime loss and zero in the shootout, in which the Kings are 3-0, Los Angeles has been a win-or-lose team this fall, fair and square. They have the fourth-best goal differential in the Western Conference, too, but a 7-10 road record (despite very good 11-2-1 home numbers) currently sits them in ninth place. They have a lot of games in hand on their opponents, though, and have the talent to morph into a top-tier team.
13. New York Rangers (20-14-1, Pt % = 1.17)
The Rangers have only one non-regulation loss too, and have really been very similar to Los Angeles. They've gotten most of their points away from Madison Square Garden (12-6 away record) on the other hand, and have recently opened up, going 6-3-0 in their last nine.
14. Boston Bruins (17-10-4, Pt % = 1.23)
Boston's plus-24 team plus/minus is third in the league, but the Bruins still sit in eighth place in the lowly Eastern Conference. Tim Thomas remains incredible, nonetheless, going 15-3-3 with stunning .951 save percentage and 1.65 GAA, while Tuuka Rask has lost a lot of his '09 shine with a 2-7-1 record.
15. Phoenix Coyotes (15-9-7, Pt % = 1.19)
Phoenix has only lost nine of its 31 games in regulation, but if the Coyotes played in an NFL-like format, they'd be below .500: 15-16. That'd clearly put them in last in the Pacific Division, but even as it is now, they're still in that position. It sounds strange, but the 'Yotes are only six points off the division lead but are in last place out of five teams. Just four wins in their last 10 games hasn't helped that, either.
16. Washington Capitals (19-12-4, Pt % = 1.20)
The Capitals finally managed to break their completely out-of-the-blue eight-game losing skid, but they're very lucky they were so high on the standings before the streak, or the Caps would really be in trouble. As it is, they're suddenly in quite a battle for the usually-pathetic Southeast Division lead with Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and even creeping-up Carolina, and have fallen far behind the Flyers for the conference lead.
17. Carolina Hurricanes (15-12-4, Pt % = 1.10)
Eric Staal is off to his best start since the 'Canes Stanley Cup season of '05-'06 with 16 goals and 17 assists, and the Hurricanes, who have only played 31 games, have pulled off four straight victories and have points in 11 of their last 14 games to put them very close to the top eight. Interestingly enough, Carolina has been one of very few Eastern teams who have excelled against the West. Their current record against them is 8-4-2.
18. Chicago Blackhawks (18-14-3, Pt % = 1.11)
The Blackhawks are having quite a bit more trouble staying in the playoff picture than they've had in previous years, partially because of the absences of Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, but a 6-3-1 record in their last 10 games and back-to-back wins have improved their chances in the Western Conference logjam.
19. St. Louis Blues (15-11-5, Pt % = 1.13)
After a very fast start, St. Louis is falling off the map. Their latest 11-game stretch, which includes just three wins, has knocked the Blues down to 11th, and if it continues much longer, they could be in 15th before long, considering how the bottom teams look. Jaroslav Halak has lost much of his original magic, too, and the offense just isn't getting it done, either.
20. Anaheim Ducks (17-15-4, Pt % = 1.06)
Anaheim players might be tired from their league-leading 36 games played to date, but it also skews the rankings a lot in Anaheim's favor. They're sitting in eighth in a tough Western Conference, but shouldn't really be there, especially struggling to win on the road (six wins in 18 games) like they are. Back-to-back losses spoiled a 5-2-1 run, too.
21. Columbus Blue Jackets (16-13-3, Pt % = 1.13)
Matheiu Garon is turning into a fairly good replacement goaltender, but that's the only thing going right for the struggling Blue Jackets. A four-game losing streak has yet to be stopped, nor is an ongoing 2-7-3 slump.
22. Florida Panthers (14-16-0, Pt % = 0.93)
The Panthers have not been able to get going yet again, despite being undefeated outside of regulation time, and they are one of not many teams with a points-per-game ratio under 1.0. It makes it seem as if Florida is headed for another bottom-seven finish, and this can't go on too much longer, even with a decent 7-6 home record.
23. Edmonton Oilers (12-14-5, Pt % = 0.94)
Edmonton is beginning to climb out of the cellar and back into contention with a hot run over the past several weeks. The Oilers are 7-3-1 since November 29 and have overcome a conference-worst minus-24 goal differential to pull within nine points of the once-unreachable playoff picture.
24. Calgary Flames (14-16-3, Pt % = 0.94)
Calgary has 11 points in their last 10 games, but that rate won't be enough to help them move up from second-to-last in the West with two more games played and a small two-point lead over last-place Edmonton. Like many struggling teams, location is becoming very important, as Calgary is 9-7-0 in Pengrowth Saddledome but 5-9-3 away from it.
25. Minnesota Wild (14-13-4, Pt % = 1.03)
After starting the season winless in Helsinki, things haven't gotten a whole lot better back in Minnesota, and a recent decline has hit them even harder. They've only won three of their last 10 games and have been trickling down the standings for a while now.
26. Buffalo Sabres (13-16-4, Pt % = 0.91)
The '09-'10 Northeast Division champion Buffalo Sabres, along with most of the rest of the division, have not performed up to par at all through the first two months of this still-young NHL season. They've dropped three of their last four after a 3-0-1 streak and are eight points behind eighth place with two more games played: not a good scenario.
27. Toronto Maple Leafs (12-16-4, Pt % = 0.875)
Toronto's record is a little better now than it was exactly a year ago, but the Leafs still aren't nearly where they wanted to be or where their always-overdone expectations set them up for. The Leafs have only four wins in 12 contests in a row and have only four wins in 15 road games, also not boding well for the worst Original Six team.
28. Ottawa Senators (14-17-4, Pt % = 0.91)
No one wanted to be the team that lost to the Capitals to end their losing streak, but the fact that it was Ottawa that did it, on home ice no less, is fitting. The Senators were the fifth seed in the well-rounded Eastern Conference last season but aren't even close to repeating so far, sitting with 14 wins and 21 total losses heading into the holidays.
29. New Jersey Devils (9-21-2, Pt % = 0.625)
This picture pretty much tells it all for the Devils, who have nine wins in 32 games and have had almost nothing go right, whether it dealt with Brodeur, Kovalchuk, or anyone else. They have a winning record in the shootout (2-1), but that's about the only stat you can say that for, including their 2-8-0 record in their last 10. A team like this really should be in last.
30. New York Islanders (6-18-6, Pt % = 0.60)
...But when you have a team like the Islanders also in contention, it's pretty hard to take last place away from them. A lot of experts thought this could finally be the Isles season after they started 4-1-2, but since then New York is a miserable, pitiful, humiliating, not-enough-words-to-describe 2-17-4. That's two wins in two months; two wins in 23 games.
Yeah, the Devils might deserve last place, but they aren't going to pull it away from the Isles' grasp just yet.