NOTE: All teams are listed with their current points in the standings (as of Monday, November 16). The upper half (top 16) as well as the focus of my coverage, the Hurricanes, also have additional commentary and insight, which is completely original and reflects only the opinion of Mark Jones. Any comments, corrections, or questions are welcomed in the section at the conclusion of this article.
"Toronto, we have frontrunners."
It happens every year about this time...the NHL is finally starting to take this season's shape.
That doesn't mean we won't have any more big hot or cold streaks, but the vague NHL standings glance is starting to be sorted out. The "Cup Favorites" list is being determined, as well as the "On-the-bubble" [of the playoffs] list and the "Outside-looking-in" list.
Teams like the Devils, Caps, Sabres, and Penguins in the East as well as the Sharks, Blackhawks, Flames, and maybe even Avs in the Western Conference are establishing themselves among the top portion of their conference. Meanwhile, there are other teams hovering around the middle, hoping to perhaps get a jump into the better half of the playoff race early.
And, finally, there are the share of teams finding themselves with high double-digits in the "conference rank" column and low double-digits in the "points" column. This list does include plenty of surprises, including the Canadiens, Blues, Wild, Ducks, and lowly Hurricanes.
The NHL, despite beginning to sort into groups, is also beginning to balance out as teams get into a routine. Besides New Jersey's mark, the longest win/loss streak in the NHL is now four games, with even the Canes breaking their franchise-tying worst losing streak ever, ending a 14-game skid (and 8 straight without a point) by defeating the struggling Wild 5-4 on Sunday.
So enough with the prelude and introductions. It's time to see exactly how these groups sort out in this edition of NHL Power Rankings.
1. San Jose Sharks (32 pts)
The Sharks, once again, have looked President's Cup-worthy with their play in the past several weeks. Their point streak is up to 12 games now, and the top two lines are both some of the best combinations in the league.
My thoughts for them compare a lot to Brett Favre of the NFL:
"I think they might finally carry over their success into the playoffs this year. Or, maybe not. Really, I'm not sure. Yes they will, but then again maybe not..."
2. New Jersey Devils (28 pts)
No one can deny that the Devils are playing their best hockey in years right now. But I remain to have my doubts about this team, and I don't think they will get to double digits with their win streak, currently at eight.
3. Washington Capitals (28 pts)
Winning without Ovechkin would be a very tough chore for most teams, but maybe not for the Caps offense. There is always Semin, Backstrom, Green, and about eight other players...
This team is going to have their way this year, I think. If they can start holding down the scoring in their end, they could challenge the Sharks for the Presidents Cup.
4. Buffalo Sabres (25 pts)
The Buffalo Sabres continue to be overlooked, but they only have four regulation losses in 17 games. With a stellar defense, a thorough, balanced yet talented offense, and (of course) Ryan Miller in the net, the Sabres are looking better and better.
2009-2010 is Buffalo's return to the top, all right.
5. Chicago Blackhawks (26 pts)
The Blackhawks have been very hot of late, posting a 7-2-1 record in their last ten as well as four straight victories.
The combination of Sharp-Teows-Kane has been plenty good, like usual, but the real thing that sets this Hawks squad apart from last year's is that it isn't just the top line earning them wins anymore. The lower pairings and the defense are carrying their share and more this season.
6. Calgary Flames (26 pts)
The Flames are really sneaking up on all of us now, especially me. They have 26 points in just 18 games, and have a terrific top six on the roster. Kiprusoff is also having a comeback year, and Calgary is starting to really impress.
However, something about this team gives me a feeling they could have an 07-08 Senators-like slump this winter. There is no proof, no stats, no quotes, but just watch it happen.
7. Pittsburgh Penguins (26 pts)
The Penguins are a little cooler than they were two weeks ago, but they are still a fiery, talented team. Marc-Andre Fluery appears poised to make a jump for the top and lead this team once again to the highest point in the standings.
8. Detroit Red Wings (23 pts)
"Here they come again."
9. Philadelphia Flyers (21 pts)
I like the Flyers, I really do. They have a magnificent lower half and a surprisingly stellar goaltender in Ray Emery.
But I don't think they can keep this up. The supposedly-great top lines have really struggled with their +/-, and I dont think the defense (besides Pronger) has really done that much to support this team.
Still, there haven't been many problems yet with this first 7 weeks.
10. Colorado Avalanche (26 pts)
They may have five more points than the higher-ranked Flyers, but all they have is two more wins and two more losses than Philadelphia.
If the Avalanche can keep up this shocking start, like they have so far, they could go really far. Maybe not that much this year, but soon, especially with such talented rookies like Ryan O'Reilly and his under-25 gang.
But if they begin to dive, who knows how far down they will fall.
11. Los Angeles Kings (26 pts)
Anze Kopitar has been MVP-style, the supporting cast has done their job, and the goalies have also looked very good.
But, like most of us, it's hard to tell if their legitimate. Hopefully, they just might be.
12. Columbus Blue Jackets (22 pts)
The Blue Jackets do not deserve to be 7th in the West, 12th in these rankings, or even have a 10-6-2 record.
But, despite defensive struggles and a -10 team +/- rating, they do.
And there is a reason. The Jackets are a clutch team, and they (finally) have figured out how to win. They work as a team, and it gets points on the scoreboard and points on the standings, even if it isn't pretty.
Rick Nash, Chris Mason and their Jackets are experiencing something new in Columbus: success .
13. New York Rangers (23 pts)
It had to have been expected.
Every year, the Rangers start hot, but fairly soon fall back down to mediocrity. This season, it happened earlier than usual, and it's also earned them a spot in the standings called number 13.
Not a good sign for a fragile (not physically, but as a group) team like the Rangers.
14. Vancouver Canucks (22 pts)
After a remarkably slow start in the standings and a remarkably fast start in the "Injured Reserve" list, the Canucks are finally getting their groove and moving on up.
Watch for them to regain a top-five spot in the West by Christmas, despite having to battle with Calgary and Colorado in-division along the way.
15. Boston Bruins (20 pts)
The Bruins have managed 11 points in 10 games, their L10 record in a while that has earned them more points than games played. But it's still a little slow in Boston, and this team still needs a victory spark.
16. Ottawa Senators (19 pts)
This team has just three wins in ten games, but they do have plenty of potential. If they can figure out how to slow down the points being scored on their back end, the Senators might be able to remain in the playoff hunt and eventually settle in a successful routine.
17. Atlanta Thrashers (21 pts)
18. Dallas Stars (22 pts)
19. Nashville Predators (19 pts)
20. Tampa Bay Lightning (20 pts)
21. Phoenix Coyotes (22 pts)
22. Montreal Canadiens (18 pts)
23. New York Islanders (21 pts)
24. St. Louis Blues (16 pts)
25. Anaheim Ducks (15 pts)
26. Edmonton Oilers (18 pts)
27. Minnesota Wild (16 pts)
28. Florida Panthers (15 pts)
29. Carolina Hurricanes (10 pts)
For the first time in five weeks, the Hurricanes have a win to celebrate. And perhaps for the first time this season, the Hurricanes have something to build on.
Carolina managed to earn 3 out of 4 possible points this previous weekend, but did it in a very topsy-turvy fashion.
First, they recovered from a first-period 3-0 deficit against the Islanders, but surprisingly fell in overtime despite having all the buzz going for themselves. The Hurricanes then blew leads of 3-0 and 4-1 against the Minnesota Wild, but then won in a shootout.
Anyhow, the Hurricanes might finally have re-energized themselves. Young Brandon Sutter has been very exciting and producing since coming up from the AHL, and Ray Whitney and Tuomo Ruutu are taking in larger positions with the absence of Staal, Yelle, Walker, and Cam Ward.
The 'Canes, after so long, might have finally returned to realism.
30. Toronto Maple Leafs (11 pts)