This is my maiden voyage into doing power rankings—so be gentle, please.
I thought, seeing as I’m woefully at the Mendoza line (.200, 1-for-5), as it relates to pre-game prognostications, I’d see if my luck would change in being able to assess which teams are the strongest, weakest, or somewhere in between.
That being said, here are my power rankings for Dec. 4.
1. San Jose
Wow! Where do I begin? Not only the league’s best record, not only the league’s most prolific first line—so far, Heater’s been both happy and productive, and Joe Thornton’s leading the league in scoring—but most impressive, the Sharks have played the majority of their games on the road. Now, can they replicate that success come playoff time?
I know, I know, nice homer pick (being born and raised in the Pittsburgh area), but let’s face it, they are getting healthy and have been the league’s hottest team during the past 10 games, with the exception of one team...
The league’s hottest team, coming off of an eight-game winning streak. Apparently Cristobal Huet’s inconsistencies haven’t surfaced recently. Time will only tell—otherwise, quite possibly the league’s rising supernova.
4. New Jersey
I was getting to them. Not pretty, but their tried and true formula—great goaltending, a very defensive-minded system (Louie hockey: Trust him, it works), unselfish players—works like a charm. The key is keeping Martin Brodeur healthy.
A really tough group of guys. Kipper’s been generally steady—always the key to the team’s fortunes—Jarome Iginla’s on fire, and their blue line has been coming on—that paring of Dion Phaneuf and Jay Bouwmeester’s just plain unfair.
Still hot, in spite of Alex Ovechkin’s suspension and injury, not to fear. Simeon Varlamov carried the team the past week. I’d say it’s safe to say the job (starting netminder) is his to keep.
How this team does it is a near miracle. Barry Trotz should not only be the coach of the year, he should also be considered for the coach of the decade. This team accomplishes what it does with its leading point-getter having 20 points and its leading goal-scoring threat coming from the blue line.
Here come the B’s, and with backup Tuukka Rask in net, although reigning Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas has also been starting to heat up. David Krejci’s three power play (PP) goals and Marc Savard’s ability to step up in the wake of Milan Lucic’s injury spell woe to the rest of the Eastern Conference.
Lots of strong, third period, come from behind victories are testament to this team’s grit. Imagine how tough they become when Thomas Vanek kicks it into overdrive.
10. Los Angeles
I warned you, at the beginning of the year: If the goaltending situation becomes solid—thank you, Jonathan Quick—watch out! This team has the firepower, recent goal-scoring woes aside, and has built the back line into something special, so when the offense returns, it spells bad news for the Western Conference’s old guard.
A hot team, even with using different goaltenders during their recent 6-2-2 run. How great for Don Waddell, one of the true gentlemen in the game.
Somebody explain how they’re doing it. Maybe Dave Tippett’s that good (Dallas), or was the Great One that bad/mediocre as a coach? The fact that Tippett’s doing it with a team that’s under financial duress, pretty offensively impaired, and receives little fan support is downright amazing. Way to go, Desert Dogs!
Well, the "living in a tree" start has ended. With a 2-5-3 slide and a five-game road swing, the clock could be striking midnight on one of the true startling starts in the NHL.
Brad Richards is back on track after a tough-luck, injury-riddled season. If the Stars can get Marty Turco to return to being ‘Turco-licious—it is the final year of his contract—the Stars could continue to surprise those, like me, who predicted their impending demise.
The ‘Sens keep playing steady hockey, and don’t look now—Jason Spezza’s starting to find the net once again. Here’s to a return to health—could anyone’s luck be any worse?—to Pascal LeClaire.
16. Tampa Bay
Steven Stamkos is the real deal, and Vinny Lecavalier has been starting to return to, well, a semblance of old form. Now, if they can get the goaltending situation to solidify—well, that’s been the question over the last several years since their Stanley Cup title year.
Ryan Kesler continues to torch the twine, and the Sedin twins have really come on as of late. With Roberto Luongo in net, this could all start to come together.
Wait, what’s that thud you just heard? Oh, it was the Red Wings crashing down to earth. Their issues in net, without their usual stout tandem of goaltenders, along with a rash of injuries and free-agent departures, has made the descent go much more quickly than anyone imagined.
Yes, they’ve struggled recently, but it was precipitated by a lengthy West Coast road trip. It’s gotta turn around, right? A home stand should start to help the recovery now about the current lack of firepower.
20. NY Islanders
You’ve gotta cheer for this turnaround—if for no other reason because they’re currently tied with their NY cohabitants, the salary-bloated (for many years running) NY Rangers.
I’d consider lower, but hey, I live here and want to keep it that way, thanks. However, their season-long penchant for being on the wrong end of blowouts—they have given up six or more goals in seven of their last 28 games—coupled with a recent 1-4-3 slide is troubling. Could Ken Hitchcock be possibly losing the team/clubhouse?
22. St. Louis
The Blues are starting to recover from their stumbling start. While a defensive-minded team, the departure from their usual textbook PP numbers (currently last at 12.4 percent) is puzzling, to be kind.
23. NY Rangers
Marian Gaborik and Ales Kotalik’s recent PP results aside, this team is underperforming, to be kind.
Starting to play solid hockey after that horrendous 1-7-1 start. The return of Phil Kessel certainly is welcome for a pretty offensively impaired team, now built by Brian Burke on defense and grit. Their goaltending situation could be a problem given Jonas Gustavsson’s recent heart concerns.
Just a steady .500 team, which, for the league’s greatest dynasty, is completely unacceptable. Cary Price has been playing well as of late, but otherwise, having just one dependable line just won’t cut it.
Just when it looked as if the Panthers were starting to rebound, their four-game losing streak brought them back down to sub-mediocrity.
Take away Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan, and Corey Perry, and you have a team biding its time for the draft lottery. Keep struggling like they have, and they may just get their wish.
Perhaps the league’s most dysfunctional team, directionally, they have begun to pull themselves out of the bottom-feeder doldrums and have been playing steady, albeit boring, hockey.
The loss of Ales Hemsky for the season may have been the death knell for this underachieving squad. Pat Quinn deserves so much better.
Jim Rutherford: I loved you as a kid when you played goalie for the Pens, but it might be time to rebuild your team. This is an absolute mess, even when Cam Ward returns.