Happy New Year to all!
Big day, tomorrow, with the NHL's Winter Classic game between Boston and Philadelphia.
With that, here are the power rankings for the week ending January 1, 2010:
1. Chicago—Winners of seven of their last nine games, the 'Hawks do it with offense—leading the league in shot differential—as well as defense—leading the league in blocked shots and second in the league in goals against.
2. New Jersey—Also winners of seven of their last nine games. While their style is about as exciting as watching grass grow, it is nonetheless effective. The question that comes up is whether they can make a dent, once again, come playoff time.
3. San Jose—Winners of their last five games, the Sharks, once again look as vaunted as they did prior to that slight lull in early December. If a week off can produce that kind of result, imagine how well they might respond, post-Olympics, with that two-week rest period—scary.
4. Phoenix—This team's about as exciting to watch as the Devils are. Dave Tippett's system, while not the medicine to bring attendance up from that "stellar" 6,000/night earlier this season, has this team on a legitimate roll. The 'Dogs are a secret no more.
5. Vancouver—The 'Nucks are playing solid hockey, having gone 7-2-1 over their last ten games and 11-4-1 since the return of Daniel Sedin. The 'Nucks are winning and winning decisively, so watch out for this team, if they can stay healthy.
6. Washington—They are in a bit of a holding pattern, going 4-4-0 over their last eight games, which is too bad, as Ovie's on a roll, garnering 12 points over his last five games. Getting Semyon Varlamov back would go a long way towards getting on a big-time roll.
7. Pittsburgh—A team who's struggling as of late, with losses in four of their last five games. The Pens have a chance to get back on track the next five games, as a brutal Northwest Canada swing awaits.
8. Buffalo—The Sabres are starting to solidify their stranglehold on the Northeast Division by going 8-2-2 over their last dozen games. And they're starting to provide some goal-scoring support for Ryan Miller.
9. Colorado—OK, it's halfway through the season: The Avs are legit. They have speed, an infusion of youth, stout defense, and solid goaltending—they're back, and so much quicker than originally thought.
10. Nashville—After losing three straight, the 'Preds rebounded with a 4-3 victory, in St. Louis. After tonight's game in Columbus, the 'Preds have a four-game homestand, which will precede some brutal road stretches for the remainder of January.
11. Calgary—Winning their last two games has helped ease the pain of a forgettable December. Their uber-trio of defensemen, Dion Phaneuf, Jay Bouwmeester, and Robyn Regehr, have really struggled during this month.
12. Boston—Winners of four of their last five, the Bears come into the Winter Classic a hot team. Now if they can get their once-envied Power Play (PP) rolling again.
13. Dallas—A bit up and down, the Stars did post an impressive victory over the 'Hawks on Tuesday night. Now, about that dreadful turnout for the nationally-televised Versus game...
14. Los Angeles—As the song says, "Free-Fallin". This team is far too explosive to struggle to score. A brutal four-game stretch awaits before they embark on a seven-game homestand—it's critical that they stem the tide, and soon.
15. Minnesota—Also a bit up and down lately—perhaps it's the strain from digging themselves out of that wretched start. It's time to get the momentum going again.
16. Detroit—Their lack of goal-scoring is alarming. More alarming is having 14 of their next 19 games on the road. If they continue to struggle, the unthinkable—missing out on the playoffs—could become reality.
17. Ottawa—Not a bad week, winning two of three games. Pascal Leclaire can only do so much With Spezza and Alfie out indefinitely, secondary scoring is necessary if this team has playoff aspirations.
18. Atlanta—If they keep struggling like they have, that Ilya Kovalchuk contract situation won't matter. No offer will be attractive, enough.
19. Philadelphia—Winners of four straight, they also enter the Winter Classic on a roll. Most surprising during this streak is their riding that streak with the hot goaltending of Michael Leighton.
20. Montreal—They've started to play better, bu, the real story for the Habs was the play of Jaroslav Halak, who stopped 180 of 186 shots (.968 save percentage) until proving to be human against the Sens.
21. New York Rangers—The weight on Hendrik Lundquist's shoulders was too great. After posting a a 1.59 goals against average and .951 save percentage over a five-game stretch, Lundquist crashed down to earth with a .808 save percentage in the last two losses.
22. St. Louis—Oh, how this team frustrates me. I can't even imagine how frustrated their faithful are at this point. Most disturbing is their struggles defensively and in net.
23. Anaheim—This team personifies up and down. Hopefully, the week off from games helped their cause. Now will the merry-go-round in net continue?
24. Tampa Bay—Playing well as of late, going 4-1-1 over their last six games, but they have to start to score consistently if they're going to make a playoff run.
25. Florida—This team's grit in light of their injury situation? Admirable. Their playoff prospects? Not so admirable. For how long can they withstand the absence of Cory Stillman and David Booth?
26. New York Islanders—Winners of their last three of four games, the Isles continue to pleasantly surprise. They could surprise even more if they could find the back of the net.
27. Toronto—Another team whose slight downturn may be attributable to that awful start, the Leafs need to collect themselves and get on another roll.
28. Columbus—The schnide is over in Columbus—well, for a game, anyway. This week's trade with the Caps is not the solution to salvage this season. It's time for a re-build. Let the fire sale begin.
29. Edmonton—The losing streak continues at seven straight losses. Nothing's going to save this slide. It's time to plan for the upcoming NHL Draft.
30. Carolina—I would like to offer more in the way of positive news, but the 'Canes continue to go up and down. And there's just too much ground to make up to even think of a playoff run.