The Ducks are No. 1 in the NHL and the Western Conference, but the Chicago Blackhawks are in close pursuit. No such race in the Eastern Conference and the scoring race, where the Pittsburgh Penguins and Sidney Crosby are at the top of the class.
Not including the outdoor game at chilly Dodger Stadium, the Anaheim Ducks play seven of their next eight games going into the Olympic break at home. Considering they suffered just their first regulation time loss of the season at home Wednesday night, you’d have to think the Ducks are sitting pretty in their quest to win the Western Conference.
Unless, of course, this loss is the start of a downward trend. Nah.
With that, we present this week’s thn.com Power Rankings, with last week’s rankings in parentheses.
1. ANAHEIM (1): In a development that might raise a slight red flag, Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller said of giving up three goals on eight shots against Winnipeg Tuesday night: “I didn’t feel like I was into the game,” citing the Olympics and upcoming outdoor game as distractions. If those things are going to distract him, how will he react to the pressure of a Stanley Cup final?
2. CHICAGO (4): After finally winning a shootout in a 3-2 victory over Boston on the weekend, the Blackhawks left another point on the table when they dropped a 5-4 shootout to Detroit Wednesday night. Still, the Blackhawks have points in each of their past six games. The Blackhawks have nine games until the Olympic break, but only one of them is at home.
3. SAN JOSE (6): Quick, who the heck is Eriah Hayes? Well, he’s one of a host of guys who continue to contribute to the San Jose Sharks through all their injury woes. The Sharks have returned to the heavyweight category with four straight wins. Joe Pavelski has been an absolute beast with six goals in his past three games and 27 on the season to put him among the leaders.
4. PITTSBURGH (3): This season is looking more like a coronation of the Penguins as Eastern Conference champs and Sidney Crosby for the Art Ross Trophy by the day. Both are seven points up on their nearest challengers. After turning in their worst effort of the season in a 5-1 loss to Florida Tuesday night, the Penguins toyed with Montreal for a while before blowing them out by the same score two nights later.
5. ST. LOUIS (2): In retrospect, the Blues probably wish their game against New Jersey Tuesday night was cancelled because of the weather after they suffered their worst loss of the season. A 7-1 loss might be one just to put aside, but it also contributed to the team’s first slump of this season. Even more concerning: the Blues are a combined 1-7-0 and have been outscored 32-19 by California teams this season.
6. COLORADO (5): In a 5-2 loss to Toronto Tuesday night, goalie Semyon Varlamov lost for the first time since domestic assault charges against him were dropped. On the plus side, rookie Nathan MacKinnon scored his 16th and 17th goals of the season in the game and has emerged as the odds-on favorite to win the Calder Trophy.
7. BOSTON (9): After losing in back-to-back games to Anaheim and Los Angeles earlier in January, the Bruins proved they can play with the best teams in the Western Conference with shootout loss to Chicago followed by a win over the Kings Monday night. The wins have quelled fears about the defense corps with the loss of Dennis Seidenberg and may give GM Peter Chiarelli reason to pause before making a deal at the deadline.
8. TORONTO (11): More than halfway through the season, it looks as though we’re finally seeing what these Maple Leafs are capable of accomplishing. They’ve won six in a row for the first time in seven years and continue to get boffo production from Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk. With very winnable road games against Dallas and Washington on the horizon, the Leafs could really separate themselves from the playoff pack.
9. TAMPA BAY (8): Now we’re not saying that Martin St-Louis is trying to show up his own GM, but isn’t it more than a coincidence that he embarked on an eight-game scoring streak the day he was left off the Canadian Olympic team by Steve Yzerman? In fact, St-Louis and Lightning goalie Ben Bishop, another Olympic team reject, are the main reasons Tampa has been competitive in the absence of Steven Stamkos.
10. VANCOUVER (13): The Griffiths Way Bullies have transformed their image and become a much more abrasive opponent, and it helps when their tough guys supply all the offense, as they did in a 2-1 win over Edmonton Tuesday night. The Canucks, though, are still having a devil of a time scoring goals. Even though they’ve won two in a row, the Canucks have scored no more than two goals in regulation in their past six games.
11. LOS ANGELES (7): The Kings are considered one of the “heavy” teams in the Western Conference, but the only thing they seem to be heavy in lately is losses. The Kings have lost their last three games, all against Eastern Conference opponents, although their loss to the 3-2 shootout loss to Detroit last weekend should never have been allowed to happen. Anze Kopitar had a five-game point streak snapped in a 5-3 loss to Columbus Tuesday.
12. COLUMBUS (20): Hands up, anyone who would like to play the Blue Jackets right now. Didn’t think so. It’s one thing to put together a seven-game winning streak and vault yourself into a playoff position. It’s quite another to beat the Kings for your seventh straight. Not only that, the Blue Jackets are scoring. They’ve outscored their opponents 30-15 in those games.
13. MONTREAL (10): Since being named to the Canadian Olympic team Jan. 7, Carey Price is 2-3-0 with a 4.16 goals-against average and .856 save percentage and was chased from the net in a 5-1 loss to Pittsburgh Wednesday night. The Canadiens have given up at least four goals in each of their past four games and are looking as uncharacteristically bad defensively as Price has looked shaky.
14. MINNESOTA (12): It is make-or-break time for the Wild, whose close out January with a game at home against Chicago, then three on the road against San Jose, Anaheim and Colorado. And they really let one get away on Tuesday night in Dallas. The Stars, playing their second game in less than 24 hours, skated circles around the Wild in a 4-1 victory, a game that amounted to a four-point game given their place in the standings.
15. NY RANGERS (16): Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist called in sick on Tuesday night and it resulted in the Rangers giving up a five-spot in a loss to the Islanders. That loss snapped a run in which they had earned points in eight of the previous nine games and had won the previous three. Kevin Klein will help the back end in the short term after being acquired from Nashville.
16. DETROIT (18): The Red Wings displayed their championship pedigree in coming back from a two-goal deficit to defeat Chicago 5-4 in a shootout on home ice Wednesday night. Henrik Zetterberg, who has been the Red Wings top player this season, had three assists in the win. If the Red Wings can ever get healthy, they’ll be able to extend their list of consecutive playoff appearances to 23.
17. PHILADELPHIA (14): The Flyers continue to cling to a playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division despite winning just two of their past seven games. And the problem is they’re losing games they should be winning at this point in the season. Their past three losses have been to Nashville, the Islanders and Carolina.
18. PHOENIX (19): The Coyotes opened a three-game road trip against very beatable teams with a clunker, losing 3-2 to Calgary Wednesday night. That loss left them four points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference and dropped them to below .500 on the road with a 9-10-6 record. They’re also 3-7-0 in their past 10, which is the second-worst record in the league in that timespan behind only Edmonton.
19. WINNIPEG (26): The Jets are 4-0-0 under new coach Paul Maurice and managed to become the first team to beat Anaheim at the Honda Center in regulation time this season, despite the fact they were badly outplayed. If they had played this way the whole season they’d be in the playoffs instead of being eight points and four teams removed from them. With their next three against San Jose, Toronto and Chicago, two of them on the road, the Jets will really be tested.
20. OTTAWA (17): The Senators have given up a total of one goal in their past three victories, but those wins bookended two losses in which they gave up nine goals. Still, the Senators are on a 7-1-2 run and sit just one point behind Columbus for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Because of weather, the Senators had their Friday night game against Carolina pushed to Saturday afternoon.
21. NEW JERSEY (21): An intimate crowd of about 2,000 braved the elements to watch the Devils put on a fireworks display in beating St. Louis 7-1 Tuesday night. The Devils are leaving a ton of points on the table and it could end up costing them a playoff spot. They’re the only team in the NHL that has failed to win a shootout, despite having eight cracks at it so far.
22. DALLAS (22): Stars GM Jim Nill had a closed-door meeting with his players prior to their game against Minnesota Wednesday night and it seemed to work as the Stars went out and beat the Wild 4-0. But it seems any hope the Stars had of making the playoffs this season have gone down the sinkhole because of a stretch which has seen them lose nine of their past 11 games.
23. NASHVILLE (24): The Predators already get a good number of goals from their defensemen so it seemed odd that they would trade for Michael Del Zotto. But most of their goals come from boomers from the point and they felt they needed another puck mover back there to help start plays and help their forwards generate more chances.
24. CAROLINA (23): After putting together 9-5-14 totals in eight games, Jeff Skinner has gone stone cold, failing to record a point in his past five. But in two of those games, Skinner has had seven shots so it’s not as though he’s not getting is opportunities to score. Andrej Sekera, meanwhile, is quietly putting together a fine offensive season with 25 points in 47 games.
25. NY ISLANDERS (27): The Islanders have gone 8-3-0 so far in the month of January and have been getting an enormous contribution from their top line of John Tavares between Thomas Vanek and Kyle Okposo. The Islanders were terrible at holding leads earlier in the season, but have made a regular habit of making up two-goal deficits and coming back for victories.
26. WASHINGTON (15): Oh my, how the mighty have fallen. The Capitals have been cataclysmically terrible since the Christmas break, going 3-7-4 and losing each of their past six games. With Alex Ovechkin in the lineup, the Capitals scored just one goal in five of six games. With him sitting out with an injury for the game against Ottawa Tuesday night, they were shut out 2-0.
27. FLORIDA (25): The Panthers have a modest streak of points in five of their past seven games and have played much better since Ed Jovanovski came off the injured list. Expect Brad Boyes, a proven scorer who has played only 17 playoff games, to be a prominent name in discussions leading up to the March 5 trade deadline.
28. CALGARY (28): Flames fans must have been wondering what it looked like to see their team win on home ice prior to Wednesday night’s victory over Phoenix, since it had been since Dec. 23 that they had seen one. It also marked the first time since that game that the Flames had managed to score three goals at home. Four years at $12.5 million for Matt Stajan? Hmmm.
29. EDMONTON (29): The Oilers are 2-7-1 for the month of January and now they’re entering last overall territory. And things with their fans are getting ugly. Earlier this month, GM Craig MacTavish got into a verbal confrontation with a fan, a member of the Oilers staff called the police after a man parked in front of the Oilers offices with a “Kevin Lowe Must Go” sign attached to a trailer. If the Oilers could only show the same gumption on the ice they might not be this bad.
30. BUFFALO (30): The Sabres have lost seven of their past nine games and their only two wins in that time span have come by 2-1 scores. On the bright side, three of those losses have been in shootouts. Yes, that’s what qualifies as the bright side in Buffalo these days. All indications are that Matt Moulson will be moved by the trade deadline.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. To read more from Ken and THN’s other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.