All the St. Louis Blues were lacking was a gamebreaker and now they have one in Vladimir Tarasenko. His linemates, Jori Lehtera and Jaden Schwartz aren’t bad either. The three have combined to score almost half the Blues goals this season.
People are beginning to compare Vladimir Tarasenko to Alex Ovechkin (in a good way), the STL Line is producing at a mind-boggling rate, T.J. Oshie is back in the lineup and the St. Louis Blues are starting to sell out their games. Things are truly looking up in the Show Me State.
Whether or not the Blues can parlay that success into the franchise’s first Stanley Cup remains to be seen, but if the playoffs started today, they’d be a consensus choice to win it all. That’s why they’re at the top of thn.com’s Power Rankings for this week. (Last week’s ranking in parentheses).
1. ST. LOUIS (6): The Blues start a four-game road trip Tuesday night coming off a stretch in which they’ve won 10 of their past 11. They’ve scored 49 goals this season and the line of Jori Lehtera between Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko has accounted for 24 of them.
2. PITTSBURGH (1): Penguins coach Mike Johnston told me last Friday night that the Penguins are far more comfortable in tight-scoring games than they were early in the season. That was after they defeated Toronto 2-1 and the night before they vanquished the Rangers 3-2 in a shootout. Power play, good.
3. MONTREAL (7): The Sergei Gonchar deal doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense, but somehow GM Marc Bergevin will end up looking really good because of it, because that is what he does. The Canadiens moved Travis Moen and sent Rene Bourque down so they could open up more opportunity for Jiri Sekac. The one niggling problem is there’s still a very heavy reliance on goaltending here.
4. NASHVILLE (3): The Predators only loss in their past five came in a one-goal game with St. Louis. Filip Forsberg, who leads all rookies in scoring this season, had tied the record for consecutive games with a goal (six) and established a new record for consecutive games with a point (seven) before having his streak stopped in a 2-1 win over Winnipeg Saturday.
5. TAMPA BAY (2): As far as the standings are concerned, there are probably 14 other teams that would willingly switch places with the Lightning, but they have hit a bit of a speed bump lately. The same could be said for rookie Jonathan Drouin, an early frontrunner for the Calder Trophy who was a healthy scratch last week.
6. CALGARY (9): The Flames continue to make believers out of all of us with an 11-6-2 record despite having four regulars out with injuries. The real test of their mettle against the west begins tonight when they host Anaheim, followed by a Thursday date against Chicago.
7. ANAHEIM (5): Great to see Corey Perry returned from his serious bout with the mumps to play Sunday night against Florida. But the mumps? Really? The mumps? I had the mumps back in 1972 when I was nine years old. Kinda thought they had that affliction eradicated by now.
8. VANCOUVER (4): The Canucks were on a nice little run there until they served up a stinker with a 5-0 loss to Arizona Friday night. Like the Flames, the Canucks will see how they stack up against their contemporaries in the west when they face Anaheim and Chicago on home ice later this week.
9. N.Y. ISLANDERS (11): The Islanders had a five-game winning streak halted when they ran into the Tampa Bay juggernaut over the weekend. On a positive note, Josh Bailey returned for a 4-3 shootout win over Florida and has scored a point in both games since his return.
10. MINNESOTA (22): If the Wild could figure out a way to be near as good on the road as they are at the Xcel Energy Center, they’d be near the top of the league. Another team dealing with the ubiquitous mumps, the Wild have won three in a row. Goalie Josh Harding came back from his broken foot, only to be put on waivers Monday.
11. LOS ANGELES (13): Not sure what to make of the Kings, who have appeared to adopt a ‘win-one-lose-one’ approach of late. Just when Robyn Regehr was poised to make his return to the lineup, the Kings defense was dealt another blow when Alec Martinez had surgery on the finger he broke in a loss to Dallas last week. He’s out indefinitely.
12. BOSTON (8): Wow, those two losses to Toronto and Montreal last week were friggin’ ugly, weren’t they? The followed that up with a come-from-behind 2-1 win over Carolina over the weekend. You’ll have to look waaaay down this list to find the Hurricanes.
13. DETROIT (15): Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but Pavel Datsyuk sat out practice Monday as the groin problems that had kept him out of the lineup until last Friday resurfaced. Strange how these guys can look as good as they did in a 4-1 win over Chicago, then as terrible as they did in a loss by the same score to Montreal two days later.
14. CHICAGO (18): With a six-game road trip through western Canada and the western United States looming, the Blackhawks blitzed Dallas in the third period Sunday night en route to a 6-2 win. But they’ll be without rookie defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, who blocked a Trevor Daley shot and is expected to be out of the lineup long-term.
15. SAN JOSE (19): Raise your hand if you had heard of Troy Grosenick before this past weekend. What’s that, you’re a graduate of Union College? Doesn’t count. All Grosenick did Saturday was pitch a shutout against Carolina in his NHL debut after his team was outshot by a 45-19 margin. Still, there’s something wrong with these Sharks. Perhaps they’re road-weary.
16. WINNIPEG (12): Character has long been an issue with this group, but the Jets displayed a ton of it by roaring back with three third-period goals to tie the game before losing 4-3 to Minnesota in a shootout Sunday. It allowed them to salvage a 2-2-1 record from their recent five-game road trip.
17. N.Y. RANGERS (23): Remember the days when Henrik Lundqvist used to be money in the bank for the Rangers in shootouts? Well, King Henrik dropped two straight skills competitions over the weekend to drop his record to 1-3 this season in shootouts. Only one goalie has faced more shootout shots this season, but none have given up as many goals as Lundqvist’s six.
18. TORONTO (10): So Phil Kessel got a little testy with the media following the Leafs 6-2 loss to the worst team in the NHL Saturday night. The Leafs would probably like to see more of that snarl on the ice from Kessel, who some nights looks like a man possessed, others like a man who couldn’t care less.
19. OTTAWA (17): The Senators took three of a possible six points on a road swing through western Canada, but that probably sounds a lot better than it looked. They did not look very good against Vancouver and Calgary to close the trip and blew a three-goal lead to Edmonton before winning in overtime.
20. FLORIDA (27): The Panthers kicked off a western swing in impressive fashion with a 6-2 blowout in Anaheim and it was a game where the Panthers must have been salivating over the play of Nick Bjugstad, a player who got off to a slow start, but was a beast with four points against Anaheim.
21. NEW JERSEY (24): The Devils are still getting used to life post-Martin Brodeur. They got the good when Cory Schneider stopped 30 shots in a 1-0 win over Washington Friday night, the bad when he let in a terrible goal to allow Colorado to tie the game the next night before losing 3-2.
22. ARIZONA (21): The Coyotes halted a three-game losing streak with consecutive wins on the road over Vancouver and Edmonton in which they allowed just one goal. One of the more surprising aspects of that was both wins were registered by backup Devan Dubnyk amid struggles by No. 1 man Mike Smith.
23. COLORADO (26): After watching his team get Corsi-ed to death on a regular basis, Avs coach Patrick Roy instituted a zone defense that paid off with consecutive victories on the road against the Rangers and New Jersey. They even outshot a team for once in the game against the Devils.
24. WASHINGTON (16): The always-fragile Capitals had put together a nice little three-game winning streak, then looked abysmal in consecutive losses to New Jersey and St. Louis on the weekend during which they scored just one goal. Coach Barry Trotz likened it to “rebuilding Rome,” and we all know it didn’t take a day the first time around.
25. PHILADELPHIA (14): Everyone, meet the NHL’s leading scorer, Jakub Voracek. He has been on a tear, leading the NHL in assists with 19, but the problem for the Flyers has been stopping goals, not scoring them. They were outscored 10-6 in consecutive losses to Columbus and Montreal.
26. COLUMBUS (29): Is the fact the Blue Jackets posted consecutive wins against tough opponents an indication this injury-riddled team has turned things around? Well, considering Ryan Johansen will sit out Tuesday night’s game against Detroit after getting “banged up” in a 2-1 win over San Jose Sunday, don’t hold your breath on that one.
27. BUFFALO (30): The Sabres allowed six goals in each of their three games leading up to Saturday night, then turned the tables by scoring six against Toronto. The expensive Matt Moulson got off the schneid – whatever that is – with a three-point effort against the Leafs.
28. EDMONTON (20): “It just wasn’t our night tonight,” Oilers defenseman Justin Schultz told the media after the Oilers 2-1 loss to Arizona Sunday night. Just tonight? The Oilers will be a lottery team again because they can’t stop goals and get behind in games too often. They spotted Nashville and Ottawa to 3-0 leads before giving up the first two against Arizona.
29. DALLAS (28): Here is why the Stars have been the most disappointing team in the NHL this season: They have played a total of eight games against Central Division opponents and they haven’t won a single one of them (0-5-3). They’re also a terrible team in the third period, when, you know, you kind of have to be good.
30. CAROLINA (25): The Hurricanes were plagued by sub-par goaltending for the first month-and-a-half of the season, their goaltending has actually turned around lately, but they’ve scored only two goals in their past three games. The ‘Canes directed 89 shots at the net in a 2-1 loss to San Jose Sunday.