It’s clear the best hockey is being played in the west, which is why teams from the Western Conference hold down four of the top five spots and six of the top seven ranks in our weekly Power Rankings.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Western Conference is better than the Eastern Conference this season. After all, that has been the case for the past couple of campaigns now.
But a 66-26-10 mark against the east through just a little more than one month of the season? Not sure anyone saw that coming. It’s clear the best hockey is being played in the west, which is why teams from the Western Conference hold down four of the top five spots and six of the top seven ranks in our weekly Power Rankings. (Last week’s ranking in parentheses.)
1. Anaheim (5): The Ducks beat a very good Phoenix team Wednesday night and while they are among a few teams to play 17 games, no team has more points than these guys. Just imagine how good the Ducks could be if they didn’t have the worst power play and the third-worst penalty kill in the league. But just as importantly as the Ducks winning their sixth in a row at the Honda Center against Phoenix, the Ducks managed to score two power play goals.
2. Colorado (1): Since goaltender Semyon Varlamov was charged with second-degree kidnapping and third-degree assault in connection with a domestic dispute, the Avs are 2-1, with Varlamov in goal for a win and a loss. But it doesn’t seem to matter who plays goal for the Avs, they keep on winning. Now if they could just convince a few more people to show up for their games.
3. St. Louis (6): The only thing that has kept the Blues from being near the top of the league is the fact they’ve played the fewest games in the NHL. Alex Steen’s magical season continues, but he can’t continue scoring at a goal-per-game pace for much longer, can he? He’s not the only one who is scoring for the surprising Blues. Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk and Jay Bouwmeester have 31 points among them.
4. Phoenix (10): Even though they missed out on a chance to take over first place in the NHL Wednesday night against Anaheim, the Coyotes have taken 11 of a possible 18 points from their rivals in the Pacific Division group of death and are 7-0-1 at home. There is no area of the game in which the Coyotes are lagging. They’re getting balanced scoring, Mike Smith has been among the league’s best goalies and their defensemen are among the highest scoring in the NHL.
5. Pittsburgh (7): The Penguins were riding a four-game winning streak until serving up a stinker against the Rangers Wednesday night. Marc-Andre Fleury continues to make a case for the Canadian Olympic team by posting the best start to his career. None of that will matter, of course, when the playoffs begin. Aside from the Penguins, the Metropolitan Division has been abysmal. Evgeni Malkin is not scoring. Don’t expect both to continue.
6. San Jose (3): Losing to the Buffalo Sabres at home should make anyone feel shame. After getting off to a torrid start, the Sharks have lost their past three games in either overtime or a shootout, giving them a 1-4 record this season in games that go beyond regulation time. Getting Dan Boyle back in the lineup should provide the Sharks with more stability on the back end and the return of Martin Havlat increases the speed and skill quotient.
7. Minnesota (15): Three straight wins have vaulted the Wild into third place in the Central Division, but the key for them will be to maintain their early season pace. Last season, the Wild got off to an even better start, but flagged badly and missed the playoffs. Jason Pominville and Zach Parise are lighting things up offensively and the feel-good story of the season, goaltender Josh Harding, has been outstanding in the crease.
8. Tampa Bay (9): A convincing win over the St. Louis Blues can be a real morale booster for a team. So can finding a winger who can mesh with Steven Stamkos and Martin St-Louis on the top line, as Alex Killorn has done recently. The Lightning are winning the old-fashioned way, with a commitment to defense, excellent penalty killing and the great equalizer, outstanding goaltending.
9. Chicago (8): The Blackhawks have lost just two games in regulation this season, but have dropped four more in overtime and shootouts. They seem to have cleaned up their defensive game considerably in the past couple of games, with two of their wins coming over the Winnipeg Jets. Jonathan Toews has been heating up offensively, but the Blackhawks don’t have a point-per-game player this season.
10. Toronto (2): A 4-0 spanking at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks, coupled by the loss of both David Bolland and Tyler Bozak, has the Leafs in scramble mode. First, they’re looking for players who can play the middle of the ice, with James van Riemsdyk and Joffrey Lupul getting some looks in practice. If the injuries continue to pile up, it could be serious for a teams whose defensive flaws have been covered by great goaltending and special teams.
11. Vancouver (4): The Canucks haven’t been near as impressive at home as they have been on the road this season. Coach John Tortorella continues to lean heavily upon his top line of Henrik Sedin between Ryan Kesler and Daniel Sedin in all situations. Roberto Luongo wasn’t spectacular during the first month of the season, but he did manage to emerge from October with a 7-4-1 record, which is good when compared to some of his other starts.
12. Detroit (13): Offensively, the Red Wings have been the Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg Show, which is not terribly surprising. In fact, having them both producing at a point-per-game pace simultaneously has been a boon for the Red Wings. But defense has been something of a problem, with the Red Wings giving up one more goal than they’ve scored. They’ll need to improve at home, too.
13. Washington (25): The Capitals managed to go 2-0 without Alex Ovechkin in the lineup, largely because of the play of Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby and their play on special teams. In fact, the Capitals are in the rare position of being on top of the league in both power play and penalty killing. The Capitals were a notorious slow starter last season and it looks as though they’re taking their time finding their game this season, too.
14. Los Angeles (11): The Kings are feeling the loss of both Jarrett Stoll and Jeff Carter up front, and a banged up defenseman Matt Greene could hurt the Kings penalty killing efforts. Four of the Kings wins have come in extra time and the hero has been Anze Kopitar, who has scored three shootout winners and their only overtime game-winner. At the other end of the ice, the Kings are still waiting for Jonathan Quick to find his form.
15. NY Islanders (18): The up-and-down season for the Islanders continued after impressive back-to-back wins over Ottawa and Boston, which they followed up with a lame effort in a 6-2 loss to Washington. Defensively and in goal, the Islanders are lacking and speculation will likely continue to swirl until they upgrade in the crease. Who would have thought the Islanders would have two players in top 10 scoring and John Tavares wouldn’t be one of them?
16. Boston (14): Seeing Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley score for the Dallas Stars in the shootout Saturday night could not have been easy for the Bruins, who have been plagued by inconsistency this season. One player who has not been inconsistent for the Bruins has been hulking winger Milan Lucic, who leads the Bruins in goals and hits. Another bright spot: the Bruins are tied for No. 1 in the league in third period goals allowed with eight.
17. Nashville (16): The Predators received the worst news possible when goalie Pekka Rinne was diagnosed with an E.coli infection in his hip, but they are taking solace in the solid play of backup Carter Hutton in his absence. And they have been getting timely offense, something that was on full display in an impressive 6-4 win over Colorado Wednesday night.
18. Montreal (12): The handling of Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban by coach Michel Therrien has dominated the headlines in Montreal, despite the fact he is second in ice time behind Andrei Markov and leads the Canadiens in points. Lars Eller was moved off the top line with Brenden Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk, with Galchenyuk moving to center on a line with Gallagher and Max Pacioretty.
19. Dallas (23): After a slow start, Jamie Benn has been finding his stride and second-year defenseman Brenden Dillon is quietly becoming the leader on the Stars defense corps and among the better rearguards in the league. Goaltender Kari Lehtonen, meanwhile, has put himself firmly back into the goaltending picture for Finland at the Olympics with sparkling numbers.
20. Ottawa (24): If the Senators keep playing the way they have been, goaltenders Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner will likely have to be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder before the season is over. The play of Anderson and Lehner, along with five players in double figures in points has kept the Senators barely above water, with two more goals scored than allowed.
21. Winnipeg (21): That sound you hear is vultures hovering over the head of Winnipeg coach Claude Noel, who simply cannot seem to coax any kind of consistency effort out of this group. Their loss to the Chicago Blackhawks Wednesday night, the second to the Hawks in five days, was watched from the press box by Evander Kane, who claimed he was perfectly healthy and took the warm-up before being scratched.
22. Carolina (17): Manny Malhotra’s overtime goal against Philadelphia Tuesday night was heartwarming and inspirational, but the feel-good moments have been few and far between for the Hurricanes this season. Raise your hand if you predicted that Jordan Staal would have just 12 goals and 35 points in his first 63 games with the Hurricanes. He’s having trouble finding chemistry with anybody.
23. NY Rangers (26): Could the Rangers and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist finally be poised for a turnaround? It certainly looked as though that was the case in a decisive win over the Pittsburgh Penguins Wednesday night, which pulled them to within one point of a playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division. On another positive note: Chris Kreider looks to be rebounding nicely from a miserable season in 2012-13.
24. Calgary (20): After starting the season at a surprising 3-0-2, the Flames have crashed down to earth with a 3-7-0 record in their past 10 games. Jiri Hudler continues his torrid pace, while rookie Sean Monahan has slowed down considerably after a scorching start. The Flames have missed the injured Mark Giordano on the back end and they don’t have a single goaltender with a .900 save percentage.
25. Florida (27): Kris Versteeg was a healthy scratch, which had to be an extremely difficult feat to achieve given the thin talent on the Panthers roster. Florida has won just one of its past 10 games and only the Buffalo Sabres, Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes score fewer goals per game than the Panthers. The Panthers have lost seven of their past nine games by one goal.
26. Columbus (22): Another season of pain seems to be developing for the Blue Jackets, who are not getting anywhere near the level of play from goalie Sergei Bobrovsky that they received when he won the Vezina Trophy last season. The move from the Western Conference has hardly been a windfall for the Blue Jackets, who are two games under .500 both at home and on the road.
27. New Jersey (19): Future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur said he would be open to a trade if the Devils are out of a playoff spot. If that’s the case and the Devils are interested in moving him, Brodeur might as well start packing his bags immediately because the Devils are already out of the playoff race. Three players share the goal-scoring lead with four goals. Four goals.
28. Philadelphia (28): No team in the NHL has an offense as limp as the Flyers, who aren’t even scoring two goals a game this season. Luke Schenn has been a healthy scratch and there is all sorts of trade speculation involving the Flyers. One of the few bright spots has been the play of goaltender Steve Mason, whose play has contributed to the Flyers at least hanging around in games this season.
29. Edmonton (29): No team, not even the Buffalo Sabres, has even come close to allowing the 62 goals surrendered by the Oilers so far this season. The Oilers braintrust has been spending a lot of time stalking the New York Rangers lately, with speculation surrounding an Ales Hemsky-for-Michael Del Zotto trade. On the bright side, Mark Arcobello has emerged as an early contender for the Calder Trophy.
30. Buffalo (30): The Sabres opened an extended west coast swing with a gritty, determined win over San Jose in a shootout, but they’ll have to keep digging at a frenetic pace to dig themselves out of the hole they’ve created for themselves. Actually, being on the road should be a positive thing for the Sabres. They’ve played nine games at home and have not won a single one (0-8-1).