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NHL Power Rankings

10.21.09 at 8:18 am ET

There are a ton of cool success stories in the NHL this season, even if that hasn’t been the case in Boston thus far. The Avalanche, Oilers and Senators all have sneaked into the top 10 without marquee names or much fanfare, as the wins keep piling up for each of these surprise franchises.

Meanwhile, the No. 1 spot continues to reside with Pittsburgh, where the talk is about how boring the season’s first few weeks have been for an awesome hockey power that hasn’t been challenged by anything or anyone in the early going. Barring injury, there might not be a week this season when the Penguins aren’t waddling their way through the very top of the power rankings.

For big movers and shakers, we’re buying into the Thrashers, at least as quasi-real. Atlanta has moved up 11 spots from No. 26 to No. 15. The Flyers, on the other hand, have dropped seven spots from No. 6 to No. 13 after a three-game winless streak. Meanwhile, the Bruins sit at No. 19 behind many teams that have nowhere near the talent that sits on the Boston roster.

At least the Maple Leafs continue to stink.

As New England Sports Museum curator Dick Johnson wrote in my favorite Facebook quote of the week:

“The Maple Leaf situation reminds me of an old joke. … Dark brown is beef stock … light brown is chicken stock … and royal blue is laughing stock.”

Well played, Dick, well played.

Here are the NHL power rankings:

1. 7-1-0 (1 last week). No hangover for these Penguins after last year’s Stanley Cup championship. That seems to have only made a hungry bunch more determined and confident than ever. Pittsburgh is undefeated on the road and has taken down just about everyone in their path. The only question is how on earth defenseman Sergei Gonchar is a minus-2 on this dynastic club.

2. 5-2-1 (4) The Blackhawks have one incredibly weak link in Cristobal Huet but have been rolling otherwise. The Hawks are — in many ways — the Western Conference mirror image of the Bruins, but have done a much better job handling raised expectations and adversity in the early season. Who could have guessed that UVM’s Patrick Sharp would be their leading scorer with 10 points (5 goals, 5 assists) through eight games?

3. 7-2-0 (3) The Blueshirts go from a team that couldn’t buy a goal last season to a team that leads the NHL with 35 goals scored in the first nine games. As Stewie might say: “What the Duece?” One might have guessed that Marian Gaborik would be a point-per-game player, but Vaclav Prospal? Not so much. Nineteen-year-old Michael Del Zotto has electrified the NHL with four goals and five assists in nine games as a rookie defenseman. Can you say Calder Trophy favorite?

4.5-2-1 (2) If Brian McGrattan scoring his first goal since April 3, 2006, isn’t a sign of the hockey apocalypse, then it’s certainly a sign that this might be the year for the Flames. No gigantic wins against the NHL elite thus far, but there’s no denying Calgary’s talent. It’s just a matter of tightening things up a bit on defense and letting Dion Phaneuf and Jay Bouwmeester do their thing. How are Nigel Dawes and Daymond Langkow already sitting at a minus-8 for the Flames?

5. 5-3-1 (5) The Sharks still are one of the Western powers, and there’s still a healthy level of skepticism aimed at the quick starts authored by the Avalanche and Coyotes. Jumbo Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau and Devin Setoguchi are all averaging at least a point per game, and Thornton has already racked up eight power-play points on the season. Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good — but can they do it in the playoffs?

6. 5-1-0 (8) Columbus is missing defensemen Mike Commodore and Jan Hejda due to injuries, and the depth could be severely tested in that department over the next few weeks. There’s plenty of offensive talent on the underrated Blue Jackets, but it really hasn’t been much more than the Rick Nash show in the early going. As always, don’t sleep on the BJ’s.

7. 4-2-2 (7) Can a team drop in the power rankings despite going undefeated in the week between rankings? We’ve gone to the judges on this, and they’ve returned to us a firm “Nyet.” Or maybe that was Ovie in disguise. You simply never know with that wacky Russian. He has more goals (9) than games played (8) this season. That’s positively Gretzky-ian.

8. 6-1-1 (11) The first team on the list that doesn’t knock your socks off but just keeps winning hockey games. I prefer to believe it’s the power of Medford native Joe Sacco’s coaching abilities, but maybe that’s just a Boston bias. Former Panthers backup Craig Anderson has been a revelation between the pipes with a 2.09 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage in all eight of Colorado’s games thus far. How long can that hold up?

9. 5-2-0 (14) Daniel Alfredsson is off to a nice offensive start and he’s developing chemistry with Alex Kovalev, who appears to have fully purged Montreal out of his system after a boo/standing ovation-filled bipolar reception from the Habs fans last week. The question: Can Ottawa’s feel-good story endure after beating up on bad teams in the first month?

10. 5-2-1 (13) The Oilers have been outshot 185-106 in their last five games but still have managed to put up a 4-1 record during that span. That kind of defines hockey’s version of the “bend but don’t break defense.” Dustin Penner also finally seems to have tired of the contract jibes, shed a few pounds in the offseason and become “The Man” in Edmonton that he always should have been. It’s about time for the 6-foot-4, 240-pounder.

11. 4-1-1 (15) Goaltender Ryan Miller is off to his best start ever, but the real revelation for the Sabres has been the play of leading scorer Clarke MacArthur. In his second full NHL season, the 24-year-old exploded for four goals and a pair of assists in the team’s first six games, and is on a pace for 50-plus goals. Buffalo was the last team to get saddled with a regulation loss when it fell to the Thrashers last weekend.

12.5-2-0 (17) It has to tear at Shane Doan to watch the way the Coyotes franchise is coming apart at the seams, but he hasn’t let it affect him on the ice. The veteran forward has been dynamite in the early going, and Ilya Bryzgalov has been the best goaltender in the NHL playing behind a trap-happy wonkist’s dream. It may not be exciting, but it’s effective, and it doesn’t matter because nobody is there to watch the games anyway.

13. 3-2-1 (6) Winless in their last three games after a 3-0 start, the Flyers aren’t even close to the sum of their parts quite yet. Chris Pronger has already racked up 20 penalty minutes in his first six games and needs to settle his game down for Philly to be effective. A lot of talented Flyers need to step up, but Mike Richards already has six goals in his first six games. The Flyers next play Thursday against the Bruins, so both teams will be properly motivated to come away with results.

14. 3-3-1 (9) Detroit still isn’t looking like its normal winged self, but that should change as the NHL season settles in. Detroit Rock City will ride again, but Chris Osgood is going to have to pick it up between the pipes and help support a defense corps that’s struggling aside from stalwarts Brian Rafalski and Nik Lidstrom.

15. 4-1-0 (26) It’s not so much the Thrashers as it’s Ilya Kovalchuk. He’s good. Also, Rich Peverly, who just signed a multiyear extension with Atlanta after getting put on waivers by the Predators last season. He’s gone on to score 42 points in 44 games with the Thrash after they picked him up for nothing. Whoopsies.

16. 3-2-1 (22) The Blues have been up and down in their early work, but things seem to be stabilizing in St. Louis. Defenseman Erik Johnson is enjoying a solid season as a 21-year-old, with six assists in six games. Just keep him away from golf carts and any ballyhoo at all costs. For the sake of St. Louis.

17. 4-3-0 (16) The Devils have done nothing noteworthy, so the same summation as last week applies: Same goalie in Martin Brodeur, same solid, far-from-flashy forwards and same competitive Devils team. Nothing too outstanding in the first week of play, but, really, when do the Devils ever jump out at you? Wake them up in April.

.18. 5-4-0 (10) The Kings just concluded a brutal six-game road trip that included a controversial benching of star forward Alexander Frolov by head coach Terry Murray. Anze Kopitar and Ryan Smyth are still scoring with off-the-charts frequency, and a little home cooking might just help them find their hockey mojo. Both Kopitar and Smyth are among the top-five NHL scorers this season.

19. 3-4-0 (12) One week and all heck breaks loose. Chuck Kobasew is traded to Minnestoa for an Ivy Leaguer, an American Leaguer and a potential United States Hockey Leaguer. The injury to Milan Lucic that will keep him out for 4-6 weeks just adds to the adversity. It’s time for the Black and Gold to show a little more consistent compete level, or this ranking could continue to hover in the NHL middle class of mediocrity.

20. 3-2-3 (24) A healthy Brenden Morrow and Brad Richards have given the Stars some heretofore missing offensive punch. Twenty-year-old Jamie Benn has come out of nowhere to give Dallas seven points (2 goals, 5 assists) in eight games. Nicklas Grossman leads the NHL with a plus-10. I wonder if the players would break into a chorus of “Deep in the heart of Texas” if you sang out “The Stars at night are big and bright …”?

21. 3-5-0 (25) The Canucks are doing the best they can without Daniel Sedin (broken foot) and Pavol Demitra (shoulder), but they’re clearly not yet firing on all cylinders. The numbers continue to look unsightly for goalie Roberto Luongo, but the All-Star goaltender is slowly beginning to round into form for Vancouver. Henrik Sedin (3 goals, 8 assists) has been outstanding even if he can’t activate his wonder twin powers with Daniel on the shelf.

22. 2-3-2 (18) My Center Vinny has gone 14 consecutive games without scoring a goal and is sitting at a minus-5 to start the season. Combine that with some atrocious goaltending in the early going from Mike Smith. Stir in decent seasons from Martin St. Louis, Steve Stamkos and Ryan Malone, and you have a pretty mediocre team.

23. 3-3-1 (19) How on earthy have Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan combined for a single goal in Anaheim’s first seven games? The Ducks are coasting along on the strength of Teemu Selanne‘s rebirth at age 39 and a breakout season from Corey Perry, but this team needs its big guns to start firing sooner rather than later. The Ducks’ 14.3 percent power-play success rate is second-worst in the Western Conference.

24. 2-4-1 (24) Cam Ward has been solid between the pipes after signing a big six-year extension, but the Hurricanes haven’t given him a lot of offensive support. The candy Canes have the worst power play in the Eastern Conference (11.1 percent success rate), and something needs to change when Jussi Jokinen is the team’s leading scorer with just two goals and three assists in seven games.

25. 2-5-0 (21) The Montreal smurfs haven’t been able to finish off their opportunities, and the Habs are sputtering on the power play without quarterback Andrei Markov. The Canadiens lost five in a row and topped it off with a weird game against the Senators in which the crowd booed Alex Kovalev every time he touched the puck. Then he scored a goal at the Bell Centre, and the fawning crowd gave him a standing ovation. Puzzling, just like this hockey team.

26. 2-4-0 (29) After one of the worst starts in franchise history in their first five games, the Panthers dug down deep and handed the Flyers a 4-2 loss last week in a game that kicked them up a few notches. This team still has some major issues offensively, and as long as players such as Stephen Weiss (minus-5), Dmitry Kulikov (minus-5) and Nathan Horton (minus-6) struggle, so will the Panthers.

27. 2-4-1 (20) The Preds have scored an NHL-worst 10 goals and have a pathetic 4.2 percent success rate on the power play. That’s before they lost Jason Arnott with a left arm injury earlier this week, and they will have to fend without him for at least the next two weeks. That’s like the poor getting … well … poorer.

28. 1-6-0 (27) The Wild had become so synonymous with a low-scoring trap system and opportunistic offense that this season has been a shock to the system. Eric Belanger is off to a great start with eight points (2 goals, 6 assists) in seven games, but Brent Burns looks like a lock to be the first double-digit minus player in the NHL this season. As Jon Meterparel would say: “Take a bow.”

29. 0-3-3 (29) Matt Moulson has been a nice surprise, and John Tavares and Kyle Okposo are off to good starts. The Islanders are competing and scratching for points with ties, but they’re also off to their worst start in over 30 years. The Isles were winless in their first seven games of the 1973-74 season, and New York is closing in on that unwanted benchmark. The Islanders are young and they’re improving, but there are going to be growing pains. And we’re not talking the Kirk Cameron kind, either.

30. 0-6-1 (30) Unmitigated disaster. Hindenburg-esque. An atrocity of hockey. Pick any phrasing that you’d like, but the Maple Leafs sting the nostrils and aren’t getting better any time soon. Hope Leafs Nation isn’t expecting Phil Kessel to be a savior. Because that’s the kind of pressure that could break a lesser man. Wait a second …

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