A month into the NHL  season things have begun to settle into a pattern, and observers can begin to decipher which teams are for real and which teams are simply pretenders not yet exposed by the NHL  iron. The Colorado Avalanche , with 18-year-old wunderkinds Ryan O’Reilly and Matt Duchene providing the youthful pluck, have earned themselves the unquestioned title of Western Conference surprise story — and continue to pile up wins and respect against solid competition.
Plenty of attention has been paid to formerly anonymous Bruins backup goaltender Craig Anderson, who was loaned to the B’s from the Blackhawks organization in 2006-07 with Boston in dire need of goaltending behind Tim Thomas . Hannu Toivonen went down with an ankle injury early in the season, and the B’s went through Anderson, Joey MacDonald, Phillip Sauve and Brian Finley while riding Tim the Tank down the stretch during the one and only forgettable year of the Dave Lewis Era.
After playing the backup to Tomas Vokoun with the Panthers last season, Anderson has started every one of Colorado’s games on this young season and been the best goaltender in the NHL through the first month. The 28-year-old is 9-1-2 with a .940 save percentage and a 1.47 goals against average while backup netminder Peter Budaj has battled the effects of the swine flu.
Are the Avs for real? They’ll play Calgary , San Jose and the Blackhawks twice in the span of two weeks, and there should be plenty more answers when those ice chips settle down.
Without further ado, here are WEEI.com’s NHL power rankings:
1. 10-2-0 (1, last week). The Penguins  finally dropped another game to the Devils last week, but there isn’t much that’s even a glint in the eye of the NHL’s ultimate tag team, Sidney Crosby  and Evgeni Malkin. Triple Extra Large props to young defenseman Alex Goligoski, who signed a three-year deal with Pittsburgh this summer and has stepped into the puckmoving role with Sergei Gonchar out of commission. Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fluery is quietly off to the best start of his young career. Still no reason to boot them from their perch atop the league’s power rankings.
2. 10-1-2 (8) I finally believe in the power of the Avs. The Rocky Mountain hockey bunch haven’t lost in regulation in their last nine games. The miraculous Avs current run dates back to Oct. 8. Ryan O’Reilly and Matt Duchene have the rookie energy thing cornered, and both Wojtek Wolski and Paul Stastny are enjoying red-hot starts to the season. Perhaps the best kept secret on the team? Defenseman Kyle Quincey might be the best waiver pickup of the last two seasons as he was dropped by the Red Wings in 2007-08, and is playing over 25 minutes per game for the Avs along their blueline.
3.7-3-1 (2) No Jonathan Toews and no Brent Seabrook (concussion symptoms)? No problem. The Blackhawks have reeled off a pair of wins since losing both of their core players, and the Brothers Patrick (Sharp and Kane) have been pacing Chicago’s offense. Even the ever-shaky Cristobal Huet has jumped into the act and allowed one goal or less in three of his last four outings between the pipes.
4. 8-4-1 (3) Brandon Dubinsky busted down to the third line! Marian Gaborik unable to play on Wednesday due to an unspecified injury! The Blueshirts are off to a great start, but the buzzards are beginning to fly over John Tortorella’s office at Madison Square Garden just waiting for the faintest sign of weakness. It hasn’t appeared yet, and it may not as long as Gaborik isn’t seriously hurt after potting 10 goals in New York’s first 12 games. No Maid Marian talk going on this year.
5. 7-2-2 (7) Alex Ovechkin  (142), Nicklas Backstrom (112) and Alexander Semin (97) are only on an 82-game pace to score anywhere from 95-150 points this season. And they went a perfect 3-0 last week against the Trashers, Islanders and Flyers over the last week. As ‘Nuff Said McGreevey once uttered, “Nuff said.”
6. 7-1-1 (11) The Sabres are a far cry from the explosively offensive teams of Buffalo past led by Danny Briere, but they’ve clearly changed identities given their personnel. They’ve taken the title of stingiest NHL defense away from the Bruins, and have allowed an NHL-low 16 goals this season behind staunch defense and superb goaltending. Ryan Miller  looks primed and ready for a Vezina Trophy-level season with a perfect 7-0 record, .944 save percentage and a 1.60 goals against average in the early going. They could be the dark horse in the East this season, but they haven’t beaten anyone besides the Red Wings just yet.
.7. 8-4-1 (18) Hard to believe the Kings have become the biggest gun in the Western Conference, but that’s what happens when a player like Anze Kopitar ascends to NHL supernova. Kopitar started as an 18-year-old in the league, and had nice seasons of 61, 77 and 66 points in his first three NHL seasons. The Yugoslavia native entered Wednesday night leading the league with 21 overall points. Kopitar has potted 10 goals on only 34 shots. That’s amazing and it’s the biggest reason the Kings are en vogue again in the City of Angels.
8.7-3-1 (3) It’s nothing that the Flames did wrong. They simply dropped in the rankings because so many other teams have been, pardon the pun, en fuego. Seems like a bit of a jip for a team that’s off to their best start in franchise history after 10 games, but those are the breaks. Rene Bourque is clearly breaking out as an offensive player for Calgary, but there’s no way he can keep a pace that sees him scoring 115 points over 82 games.
9. 8-4-1 (5) Dan Boyle is San Jose’s leading scorer at defenseman and is topping 25 minutes a night for the Sharks all while playing with a broken right thumb. Why did Tampa Bay want to get rid of this guy so badly again? October is San Jose’s time of year.
10.6-2-4 (20) The power of Marc Crawford has compelled the Stars to jump out to a promising beginning this season. Pretty much the exact polar opposite of last season when the Great Sean Avery  Experiment of 2008 blew up in the face of Brett Hull. At least they still have brave Steve Ott once he returns from his league-endorsed two game timeout.
11. 6-4-0 (17) The Devils have trick-or-treated their way to a pretty solid start without Patrik Elias (groin), and capped off last week with a big victory over the Penguins. But that win had its price as defenseman stalwart Paul Martin (over 23 minutes of ice time per game) is gone with a broken arm and the pride of Burlington High, Jay Pandolfo, has been lost with a shoulder injury. There seems to be little doubt that New Jersey will be there in the end, though, despite their injuries.
12. 6-5-1 (10) The Oil entered Wednesday chilled on the heels of back-to-back shutouts that’s seen their power play go frigid as well. Dustin Penner, Ales Hemsky and Sam Gagner started out like gangbusters, but they’ve been shut down over Edmonton’s last three contests. Upcoming games against the Wings and the Bruins aren’t likely to help matters much, so sell high on the Oil while you can.
13. 6-2-2 (9) Two shootout losses and a victory over the Florida Panthers  will keep the Senators in the mix, but blowing a 3-1 lead against the Bruins in the final 90 seconds of the third period last weekend had to sting the skating politicians. Gritty Mike Fisher is off to a great start, and the Sens have received solid goaltending from Pascal Leclaire and Brian Elliott. Swine flu alert: Leclaire has been battling flu-like symptoms for the last few days, so he could very well be the team’s “Outbreak” monkey. Stay tuned.
14.7-4-0 (12) Fewest goals allowed (23) in the Western Conference for a Coyotes team that continues to live in denial of the hopeless situation surrounding them in Scottsdale. Would be a great story if they make the playoffs, but that’s still a long way, away. Adrian Aucoin has been quietly effective while soaking up 23 plus minutes a game.
15. 6-5-0 (6) Columbus has been given the NHL Largess Award of the Week for coughing up 10 power play goals in their last four games, and subsequently watching their power rankings plummet as a result. Calder Trophy winner Steve Mason is off to a slow start this season with a 3.57 goals against average and an .887 save percentage. The save percentage is above only Vesa Toskala among NHL starting goaltenders this season. That’s, how you say, not good.
16. 5-4-1 (16) Jeff Carter  and Mike Richards  are both playing minus hockey while defenseman Kimmo Timonen is sporting a minus-10 after only 10 games. Brayden Coburn isn’t far behind with a minus-8. There are danger signs all over for a Flyers team expected to be the class of the Eastern Conference prior to the season. Hard to tell what is going on with Richards, who has taken a vow of silence with the local media and skull-dragged Panthers forward David Booth with a vicious hit last week.
17. 5-4-1 (19) The Black and Gold wagons have circled with Marc Savard  and Milan Lucic  out of the lineup. Many assumed that David Krejci  would be the guy to fill into the scoring void from the center position, but it’s been Patrice Bergeron  early and often. The 24-year-old looks exactly where he was prior to the Randy Jones  concussion, and that’s a great thing for Boston. His play on the ice and leadership off it are keys to Boston surviving this stretch of six weeks.
18. 5-4-1 (16) Signs of life from forward David Perron over the last week as he scored all three of his goals, and the Blue Notes sang a victory song over the hapless Wild and the seemingly helpless Hurricanes. Time to start beating some good teams, though, after putting up a 3-1-1 record on the road.
19. 4-4-2 (14) The Red Wings are treading water at this point and looking very much like a team fighting fatigue from the season-opening trip to Europe.  Time to wake up. The losses of Marian Hossa, Jiri Hudler and Mikael Samuelsson to free agency and Johan Franzen to knee surgery appear to have finally slowed down the Winged Wheels a little bit.
20. 6-6-0 (25) The Habs looked as if they’d found the formula to winning hockey games by plopping Jaroslav Halak between the pipes. Then Sidney Crosby and six goals to the Penguins happened. Scratch that. Carey Price  will get another shot in net, but this could be a season-long see-saw ride for Montreal’s goaltending. At least Brian Gionta has found a home with the Habs, and it appears that he will be the next Captain of the Canadiens.
21. 6-6-0 (21) The Canucks clearly deserve better than this, but have been — in the Canadian parlance — hosed. Roberto Luongo  will miss some time with a rib injury, but Detroit’s loss has been Vancouver’s gain when it comes to Mikael Samuelsson. The former Wings forward is leading the Canucks with 48 shots on net this season and has already put up 11 points (5 goals, 6 assists) in 12 games.
22. 4-3-1 (15) Ilya Kovalchuk  had nine goals in the team’s first eight games, but will be lost for 4-6 weeks after breaking his foot blocking a shot. Rookie Evander Kane filled in for Kovalchuk for the rest of the game after the Altanta superstar left the game. But I’ve seen Kovalchuk. Kane is a good player. He’s no Kovalchuk. Too bad as the Thrash was actually off to a nice start, but Kovalchuk is their everything.
23. 3-3-3 (22) There’s no doubt that Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman look like the future for the Lightning with the former putting up 11 points in nine games and the latter absorbing nearly 25 minutes per game for the Bolts. Unfortunately goaltender Mike Smith has struggled out of the gate and Vinny Lecavalier is just now beginning to hit his stride for the Lightning.
24. 4-6-1 (27) The Preds are tied with the Panthers for the worst offense (22 goals scored) in the NHL this season, but goaltender Dan Ellis has been solid between the pipes for Nashville. The Preds seemed to have found a little success by pairing Steve Sullivan, David Legwand and J.P. Dumont together on the same line, but they clearly need more offensive help from their supporting cast.
25. 2-4-5 (29) Doug Weight became one of a handful of swine flu cases last week, but the Islanders were able to shake it off despite Golden Boy rookie John Tavares living under the same roof as Weight. Matt Molson and Kyle Okposo continue to team with Tavares to give the Isles enough offense, but what in the world is going on with All-Star defenseman Mark Streit. Four points and a minus-7 in 11 games? Yikes.
26. 3-6-1 (23) The Ducks dropped three spots simply by allowing the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs  to get their first win of their season after taking 45 minutes of penalties in an atrocious single game. Scott Niedermayer is a minus-7 in the team’s first 11 games. Time to turn things around.
28. 2-7-1 (26) The Panthers have been limping seemingly all season, and took a hit last week when promising young forward David Booth was literally knocked out of the game against Philly by Flyers forward Mike Richards. Steve Reinprecht, Stephen Weiss and Nate Horton have given Florida decent play down the middle, but it looks like it’s going to be a long winter of puck darkness in Sunrise, Fla.
29. 3-9-0 (28) Brent Burns is playing 24 plus minutes a night and sitting at a league-worst minus-13, and both Mikko Koivu(minus-12) and Martin Havlat (minus-10) have been equally bad. It’s saying something that the Wild have the three worst plus/minus numbers in the league this season. A tough season is in store for the best home crowd in the NHL.
30. 1-7-2 (30) The Maple Leafs finally notched their first win of the season after the angry Ducks spent nearly a third of their game in the penalty box. Toronto seems to have finally found the secret recipe for success if other teams are feeling as generous. Phil Kessel  is supposed to be ready to play by the first week of November. Should be fun to watch.