It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas and what better way to spend the upcoming holiday season then with some egg nog, family, friends, and the NHL. Hockey more than any other sport seems to fit with the Christmas season and this holiday weekend has great matchups involving Chicago, Vancouver, Minnesota, and several other top ten teams. Santa will bring some joy for some teams and certainly coal for others and this top ten will let you know which teams are on Santa’s nice list and which ones, such as Pittsburgh, may be heading closer and closer to the naughty list. Happy Holidays everyone.
1. Boston Bruins (1)- There is absolutely no reason to not have the Bruins on top of any power rankings, they were first last week and here they are again. The Bruins went undefeated for the week including a 6-0 dominating win against last week’s number two ranked Philadelphia Flyers. The more you look at some of the B’s stats the more it looks like they are ready to make a serious run at keeping the Cup in Beantown. As of today Boston has a +47 goal differential which is 12 better than anyone else in the league. You add that with the fact that they lead the league in goals against and there is little doubt that they will continue to be at or near the top of the rankings for the remainder of the season, as long as they don’t get hit with the injury bug.
2. Chicago Blackhawks (4)- Chicago had a great week including beating the Minnesota Wild with an extremely memorable shoot out goal by Patrick Kane. Really if you are a fan of the Hawks you’re extremely excited with everything that has been happening. Not only was last week’s Wild game one of the better games I’ve seen all year, they also got to see coach Joel Quenneville earn his 600th win with a win against the Flames, and they find themselves on top of the NHL point total with 46 points. The only thing that went wrong the with Chief Blackhawk’s Tribe was the injury to Brent Seabrook. Hopefully his injury isn’t anything like Crosby or Pronger and with the way the Chicago struggles at times with defense Blackhawks nation will be holding their breath to find out the extent of Seabrook’s time he will have to miss.
3. Philadelphia Flyers (2)- As excited as Chicago fans are, Philly fans are equally as nervous. The worst news regarding Pronger happened this week as we learned he will miss the rest of the regular season and the playoffs. On the same week that news came out they were dismantled by the Boston Bruins at home. I still have faith that the Flyers can be a force to be reckoned and hopefully with Giroux starting to skate again they will be able to get back to their winning ways. One thing is for sure the whole hockey world will have their eyes on Philly for the Winter Classic so hopefully they can put on a good showing as we preview that matchup on Friday when the Flyers travel to MSG to take on the Rangers.
4. Minnesota Wild (3)- I gave serious consideration to dropping the Wild farther than where I did after losing all three of their matchups this week. I kept them in the top five not just because they earned two points in their three losses but more of because even with an off week they are still second in the NHL with 45 points. They have a huge matchup this week as they travel north of the border to take on the Vancouver Canucks. The big question is if they can rebound from last week and get back to their winning ways. They still need to work on getting their goal production up if they want to do any serious damage later in the season but as long as they continue to get good outings by Backstrom and Hackett behind the pipes they will be a very tough team to get by.
5. Detroit Red Wings (7)- When it comes to Detroit there are only two things you need to know: Pavel Datsyuk and Jimmy Howard. The way that Datsyuk is playing he is becoming one of the top forwards in the NHL. It’s not just that he is scoring either, his goals have a certain flair to them that only the top stars in the league are able to pull off and the way that superstars are dropping like flies he could end up with a Hart Trophy. Although they lost a well fought battle to Nashville this week they were able to impress against the Pens and put up an impressive 8 goals against the Kings. The only concern that I really have is still that Jimmy Howard has all but one of the Wings victories. How long he can go without getting hurt or run down remains the key to the team from “Hockeytown.”
6. Florida Panthers (8)- The Panthers along with the Wild are still two of the top surprises this NHL season. Jose Theodore isn’t just keeping the Panthers on top but he has also moved my fantasy hockey team into second place and for that I am moving them up. We learned this week that the Panthers still find ways to win and how great was it seeing the return of the “rat trick” fans against Carolina? You know they are up to something special when even South Florida’s hockey fans are starting to show up and tossing the rats onto the ice in one of the more fun hockey traditions south of Detroit. I hear a lot of commentators talking about how long they can hold off the Capitals although thus far there is no reason to think that Florida will be anywhere but top of the Southeast division. Look for a fun game Friday as they travel to Boston to take on the Bruins.
7. St. Louis Blues (9)- When you look at the Blues stats they are in the bottom third in goals, power play percentage, and penalty kill yet all they do is continue to win. T.J. Oshie has helped them immensely with his third period play and they are getting solid goaltending from both Elliott and Halak. Although they have been short of fire power they are a well coached machine that makes the most out of their opportunities. Looking ahead Santa brought the Blues a favorable schedule this week as they only play two against the Avalanche and the Coyotes, which although both on the road are very winnable games. That being said you can’t take away from the fact that they need to score more goals or I don’t think they will be able to stick around as long as the Wild and Panthers.
8. New York Rangers (6)- The Rangers are dropping a few spots due to the fact they dropped 2 out of 3 this past week to Dallas and St. Louis. It’s not even that they lost those two games it’s how anemic their scoring performance was against them. Luckily for the Rangers they have been able to rest Lundqvist and still pull out wins. I feel that this next week or two stretch for the Rangers will tell a lot on where this team is at. Over the next week they have games against the rival Devils and Islanders before hosting the Flyers in what once again is the tune up for the Winter Classic. I think most people can agree that the Rangers should walk away with wins against both of those teams although when it comes to these rivalry games anything can happen. What the Rangers need to do is keep their focus and not look ahead to the Classic against Philly.
9. Pittsburgh Penguins (5)- For whatever reason the state of Pennsylvania seems to be the mecca for NHL injuries. The Penguins are the fastest dropping team in the power rankings as just a few weeks ago I had them riding high at the top of the list. The Pens did have a very strong game against the Sabres this week as they were able to put up 8 goals, it’s just all the other games lately that have them dropping faster than Sidney Crosby’s return. They are an unimpressive 5-5 in their last ten and they have a tough matchup this week as they have to play the surging Blackhawks, luckily on home ice. My prediction for the Pens is they will be able to maintain a solid spot in the East although they are going to have to get happy or they will be a very long shot come this spring.
10. Vancouver Canucks (10)- I really wanted to move the Canucks up from the ten spot where they have been since I started the power rankings. If you look at their overall stats it’s an easy argument but after losses this week to Carolina and the low Blue Jackets it just wasn’t in the cards. Luckily for Vancouver their long east coast trip is over and they were able to still get some points and end it with a win in Toronto. This next week has them traveling home to Vancouver for some major Western Conference matchups against the Wild and Red Wings. One of the perks of playing in Vancouver is their mega home ice advantage against the western powerhouse from Detroit. If the Canucks can win 2 out of 3 this week, they also play host to Calgary, they should be able to move up a notch or two.
Cal Meacham’s Sound off of the week: