Sunday, December 21, 2014

NHL Power Rankings: Almost nowhere to go but up for Flyers

The first week of the season has let the league's best flex their muscles, but also allowed a few of the little guys to emerge from the ranks of the unnoticed.

NHL Power Rankings: Almost nowhere to go but up for Flyers

Pittsburgh Penguins´ Sidney Crosby (87) celebrates a goal with teammates Chris Kunitz (14), Matt Niskanen (2), and Pascal Dupuis. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) celebrates a goal with teammates Chris Kunitz (14), Matt Niskanen (2), and Pascal Dupuis. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The first week of the season has let the league's best flex their muscles, but also allowed a few of the little guys to emerge from the ranks of the unnoticed. We've already had one coaching change, and a few other coaches on the hot seat early.

What to watch for: Can Patrick Roy’s Avalanche keep up the hot start? How will the Flyers respond to newly installed coach Craig Berube behind the bench? Who will be the last remaining unbeaten?

1. Pittsburgh Penguins (3-0-0)

They have two of the top three forwards in the league in Crosby and Malkin, and Marc-Andre Fleury awoke from his playoff slumber last year to give up only three goals through three games. With the rest of the Metropolitan Division off to a slow start (minus the Islanders), the Pens could run away with the Division early.

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2. Boston Bruins (2-0-0)

The B's started off the year with two decisive home wins, one coming against new Eastern Conference rival Detroit. The offense looks electric, Rask is saving 96.7 percent of shots, and no one is missing Tyler Seguin - except, of course, for the teenage girl population.

3. St. Louis Blues (2-0-0)

Yes, it was against the Panthers, but beating any NHL team 7-0 is impressive. At 2-0 and averaging 5.5 goals per game, the Blues are erasing any doubt that they’ll have a tough time scoring. But without a true star on offense, the scoring outburst may not last forever.

4. San Jose Sharks (3-0-0)

The Sharks are 3-0 and outscoring their opponents 16-4.The problem is, they have yet to play a road game, which will be a test for them after going 8-14-2 away from the SAP Center last season. Nineteen-year-old Tomas Hertl is already one of the most exciting players in the league after scoring four goals against the Rangers, including one of the best you’ll ever see.

5. Chicago Blackhawks (1-0-1)

They’ve been underwhelming so far, allowing four goals to the Capitals in their season debut and dropping a shootout to the Lightning at home, but how can you not have last year’s Stanley Cup champs in the top five? Cutting ties with Ray Emery could come back to burn the Hawks though, as Corey Crawford has already allowed six goals through two games.

6. Colorado Avalanche (3-0-0)

A year after going 16-25-7, the Av's completely reshaped their image, adding legendary goaltender Patrick Roy as their head coach and drafting Nathan MacKinnon number one overall in the draft. Both moves have looked brilliant early, as the team is off to an undefeated start and MacKinnon is averaging over a point per game.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs (3-1-0)

A successful offseason has extended into a great start of the regular season for the Leafs. Three straight wins to start the year before dropping a 2-1 contest to the Avs have the folks in Toronto excited. And this is all without their major signing, David Clarkson, appearing in a game yet (he has six games left on his suspension for leaving the bench to fight). Somewhere, Brian Burke weeps.

8. Vancouver Canucks (3-1-0)

After getting blown out on opening night by the Sharks, the Canucks have rebounded nicely to win three straight, including an overtime thriller against the Devils and former Canucks goalie, Cory Schneider. The Sedin brothers aren't too bad either, with Daniel and Henrik tied for second in the league with six points apiece.

9. New York Islanders (2-0-1)

It's hard to believe the best New York/Metropolitan area team right now is the Islanders, but your eyes are not deceiving you. After shocking the hockey world to make the playoffs last season, the Isles are off to a 2-0-1 start this year, looking to prove that their short-season playoff appearance was no fluke. John Tavares looks pretty comfortable with that ‘C’ on his chest, scoring two goals and adding two assists through three games.

10. Anaheim Ducks (2-1-0)

The Ducks finished with their best points percentage in franchise history last season at .688, but after being knocked out in the first round of the playoffs, they’re hungry to prove the critics wrong. Just imagine how good they would be if Gordon Bombay was coaching instead of Bruce Boudreau.

11. Winnipeg Jets (2-1-0)

The Jets are off to a solid 2-1 start, and with games against the Wild, Stars, and Devils in the next week, their schedule sets them up to be 5-1 or 4-2 through their first six. It's a small sample size, but not bad for a team coached by Claude Noel, who Bovada in Las Vegas pegged at 9/2 odds to be the first coach fired this year.

12. Detroit Red Wings (2-1-0)

The Wings started off their time in the Eastern Conference with two straight wins before being demolished on the road at Boston. They're definitely a playoff team, but there's a huge gap between the beasts of the East (Pittsburgh and Boston) and everyone else.

13. Tampa Bay Lightning (2-1-0)

Like Detroit, Tampa Bay was no match for the mighty Bruins, but they've been pretty darn good outside that. Two road wins at Chicago and Buffalo (albeit in a shootout and overtime, respectively) have the Lightning in second place in the Atlantic Division. It doesn't look like Vincent Lecavalier is missed too much.

14. Calgary Flames (1-0-2)

They might not win all that much, but they refuse to lose in regulation. Overtime losses to Washington and Vancouver got the Flames 2 points, with their other two coming in a gritty win on the road at Columbus. They have two more games to enjoy at home before hitting the road for five straight away games.

15. Carolina Hurricanes (1-1-1)

Congratulations, Carolina. You were officially the team to give Peter Laviolette the knockout punch. It was also the only game the Hurricanes have one so far. Through three games, Carolina has three different results. They also have three different Staal's. Cool.

16. Montreal Canadiens (1-1-0)

After a tough loss on their home ice against the Maple Leafs, the Canadiens took out their frustration on a Flyers team that limped into Montreal, lighting them up en route to a 4-1 win. Reigning Norris trophy winner P.K. Subban is one of the best in the business at the blue line and 24 year-old Lars Eller already has five points in two games.

17. Ottawa Senators (1-0-1)

Ottawa without Daniel Alfredsson kind of feels like Christmas without Santa Claus, but the Senators don't seem to miss him. Goalie Craig Anderson continued his spectacular play from last season by shutting out the Sabres on opening night, but came back down to Earth in a shootout loss to the Maple Leafs where he allowed four goals.

18. Washington Capitals (1-2-0)

Of all the losing teams in the NHL, the Caps probably have the biggest upside. After falling out of favor in D.C. under old coaches Bruce Boudreau and Dale Hunter, Alex Ovechkin has experienced an incredible resurgence under current coach Adam Oates. Ovi led the league in goals last year and is averaging two points per game through three early this year. Now if only he couldd get some help...

19. Dallas Stars (1-1-0)

The Stars haven't made the playoffs since 2008, but maybe some fancy new uniforms will be just what the doctor ordered. Or then again, maybe not. They're in a division with Chicago, St. Louis, and Colorado, so they'll need to take advantage of a relatively soft early schedule before they start facing the big guns. Is it too late to bring Mike Modano out of retirement?

20. Columbus Blue Jackets (1-1-0)

Normally, the Blue Jackets would have gone from the frying pan to the fire considering their Conference change, but with a struggling Metropolitan Division, the Blue Jackets have a serious shot to make the playoffs. They've made tremendous strides this year, which is great for them, but kind of sad considering it only moves them into the top 20.

21. Edmonton Oilers (1-2-0)

The Oilers would be 0-3 if it wasn't for a legendary comeback against the Devils earlier in the week. Trailing 3-0 in the third, Edmonton rattled off four unanswered before eventually winning in a shoout. Bonus points for having Nail Yakupov. Nail is just an awesome name and he slid pretty far that one time he actually scored a goal.

22. New Jersey Devils (0-1-3)

The Devils are like that guy stuck in the ‘friend zone’. They aren’t bad, not by any means, but just when they have the chance to make their move, they fall flat on their face. They’ve gotten points in three of four games, but they’ll need some W’s if they plan on reaching the playoffs.

P.S. - In case you were curious: Jagr’s still got it. The crafty veteran has goals in back-to-back games.

23. Los Angeles Kings (1-2-0)

It could just be a slow start, but boy, Jonathan Quick looks like the shadow of his old self. He's already allowed nine goals through three games, one of which he was pulled from early. But with some big names on offense and being only a season removed from a Stanley Cup, it's not time to push the panic button in L.A. yet.

24. Minnesota Wild (0-1-2)

Does any team in hockey do less with more than the Minnesota Wild? With names like Koivu, Heatley, Parise, Pominville and Suter, you'd expect a top-notch playoff team, yet the Wild are winless in their first three after failing to make it out of the first round of the playoffs last season. If things don’t turn around, coach Mike Yeo could be on the hot seat.

25. Nashville Predators (1-2-0)

The Preds got a tough draw to start the season, opening with road games in St. Louis and Colorado. They didn't get blown out in either, falling 4-2 and 3-1, but there was a clear difference in skill levels. At home, the Preds are 1-0 after dropping the Wild. Keep an eye out on rookie D-man Seth Jones. He'll be one of the best defensemen in the NHL in a few years.

26. Phoenix Coyotes (1-2-0)

The Coyotes got off to a fast start, thrashing the Rangers 4-1 on opening night, but they've come to a screeching halt ever since. In their two most recent games, Phoenix has been outscored 10-2, and that was against the Sharks and Islanders. The Coyotes aren't nearly as bad as they've shown in their past two, but don't expect more than a .500 record for them.

27. New York Rangers (1-2-0)

With nine straight games on the road to start the season, it's all about damage control for the Rangers. Apparently they didn't get that memo. Outside of a 3-1 win in Los Angeles, New York has been outscored 13-3 in its two losses, and a Rick Nash injury isn't helping things get any better.

28. Philadelphia Flyers (1-2-0)

Under normal circumstances, only beating the Panthers by one should count as a loss. But the Flyers might have needed that win more than any other in franchise history. More good news: they’ve now won a game more recently than the Phillies and have the same number of wins as coaching changes.

29. Buffalo Sabres (0-3-1)

They don't have a win yet, Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek will probably be moved before the end of the season, and their new alternate jersey is among the worst in the history of the NHL. Let the rebuilding begin.

30. Florida Panthers (1-2-0)

The Panthers are so bad, they lost to a Flyers team that had ZERO practices with their new coach. Yes, they beat the Stars on opening night, but they also won 5-1 on their opener last year before eventually finishing 15-27-6. Oh, and Tim Thomas is already hurt. So there's that.

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