Bruins

NHL Power Rankings: From the bottom

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NHL Power Rankings: From the bottom

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

Who is going to come out of the playoff scrum in either conference?

The Rangers, Sabres, Hurricanes, Thrashers, Maple Leafs and Devils are battling it out for two spots at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, and its been fascinating to watch each team take turns as the worthy team with a winning streak.

Over the long haul, give credit to the Devils, Maple Leafs and Sabres for pulling themselves up from the dregs of the East to be mentioned into the conversation, and to the Sabres for beating very good teams like the Flyers and Bruins on their way back into the Top Eight.

But watch out for the Devils, who have taken wins in 14 out of 16 games and now find themselves just eight points out of place. Can they make it?

Maybe not, but nobody would want to play them in the playoffs? Just like there isnt a team out there looking forward to playing a young, energized bunch of Sabres backstopped by Ryan Miller once the postseason starts.

Theres just as big a logjam of teams in the West, but one gets the sense its going to take quite a bit for Nashville, Minnesota or Anaheim to storm into the top eight teams given their current roster situations.

Without further ado, here are this weeks power rankings:

1. Vancouver Canucks (46-16-9, last week: 1) The Canucks have won five in a row, and the Sedin Twins are first and third in the NHL in scoring coming out of last weekend. Naming Henrik captain this season looks like its worked out pretty well.

2. Washington Capitals (40-20-10, last week: 7) The Caps are the hottest team in hockey with wins in eight straight games, and Alex Ovechkin is hitting his personal turbo button at just the right time. Theyre nipping at the Flyers heels and looking dangerous in the playoffs.

3. Philadelphia Flyers (42-19-7, last week: 3) The Flyers have won just three times in their last nine games, and appear to be a team losing steam heading into the postseason. Blowing a three-goal lead to the Thrashers is pretty damned ugly.

4. Detroit Red Wings (41-20-8, last week: 4) Henrik Zetterberg has a career-high 51 assists and has been driving the engine all year while injuries cropped up all around him. The Wings have consistently been one of the NHLs best all season, and are still my pick in the West.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins (40-22-8, last week: 8) The Penguins are still hovering within striking distance, and Sidney Crosby skated for the first time since January. If Crosby can somehow return from a concussion, the Pens automatically move back to the head of the class.

6. San Jose Sharks (39-23-8, last week: 5) Joe Thornton tosses out some wild speculation about the Bruins receiving favorable calls while completely mixing up his facts. Good old Jumbo Joe still doesnt have a clue.

7. Boston Bruins (38-21-9, last week: 2) The Bruins look great, and then blow two-goal leads to the Sabres and Isles with Tim Thomas in net. Looks like the Bs are headed back down the roller-coaster hill.

8. Tampa Bay Lightning (39-22-9, last week: 9) Justtwo wins in their last eightsgames for the Bolts, and theyre being passed by the red-hot Capitals. They look ready to be victimized in the playoffs.

9. Los Angeles Kings (39-25-5, last week: 14) Two goals and three assists for Dustin Penner in his first six games with the Kings make him a fantastic pickup. Hes the guy that Justin Williams and Anze Kopitar have been yearning for.

10. Montreal Canadiens (38-24-7, last week: 11) The Habs seem to have rallied around the Max Pacioretty incident, and that us against the world mentality can help lift a hockey team. But please, people of Montreal, quit calling the police about hockey matters. Its embarrassing.

11. Chicago Blackhawks (38-24-8, last week: 6) The boom-or-bust Blackhawks had lost three in a row heading into San Joseafter ripping off eight straight victories to push themselves back into the playoff discussion. Big win over the Sharks.

12. Phoenix Coyotes (36-23-11, last week: 13) Think the Anaheim Ducks regret waiving Ilya Bryzgalov now that hes on the verge of becoming the all-time shutout leader on the Coyotes with 21 of them? Hes helping carry the desert dogs to the playoffs.

13. Buffalo Sabres (34-27-8, last week: 18) The Sabres managed to put themselves back into the playoff discussion amidst a seven-game road trip. Thats not an easy thing to do, and thats why theyre a very dark horse in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

14. Dallas Stars (37-24-8, last week: 12) The Stars have won six of their last eight games and got Brad Richards back into the mix. All of that Richards trade stuff was so silly.

15. New Jersey Devils (32-32-4, last week: 21) Nobody ever thought theyd make it back to .500 this season. Never mind the playoffs. You win 14 out of 16 games and you move right up the ranks.

16. Nashville Predators (35-24-10, last week: 15) The Preds are on the upswing and goalie Pekka Rinne has won 25 games for three consecutive seasons. Hes really coming on in the goaltending award discussions.

17. Anaheim Ducks (37-27-5, last week: 17) Im not going to count Ray Emerys comeback between the pipes as a pro when it comes to Anaheims list of playoff pros and cons. The Jonas Hiller saga has hurt this team badly.

18. Calgary Flames (36-26-9, last week: 10) The Flames lost to the Canucks and Coyotes in back-to-back games for the first time in two months, and it could be costly to a team fighting for its playoff life.
19. New York Rangers (36-30-4, last week: 19) Sean Avery was scratched because hes been inconsistent in his role as an agitator. Things should get interesting in the Big Apple.

20. Minnesota Wild (35-28-7, last week: 16) The Wild are whimpering their way through a playoff stretch with shutout losses to Nashville and Dallas, and then a sound thrashing at the hands of the Canucks. This may be it for Minnesota.

21. Toronto Maple Leafs (30-30-10, last week: 22) The Leafs are within striking distance of a playoff spot in March. Who knew that Phil Kessel and Co. had this kind of determination in them? The loss to Tampa did hurt, though.

22. Carolina Hurricanes (31-28-10, last week: 20) The Hurricanes have lost four in a row and have a tilt with the Buffalo Sabres Tuesday night thats got all kinds of implications. Its almost like Stanley Cup Thunder Dome. Two teams enter and one team leaves.

23. Atlanta Thrashers (29-28-12, last week: 24) The Thrashers overcame a three-goal deficit to beat the Flyers last weekend, and still have a heartbeat left in the final few weeks.

24. Columbus Blue Jackets (32-27-9, last week: 23) The Blue Jackets are playing out the string, but give them a nod for ending an eight-game losing streak.

25. St. Louis Blues (31-29-9, last week: 25) The Blues have a three-game winning streak, but does any of this really matter when their seasonal song has already faded to black?
26. Florida Panthers (28-32-9, last week: 28) Guess the Panthers finally figured out that South Beach wasnt a good fit for Dennis Wideman. Good call.
27. New York Islanders (27-32-11, last week: 26) The Islanders look good late in the year, and are playing the spoiler to many of their Eastern Conference brethren. Matt Moulson is going to be a good player for a good long time with the way he plays around the net.

28. Colorado Avalanche (26-34-8, last week: 27) One win in their last 19 games. Ooof.

29. Ottawa Senators (25-35-9, last week: 29) At least the Sens have Craig Anderson to pin their hopes on, though he was yanked against the Sabres last weekend.

30. Edmonton Oilers (23-38-9, last week: 30) No Ales Hemsky, Taylor Hall or Sam Gagner to end the season in Edmonton means theres not much going on up there. Tough end to the season.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Bruins get a needed boost from young players in win over Sharks

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Bruins get a needed boost from young players in win over Sharks

Here’s what we learned from the Bruins' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the SAP Center on Saturday night, which gave Boston four of a possible six points in its California road swing.
 
1) The kids stepped up at a great time for the Bruins. Boston needed some young players to step up and fill in for the injured veterans up front, and they got it on Saturday night. Jake DeBrusk was the main playmaker on both goals in the first period, and the Bruins got goals from rookies DeBrusk, Peter Cehlarik and Danton Heinen. It was Cehlarik’s first NHL goal and the 10th point of the season for Heinen, who continues to show signs that he is going to be a productive, reliable winger  even though he didn’t start the season at the NHL level. DeBrusk finished with a goal and an assist and twice used his speed and aggressiveness taking the puck to the net to create scoring chances: On the first goal it was Cehlarik who finished the loose puck after DeBrusk’s net drive created a rebound, and on the second it was DeBrusk simply beating reigning Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns to a race for the puck and then snapping it up and over San Jose backup goalie Aaron Dell. Cehlarik became the sixth Bruins rookie to score the first goal of his NHL career with Boston this season, and it all shows tangible results of the youth movement they were fully embracing this season. There will be peaks and valleys with so many young players in the lineup, but Saturday night turned out to be one of those high-water marks.

2)  At their healthiest, the Bruins can be a fast-skating, skilled team that will be equal parts offense and defense in a hard-working style that features pace and creativity in the offensive zone. The Bruins aren't healthy right now, obviously, and aren’t going to find success that way as attested by the fact that they hadn’t won two games in a row this season until Saturday night in San Jose. With a number of players already out of the lineup, Torey Krug now injured as well and Tuukka Rask taking an extended rest in favor of a red-hot Anton Khudobin, the Bruins are actually playing a very different brand of hockey right now. With Rask not playing -- and not allowing the types of bad or soft goals he's given up so far this year -- they can play a little more conservatively and try to make a two- or three-goal output in a game actually stick as the game-winning margin. Just check the box score,  as the Bruins blocked a whopping 30 shots and conversely the Sharks blocked just 12. Zdeno Chara, Kevan Miller and Robbie O’Gara all had blocked shots in the final few minutes, and Brandon Carlo stepped in front of a wide-open chance for Burns in the third period off a clean offensive zone faceoff win for the Sharks. Those are all gritty, tough plays in the D-zone that you don’t always see, and it perhaps comes a little more naturally when the Bruins are making the clear choice to feature their defense and goaltending right now. It may not be sustainable once Anton Khudobin inevitably cools off a little bit, but for now it’s pretty darn effective.


 
3)  After watching him stop 36 of 37 shots for the win on Saturday night, the Bruins need to see this thing through with Khudobin until he loses a game. Khudobin is 5-0-2 with this season, with a .949 save percentage in three appearances in November. He's playing the best he's played in the last couple of years. Right now Khudobin is actually leading the NHL with a .935 save percentage for the season, and that really contrasts to Rask's .897 save percentage. Certainly part of it is about the Bruins selling out defensively in front of him and blocking 30 shots in the win while knowing they didn’t have to play again until Wednesday night. But it’s also about the Bruins backup goaltender playing himself into a position where the B’s should ride him until he cools down a little bit, and give Rask some more time to figure out what is slowing him down between the pipes right now.
 
PLUS
-- DeBrusk made a couple of big plays in the first period that led to goals for the Bruins, and he finished with a goal, two points, a plus-2 and a team-high four shots on net in 15:49 of ice time. He has a goal and three points in three games since being a healthy scratch last weekend against Toronto.
 
--Khudobin made 16 saves in the first period when the Bruins were outshot 17-5 and it certainly seemed like they were going to get run out of the building. Instead Khudobin stood tall.
 
-- Heinen finished with two goals and three points on the three-game trip and iced the game for the Bruins with a backdoor strike in the third period after Kevan Miller had dashed up the right side of the ice to create the chance. Heinen is pushing up near the Bruins team leaders in some offensive categories and looks like he belongs in the NHL this season.
 
MINUS
-- Burns was burnt on each of the Bruins' two first-period goals, he actually missed the net with 12 of his 16 shot attempts, and he had seven giveaways in a pretty sloppy game managing the puck. Burns hasn’t had a great season to date, and Saturday night was a good example of things not going well for him this year.
 
-- Paul Postma finished with just eight minutes of ice time in the win, and was part of the poor defensive coverage on the Sharks goal by Joonas Donskoi in the first period that ended up getting overturned on video review. Postma didn’t show much else after that only playing a handful of minutes over the remainder of the game, and based on his early performance looks like he’s only going to be a seventh defensemen in Boston.
 
-- Here’s a hearty boo to the 10:30 pm West Coast starts on Saturday night that only the diehards, or those getting paid, are going to closely watch on the weekend leading up to Thanksgiving. Congrats to you if you were one of the lucky ones that decided to stay up and watch a game that didn’t end until after 1 a.m. in the East.  

Morning Skate: Payroll mess at the heart of Bruins' problems

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Morning Skate: Payroll mess at the heart of Bruins' problems

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while battening down the hatches for Thanksgiving week.
 
-- When longtime Bruins follower Clark Booth opines about the Black and Gold, I tend to listen. And he's not happy with the Bruins' salary cap situation at this point in time. It should be noted that this was written before they won the last two games. But some of those truths still remain self-evident when it comes to the B’s.

-- Kevin Bieksa will never stop talking about former teammate Rick Rypien, or about the factors that ultimately led to his tragic passing.
 
-- Alex Ovechkin is truly living up to the “Russian Machine Never Breaks” mantra these days, which led to the creation of an entire blog about the Capitals.
 
-- This Saturday Night Live skit with Chance the Rapper playing a clueless hockey reporter was funny, even to people that have been covering the league for 20 years and still struggle to pronounce a name like Brady Skjei.
 
-- The good, the bad and the ugly courtesy of FOH (Friend of Haggs) Mitch Melnick from last night’s Montreal blowout loss to the Maple Leafs that probably could have just been called the ugly, the ugly and the ugly.
 
-- It’s 20 games into the season, and the Buffalo Sabres media are wondering what’s wrong with their team, and star Jack Eichel.
 
-- For something completely different: It sounds like some of the NFL rank-and-file players want to know why Roger Goodell deserves $50 million and a lifetime private plane.