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Haggerty's Power Rankings: Atlantic Division looks mostly feeble

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Haggerty's Power Rankings: Atlantic Division looks mostly feeble

It’s an amazing phenomenon in the Metro Division where every single team is within three points of a playoff spot, and there is going to be a massive battle royale between the Hurricanes, Rangers, Blue Jackets, Islanders and Devils for a couple of open playoff spots. At least that’s the way it seems like now with a couple of months still left on the hockey schedule, and the Atlantic Division looking exceedingly feeble beyond playoff teams in Tampa Bay, Boston and Toronto. 

All of that makes the Rangers’ decision to sell off some of their players and start rebuilding all the more peculiar this season. It’s also a bold choice that’s potentially being made for the right reasons so they can correctly rebuild a team that’s stuck in the middle, and no longer the club that made it to the Cup Finals a couple of years ago. 

Still, trading off the core veterans is a tough sell in a competitive place like New York City. It’s probably the exact kind of “punting plan” that other teams like Montreal, Detroit, Chicago and Vancouver should be doing in their respective markets as well. 

MORE BRUINS: Backes on Sabres loss: "We were backfiring on everything"

Anyway, without further ado here are this week’s power rankings:

1. Tampa Bay Lightning (regular season record: 38-14-3, rank last week: 1)
The Bolts hit as bit of a rough patch, but seem to have righted things with seven wins in their last 10 games. Victor Hedman is again healthy and Steve Yzerman is poised to add to this club ahead of the trade deadline as well. Tampa is still tops around the league. 

2. Boston Bruins (34-12-8, LW: 9)
The Bruins have lost five games in regulation since the middle of November. It’s a ridiculous run that they’ve been on, but at this point the real concern has to be whether or not the Bruins are peaking too early. 

3. Nashville Predators (33-12-9, LW: 4)
Don’t look now, but PK Subban is trending toward another possible Norris Trophy with 15 goals and 43 points in Nashville as their leading scorer. Boy, did the Canadiens screw up when they traded him, as evidenced by his much ballyhooed return to Montreal last weekend.

4. Vegas Golden Knights (36-15-4, LW: 2)
It’s going to be really interesting when a playoff team like the Golden Knights deals off one of their leading goal-scorers like James Neal ahead of the Feb. 26 trade deadline. What a world we live in. 

5. Winnipeg Jets (32-15-9, LW: 5)
The Jets are just trucking along in the Western Conference and looking like they could be a team that advances a round or two based on how the rest of the conference is shaping up. Connor Hellebuyck has been a difference-maker between the pipes for them. 

6. Washington Capitals (32-17-6, LW: 6)
Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals are rolling through the regular season once again and shaping up to be the favorite in the Metro Division. But it’s not about the regular season with the Caps. It’s about what they’re going to do during the playoffs that matters at this point. 

7. Toronto Maple Leafs (33-19-5, LW: 10)
The Leafs have won eight of their last 10 games and have their playoff spot well in hand. For them it’s about how Lou Lamoriello and Brendan Shanahan are going to approach the trade deadline, and how they’re going to add to an NHL roster that’s going to need some fixes for the postseason.  

8. St. Louis Blues (34-21-3, LW: 8)
In a year where former UMass-Lowell goalies are tearing it up, Carter Hutton is on another level with his 1.70 goals against average and .944 save percentage for the Blues this season. Hutton and Jake Allen have both been pretty outstanding for a Blues team that’s been strong in the Central Division this season. 

9. Dallas Stars (33-20-4, LW: 16)
It’s a very top heavy attack with Alex Radulov, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin all looking like they’re going to be 30-goal scorers this season, but give the Stars credit for really putting it together this season. Ken Hitchcock has left his imprint on what Dallas is doing, and it’s made them a better club this time around.     

10. San Jose Sharks (30-18-8, LW: 15)
The Sharks are third in the league in power play, and have the NHL’s best penalty kill as they’re clearly doing it with special teams these days. They’re also doing it without Jumbo Joe Thornton, who has been out after knee surgery since the end of January. 

11. Minnesota Wild (30-19-6, LW: 17)
The Wild are once again in the thick of a playoff spot, but they’ll have to do it without Jonas Brodin after undergoing surgery last week. The good things is that Ryan Suter and Matthew Dumba are both having very strong seasons, and can step up with a void on the back end. 

12. Los Angeles Kings (30-20-5, LW: 7)
Once again the Kings are doing it with defense while ranking second in the NHL in both goals against (2.4 goals per game) and on the penalty kill (killing at 84.6 percent) while just scraping by offensively. Anze Kopitar has been the big gun for the Kings this season. 

13. Pittsburgh Penguins (31-22-4, LW: 18)
What a season for Evgeni Malkin, who already has 30 goals and 63 points and is leading the way for a Penguins group that’s making their second half surge. The road to the Stanley Cup Final is still going to go through Pittsburgh when it comes to the Eastern Conference bracket. 

14. Calgary Flames (29-19-8, LW: 20)
The Flames are fixing to be a playoff team, but they rank 20th in goals against and 23rd in power play this season. For a group that’s got some seriously good offensive talent, those are surprising numbers productivity-wise for the Flames to this point in the season. 

15. Philadelphia Flyers (28-19-9, LW: 22)
Who would have thought that the Flyers would be in line for the playoffs after losing 10 games in a row earlier this season? They have nine players with double-digit goals and are also enjoying a breakout year from Sean Couturier this season, and have a ton of young players on the rise.   

16. Anaheim Ducks (27-19-11, LW: 19)
It’s a good thing the Ducks have Rickard Rakell because there is not a lot of offense going on with a Ducks team squarely on the bubble for a playoff spot. Certainly the Ducks feel like a playoff team, but they’re going to have to earn it based on the way things have gone for them. 

17. Colorado Avalanche (30-21-4, LW: 26)
It certainly speaks to the job done by the Avalanche that they’re a couple of points out of a playoff spot at this point. It also speaks to just how massively they underachieved last season when they were the NHL’s laughingstock. 

18. New Jersey Devils (27-20-8, LW: 3)
The New Jersey Devils have lost seven of the last 10 games, and dropped four in a row as Jersey is quickly starting to fade away from a playoff spot. They battled hard on Sunday night with the Bruins for a valuable two points, but didn’t come away with anything. Story of their last few weeks, I guess. 

19. Columbus Blue Jackets (28-23-4, LW: 11)
A 3-6-1 record over their last 10 games for the Blue Jackets isn’t what Columbus is looking for, and they’re currently 29th in offense and dead-last on the power play. What a monumental struggle to score goals, which can be a really difficult mental hurdle to get over for a hockey club. 

20. Carolina Hurricanes (26-21-9, LW: 12)
Carolina is in the mix for the playoffs, but this season has to be a bit of a disappointment for a team that some believed would be a no-doubter for the postseason after last summer’s improvements. It will be interesting to see what they do at the trade deadline based on where they sit on the Stanley Cup playoff fence right now. 

21. New York Islanders (27-24-6, LW: 14)
It’s the same old story for the Isles, who have some really excellent individual pieces and are right in the playoff mix. But like those strengths, they also have the weakness between the pipes where Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak haven’t been great this season. It remains to be seen what will happen with them, but one thing is certain: Mat Barzal is worth the price of admission.  

22. New York Rangers (27-24-5, LW: 13)
The Rangers are mathematically still very much in the playoff hunt, but they’ve already waved the white flag in the form of a letter to season ticket holders that they’re going to be trading some of their established players. Other NHL teams are certainly licking their chops waiting to see who will become available, wither it’s Ryan McDonagh or Rick Nash.   

23. Chicago Blackhawks (24-23-8, LW: 21)
The Blackhawks are the most disappointing team in the NHL this season. Hands down and no doubt about it. It would stand to reason that some big changes are coming for the Hawks, who look like they’re going to miss the playoffs for the first time in a long time after several recent first round playoff exits. 

24. Florida Panthers (23-23-6, LW: 23)
The bad news for the Panthers is that they are way, way out of the playoff hunt. The good news is that at least they’re beginning to get healthy between the pipes with James Reimer back up and running, and a return for Roberto Luongo right around the corner after a long absence.    

25. Montreal Canadiens (22-26-7, LW: 25)
The Habs lost in PK Subban’s highly-charged return to Montreal, which is appropriate because they’ve lost pretty much every other important game this season as well. What an absolute disaster of a tire fire of a mess with Les Habitants and their performance this year.  

26. Detroit Red Wings (22-23-9, LW: 24)
It’s a beautiful new building in Detroit for the Red Wings in Little Caesar’s Arena, but it’s a sad state of affairs where they can’t even pack the house with a losing product on the ice. They have some young talent, but it seems like they’re pretty far away from being anything special at this point. 

27. Vancouver Canucks (22-28-6, LW: 27)
There is some young talent and a very good, young head coach in Vancouver, but they have some seriously big decisions over the next six months or so. Like, what do they do with the Sedin Twins? Do they really allow things to drop to the bottom before they start building it back up again, or are they going to be able to retool the roster?   

28. Edmonton Oilers (23-27-4, LW: 28)
The Oil are clearly going to be sellers at this point with perhaps Patrick Maroon, and a few other veteran players as well. The bigger question for them is what kind of changes await in Edmonton with Wayne Gretzky taking over a more prominent role within the organization he “made” back in the 1980’s. 

29. Ottawa Senators (19-26-9, LW: 29)
Interesting to note that so many NHL teams that are struggling on the ice amid questions about the management, ownership or perhaps both in some situations. The Senators shook up their management structure in recent weeks and the owner has made vague threats to the fan base about possibly moving the team. It would be amazing if a team could be successful with all that other stuff going on.  

30. Buffalo Sabres (16-30-10, LW: 30)
Things just continue to get worse for the Sabres, who have now lost Jack Eichel for a substantial amount of time to another high ankle sprain suffered in Boston over the weekend. It’s called Sabres. 

31. Arizona Coyotes (13-32-10, LW: 31)
The minus-64 goal differential for the Coyotes is truly putrid for the Coyotes. They have some young talent, but one has to wonder when they’ll be due for changes again with their plan clearly not working out right now.  

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Morning Skate: Yes, Kessel values Cups more than scoring titles

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Morning Skate: Yes, Kessel values Cups more than scoring titles

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while shaking my head at the disparity in talent levels between Ilya Kovalchuk and anybody on Team USA...no offense to the guys we sent over there.

*Phil Kessel said he values winning Stanley Cups over scoring titles, but does he value them more than hot dogs from his favorite food stand in Toronto? That is the question.

*Here’s a fine tribute from FOH (Friend of Haggs) Steve Conroy about his late partner at the Boston Herald, columnist/hockey writer Steve Harris, who sadly passed away a couple of days ago while still manning the beat until the past week or so. It’s still such a shocking loss for everybody in the local hockey community, and this piece does a good job of capturing his spirit.

*So, controversial Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk is going to now also be the CEO of the team as well? Yikes.

*Damien Cox takes a look at the Canadian NHL teams that look like they’re going to fall short of the playoffs and what they need to do to right their respective ships.

*The Nashville Predators explain how they are “all in” at the NHL trade deadline with another clear shot at a Cup run.

*For something completely different: A ranking of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies from worst to best that suffers from recent-itis where a number of movies just released are probably given way, way too much deference even though they are good superhero flicks.

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Bruins look for another turning point with rugged trip ahead

Bruins look for another turning point with rugged trip ahead

When the Bruins take the ice against the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night deep in the outer reaches of Western Canada, there will be a couple of things at play. One will be the start of a long sprint to the end of the regular season with 27 games in a scant 52 days with no more long breaks to catch their collective breath.

The worst of the worst will be 16 games in March, which could be the thing that ultimately knocks the Black and Gold down a peg after they’ve managed to play through everything else this season.

Trailing the Tampa Bay Lightning by just a couple of points for the NHL’s top spot, the Bruins know the schedule itself will be one of their biggest challenges of the season.

“We’re certainly aware of our schedule the rest of the way, and we know that it’s going to be a challenge. There aren’t too many more days off and we’re pretty much playing every other day,” said Patrice Bergeron. “So some of it will be about getting the proper rest and making sure we’re doing everything to be ready to play. But this has also been a group that’s done a really good job of handling other things that have been thrown at us whether it’s injuries or something else. This is just another challenge to take on.”

But the other, smaller picture is of the five-game trip through Canada with a final stop in Buffalo next Sunday. The Bruins will play those five games in ten days in their longest trip of the regular season. They hope to conjure up some of the same mojo that kicked off their three-month winning binge way back in mid-November. It was then that the Bruins righted the ship on a trip through California and won games in Los Angeles and San Jose that kicked off a four-game winning streak that helped change the season.

The Bruins are much more comfortable now with a giant cushion for a playoff spot and a legitimate chance to overtake the Lightning, but Bruce Cassidy is hoping to see the same kind of hunger in this particular long stretch away from home.

“This is much more about what we are and what we look like, but having said that the [California trip] was the beginning of us [turning things around]. It had us gutting out some wins in typically tough places to play like L.A. and San Jose. [Anton] Khudobin was in net and we were relying on some call-up guys, but that was really when our D-corps really stiffened up,” said Cassidy. “It kind of got us back to our heads above water, and from there we kind of took off. But now this is a different group in a different position, and we’re pushing to be in a different position.

“I think you can say Tuukka [Rask] won us all these games or [Brad] Marchand or [Patrice] Bergeron. Our best players have been our best players, but our support players have been very good, especially on those nights when we’ve needed to lean on them a little more when they’ve able to shut down [the Bergeron Line]. I think our support players deserve a lot of credit for that.”

The Bruins clearly hope this mammoth trip can be another seasonal turning point that pushes them in a direction toward a strong, decisive finish to the marathon of a regular season.

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