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Power Rankings: Penguins rising

After a slow start, Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins are looking like a Stanley Cup threat, rising to No. 5 in this week’s Power Rankings.

For all the heat he’s taken this season, including some from this corner, it’s time to give Penguins GM Jim Rutherford a bit of credit. He’s tinkered extensively with his club, to the point that just 10 of the players who skated in Monday’s 6–2 win over Anaheim were on the team’s opening night roster. Thanks to a few trades, and a couple of strategic call-ups, these Pens are faster and deeper than at the start of the season. And with the arrival of coach Mike Sullivan, they finally appear comfortable in their own skin. It’s a good bet that Rutherford’s not done massaging the lineup yet. If he sees the Pens as contenders—and at this point, there’s no reason not to—he could be very active ahead of the deadline. 

Biggest gain: Pittsburgh Penguins (11 to 6)

Biggest drop: Arizona Coyotes (16 to 29)

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1. Washington Capitals


RECORD: 38-9-4

Is this the best Caps team ever? With three wins last week, Washington was first to the 80-point milestone. At their current pace, the Caps will rack up 128 points for the season, seven better than the 121 they posted in 2009-10. Last week: 3-1-0

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2. Tampa Bay Lightning


RECORD: 29-19-4

Their Monday night tire fire against Ottawa cost them a chance to claim the top spot in our rankings, but that doesn't mean the 5–1 loss is anything to worry about. With 10 wins in their past 12 games, the Bolts finally look like the team we expected them to be. They could be on a collision course with the Caps. Last week: 3-1-0

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3. Anaheim Ducks


RECORD: 25-19-7

Their six-game winning streak came to a humbling conclusion on Monday night in Pittsburgh, but the Ducks look mighty again. They’ve gone on a 13-4-1 tear since Christmas. Their offense is clicking (27 goals in their past seven). Even Ryan Getzlaf is lighting the lamp. The captain scored his first even-strength goal of the season last week against the Kings. Anything seems possible for this team now. Last week: 3-1-0

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4. Chicago Blackhawks


RECORD: 36-16-4

Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin get all the hype, but where would the league’s most dangerous line be without Artem Anisimov? The big center, who had a four-point night in the Blackhawks’ 5–1 victory over the Stars on Saturday night, has been the glue for the unit, providing a physical presence and defensive conscience that’s helped make the trio so effective. Last week: 3-0-0

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5. Pittsburgh Penguins


RECORD: 27-18-7

Sidney Crosby's offensive surge—17 goals and 29 points in his past 17 games—has put to rest all those early season concerns. Now the only question is how far can he help carry this team? The Pens have won six of seven and look like they’ll be a handful down the stretch, especially if Crosby continues to play like he’s on a mission from God. Last week: 3-1-0

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6. Florida Panthers


RECORD: 31-16-6

The Panthers have to be very concerned about the health of Aleksander Barkov after he sustained an apparent head injury in Monday night’s loss in Detroit. They lost seven of 10 while their top center was rehabbing a hand injury earlier this season and their spot atop the Atlantic could be in jeopardy if misses any time. Last week: 2-1-1

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7. Los Angeles Kings


RECORD: 31-17-3

Home hasn’t been so friendly to the Kings of late—they’ve dropped three straight at Staples Center—so maybe they can find their game on the road. This seven-game swing takes them nearly to the deadline and should give GM Dean Lombardi an idea of what, if anything, he needs to mount another Stanley Cup run. Last week: 1-1-0

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8. San Jose Sharks


RECORD: 27-20-4

Back to earth for the Sharks, who kicked off their current road trip by dropping two of three. At least they got a bit of revenge against the Blues, a team that twice whipped them 7–2 last season. Last week: 1-2-0

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9. St. Louis Blues


RECORD: 30-17-8

Their snakebit offense finally showed signs of life in a 4–1 win over the Wild, but their defense took a big hit, losing Alex Pietrangelo for at least three weeks. The veteran blueliner ranks fourth in the league in time on ice (26:40 per game) and he logs heavy minutes on both special teams. There’s no replacing what he brings to the table. Last week: 2-1-0

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10. New York Rangers


RECORD: 30-18-5

For all their shortcomings, the Rangers have mastered five-on-five play. They outscored their opposition 10-3 at even strength last week, and now lead the league with 110 goals at evens. Their +30 goal differential is second only to Washington (+33). Now if the Blueshirts could just do something about their bottom-five special teams ... Last week: 3-1-0

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11. Carolina Hurricanes


RECORD: 24-21-9

Nice to see Jordan Staal getting his game on track. The second-liner put up a three-point night in a win over the Jets and now has 16 points (5-11) in his last 14 games. Jeff Skinner is feeling it too, with two goals and six points during a five-game streak. Last week: 1-1-1

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12. Detroit Red Wings


RECORD: 27-18-8

That Petr Mrazek kid’s not bad, eh? After Monday’s win over the Panthers he’s the NHL's leader in goals-against average (1.97) and co-leader, with Philly’s Michal Neuvirth, in save percentage (.933). Hope Jimmy Howard doesn’t have any long-term plans in Detroit. Last week: 2-2-0

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13. Dallas Stars


RECORD: 33-15-5

Just when it felt like the Stars finally got their groove back they go and get their doors blown off—at home, no less—by the hated Blackhawks. Dallas fans may calm themselves with thoughts of games-in-hand, but those only matter if they eventually go in the win column. And like the Bruins, the Stars haven’t beaten a team that’s in playoff position since they downed the Predators on New Year's Eve. Last week: 2-1-0

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14. Boston Bruins


RECORD: 28-18-6

Points are points, so no one is complaining about the Bruins going 7-2-1 in their past 10. Still, none of the teams they bested are in playoff position, so you’re left to wonder whether this team is a serious threat to make the postseason or it’s simply taking advantage of a gently sloping path. Last week: 2-0-1

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15. Nashville Predators


RECORD: 25-20-8

You watch Pekka Rinne play like he did in Saturday’s 6–2 win over the Sharks and you realize how dangerous this team could be down the stretch ... but only if the veteran keeper is on his game. Take away that stink bomb against the Flyers and he’s stopped 108 of the past 112 even-strength shots he’s faced (.964 save percentage). Last week: 1-2-0

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16. Philadelphia Flyers


RECORD: 23-19-9

Hat tip to Philly’s team website for pointing out that the Flyers have scored at least one third period goal in 11 of their last 12 games. Problem, though, is one that they allowed. That last second tally by Keith Yandle in Saturday’s 3–2 shootout loss to the Rangers is one that just can’t be allowed to happen. Last week: 2-1-1

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17. New Jersey Devils


RECORD: 26-21-7

New Jersey has gone 5-1-2 since Jan. 16 to stay in the hunt for a wild card berth, but the Devils won’t be there long if they keep shooting themselves in the foot. They allowed a late tying goal in each of their last two games and ended up dropping both in the shootout. Those are the kind of losses that come back to haunt a marginal team. Last week: 1-1-2

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18. Colorado Avalanche


RECORD: 27-24-4

Three consecutive losses to Central Division rivals is no way to start the stretch run. The only bright spot was the play of Mikhail Grigorenko, who is showing signs of becoming the player the Avs need him to be since he was slotted on the top line alongside Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon. Last week: 0-2-1

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19. Columbus Blue Jackets


RECORD: 21-28-5

Will it be another strong finish for the Jackets? Columbus has won four of its past five, limiting its opposition to six goals in those victories. Joonas Koripalo continues to impress. His .941 save percentage since Jan. 13 ranks sixth among all starters. Last week: 2-1-0

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20. New York Islanders


RECORD: 27-18-6

Push around a couple of patsies and get knocked flat on their keisters by a pair of contending teams. Not the sort of results that suggest they’re headed for great things, especially with the top end of the Metro heating up. Good to see blueliner Johnny Boychuk back, though. He’ll be a factor. Last week: 2-2-0

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21. Ottawa Senators


RECORD: 25-23-6

A nice couple of days for the Sens, who blew out the Maple Leafs and Lightning at home, then added Dion Phaneuf in a deal that addresses a clear need for blue line help. With six of their next nine opponents on the outside of the playoff hunt, this could be their chance to build a little late-season momentum. Last week: 2-2-0

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22. Calgary Flames


RECORD: 23-25-3

Solid week for Sean Monahan, who posted two goals and six points to lift the Flames out of a six-way tie for last place in the NHL and help keep Calgary’s playoff hopes alive. They could use a little momentum with a must-win game against Arizona on the slate later this week. Last week: 2-1-0

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23. Buffalo Sabres


RECORD: 21-26-6

A couple of extra time losses to the Bruins notwithstanding, the Sabres are on a nice little run. According to the Buffalo News, the team has earned points in a franchise-record eight straight road games against divisional opponents, going 6-0-2. It’s something to build on. Last week: 1-0-2

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24. Winnipeg Jets


RECORD: 23-26-3

Looks like Connor Hellebuyck has hit the wall. The outstanding rookie has three wins to show for his past 11 appearances and he posted a save percentage above .900 in just four of them. Michael Hutchinson earned the win against Colorado on Saturday. Might be time to let him run with the ball for a bit. Last week: 1-2-0

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25. Montreal Canadiens


RECORD: 26-24-4

So much for the tank. Ben Scrivens turned in a pair of three-star performances over the weekend, leading the Canadiens to their first back-to-back wins since November. No one’s booked the usual route for the parade just yet, but these were games Montreal had to have and the Habs got the job done. Last week: 2-2-0

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26. Vancouver Canucks


RECORD: 20-20-12

So much for a post-All Star surge. Vancouver has suffered four straight losses, including a stretch of three in a row at home during which the Canucks were held to a total of three goals. They’ve won just 20 games all season, second fewest in the league. Might be time to starting focusing on the long-term and let this season play out as it may. Last week: 0-3-0

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27. Edmonton Oilers


RECORD: 21-28-5

Just when the return of Connor McDavid hinted at hope, blowout losses in Montreal and Brooklyn pretty much ended any illusion that the Oilers would mount a late-season run to the playoffs. They aren’t as bad as they looked in those two defeats, but it’s apparent that they’re still a work-in-progress. Last week: 2-2-0

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28. Toronto Maple Leafs


RECORD: 19-23-9

Not sure how ditching Dion Phaneuf and adding Jared Cowen will address the rash of two-on-ones this team has allowed lately. As hard as this team works, the Leafs still prone to massive brain freezes that end up beating them. But what the heck, they shaved some dough off their cap with that blockbuster trade with the Senators. Last week: 2-1-0

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29. arizona Coyotes


RECORD: 24-22-6

Make it four straight losses out of the break for the Coyotes, a team that spends too much time either chasing the puck (46.6 % Corsi rating, 28th in the league) or parked in the box (11:09 minutes per game, 24th). It would be one thing if the kids were the problem, but when it’s the veterans who are drawing the whistles, it might be time to sit someone down. Last week: 0-2-1

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30. Minnesota Wild


RECORD: 23-20-9

Coach Mike Yeo banished Thomas Vanek and Jason Zucker to the press box for Saturday’s game against the Blues, prompting the best effort from the Wild in weeks. The results though were familiar: a 4–1 loss, their 10th defeat in 11 games. Not sure what tricks Yeo has left up his sleeve, but he’s running out of time to employ them. Last week: 0-3-0