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Scott Cullen

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The Columbus Blue Jackets have climbed to the top in the TSN.ca NHL Power Rankings, ahead of the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Expectations weren’t high for the Blue Jackets coming into the season, but they’ve earned their place at the top of the mountain. Funny things happen when a team just stops losing games.

The Nashville Predators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Sabres and Dallas Stars are moving in the right direction this week, while the Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames and New Jersey Devils are falling in this week’s rankings.

1.    COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS 20-5-4
THIS WEEK: 1 LAST WEEK: 3

GF:  3.34 GA: 2.07 SA CF%: 51.7
PP%: 27.7 PK%: 81.9
The Blue Jackets have won nine straight, getting John Tortorella to his 500th career win quicker than expected. It is remarkable how quickly they’ve turned around from last season, but excellent goaltending, the league’s best power play and the addition of a top-pair defenceman can go a long way.
Key Injuries: None.

2.    WASHINGTON CAPITALS 17-7-3
THIS WEEK: 4 LAST WEEK: 4

GF: 2.67 GA: 2.13 SA CF%: 53.0
PP%: 19.6 PK%: 84.0
Saturday’s loss to Montreal snapped a six-game winning streak, so even while the Capitals don’t seem to be overpowering, they’re still getting results. Part of it is that slow starters Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has a team-leading eight assists in December, and Justin Williams, with a team-leading five goals, have started producing.
Key Injuries: None.

3.    PITTSBURGH PENGUINS 20-7-5
THIS WEEK: 3 LAST WEEK: 1

GF: 3.34 GA: 2.78 SA CF%: 50.7
PP%: 20.7 PK%: 78.6
The Penguins have dropped back-to-back overtime games, but they’ve still gone nine straight without a regulation loss. The only reason for a drop from their No. 1 perch is the injury to top defenceman Kris Letang.
Key Injuries: D Kris Letang (lower body).

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With injuries piling up, the Habs need to lean even more on Alexander Radulov.

4.    MONTREAL CANADIENS 20-7-4
THIS WEEK: 4 LAST WEEK: 2

GF:  3.06  GA: 2.19  SA CF%: 52.4
PP%: 19.4 PK%: 80.7
Since starting the season 13-1-1, the Habs are 7-6-3 and with injuries decimating their forward group, there is more pressure on the remaining big dogs – Max Pacioretty and Alexander Radulov.
Key Injuries: C Alex Galchenyuk (knee), C David Desharnais (knee), RW Andrew Shaw (concussion).

5.    MINNESOTA WILD 18-8-4
THIS WEEK: 5 LAST WEEK: 6

GF: 2.93 GA: 1.93  SA CF%: 49.8
PP%: 16.7 PK%: 84.3
The Wild have one regulation loss in the past 13 games, and their current seven-game winning streak has been punctuated by the last three that are by a cumulative 14-4 score.
Key Injuries: None.

6.    CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS 22-8-4
THIS WEEK: 6 LAST WEEK: 8

GF: 2.82 GA: 2.32 SA CF%: 48.9
PP%: 18.1 PK%: 73.9
The Blackhawks have won five straight, but they are losing the shot battle more frequently and that’s not how this franchise established itself as a perennial contender. Right now, they’re riding great goaltending and, lately, a hot streak for second-year left winger Artemi Panarin, who has 11 points in the past five games.
Key Injuries:  G Corey Crawford (appendix).

7.    NEW YORK RANGERS 23-10-1  
THIS WEEK: 7 LAST WEEK: 5

GF: 3.26  GA: 2.18  SA CF%: 48.4
PP%: 21.0 PK%: 86.8
The Rangers have won six of their past seven games, with their only loss coming at home against the Blackhawks last week. The funny thing about the balance of the Rangers – a team with six 20-point scorers – is that third-line centre Kevin Hayes is the team leader with 23 points.
Key Injuries: C Mika Zibanejad (fibula), RW Pavel Buchnevich (back).

8.    ST. LOUIS BLUES 17-11-4
THIS WEEK: 8 LAST WEEK: 7

GF: 2.81 GA: 2.88 SA CF%: 51.6
PP%: 21.9 PK%: 88.5
The Blues have two regulation wins in the past eight, and despite reasonably solid play overall, and the league’s second-leading scorer (Vladimir Tarasenko), they’re still getting outscored and it’s hard to be considered a serious contender when that’s the case. 
Key Injuries: None.

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Point production has dipped for Jumbo Joe.

9.    SAN JOSE SHARKS 19-12-1
THIS WEEK: 9 LAST WEEK: 9

GF: 2.44 GA: 2.25 SA CF%: 52.3
PP%: 17.5 PK%: 82.1
Sunday’s loss to Chicago ended a four-game winning streak, but the Sharks are at the top of the Pacific Division. They’ve been riding the great play of D Brent Burns, even while C Joe Thornton has managed a modest 20 points (2 goals!) in 32 games.
Key Injuries: LW Tomas Hertl (knee).

10.     PHILADELPHIA FLYERS 19-11-3
THIS WEEK: 10 LAST WEEK: 10

GF: 3.12 GA: 2.97 SA CF%: 49.6
PP%: 23.3 PK%: 82.5
The Flyers had their 10-game winning streak snapped at Dallas Saturday, and while there are familiar names leading the way offensively, 19-year-old rookie Ivan Provorov and Andrew MacDonald’s disaster contract are leading Philadelphia in ice time this month.
Key Injuries: G Michal Neuvirth (knee), C Sean Couturier (knee), RW Matt Read (oblique).

11.     EDMONTON OILERS 16-12-5
THIS WEEK: 11 LAST WEEK: 12

GF: 2.88 GA: 2.67 SA CF%: 52.0
PP%: 22.2 PK%: 83.2
The Oilers have one regulation win in the past eight games, and while the rest of the hockey world goes ga-ga over Columbus’ league-best power play, it turns out that the Oilers have the second-best group at 5-on-4 this season. 
Key Injuries: D Darnell Nurse (ankle).

12.     LOS ANGELES KINGS 16-13-2
THIS WEEK: 12 LAST WEEK: 13

GF: 2.52 GA: 2.45 SA CF%: 53.3
PP%: 15.1 PK%: 83.5
The Kings have split back-to-back 1-0 games over the weekend, which seems to be about right for this grind-it-out team, especially when their franchise centre, Anze Kopitar, has just 15 points (3 goals) in 26 games.
Key Injuries: G Jonathan Quick (groin), D Brayden McNabb (arm).

13.     BOSTON BRUINS 17-13-3
THIS WEEK: 13 LAST WEEK: 14

GF: 2.30 GA: 2.36 SA CF%: 53.9
PP%: 13.1 PK%: 87.3
Sunday’s win over Los Angeles, limiting the Kings to 18 shots on goal, ended a stretch of seven straight without a regulation win. How they will score, while David Pastrnak recovers from elbow surgery, will be a fascinating development.
Key Injuries: D John-Michael Liles (upper body), LW Matt Beleskey (hip), RW David Pastrnak (elbow).

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Pekka Rinne has struggled in December.

14.     NASHVILLE PREDATORS  13-12-5
THIS WEEK: 14 LAST WEEK: 17

GF: 2.90 GA: 2.83 SA CF%: 52.6
PP%: 19.8 PK%: 80.4
It looked like the Predators had recovered from their slow start, with a strong November, but they are 2-4-2 in December. Of course, G Pekka Rinne has a .848 save percentage in six of those games, which could mean more action for rookie Juuse Saros.
Key Injuries: D P.K. Subban (upper body).

15.    ANAHEIM DUCKS   16-11-5
THIS WEEK: 15 LAST WEEK: 11

GF: 2.81 GA: 2.78 SA CF%: 49.4
PP%: 24.3 PK%: 80.9
The Ducks have allowed 15 goals on the first three games of their current road trip, and they are running into the expected troubles of a team that gets outshot more often than not and is trying to make do with .904 goaltending.
Key Injuries: D Simon Despres (concussion).

16.    OTTAWA SENATORS 18-11-3 
THIS WEEK: 16 LAST WEEK: 16

GF: 2.47 GA: 2.63 SA CF%: 46.8
PP%: 16.8 PK%: 82.4
The Senators are getting it done with smoke and mirrors, sitting second in the Atlantic despite terrible possession stats and giving up more goals than they have scored. They have a few quality pieces, though, as D Erik Karlsson and RW Mark Stone are legit productive leaders.
Key Injuries: LW Clarke MacArthur (concussion), G Craig Anderson (personal).

17.    TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS  12-11-7
THIS WEEK: 17 LAST WEEK: 21

GF: 2.83 GA: 2.87  SA CF%: 52.0
PP%: 18.3 PK%: 83.2
2-1-2 in the past five games, the Maple Leafs are having trouble scoring lately – seven goals in the past four games – but they have taken 178 shots on goal in those four games! Those pucks have to start find the net.
Key Injuries: LW Joffrey Lupul (sports hernia).

18.    CAROLINA HURRICANES 13-11-7
THIS WEEK: 18 LAST WEEK: 20

GF: 2.58 GA: 2.68 SA CF%: 51.7
PP%: 21.7 PK%: 91.3
The ‘Canes have one regulation loss in the past seven games and they are killing all the penalties – 21 of 22 in December – and while that makes them competitive, it’s not yet enough in the gauntlet that is the Metropolitan Division.
Key Injuries: None.

19.    FLORIDA PANTHERS 14-13-5
THIS WEEK: 19 LAST WEEK: 18

GF: 2.34 GA: 2.63 SA CF%: 52.3
PP%: 14.8 PK%: 86.0
The Panthers have been much-maligned for changing their head coach, and then bringing Dale Tallon back to manage day-to-day hockey operations, but they are 4-3-4 in 11 games since firing Gerard Gallant, and eight of those games have been on the road. For all the criticism sent their way, they are just four points out of a playoff spot with a game at hand.
Key Injuries: LW Jonathan Huberdeau (Achilles), D Alex Petrovic (ankle), LW Jonathan Marchessault (lower body).

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The Lightning need their supporting cast to step up.

20.    TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING 15-14-3
THIS WEEK: 20 LAST WEEK: 19

GF: 2.78 GA: 2.78 SA CF%: 49.9
PP%: 22.8 PK%: 78.2
The Lightning have one regulation win in the past 11 games and their two best offensive players are out with injuries. They’re going to need the likes of Tyler Johnson, Jonathan Drouin, Alex Killorn and Vladislav Namestnikov to produce more.
Key Injuries: C Steven Stamkos (knee), RW Ryan Callahan (lower body), RW Nikita Kucherov (lower body).

21.    CALGARY FLAMES 16-15-2 
THIS WEEK: 21 LAST WEEK: 15

GF: 2.52 GA: 2.88 SA CF%: 49.3
PP%: 17.0 PK%: 78.5
A nice Flames run came grinding to a halt, as they were outscored 10-4 in two losses at home against Tampa Bay and Columbus. One lingering problem is that D T.J. Brodie has been on the wrong side of shot differentials. Mixed with a 95.4 PDO, that leads to a minus-19 in 33 games (I know, it’s plus-minus, but it telling the story here).
Key Injuries: None.

22.    BUFFALO SABRES 12-11-7 
THIS WEEK: 22 LAST WEEK: 27

GF: 2.17 GA: 2.50  SA CF%: 48.3
PP%: 22.9 PK%: 73.6
The Sabres are showing signs of progress, with one regulation loss in the past six games. They are getting strong goaltending but, with most of the roster healthy, they need more offensive production.
Key Injuries: LW Tyler Ennis (groin).

23.    DALLAS STARS 13-14-6
THIS WEEK: 23 LAST WEEK: 26

GF: 2.55 GA: 3.06 SA CF%: 49.7
PP%: 16.5 PK%: 77.4
The Stars haven’t earned back-to-back wins in more than five weeks, so it’s hard to make any gains in the standings. G Antti Niemi has played well in the past three games, posting a .959 SV%, and any kind of competent goaltending is reason to be hopeful.
Key Injuries: LW Mattias Janmark (knee), RW Ales Hemsky (hip), Patrick Sharp (concussion).

24.    WINNIPEG JETS 15-16-3
THIS WEEK: 24 LAST WEEK: 24

GF: 2.59 GA: 2.91 SA CF%: 48.4
PP%: 14.7 PK%: 75.4
The Jets are 6-4-1 in the past 11 games, and rookie RW Patrik Laine leads the way with 18 goals and he does it merely by having an accurate and overpowering shot. Nice tool if you have it.
Key Injuries: D Tyler Myers (lower body), RW Joel Armia (lower body), C Nic Petan (lower body).

25.    DETROIT RED WINGS 14-14-4
THIS WEEK: 25 LAST WEEK: 23

GF: 2.31 GA: 2.78 SA CF%: 48.4
PP%: 13.0 PK%: 82.8
Saturday’s win over Anaheim ended an eight-game streak without a regulation win. Barring a dramatic change, it’s hard to picture this Red Wings team in the playoffs, and it’s the first time in a generation that has been the case.
Key Injuries: C Darren Helm (shoulder), D Brendan Smith (knee), LW Justin Abdelkader (knee).

26.    NEW JERSEY DEVILS 12-12-7
THIS WEEK: 26 LAST WEEK: 22

GF: 2.32 GA: 2.94 SA CF%: 48.4
PP%: 15.3 PK%: 83.5
Winless in six, the Devils have scored a grand total of eight goals in those six games. Curiously, they’ve also demoted 27-year-old rookie D Yohann Auvitu, who had been pretty effective.
Key Injuries: None.

27.    VANCOUVER CANUCKS 13-16-3
THIS WEEK: 27 LAST WEEK: 28

GF: 2.41 GA: 3.09  SA CF%: 47.3
PP%: 14.7 PK%: 80.2
In comes Chris Tanev, out goes Erik Gudbranson, which is an upgrade, but if the Canucks are going to be competitive, they would need to be a full power (or even full power-plus) on the blueline.
Key Injuries:  D Alexander Edler (hand), D Erik Gudbranson (wrist).

28.    NEW YORK ISLANDERS 11-14-6
THIS WEEK: 28 LAST WEEK: 25

GF: 2.58 GA: 3.13 SA CF%: 46.2
PP%: 12.8 PK%: 78.1
Winless in five, the Islanders are reeling again and when they start sinking, the questions start to pop up about John Tavares’ future, and what the Islanders are doing to make the supporting cast better.
Key Injuries: C Mikhail Grabovski (concussion).

29.    ARIZONA COYOTES  11-15-5
THIS WEEK: 29 LAST WEEK: 29

GF: 2.16  GA: 3.10 SA CF%: 45.4
PP%: 14.6 PK%: 80.4
The Coyotes are 3-2-1 in the past six games, but they’re mostly getting carried by G Mike Smith. Otherwise, no one in the lineup is really mounting a sustained offensive charge.
Key Injuries: C Brad Richardson (tiba/fibula), LW Max Domi (hand).

30.    COLORADO AVALANCHE 11-18-1
THIS WEEK: 30 LAST WEEK: 30

GF: 2.17 GA: 3.20 SA CF%: 46.6
PP%: 16.5 PK%: 80.3
The Avs are 2-9-1 in the past dozen games, and everyone knows they need to improve their blueline. How will they do it?
Key Injuries: D Erik Johnson (fibula), G Semyon Varlamov (groin). 

Scott Cullen can be reached at scott.cullen@bellmedia.ca