NHL Power Rankings: The One In Which We Race To The Playoffs

After being off almost two months, the NHL Power Rankings return with two weeks left to go in the season and the playoff races starting to heat up. The standings in both the Eastern and Western Conferences are starting to divide into the contenders and the challengers. Either you are competing for a playoff position, already eliminated from the playoffs, or are struggling to make the playoffs. That being said, here are the top 16 teams as decided by writers from around SBN Hockey.

1. Washington Capitals: 49-15-11 overall, 1-1-2 last week

SBN Blog: Japers' Rink

The Capitals were the first team to clinch a playoff position and also the only team to clinch their division at this point in the season. They are also the odds on leader to capture the President's Trophy this season. Since the last seven games are essentially going through the motions for the Capitals, the guys at Japers' Rink are already looking toward the playoffs.

Simply put, the next couple of weeks are likely to be somewhat cumbersome for Caps fans, since there's very little left to achieve in the regular season and our team's playoff potential is limitless.  The important thing is to remember that it's not any easier for the players.  Like the rest of us they're human, like the rest of us they have a lot less interest meaningless regular season game, and like the rest of us they're ready to go out and prove how good they are in the postseason. 

Right now, there's not any reason to think they won't be able to do just that.

2. San Jose Sharks: 47-19-10 overall, 4-0 last week

SBN Blog: Fear The Fin

The leading team in the Western Conference is starting to find their stride at just the right time, winners of their five games. They are also starting to show some wear though as leading point scorer, Joe Thornton, was injured in Saturday's game against Vancouver and missed their last game against Colorado. Having a healthy Thornton for the playoffs is going to be crucial if they are going to get the playoff monkey off their back. 

3. Phoenix Coyotes: 47-23-6 overall, 1-1-1 last week

SBN Blog: Five For Howling

The most surprising team this season has clinched their first playoff berth since 2002, and they're looking for more as they are only four points behind the number one seed Sharks in the Western Conference. With the latest rumors surrounding the franchise and a possible move out of town, the team on the ice has focused their thoughts on the task at hand -- the Stanley Cup. 

4. Chicago Blackhawks: 46-21-7 overall, 1-2 last week

SBN Blog: Second City Hockey

While the Blackhawks have played well enough to keep themselves at the top of the Western Conference all season, there are signs of wear as they head into the playoffs. The team has lost seven of their last ten games, including their last two to the Columbus Blue Jackets by a combined score of 12-5. While the Central Division may be closed to wrapped up, losing momentum at the end of the season could severely hurt their chances in the playoffs, especially with questionable goaltending. Besides, when the city of Chicago puts a mural like this up, you know your doomed.

(Photo H/T: Puck Daddy)

5. Pittsburgh Penguins: 44-25-7 overall, 2-0-1 last week

SBN Blog: Pensburgh

The Penguins have been quietly occupying the Atlantic Division lead for much of the past month and are looking to be a dangerous team again come playoff time. That being said, the defending champions are also going to face some of the stiffest competition as every team they face is going to want to knock them off. The Penguins are dealing with injuries to some key players in Sergei Gonchar and Evgeni Malkin. While losing Gonchar has been problematic in past seasons, it hasn't been much of an issue this season. The guys at Pensburgh explain why:

So Goligoski and Letang are getting a lot more playing time, and combined they're throwing a lot more rubber to the net than they have been this season. But they haven't produced any points, and Gonchar's scored an average of .798 points/game during his stint as a Pittsburgh Penguin. The young players are going to have to get on the scoreboard, but for now they're doing quite well at filling the gaps and keeping the momentum going.

6. Buffalo Sabres: 42-23-10 overall, 3-1 last week

SBN Blog: Die By The Blade

The Sabres have been one of those quiet teams that have stayed at the top of the Eastern Conference for practically all season. Led be stellar goaltending in Ryan Miller, they have cruised out to a seven point lead in the Northeast Division and should be a tough team to face in the playoffs. They have seen a handful of injuries in the past week, losing leading point getter Tim Connolly and leading scorer Thomas Vanek,  but they aren't expected to linger through the postseason at all.

7. Detroit Red Wings: 39-23-13 overall, 4-0 last week

SBN Blog: Winging It In Motown

The Detroit Red Wings are heating up at the right time, winners of their last six games and nine of their last ten, to put them in sixth position in the Western Conference. For the first time seemingly all season, the Red Wings are healthy and have all of their key players in and producing. They are going to be a force come playoff time, especially against an unsuspecting third seed.

8. Vancouver Canucks: 45-26-4 overall, 1-2 last week

SBN Blog: Nucks Misconduct

The Canucks are in a dogfight for the Northwest Division, leading the Colorado Avalanche by only five points. The Canucks are the only division leader at this point in the season who has not clinched a playoff spot as of late. Their struggles on the ice have only added to the pressures that this team is facing. Roberto Luongo has struggled mightly in his last five games, losing four of them and allowing three goals or more in those losses. The fine people over at Nucks Misconduct are starting to question whether this team can make a legitimate run in the playoffs.

For every team there are always question marks surrounding them. Are Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin playoff performers? Can Ryan Kesler take the Canucks on his shoulders and lead them to the Cup? Is Roberto Luongo a potential Conn Smythe winner? Will the 4th line be a hinderance or simply do their job?

Those are legitimate questions, but if I were bring it down to one factor that would make or break the playoff run it'd be the defense. We saw it in the olympics, where Team Canada won because their defense could control the game. We see it in the Chicago Blackhawks, where the goalies have unexpectedly great stats. And we don't see it in the Washington Capitals, who are 6th out of the 8 current eastern playoff teams in goals against. If all the other top teams in the East weren't struggling, I wouldn't pick them to go past the second round.

9. Nashville Predators: 44-27-6 overall, 2-2-1 last week

SBN Blog: On the Forecheck

The Nashville Predators have found themselves in a comfortable position heading into the final two weeks of the season -- fifth place in the Western Conference and nine points ahead of ninth. While the Predators are most likely not a team that strikes fear into the rest of the conference, they are a team that can quietly move along in the playoffs and they have a handful of players with playoff experience. The Predators are a team that could sneak up in the West if taken lightly.

10. New Jersey Devils: 44-26-6 overall, 2-1-2 last week

SBN Blog: In Lou We Trust

The New Jersey Devils are one of the most historically-consistent teams in the NHL -- right there with the Detroit Red Wings -- solidifying their 13th straight postseason appearance this week. Only three players have been apart of all thirteen appearances: Martin Brodeur, Jay Pandolfo, and Patrik Elias. That's truly a tribute to the fine, fine work of Lou Lamiorello.

11. Los Angeles Kings: 42-27-6 overall, 1-3-1 last week

SBN Blog: Jewels From The Crown

The Los Angeles Kings have lost some steam from their great start early this season, but they're still rather comfortably in the playoff mix, sitting seven points ahead of Colorado thanks to their win against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night. It's doubtful that they're looking at a Cup this spring with all their young talent, but the experience of the postseason will be priceless.

12. Ottawa Senators: 42-30-5 overall, 4-0 last week

SBN Blog: Silver Seven

The Olympic break was not kind to the streaky Ottawa Senators. Winners of 11 straight in January, a streak that saw them pull away from the pack, they were ice cold for a stretch in March to bring them backto reality in the Eastern Conference. They sit seven points behind the Sabres for the Northeast lead, with Buffalo having two games in hand. The one thing going in their favor: they are 5-0 against the Sabres this season. Too bad a first round matchup is unlikely.

13. Colorado Avalanche: 41-27-7 overall, 1-2 last week

SBN Blog: Mile High Hockey

The Avalanche are struggling as well down the stretch, finding themselves on the edge of not making the playoffs just four points ahead of 9th place Calgary. That struggle is even sensed by the fans at Mile High Hockey with this open letter to the team.

Now, we're only going to say this because we care, but we've heard some disturbing news lately and we hope you can set us straight. We've heard you've had some relapses recently, and there's even talk you might fold up shop earlier than expected this year. Avalanche, you have to know we're going to be proud of you no matter what happens, as it's been wonderful spending time with you this year - far more entertaining than we've ever imagined. But you know how it goes, dear friend. Once you get a taste of something sweet, you don't want to give it up, especially when your taste buds have been exposed to a lot of tartness. Our time with you has been so enjoyable this year, we simply don't want our visits together to end. We know they can't last forever, but we'd sure like to prolong the magic for a while longer. Don't you agree?

14. Montreal Canadiens: 37-31-8 overall, 1-1-1 last week

SBN Blog: Habs Eyes On The Prize

The Canadiens are in a dogfight for one the last three spots in the Eastern Conference. They also just found out that their leading power play scorer, Glen Metropolit, will be out for at least the rest of the regular season and probably into the playoffs. The Canadiens should hold on to a playoff spot, but it may be closer than some fans are comfortable for.

15. Philadelphia Flyers: 38-32-6 overall, 1-2-1 last week

SBN Blog: Broad Street Hockey

The Philadelphia Flyers have goaltender issues. To put it lightly. It must be something in the water there in Philadelphia, because first-string goalie Ray Emery is out for the year and maybe his career, second-string goalie Michael Leighton is out for the year, and fourth-string goalie Johan Backlund was injured in his first career NHL start over the weekend. That leaves third-string guy Brian Boucher to be the lone starter to finish out the season. Don't ask about the backup situation.

But don't fear, Flyers fans: the franchise is looking for a franchise goalie to build around. Good thing, since they haven't had one since about 1987.

16. Calgary Flames: 38-29-9 overall, 2-2 last week

SBN Blog: Matchsticks and Gasoline

Calgary has to be the most underachieving team this season, which is really just an unfortunate side effect of having a team full of former Maple Leafs. But seriously, with the talent on their roster, it's pretty mind-boggling that they're looking in on postseason play right now. The Flames have some tough games ahead against teams in the top of the Western Conference, so trying to make ground on their four-point deficit may be tough.

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