NHL Power Rankings: Boston Bruins Lead The Pack; St. Louis Blues Shaking Up Central

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 17: Alexander Steen #20, David Perron #57, and Kevin Shattenkirk #22 of the St Louis Blues celebrate after scoring a late game tying goal against the Nashville Predators at the Bridgestone Arena on December 17, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

The Bruins are on fire, but the Western Conference occupies four of the top five spots in our NHL Power Rankings. The Central Division dominates the top ten.

Going by their performance since November, the defending Stanley Cup Champions have no interest in relinquishing their title. They've been the best team in hockey since November 1, when the Bruins record stood at  3-7.  Since then, they've gone 19-2-1 and scored 84 goals while giving up only 35.

They're on a tear like the NHL hasn't seen since the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins and stand well-clear of the other 29 teams at the top of our rankings.

Behind then looms four teams from the Western Conference, including three from the brutal Central Division, where the St. Louis Blues are making life difficult for everyone. The Central Division has been the league's toughest since the lockout, but the emergence of the Blues has upped the level of competition to new heights. Even the Nashville Predators, fourth in the Central, are in the top half of our league rankings.

Each team in the Central plays at least two division games in their next five, so the standings can change on any given night. Here are this week's NHL Power Rankings.

1. Boston Bruins

Boston is the best team in the Eastern Conference at even strength, and own the league's second-best special teams. That combination and Tim Thomas has led the Bruins to 8 wins in their last 10 games.    

2. Detroit Red Wings

The juggernaut rolls on. This over-the-hill gang is the best even strength team in the NHL and Jimmy Howard has been excellent in goal. They're going to need stamina though, half of the division is nipping at their heels.    

3. Vancouver Canucks

They've battled through injuries and a couple of goaltenders suffering from a voodoo curse, but the Canucks are back, lead by the best special teams in the league. Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond are back as well, meaning the offense is going to get better. How, then, are they like the Leafs

4. St. Louis Blues

Their luck was bound to change even if they didn't hire Ken Hitchcock, but the turnaround under Hitch has been ludicrous.  Under Hitchcock, the Blues have gone 13-2-4, including just 1 regulation loss in their last 10 and briefly topped the Wings.    

5. Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago is 8-1-1 in their last 10 games, led by a new Terminator-like version of Jonathan Toews. Even illegal hits from behind can't stop the Hawks. Now all they've got to do is figure out how to win their treacherous division.  It's going to be tough if they remain 22nd in special teams efficiency.    

T-6. Pittsburgh Penguins

Even with the extended absence of Crosby and half of the defensive corps, the Pens keep rolling along.  Evgeni Malkin and James Neal have picked up the scoring slack and Matt Niskanen and Deryk Engelland had been steady on the blueline.    

T-6. Philadelphia Flyers

Philly has won seven of their last 10, led by Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr. But with Chris Pronger out for the season, fans are wondering where they'll find more defense

8. Florida Panthers

The most surprising team of the season (in a positive way) rolls along. Jose Theodore still thinks he's Martin Brodeur, Kris Versteeg thinks he's Jeff Carter and Stephen Weiss is just Stephen Weiss.    

9. New Jersey Devils

Pete DeBoer's Panthers were excellent at even strength last season, and he's instilled that same EV excellence in New Jersey. Couple that with special teams ranked 4th in the league and the emergence of Adam Henrique -- everyone wondering how good this team will be when Travis Zajac returns.    

10. San Jose Sharks

The blueliners aren't producing, but a turnaround is coming. and probably on the power play.  The Sharks lead the league in shots on goal with a man advantage, but they aren't finding the back of the net right now.    

11. Winnipeg Jets

The Jets are nosing around the playoffs, but won't make it there without some help at forward.  They have a surplus of defensemen and a trading partner in Philadelphia that desperately needs help in the back.    

12. New York Rangers

The Rangers have won 6 of their last 10 and have done so with special teams and goaltending. They've been weak at even strength, but they're about to get their best player back. Marc Staal will be a welcome sight for Henrik Lundqvist's sore eyes.    

13. Phoenix Coyotes

Dave Tippett isn't happy with his team's adherence to his system and it's showing in the results:  Phoenix lost 6 of their last 10, including a soul-crushing last second loss to New York.    

14. Nashville Predators

Nashville is still recovering from the loss of so many key forwards in such a short amount of time, so they're leaning on their captain. Shea Weber is responding as are the Preds. Nashville has won 7 of their last 10, helped along by a special teams group ranked 5th in the league.    

15. Minnesota Wild

After a scalding start, the Wild have hit a wall.  They've lost four in a row, including a home game to Long Island. Fans are blaming injuries, but try using that excuse with the Penguins, Jets, Flyers, Blues or Canucks.    

16. Colorado Avalanche

The Avs are a much better team than their record indicates. They've got the league's 12th-best special teams, and are 14th at even strength, led by a bunch of kids. They've been let down by goaltending, but as long as Semyon Varlamov stays healthy, he should bounce back. The young Avs are carrying the team, both on the ice and in the community.    

17. Dallas Stars

Brendan Morrow and Alex Goligoski are back. The Stars are still relying on Richard Bachman in goal, but he's not the issue -- consistent performances are few and far between. Still, they've won 6 of their last 10 and Kari Lehtonen is due back in two weeks.    

18. Los Angeles Kings

The Kings are an average even strength team (13th) with average special teams (13th). They're deep at forward, light on defense and Darryl Sutter is coming to town. All of that should be enough to get them into the playoffs, right?

19. Montreal Canadiens

The legion of Habs fans that rag on Scott Gomez don't realize his importance to the team at even strength.  Without him, their even strength game has fallen apart leading to 3 wins in the last 10. This roster isn't competitive (except in goal), but I'm sure the concern over language will be justified in the end.

T-20. Ottawa Senators

Ottawa is a strange team. Conventional wisdom said they would struggle to score, yet it's their goaltending that's fallen apart. So why did Bryan Murray pull the trigger on a questionable deal for Kyle Turris?    

T-20. Washington Capitals

Washington has gone 4-4 under new coach Dale Hunter, but there is hope that things will get better as they learn how to win the Hunter way.

22. Buffalo Sabres

One team that can complain about injuries is Buffalo. Things are so bad that they can only run three lines in practice and those lines were really, really awful. Miraculously, the Sabres have won 4 of their last 10.

T-23. Toronto Maple Leafs

Colby Armstrong is out again, this time with a concussion, which he lied about until the projectile vominting gave him away. At this point he should be renamed Colby Bonesweak or Colby Tendonsbrittle.   

T-23. Edmonton Oilers

Edmonton is in a free-fall. Two wins in their last 10 games. The offense isn't scoring and the defense can't stop anyone or get the puck out of the zone. It's a problem that's plagued the Oilers for two years now, and fans are left to wonder how the team will fix the blueline.    

25. New York Islanders

Things have improved on Long Island -- they've won 5 of their last 10, they've leveled off the goal differential, and they get to poke fun at the man who killed their franchise.

26. Calgary Flames

Calgary is slowly fading into obscurity and they are doing so without a fight. Injuries have hurt, especially Mark Giordano's hamstring, and now they'll be without one of their best players for a couple of games.

27. Columbus Blue Jackets

By even strength skater play, Columbus is in the top half of the league. Goaltending? Last, and Scott Arniel keeps giving Steve Mason work. Special Teams Efficiency? Dead last.  Yet, Scott Howson thinks "coaching is not an issue."

28. Tampa Bay Lightning 

Steve Yzerman's goaltenders have dug the Lightning a hole for the second year in a row.  Is there a Dwayne Roloson somewhere out there that might save Tampa's season?

29. Carolina Hurricanes

If not for Anaheim's putrid start, Carolina would be the NHL's court jester. 27th in special teams efficiency, 27th at even strength, 27th in goal differential and two wins in their last 10. Jeff Skinner and Joni Pitkanen are out indefinitely with concussions. Scotty Bowman could not help this team right now.    

30. Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks are now the league doormat and are a joke to their own fans. Without some kind of intervention, this team will jockey with Carolina for the rights to Nail Yakupov this spring. Oh, and Jets fans are drooling at the prospect of trading for Teemu in February.    

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