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NHL power rankings: Bruins finally righting the ship

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With the help of an 18-year-old rookie, the Boston Bruins are on the upswing and primed for yet another postseason appearance.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

When Boston's David Pastrnak finished his ninth game in the NHL -- a 3-0 victory over the talented Rangers -- Peter Chiarelli was forced to make a decision about the young Czech's future: Keep him in the big leagues and burn a year of his entry-level contract, or send him back to Providence for the remainder of 2014-15.

It was an important choice for a franchise not exactly overflowing with top prospects. It was also an easy one.

With five points (four goals, one assist) since being called up on Jan. 6, Pastrnak has quickly emerged as one of the Bruins' most impactful forwards. Of course they kept him. Along with linemates Milan Lucic and David Krejci, who have both enjoyed marked improvements of late, the 18-year-old has given Boston a much-needed offensive boost -- one that's contributed to a 5-1-2 record this month.

The 2014 first-round pick will struggle at times, and growing pains are virtually guaranteed, but it's hard not to be encouraged by what we've seen from Pastrnak, who was selected 25th overall last summer. His shot generation in particular makes it easy to feel good about his short-term outlook: He's put 28 pucks on net, including seven against a stout Tampa Bay defense, and is averaging 2.8 shots per game.

Pastrnak's breakthrough is one of several reasons to be optimistic about the Bruins, who have rebounded nicely from a slow start.

Risers

These are not the Big Bad Bruins we saw from 2007-14, but they're certainly trending in the right direction. Despite some alarming results in the early going, which led to minor panicking, Boston has reclaimed a playoff spot and is unlikely to surrender it again. The Panthers are nipping at their heels -- they're four points back with three games in hand -- but no one else appears capable of knocking the Bruins out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference.

The next three challengers, in order of points: Toronto, Ottawa, Philadelphia. Nope. Not happening.

In addition to Pastrnak, Lucic and Krejci, Tuukka Rask has provided a huge boost in recent weeks. Having posted a .941 save percentage so far in January, the 2013-14 Vezina Trophy recipient has recovered from a rough December, when he was mired in a slump. It was only a matter of time before he returned to form.

Unlike Boston, Winnipeg hasn't enjoyed a wealth of playoff success. The Jets have yet to make the postseason since relocating to Manitoba in 2011; as the Thrashers, they made it once in 2006-07 and were swept in the first round.

This year, however, is shaping up to be different. Winnipeg is currently tied with Chicago in the Central Division and just earned an impressive win against the Blackhawks on Thursday at the Madhouse.

Yes, the Jets are for real, and it's about time we recognize them as a genuinely good team.

Michael Hutchinson

Michael Hutchinson, Photo credit: Marianne Helm/Getty Images

Amazing how much can change with decent goaltending. For years, this club has been weighed down by Ondrej Pavelec, whose consistently poor save percentages stripped the Jets of any chance to compete. He's improved a bit -- he's stopping 12 percent more shots than he did in 2013-14 -- and Paul Maurice has been willing to give Michael Hutchinson a lot of action.

Hutchinson, a former Boston draft pick, should be the clear-cut No. 1. He's 13-4-2 in 2014-15 with a .932 save percentage and 2.00 goals against average. We don't have a big sample size to break down, but his save percentage is the second best in the NHL. His GAA is third. That's noteworthy.

He's not a top-tier guy, at least not yet, but Hutchinson may be exactly what the Jets need to satisfy their increasingly irritated fans.

If the netminding holds up, this group might not only make the playoffs, but could do some serious damage once there. They're eighth in score adjusted Corsi -- one of our best predictors of future outcomes -- and the likes of Bryan Little, Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Mathieu Perreault, Evander Kane and Tobias Enstrom comprise a solid core, even if it doesn't receive much praise.

Little has been especially underrated. He's quietly developed into a very good center, and with 18 tallies, is on track to finish among the league's top 20 goal-scorers. A lot of people forget (or never knew) that he lit the lamp 31 times during his first full NHL campaign.

General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has been disparaged for his lack of activity -- and much of this criticism is well-deserved -- but it's starting to look like he made the right call by keeping Atlanta's best players together.

Fallers

Edmonton has been a well-documented tire fire all season, but it might not be able to match Buffalo in terms of futility. The Sabres have dropped 11 straight, all in regulation, and are on a worse 82-game pace than anyone else. That 10-3-0 stretch feels like a distant memory.

Their latest defeat is up there with the worst, having blown a three-goal lead over Detroit and then allowing the Red Wings to come out on top, 6-4.

The Sabres are completely helpless at this point. There's no need to sugarcoat it. Wins will be few and far between the rest of the way, and the on-ice product should only deteriorate after a few valuable pieces are shipped out of town before the trade deadline.

In nearby Ontario, the Maple Leafs continue to reel. The team has become a mainstay in the "fallers" category and for good reason: They have lost eight of 10, including four in a row, and are now seven points behind eighth place in the East.

Peter Horachek has predictably received a lot of heat since taking over for Randy Carlyle, but it's tough to lay this rough patch on his shoulders. It's not as if he's been getting the bounces.

Since Dave Nonis made the coaching change, Toronto's PDO has been 94.1 -- the lowest in the league over that span. The Maple Leafs are 1-5-0 in the Horachek era, which includes two shutout losses and a paltry 3.6 even strength shooting percentage. It's a comedy of errors at this point.

The good news is Toronto's schedule gets incredibly soft over the next two weeks, when it'll play five consecutive games against teams sitting outside the playoff picture -- Carolina, Ottawa, New Jersey, Arizona and Philadelphia. If there were ever a time to go on a run, it's now.

If the Leafs can't capitalize against a handful of mediocre opponents, then their roster may not stay as it is for much longer.

1


Chicago Blackhawks

Record: 28-15-2

2


Nashville Predators

Team blog: On the Forecheck

Record: 30-10-4

3


Tampa Bay Lightning

Team blog: Raw Charge

Record: 29-14-4

4


+2

Anaheim Ducks

Team blog: Anaheim Calling

Record: 30-10-6

5


-1

New York Islanders

Record: 30-14-1

6


+1

St. Louis Blues

Record: 28-13-4

7


-2

Pittsburgh Penguins

Team blog: Pensburgh

Record: 26-12-6

8


+3

Detroit Red Wings

Record: 26-11-9

9


-1

New York Rangers

Team blog: Blueshirt Banter

Record: 26-13-4

10


Montreal Canadiens

Record: 28-13-3

11


+2

Winnipeg Jets

Record: 25-14-8

12


-3

Washington Capitals

Team blog: Japers' Rink

Record: 24-13-8

13


+4

Boston Bruins

Record: 24-16-6

14


San Jose Sharks

Team blog: Fear the Fin

Record: 24-16-6

15


-3

Los Angeles Kings

Record: 20-14-11

16


Vancouver Canucks

Team blog: Nucks Misconduct

Record: 25-15-3

17


+1

Dallas Stars

Team blog: Defending Big D

Record: 21-17-7

18


-3

Florida Panthers

Team blog: Litter Box Cats

Record: 20-13-10

19


+2

Calgary Flames

Record: 24-18-3

20


Columbus Blue Jackets

Team blog: The Cannon

Record: 19-21-3

21


+1

Minnesota Wild

Record: 29-19-5

22


-3

Toronto Maple Leafs

Record: 22-21-3

23


Colorado Avalanche

Team blog: Mile High Hockey

Record: 19-17-10

24


-1

Ottawa Senators

Team blog: Silver Seven

Record: 18-18-8

25


-1

Philadelphia Flyers

Record: 18-21-7

26


+2

Carolina Hurricanes

Team blog: Canes Country

Record: 15-25-5

27


New Jersey Devils

Team blog: In Lou we Trust

Record: 16-22-8

28


-2

Arizona Coyotes

Team blog: Five for Howling

Record: 16-24-5

29


+1

Edmonton Oilers

Team blog: Copper & Blue

Record: 11-26-9

30


-1

Buffalo Sabres

Team blog: Die by the Blade

Record: 14-30-3