NHL power rankings: Blue Jackets, Maple Leafs take small steps forward

Here are this week’s power rankings, determined by a blend of recent success and long-term potential.

For an explanation of some of the advanced stats used below, check out this primer.

Jeremy Morin didn’t believe he was getting a fair shake with the Blackhawks, so, after watching too many games from the press box, he gave the team an ultimatum: “play me or trade me.”

Chicago opted for the latter, and dealt Morin to Columbus in exchange for Tim Erixon.

Given our limited knowledge of his abilities, there’s reason to believe Morin could blossom into a valuable forward with the Blue Jackets. He generates a lot of shots, skates well and is a good puck handler. He has a knack for scoring, too, and has thrived at every level except the NHL. This isn’t because he can’t handle it. There just wasn’t a spot for him on Chicago’s depth chart.

Without the power of hindsight, this feels like a good trade for both sides. Erixon gets a fresh start on a great team loaded with fellow Swedes, while Morin gets a chance to earn top six minutes for the Blue Jackets, who are suddenly trending in the right direction.

Risers

Columbus was never as bad as it seemed in October and November, when it was stuck in the Eastern Conference basement with Carolina and Buffalo. This was clearly illustrated in the Jackets’ PDO — a proxy for luck — which was, for two months, among the lowest in the NHL.

That figure has jumped from 96.8 to 98.2 since the calendar flipped to December, and the W’s have followed. The Jackets have won six straight and are now six points out of a playoff spot.

GIF: Nick Foligno OT winner http://t.co/apvsTgJ32N

— Steph (@myregularface) December 12, 2014

Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has been a huge reason for Columbus’ recent success. The 26-year-old has a 0.943 save percentage so far this month, and has bailed his team out on several occasions — including a night in Florida, when the Jackets allowed 55 Panthers shots to reach net. Bobrovsky stopped 52 of them en route to a victory.

Columbus may believe it can make the playoffs, but reaching that point won’t be easy. Currently, five clubs must be leapfrogged — including the Bruins, Rangers and even the Maple Leafs, who have won five in a row.

In that win streak, Toronto has taken down some formidable opponents: Vancouver, Detroit (twice) and Los Angeles on Sunday on the second night of a back-to-back. The Leafs are 9-1-1 since Nov. 18, when the Preds clobbered them 9-2.

The #leafs are now the NHL’s highest-scoring team with an average of 3.38 goals per game.

— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) December 14, 2014

Toronto is undoubtedly playing above its talent level, but there are signs of genuine improvement. For starters, the goaltending duo of Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer is working out splendidly. Bernier in particular has been playing well: His .920 save percentage is good for 12th in the league, and he’s surrendered one goal or less in nine of his 22 appearances.

Toronto’s possession numbers, while still mediocre, are also encouraging. Its score adjusted Corsi remains in the bottom five in the league, but the actual figures are up several points from last year.

Record aside, these are only baby steps forward. But that’s exactly what team brass wants to see.

Fallers

Calgary, meanwhile, hasn’t fared so well of late. Despite finishing November with a 15-8-2 record, good for fifth in the Western Conference, the Flames have lost five in a row and are hovering right around the last postseason spot.

This decline was forecasted by many in the stats community, as the Flames were being propped up in the early going by some unsustainable percentages. Their PDO has, unsurprisingly, fallen from the top three in the league to 10th, and odds are it’s going to fall some more.

Think Jiri Hudler is going to score on 21.40 percent of his shots all year?

Across the continent, the Hurricanes can’t seem to catch a break, either. Mired in a 3-12-0 slump, Carolina has dropped to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings and is seven points behind Buffalo.

Perhaps their low point came on Thursday: Tied 1-1 with the Lightning in the waning moments of regulation, a pass ricocheted off Ron Hainsey and pinballed into the net, giving Tampa Bay the win, 2-1. It was a sad and fitting conclusion, one that summed up what has become yet another tumultuous season in Raleigh.

Anton Khudobin’s struggles have to be a major concern. Khudobin, who many believed would earn the starting job in net this year, has lost all nine games he’s played in. His save percentage is a paltry 0.892.

It helps that Cam Ward has exceeded expectations. The former Conn Smythe winner has been solid since the beginning of November, allowing more than three goals against just twice in that span. But, of course, he alone can’t drag Carolina out of last place.

Jordan Staal’s return will help, however, the Canes simply don’t have enough NHL-caliber players to compete. It’s only a matter of time before GM Ron Francis starts moving pieces around.

***

Team Last Week’s Rank
1 Chicago Blackhawks, 21-9-1 1 Second City Hockey
2 Anaheim Ducks, 21-6-5 4 Anaheim Calling
3 St. Louis Blues, 20-8-2 7 St. Louis Game Time
4 Tampa Bay Lightning, 19-9-3 2 Raw Charge
5 Pittsburgh Penguins, 19-6-4 3 Pensburgh
6 Nashville Predators, 19-8-2 6 On The Forecheck
7 Detroit Red Wings, 17-7-7 5 Winging It In Motown
8 New York Islanders, 20-10-0 8 Lighthouse Hockey
9 Los Angeles Kings, 15-10-6 9 Jewels From The Crown
10 San Jose Sharks, 17-11-4 12 Fear The Fin
11 Montreal Canadiens, 19-10-2 11 Eyes On The Prize
12 Vancouver Canucks, 18-10-2 8 Nucks Misconduct
13 Minnesota Wild, 16-11-1 14 Hockey Wilderness
14 San%20Francisco%2049ers,%205-4%20(Last%20Week:%2018)” data-sheets-numberformat=”[null,1]” width=”206″>Toronto Maple Leafs, 18-9-3 18 Pension Plan Puppets
15 Winnipeg Jets, 15-10-6 16 Arctic Ice Hockey
16 New York Rangers, 14-10-4 17 Blueshirt Banter
17 Buffalo%20Bills,%205-4%20(Last%20Week:%2015)” width=”206″>Boston Bruins, 15-13-2 13 Stanley Cup Of Chowder
18 San%20Diego%20Chargers.%205-4%20(Last%20Week:%2017)” data-sheets-numberformat=”[null,1]” width=”206″>Washington Capitals, 14-10-5 20 Japers’ Rink
19 New%20Orleans%20Saints,%204-5%20(Last%20Week:%2019)” data-sheets-numberformat=”[null,1]” width=”206″>Florida Panthers, 12-8-8 19 Litter Box Cats
20 Calgary Flames, 17-13-2 15 Matchsticks & Gasoline
21 Columbus Blue Jackets, 12-15-2 26 The Cannon
22 Houston%20Texans,%204-5%20(Last%20Week:%2019)” width=”206″>Dallas Stars, 11-13-5 22 Defending Big D
23 Atlanta%20Falcons,%203-6%20(Last%20Week:%2027)” data-sheets-numberformat=”[null,1]” width=”206″>Ottawa Senators, 12-12-5 21 Silver Seven
24 Philadelphia Flyers, 11-13-5 27 Broad Street Hockey
25 New%20York%20Giants,%203-6%20(Last%20Week:%2023)” data-sheets-numberformat=”[null,1]” width=”206″>Colorado Avalanche, 10-13-7 25 Mile High Hockey
26 New Jersey Devils, 11-15-5 24 In Lou We Trust
27 Arizona Coyotes, 10-16-4 23 Five For Howling
28 Buffalo Sabres, 12-16-2 30 Die By The Blade
29 Carolina Hurricanes, 8-18-3 28 Canes Country
30 Tampa%20Bay%20Buccaneers,%201-8%20(Last%20Week:%2030)” data-sheets-numberformat=”[null,1]” width=”206″>Edmonton Oilers, 7-19-5 29 The Copper & Blue
December 15, 2014 by : Posted in Uncategorized No Comments

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