The holiday break has given players, coaches and general managers for every team in the NHL a chance to stop, take a couple of deep breaths, and evaluate where this season has been and where it is headed, which is a mad dash to the Olympic break and another compressed scramble to the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
There have been plenty of prominent pre-Christmas storylines, from the fast starts by the San Jose Sharks, Colorado Avalanche and Toronto Maple Leafs, to the outstanding goaltending depth in Southern California, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin dominating leaderboards, and, of course, the incredible tale of goaltender Josh Harding.
There has also been the foreseen (if paying attention to the right indicators) slip from the elite of the Avalanche and Maple Leafs, the exile of two general managers and three coaches, a broken leg for Steven Stamkos (and his Wolverine-esque recovery), and teams dealing with myriad injuries like the Anaheim Ducks, Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings.
Presents have been unwrapped, rest has been had and photos from exotic locales or childhood homes have been posted on Instagram. The next six weeks are essentially the second act of the 2013-14 season, and it begins just like the first act did ... with the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings on top of the Super 16.
DISCLAIMER: While the Super 16 is NHL.com's weekly power rankings, the new-look version is going to focus more on the "power" than the "rankings" when determining the order. It's not always going to look like the League standings, and will likely take more of a long view than a short one. Stop by to see where your favorite team ranks, but stay for the information. Also, the statistics and team records are through the games on Monday night.
1. Chicago Blackhawks (26-7-6) Last Week: 1
Will there be a starting goaltender debate in Chicago's near future? Antti Raanta is building his case to remain the No. 1 guy with an 8-1-2 record, .916 save percentage and 2.20 goals-against average since taking over for injured Corey Crawford, who posted a .907 save percentage and a 2.47 GAA.
Crawford actually has a better save percentage during five-on-five play (.928 to Raanta's .915). The Blackhawks have shot better at the other end at even strength with Raanta in net, especially when the score is close (12.7 percent with Raanta, 7.9 percent with Crawford). The penalty kill was a weakness earlier in the season, so maybe Raanta's better numbers in that situation could sway coach Joel Quenneville to give him a little more playing time once Crawford is healthy, but it's probably too early to say he's ready to unseat the guy who helped the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup six months ago.
2. Los Angeles Kings (25-9-4) LW: 2
Someone finally solved Martin Jones. A loss to the Dallas Stars before the holiday break didn't take much luster off a month the Kings have started 9-2-0, including victories against four of the top seven teams in the Western Conference. The Kings have a tricky four-game road trip coming up, including games against the Blackhawks, Stars and St. Louis Blues in a four-day span.
If Jones, who leads the NHL with a .953 save percentage, needs a break, here's hoping the Kings can manage to get by with Ben Scrivens and his measly .941 save percentage, which is second in the League. Oh, and the guy considered to be world class at the position -- you may remember Jonathan Quick -- is coming back soon.
3. Anaheim Ducks (27-7-5) LW: 3
The Ducks rallied from two goals down Monday night to beat the Washington Capitals. Anaheim is now 6-3-1 in games it was trailing after the first period, tying them with the San Jose Sharks for the best winning percentage (.600) in such instances.
Capitals fans at Verizon Center shouldn't have been surprised. Bruce Boudreau's teams in Washington won 31 times when trailing after the first period in his three full seasons as Capitals coach. In 2010-11, Boudreau's Capitals won 15 times after trailing at the first intermission. NHL.com tracks such statistics back to 1997-98, and no other team since then has won more than 13 times in that scenario in a season.
Boudreau's return to Washington was a good place to take stock of where the two franchises were before he went west and where they've gone since. The Capitals were 114-47-25 from the start of the 2009-10 season until Boudreau was fired (an 82-game pace of 111.5 points) and Washington is 76-55-14 since his departure (a 93.9-point pace).
Anaheim went 93-75-20 from the start of 2009-10 to the end of Randy Carlyle's tenure (an 82-game pace of 89.9 points) and the Ducks are 84-42-19 since Boudreau's arrival (a 105.8-point pace).
4. St. Louis Blues (24-7-5) LW: 5
The Pacific Division has been incredibly strong this season, and the Blues can tell their friends all about it. They are 22-2-2 against teams from the other three divisions, including 10-0-1 against their own, but are 2-5-3 against the Pacific. The two wins are against the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, and St. Louis is 0-5-1 against the five Pacific teams in playoff contention.
5. San Jose Sharks (23-8-6) LW: 4
The Sharks have won three of four, including victories against the Blues, Stars and Avalanche, after losing five of six, but now San Jose has lost Calder Trophy frontrunner Tomas Hertl for a while with a knee injury. The Sharks are certainly pretty deep up front, but Hertl's emergence was a big part of the depth that separated them from other clubs. Facing the Phoenix Coyotes and the Ducks twice in the next week will be a stern test.
6. Boston Bruins (25-10-2) LW: 6
The Bruins, even without Loui Eriksson, are getting their possession mojo back. Boston has had at least 52.8 percent of the shot attempts (Corsi for %) when the score is close at even strength for six straight games and in 12 of their past 16.
This stretch began after one of the weirdest outliers of the 2013-14 season. The Bruins had 34.7 percent of such shot attempts (CF% close) in a 2-1 win against the New York Rangers on Nov. 19, and were only 30.4 percent in Fenwick % close (take away blocked shots). The Rangers are a slightly above average possession team, but dominated the Bruins in a way that only the Sharks (an elite possession team) have this season.
7. Pittsburgh Penguins (27-11-1) LW: 7
Look, this is too low for the Penguins based on their recent performance. Are they going to play just as well or even better when some or all of their injured guys come back? If so, they'll force a move up this list. Until then, it is still a team missing a bunch of key guys riding a hot goalie and maybe the best line in the League (except one-third of said line might now be injured as well).
With a full lineup, the Penguins are likely going to be one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. With this current lineup, any rational person wouldn't pick them to beat the Bruins, let alone any of the elite teams in the West.
8. Vancouver Canucks (22-11-6) LW: 9
There seems to be a narrative building that John Tortorella has ignited something in the Canucks while Alain Vigneault is struggling to do the same with the Rangers. There also seems to be some fuzzy memories of recent history, because the Canucks have consistently been a top-flight team for the past four seasons. From 2009-10 to 2012-13, Vancouver won 180 games, second only to the Penguins in that span, while the Rangers were consistently middle of the pack with the exception being a sizzling stretch in 2011-12. That season ended with the Rangers going 16-16 against the Nos. 6, 7 and 8 seeds in the Eastern Conference.
Sure, some of Vancouver's depth from the 2011 Stanley Cup runner-up team has eroded, and Tortorella likely deserves some credit for the team's recent surge, but the Canucks are much closer to being a wild card in the West than winning the Pacific at this point.
9. Colorado Avalanche (23-10-3) LW: 8
The Avalanche have obviously been living off a crazy hot start for a while, but the part of the season where they look like a .500 team is now longer than the part where they went 14-2-0. Colorado is 0-2-3 in December against teams in the top 10 of the Western Conference. The Avalanche could possibly turn things around during an upcoming six-game homestand that includes games against five bottom-half NHL teams.
10. Montreal Canadiens (22-13-3) LW: 12
The Canadiens have been thumped twice this month in two tries against the Big Five (is that nickname taken?) from the West, but they also claimed victories against the Coyotes and Nashville Predators this past week. This ranking probably has more to do with a couple of teams from the West slipping, and because it will still be hard to bet on Ben Bishop (see the team one spot below) and against Carey Price in a hypothetical playoff series, though Bishop with a certain 60-goal scorer healthy would look a lot more enticing in that scenario.
11. Tampa Bay Lightning (23-11-3) LW: 13
A few weeks ago, the then-upcoming "soft spot" in the Lightning's schedule was mentioned. Well, Tampa Bay has played a team in the top 14 of this list one time in 35 days. A five-game winning streak has propelled the Lightning's record in that stretch to 9-3-2, and 18 goals in five games is impressive work against any competition.
Jon Cooper is clearly going to be among the top candidates for the Jack Adams Award when everyone's midseason lists come out. Top candidates for that award typically fall into one of three categories: a) help a team finish higher in the standings that last season, b) help a team finish higher in the standings than the preseason consensus or c) win despite injuries to key players. Cooper gets checks in all three boxes at this point, and his reputation as a rising star in the profession that preceded his arrival on the Gold Coast appears to be well deserved.
12. Phoenix Coyotes (19-10-7) LW: 10
Six straight games against the non-Western Conference should have been a boon for the Coyotes, but 2-2-2, including a loss to the Buffalo Sabres, was not what they were looking to do in that stretch. Goaltender Mike Smith has a .937 save percentage in his past five games, which might be the final nudge he needs to make the Canadian Olympic team, but the team's surprising offense has stumbled of late.
13. Dallas Stars (18-12-6) LW: 14
To recap the past four games, the Stars have defeated the Canucks and Kings by three goals each, defeated the Avalanche and lost at San Jose in a shootout. That's a really, really nice four-game stretch. Given the recent stumbles of the Avalanche and the Minnesota Wild, a playoff berth is not far-fetched in Dallas.
Since each team's first 16 games, the Stars have played at a 98.4-point pace (10-6-4) while the Avalanche (86.1) and Wild (85.6) have lost more games than they've won. Colorado is seven points in front of Dallas, and that gap could be tough for the Stars to overcome even with 46 games each remaining. The Stars have three games in hand on the Wild, and are three points back of both Minnesota and Phoenix. That could be a three-team race for the final wild card spot instead of the two-club competition it looked like a couple of weeks ago.
14. Minnesota Wild (20-14-5) LW: 11
If the Bruins are going in the right direction when it comes to possessing the puck, the Wild are heading the opposite way. Minnesota was above 53 percent in CF% at even strength when the score is close in each of its first 10 games this season. There were eight games of mediocrity followed by a three-game surge.
Since then, it's been almost all bad. The Wild have been above 50 percent five times in 18 games, and three were against the Avalanche, a team that, like the Maple Leafs, has consistently been outshot all season. The past three games against elite teams (two against San Jose and one against Pittsburgh) have been really bad.
15. Detroit Red Wings (17-13-9) LW: 15
Post-regulation victories against the Flames and Maple Leafs followed by a home loss to the New York Islanders, one of the worst teams in the League, does not qualify as a turnaround of any kind, but those two wins did end a long losing streak. Detroit's struggles at home have been well-documented this season, but the Red Wings don't play at Joe Louis Arena again until Jan. 18. Seven of the next eight games are on the road and the eighth will be played in a football stadium where there will be lots of fans of the opposing team as well.
16. Philadelphia Flyers (17-16-4) LW: 16
The Flyers have gone 16-9-4 since a dreadful start to the season. Not only are they playing better than the rest of the cluster vying for third place in the Metropolitan Division, they aren't far from challenging the Capitals for second. Even in a mediocre division, that would be some kind of turnaround.
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