NHL Power Rankings 2015-16: Sidney Crosby, Penguins Heating Up At Right Time

Don’t look now, but the Pittsburgh Penguins are playing their best hockey of the season.

What’s the key to Pittsburgh’s recent run of four straight wins and a 6-2-2 mark in its last 10 games? Sidney Crosby is scoring at an elite level again.

The Penguins captain has an eight-game point streak with seven goals and six assists in that span. His best performance came in a 6-5 win over the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night as a hat trick sparked a four-point night.

Crosby’s scoring has propelled the Penguins to the second wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and one point behind the New York Islanders for third place in the Metropolitan Division.

Here are this week’s NHL power rankings. All records current as of Feb. 3.

1. Washington Capitals (35-9-4, Last week: 1): The Capitals have lost back-to-back games, but they still own the league’s best record and goal differential.

2. Chicago Blackhawks (34-16-4, Last week: 2): The Blackhawks are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games and have opened up a three-point lead over Dallas in the Central Division.

3. Los Angeles Kings (31-16-3, Last week: 3): One of the most impressive improvements from last season for the Kings has been their power play, which ranks third with a 21.5 percent success rate. It’s a dangerous weapon for arguably the league’s best defensive team.

4. Dallas Stars (32-14-5, Last week: 4): Dallas has picked up two much-needed wins in a row after struggling for much of January.

5. Florida Panthers (30-15-5, Last week: 6): The Panthers have won four straight games, highlighted by an impressive win over the Capitals on Tuesday night. Florida increased its lead in the Atlantic Division to seven points as a result.

6. St. Louis Blues (29-16-8, Last week: 5): The Blues have kept pace in the Central Division race with a 6-2-2 mark in their last 10. It’s still difficult to envision them catching Chicago, though.

7. Detroit Red Wings (25-16-8, Last week: 8): Rookie forward Dylan Larkin broke Mike Gartner’s fastest skater event record at the NHL All-Star Skills Competition and then tallied three assists in the All-Star Game. Not a bad weekend for Detroit’s rising star.

8. Tampa Bay Lightning (27-18-4, Last week: 9): Tampa Bay is 8-2-0 in its last 10, but it exits the All-Star break with a tough stretch against Detroit, Pittsburgh, Ottawa and Montreal.

9. New York Islanders (26-16-6, Last week: 10): Brock Nelson is having a breakout campaign for the Isles and scored his team-leading 20th goal in a win over the Wild on Tuesday night.

10. Boston Bruins (26-18-6, Last week: 7): The Bruins blew a 3-1 third-period lead to the Toronto Maple Leafs and lost in overtime Tuesday night, dropping their record at TD Garden to 11-13-3.

It wasn’t all bad for the B’s. Brad Marchand scored twice and continued to torment Toronto.

11. New York Rangers (27-18-5, Last week: 11): A tough February schedule might make or break the Rangers. Sustaining their high shooting percentage also will be quite a challenge.

12. Pittsburgh Penguins (25-17-7, Last week: 21): I ranked the Penguins far too low last week. As explained above, they’re one of the league’s hottest teams and shaping up to be a scary first-round playoff opponent.

13. Anaheim Ducks (23-18-7, Last week: 16): The Ducks have won four in a row and are playing like the Stanley Cup contenders we all though they’d be. General manager Bob Murray’s patience with head coach Bruce Boudreau seems to have paid off.

14. Minnesota Wild (23-18-9, Last week: 12): Minnesota needs scoring help ASAP. This team ranks in the bottom third of the league in goals scored per game and has a 2-7-1 record in its last 10 games.

15. San Jose Sharks (26-19-4), Last week: 13): Sharks captain Joe Thornton hit the 1,300-point milestone last week and has tallied 41 points in 49 games this season. He’s been the league’s model of consistency throughout his career.

16. Nashville Predators (24-19-8, Last week: 19): The acquisition of Ryan Johansen has paid dividends for Preds general manager David Poile. The young center has scored three goals with seven assists in 11 games for Nashville.

17. Colorado Avalanche (27-23-3, Last week: 20): The Avs have overcome having the worst possession numbers (league-low 43.2 Corsi percentage at 5-on-5) by shooting at 7.8 percent, the eighth-highest mark in the league.

18. New Jersey Devils (26-20-5, Last week: 14): The Devils likely will remain in the playoff race the entire season. They should have a chance to win just about every game Vezina Trophy-caliber goalie Cory Schneider starts. He’s the reason New Jersey ranks fourth in GAA.

19. Carolina Hurricanes (23-20-8, Last week: 15): Carolina will be an interesting team as the Feb. 29 trade deadline approaches. Captain and No. 1 center Eric Staal can become a UFA on July 1, but the Hurricanes will need him to make a push for a playoff spot. The next two weeks could decide which option general manager Ron Francis decides to pursue.

20. Philadelphia Flyers (22-18-8, Last week: 24): The Flyers have won back-to-back games and six of their last 10. They aren’t out of the playoff race yet, but they’ll need to add some scoring depth before the deadline to improve an offense that ranks 27th in goals per game.

21. Arizona Coyotes (24-21-5, Last week: 18): The Coyotes are playing mediocre hockey with a 4-5-1 record in their last 10 games, but they remain in the playoff race because the Pacific Division is so poor.

22. Montreal Canadiens (24-23-4, Last week: 17): The Habs have lost three straight games and seven of 10. It’s just about time for general manager Marc Bergevin to push the panic button and make a trade before the playoffs become an unrealistic target.

23. Ottawa Senators (23-22-6, Last week: 22): If two-time Norris Tropy winner Erik Karlsson could play 40 minutes per game, the Senators might be closer to a playoff spot. Alas, not even Karlsson could withstand that kind of workload. Ottawa must upgrade its blue line before the deadline to make back-to-back playoff appearances.

24. Vancouver Canucks (20-19-11, Last week: 23): The Canucks have been losers in three of their last four games, but their upcoming schedule does offer plenty of chances to make up ground in the Pacific. Vancouver plays Columbus, Calgary, Colorado, Arizona and Toronto in its next five contests.

25. Winnipeg Jets (22-25-3, Last week: 25): Winnipeg is the most intriguing team to watch before the trade deadline. If the Jets re-sign veteran defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, does that mean Tyler Myers or Jacob Trouba would have to be dealt? What will they do with captain and upcoming UFA Andrew Ladd?

There are plenty of questions to be answered in Winnipeg over the next few weeks. Buckle up.

26. Edmonton Oilers (20-26-5, Last week: 27): Wayne Gretzky, I mean, Connor McDavid scored a beautiful goal in his return to the Oilers lineup Tuesday night after missing the previous 37 games with a broken collarbone.

27. Calgary Flames (21-24-3, Last week: 26): The Flames have lost three straight, seven of their last 10 and still rank in the bottom quarter of the league in puck possession and save percentage at even strength. Playoff hockey isn’t returning to Calgary.

28. Toronto Maple Leafs (18-22-9, Last week: 28): The Leafs usually lose when trailing in the third period. That wasn’t the case Tuesday night in Boston, however.

29. Buffalo Sabres (20-26-4, Last week: 29): The Sabres ended a three-game skid with a 3-2 win over Ottawa on Tuesday night, but they’ll  face Montreal, Boston (twice) and Florida over the next week. That’s a tough stretch versus divisional opponents.

30. Columbus Blue Jackets (19-27-5, Last week: 30): The best thing Columbus fans can hope for is winning the draft lottery and selecting Auston Matthews No. 1 overall.

Thumbnail photo via Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports Images

Thumbnail photo via December 5, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) moves into position against Los Angeles Kings during the third period at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

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