NHL Power Rankings: Penguins hold ground in the top three as Sidney Crosby makes his return
Pittsburgh has survived being hit hard by injuries this season
The Pittsburgh Penguins have been a truly incredible team to follow this year. I can't speak for anyone else, but I was concerned that they might take a step backwards this season amid some roster changeover in a very tough Metropolitan division. When they suffered several key injuries at the beginning of the season, I thought it might put them in a hole that they'd spend the rest of the year trying to dig out of.
Instead, the Penguins stayed resilient and showed they weren't a team to be taken lightly, even as they continued to suffer more big injuries both up front and on defense. Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Patric Hornqvist, Jake Guentzel and more have all spent significant time on the injured list this season. There have been several points where it's looked like they were coming out of their bad luck, only to be dealt another demoralizing blow.
And yet the Penguins have not only survived these hurdles, they've thrived despite them.
As Sidney Crosby makes his long-awaited return on Tuesday night, the Penguins sit in the top three of our NHL Power Rankings -- something that may have figured to be inconceivable when Crosby underwent abdominal surgery in November. And yet here we are. It's worth appreciating what the Penguins have been able to accomplish in the face of adversity.
Now with Crosby back in the mix, perhaps we'll start getting a better look at what they're fully capable of with this group.
On to the rest of this week's rankings.
|1||Blues||The Blues are riding a four-game win streak and have created some breathing room atop Western Conference. It looked like the Caps were going to run away with the Presidents' Trophy earlier this year but St. Louis is right there and they're doing this all without their best forward.||1||30-11-8|
|2||Lightning||After playing countless rounds of "are the Lightning back?" during the first half of the year, it feels safe to say the Lightning are oh so very back. They had a 10-game winning streak snapped by the Devils, of all teams, but they've been steamrolling just about everyone for about a month so we can probably look past one stinker.||4||29-15-4|
|3||Penguins||They've got three straight wins against good opponents, beating the Golden Knights, Avs and Coyotes over the past week. Oh, and they're finally getting Sidney Crosby back. If they can keep Crosby and everyone else healthy for a little while getting decent goaltending, they're going to be real dangerous.||--||31-14-5|
|4||Capitals||They're still a top team in the East and there's no reason to doubt them considering how impressive they've been all year, but they've hit a bit of a skid and are 5-5-0 in their last 10. It's no reason to panic, but they're going to want to get back to top form soon, especially in a tough Metro race. At least they got the Nicklas Backstrom extension out of the way.||3||33-11-5|
|5||Bruins||For a team that's very close to the top of the standings, the Bruins sure do have quite a bit of trouble closing out games. They won three straight but then blew another three-goal lead before losing to the Flyers in a shootout. That's 0-7 in shootouts this year and 11 OTL points, the most of any team in the NHL. On the bright side, they're the only team still with single-digit regulation losses (8) on the year and they've got a power play goal in 14 straight games.||2||29-10-12|
|6||Stars||The Stars rode a four-game winning streak into their California road trip, during which they took two of three. They're 7-3-0 in their last 10 and have the league's fourth-best point percentage since December. If this team picks up a little bit of offense around the deadline they may approach wagon status.||4||27-17-4|
|7||Panthers||The Atlantic race has become very intriguing with the Bruins, Lightning, Leafs and Panthers all in the hunt. Florida's offense is humming and they've won nine of their last 13 games. They just have to keep it together on the back end and start playing better away from home.||5||28-16-5|
|8||Islanders||They've been sliding of late and are 4-5-1 in their last 10. The offense continues to struggle, scoring just 10 total goals over their past six games. I know they're all about defense, but they may want to add some offense before they risk slipping too far.||1||29-15-5|
|9||Maple Leafs||So much for smooth sailing in the Keefe era. Things are trending in the wrong direction for Toronto as they've lost three straight, including an embarrassing 8-4 loss at the hands of the Panthers on Sunday. They also lost Morgan Rielly for the next eight weeks at minimum. They've still got one of the league's top offenses but that defense without Rielly and Muzzin might be in trouble.||5||25-17-7|
|10||Avalanche||The Avs' ceiling is as high as anyone in the league but they haven't been playing well of late. They have four wins in their last 13 games and have lost three straight. They've got that high-powered offense but are going to need to tighten up on defense and special teams.||2||28-15-6|
|11||Canucks||The Canucks are a bit of a weird team. They've been one of the streakiest teams in the NHL this season and they have the potential to look either great or horrible on any given night. They had their seven-game winning streak snapped in embarrassing fashion as they were outscored 14-4 on their Florida road trip, but they rebounded with back-to-back wins in Buffalo and Minnesota. They're an entertaining team, for better or for worse.||2||27-18-4|
|12||Flames||The Flames have won 12 of 19 since the start of December and are tied with the Coyotes at the top of the Pacific despite holding a minus-10 goal differential on the season. They were shut out by a struggling Canadiens team on Monday but maybe that's because they spent Saturday night trying to rip the Oilers' heads off. Just a thought.||4||26-19-5|
|13||Hurricanes||They've given up just two goals over their last three games, shutting out the Coyotes and Kings at home before then being shut out by the Capitals. They're still very much a good team but you'd like to see them put it together more consistently and also win some more games against divisional foes in order to help them climb the standings.||2||29-18-3|
|14||Golden Knights||They were looking very good after getting the offensive going and winning four straight, but they've sputtered again. That four-game winning streak has now been followed by a three-game losing streak in which Vegas has scored a whopping total of five goals. And all three of those games have come at home. Yikes.||9||25-20-7|
|15||Coyotes||The Coyotes are just 6-6-1 since acquiring Taylor Hall. He's got 10 points in those 13 games so it's tough to point the finger at him, but I think it's also safe to say that Arizona was probably hoping for better results to this point. Hall hasn't been a total fix for the offense and it certainly doesn't help that they are without Darcy Kuemper, but the good news is that they're still tied for the Pacific division lead. For now.||1||26-20-5|
|16||Blue Jackets||The only team to beat Columbus since New Year's Eve is the Sharks, who have done it twice. Other than that, the Blue Jackets have only lost three games in regulation since the start of December. What the hell?||3||27-16-8|
|17||Flyers||They were lucky enough to steal a win from the Bruins on Monday but the Flyers are still very much a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde situation. The defense is an adventure and you never really know what you're going to get from this team.||2||27-17-6|
|18||Predators||After getting smacked in John Hynes' first game behind the bench, the Preds have won two straight against divisional foes in the Blackhawks and Jets. The new coach is going to be focusing on tapping into the offensive potential of this team, and he's off to a good start considering Pekka Rinne is even scoring goals now.||--||22-18-7|
|19||Oilers||The Oilers' offense has been coming alive of late and it's not a second too soon. They still have some work to do if they want to dig themselves out of the hole they put themselves in, but they've got points in five of their last six. Kailer Yamamoto has shown flashes of being a guy that could help them in a top six role on the wing.||3||26-18-5|
|20||Blackhawks||I'm growing increasingly intrigued as to how the Blackhawks will approach the deadline. They haven't looked terrible of late and there's still an outside shot that they could make a run in the second half. Does Stan Bowman tap into his aggressive tendencies and buy at the deadline for a playoff push this year? He probably shouldn't, but who knows!||--||24-21-6|
|21||Wild||21. It's been a roller coaster season for the Wild but now they're sliding again. They've lost three straight and if the struggles continue much longer then they're probably going to be all but out of it. At this rate, it seems like the worst thing for them would be just hanging around in No Man's Land.||4||23-21-6|
|22||Rangers||Artemi Panarin is so good.||2||23-21-4|
|23||Jets||The Jets have won just three of their last 10 and they're struggling mightily at home. We were sort of waiting for this team to slide but it's worse than we expected right now. Not promising.||2||25-22-4|
|24||Sabres||Things are not going well in Buffalo and Carter Hutton's days may be limited. He's winless in his last 11 starts dating back to October 24th and he has a .866 save percentage in that span. Not good!||1||22-20-7|
|25||Canadiens||The good news? They've won two straight! The bad news? Those are the only wins they've got in their last 10. This next stretch is probably going to be super important considering they're still reportedly undecided how they want to approach the deadline.||--||22-21-7|
|26||Devils||The Devils are actually starting to win some games but the more intriguing storyline is the firing of Ray Shero. The timing is curious and you wonder whether there was an internal disagreement about how to approach the upcoming trade deadline or something along those lines. Should be interesting to keep an eye on their approach.||--||17-24-7|
|27||Sharks||The Sharks will be another team to keep tabs on as we approach the deadline. This season is a lost cause and they've got some expiring pieces they can move, but it seems unlikely they'll be able to make any sort of major shakeup considering the lengthy contracts they're locked into.||--||21-25-4|
|28||Kings||It's been a notable week for veterans of the Kings' defense: Drew Doughty is no longer the biggest Matthew Tkahcuk hater in the division (that goes to Zack Kassian, for now) and Alec Martinez is on the trade block. Got to keep things interesting wherever you can.||--||18-27-5|
|29||Ducks||The Ducks have lost four in a row and the only team with a worse point percentage since the start of December is the Red Wings.||--||19-24-5|
|30||Senators||Seven straight losses and, honestly, good for them. They were slightly better than expected during the first half but now is the time to commit to the suck in order to maximize your chances in the draft.||--||17-23-8|
|31||Red Wings||31. I'm very much rooting for that goal differential to hit minus-100 soon.||--||12-35-4|
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