NHL Power Rankings: 30 pleasant surprises

The best plays from the week that was in the NHL, including the hard-fought game between the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings

Let’s put the calls for coaches’ heads and head-shaking at the dismal starts by the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars on hold for a minute.

Instead, let’s celebrate the feel-good stories we never imagined we’d see. Garth Snow turning his Islanders into a legitimate winner. The overachieving Calgary Flames — winners of three straight — acting nothing like a group in rebuild mode. Or the Winnipeg Jets, who essentially sat on their hands during the summer yet find themselves ahead of four playoff teams (the Blackhawks, Wild, Avalanche and Stars) in a loaded Central Division.

Yes, there are plenty of depressing stories in the NHL this month — mumps, blood clots, the dry scrape — but in this week’s Power Rankings we find one pleasant surprise for all 30 teams.

Your team’s pleasant surprise is…

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Rank Team

Marc-Andre Fleury. He is supposed to get a bunch of wins, simply because he plays for a great team. But four shutouts (an NHL high) in his last nine starts, including his first in Montreal, is unexpected. The contract extension looks wiser by the day.

Previous: 3


Cedric Pacquette. Five goals in 11 games for Tampa’s other rookie from Quebec. Does Steve Yzerman’s team ever run out of talented youth who can put the puck in the net?

Previous: 4


That Euro guy. Too old for the Calder, Jori Lehtera has 17 points in 17 NHL games. Worth every penny of his $2.75 million average annual salary. Well done, St. Louis.

Previous: 5


The offence. Yes, we knew things would loosen up once Peter Laviolette stepped in for Barry Trotz. But did we expect the Preds to run out the league’s eighth-best offence and score a franchise-best nine goals in a single game, which they did Tuesday in Toronto?

Previous: 8


Sergei Gonchar. GM Marc Bergevin’s record looks pretty good so far. And wily vet Gonchar, hardly used on the Stars, is logging as much as 21 minutes a game for a Montreal team that has only lost once since he arrived.

Previous: 13


Scott Darling. The backup goalie has battled Antti Raanta out of an NHL job (for now), posting a winning record (2-1-0) and nice .933 save percentage. A sixth-rounder in 2007 (Coyotes), Darling has spent in the last eight years bouncing around the NAHL, NCAA, USHL, SPHL, ECHL, CHL and AHL. LOL.

Previous: 6


The love. They autographed a fan’s baby this week. Do you think a fan would ask the 2013-14 Canucks to Sharpie their infant?

Previous: 1


Dennis Wideman. Judging by their off-season signings, can’t say the Flames were stoked by their $5-million man’s performance in 2013-14. This year Wideman has already set a Calgary-best mark for goals (seven in 19 games) and is a plus player for the first time in four years.

Previous: 16


The winning. Only three teams have more W’s than the Isles, and two of those clubs have played more games. New York has won 12 of its first 18 games for the first time since 1987-88. They didn’t reach 12 wins until Game 40 last season.

Previous: 9


Seth Griffith. His five goals in 16 games isn’t too shabby for a fifth-round-selected, undersized rookie.

Previous: 11


Sami Vatanen. While Francois Beauchemin was sidelined, Vatenen is logged more than 21 minutes a game and just passed Cory Perry(!) in team scoring with his 16th point. Breakout season.

Previous: 2


That Josh Harding cleared waivers. This gives the Wild great depth in goal and should keep the team from dialing Ilya Bryzgalov if hit by injury.

Previous: 21


That Slava Voynov’s arrest hasn’t been more of a distraction. Despite missing one of their best D-men, and dealing with cap issues as a result, the Kings still have the best GAA in the division and a winning record.

Previous: 7


Michael Hutchinson. And the goaltending as a whole. Of all the NHL backups, Hutchinson’s name probably draws the most “Who’s that?” responses. Yet the 21-year-old has a 5-2-1 record in nine career NHL appearances, and a sweet 1.38 goals-against average and .948 save percentage this season.

Previous: 17


Defence. The joke is that whenever a defenceman hits the trade block — or even when they don’t — the Red Wings are interested. But although the Wings made no significant upgrades on the blue line, they rank seventh in goals against and third in shots against.

Previous: 19


Goaltender Troy Grosenick, who was recalled to replace the injured Alex Stalock. The guy posted a shutout in his first NHL game. His dad, in attendance, cried.

Previous: 14


Mark Stone. The young winger showed promise in 19 games last season, and has delivered nicely — five goals, four helpers — in a more permanent support role for 2014-15.

Previous: 20


That everyone still has their jobs. We jest. Let’s go with centre Peter Holland, who is working his way up the depth chart, asking for penalty-killing time and chipping in with eight points for a team that was desperate for secondary scoring.

Previous: 10


The ability to limit shots. Not that we didn’t believe Barry Trotz would run a better defensive system than Adam Oates, but Washington is only allowing 26.8 shots per game. The Caps have jumped ahead of 23 teams in that category from where they were last year (33.5 shots against per game).

Previous: 18


Rick Nash. Not that he’s not a talented forward, but no way we figured he’d bounce back from an unimpressive post-season to be the top goal-getting winger in the NHL. His 13 goals are two more than Phil Kessel’s 11.

Previous: 15


Jakub Voracek. We knew he was good, but this good? The Flyer leads the league in assists and is knotted with Sidney Crosby for the Art Ross race (26 points).

Previous: 12


Damon Severson. Though he’s cooled off a bit lately, the rookie defenceman is a plus-4 while logging more than 22 minutes a game. He has eight points already, he’s playing the toughest position, and he’s only 20.

Previous: 23


Rocco Grimaldi. Fun story as the forward played two games in two leagues about 1,350 miles and 11 hours apart Tuesday. One for the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage (a tie), then another one for the Panthers in L.A. (a loss).

Previous: 24


It’s gotta be Devan Dubnyk, who some believed had played his way out of the league last season. The backup goalie has the same number of wins as starter Mike Smith (four) despite playing eight fewer games. One of those was against the Oilers, who traded him away last season.

Previous: 27


Riley Nash. In his fourth season suiting up for Carolina, the centre has vaulted to the team lead in points, with 13 in 18 games. Making the most of increased ice time.

Previous: 25


That Patrick Roy has kept his temper in relative check as the Avs (6-8-5) toil in the Central Division basement. The coach did freak out when Nathan MacKinnon was tagged with a boarding call last week, but we’ve seen worse. Much worse. And we’re surprised no one’s been hurt yet.

Previous: 28


Tough to find one here, as the Stars endure what Lindy Ruff has called his toughest stretch as a coach. But we’ll say Trevor Daley, with an asterisk. The blueliner is on a career year production-wise and has been key on the PP, but he’s a minus-10 for the first time.

Previous: 22


Dallas Eakins’ friendship with oft-criticized forward Nail Yakupov. Though Yak only has three goals, his work ethic and all-around game have been praised by his coach. Eakins also tweeted a photo of the player enjoying ice cream. It has since been deleted.

Previous: 26


Nick Foligno. The forward has upped his effort and production on an injury-ravaged team. His 18 points put him on pace for his best season since leaving Ottawa and is going down fighting. Foligno was spitting out teeth while throwing punches Tuesday.

Previous: 29


Arturs Irbe. He’s 47. He hasn’t played in the NHL since 2003-04. And on Tuesday he dressed as the Sabres’ backup.

Previous: 30