NHL Power Rankings: Biggest Surprises After First Month of Season
It took longer than fans would have liked, but the NHL finally got back into the swing of things in January. One month into the lockout-shortened season, teams have had ample time to show where they stand and what is going to come the rest of the year.
Considering how quickly everything has to move during the regular season, the power rankings could change drastically on a day-by-day basis.
However, as things stand right now, there is a clear hierarchy in the NHL, and the rest of the teams are just fighting for scraps. Here is a look at the power rankings, with a special note on some of the biggest surprises through the first month.
No. 1 Chicago Blackhawks (10-0-3)
The Blackhawks are on some kind of roll to start the season, having yet to lose a game in regulation so far. Not only that, but they have the best goal differential in the league (plus-16) and have allowed the third-fewest goals in the Western Conference.
Of all the stats one can throw out, the most impressive so far is that this team is 8-0-2 on the road. Yes, 77 percent of their total games have come on the road and they have yet to lose in regulation.
This team is on fire and has established itself as the one to beat in the Western Conference after one month of action.
No. 2 Boston Bruins (8-1-2)
The Bruins have the best goaltending in the league and are on the verge of overtaking New Jersey for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. They are ready to make a huge postseason push this year after last season's heartbreaking defeat to Washington in the first round.
No. 3 New Jersey Devils (8-2-3)
Martin Brodeur keeps getting older, but the skills never seem to decline. This team doesn't score a lot, so it needs the defense and goaltending to be on top of its game day in and day out to stay atop the east.
No. 4 Anaheim Mighty Ducks (9-2-1)
As good as the Ducks look right now, I do wonder how long they will be able to stick around with mediocre goaltending and one of the worst penalty-killing percentages in the NHL.
No. 5 Vancouver Canucks (8-2-2)
The Canucks have come on like gangbusters in the last two weeks, winning six consecutive games and climbing to the No. 3 spot in the Western Conference. That streak also includes a shootout victory against Chicago.
No. 6 San Jose Sharks (7-3-3)
After a strong start, reality has begun to set in for the Sharks. This team has lost its last six games, and the offense has put up just nine goals during that span. Having such a small margin for error on defense could make it hard for this team to get hot once again.
No. 7 Pittsburgh Penguins (9-5-0)
Despite their solid ranking, it does seem like the Penguins should be higher on this list. In a short series they would likely beat a team like San Jose or Anaheim.
They have the second-best goal differential in the league and rank in the top 10 in goals per game, goals against and power-play percentage. They are exciting and fun to watch, so don't be shocked to see them just keep moving up the chain.
No. 8 St. Louis Blues (7-5-1)
Even though they are currently seventh in the Western Conference, I keep waiting for something to click with the Blues and move them back into the elite class of teams in the NHL. Optimism is still high, though perhaps the ultimate ceiling for this team was overrated coming into the year.
No. 9 Detroit Red Wings (7-4-2)
The Red Wings are easily the least-impressive team in the top 10. They have scored as many goals as they have allowed. Their offense has been inconsistent, and the defense has been sorely lacking in big moments.
No. 10 Toronto Maple Leafs (8-5-0)
Once the Maple Leafs can get away from playing the likes of Boston and Carolina at home, they will start to take off and separate themselves from the middle and bottom of the pack in the Eastern Conference.
No. 11 New York Rangers (7-5-0)
After digging themselves a bit of a hole at the start of the season, the Rangers are doing a nice job of climbing back up. It has been a slow progression, but this is still one of the most dangerous teams in the NHL.
No. 12 Dallas Stars (7-6-1)
The Stars have been a different kind of surprise. Last year they weren't terrible, at least record wise. They were a respectable 42-35-5, but were outscored 222-211 and finished six points out of a playoff spot.
Now, more than a quarter way through this season, the Stars have been outscored by two goals and find themselves in a tie with St. Louis for the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference.
I don't think that kind of performance is conducive towards long-term success, though we saw last year that this team can and will win plenty of games without looking impressive in the grand scheme of things.
Which team has been the biggest surprise, good or bad, this season?
No. 13 Nashville Predators (6-3-4)
The Predators have just run into some bad luck so far. Their four overtime losses are the most in the NHL. At some point things have to turn around for this team, right?
No. 14 Montreal Canadians (7-4-1)
Compared to where they were last season, the Canadians have already exceeded the expectations placed on them. It might not be such a long, slow climb out of obscurity, after all.
No. 15 Ottawa Senators (7-5-2)
The Senators just continue to float around the bottom of the playoff standings in the Eastern Conference. It would be unfair to expect more until they prove they can do more. Then again, considering that we have seen this before, maybe there isn't more for them to offer.
No. 16 Carolina Hurricanes (7-4-1)
Because of the division structure in pro sports, the Hurricanes luck out and sit in the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference right now, despite being tied with Montreal for the seventh-most points. Not only that, but they have, by far, the worst goal differential of any division leader.
Despite their positioning, you can color me skeptical about the long-term outlook for this team. They do have a potent offense, it just takes more than putting the goal in the net to make a great team.
No. 17 Tampa Bay Lightning (6-5-1)
I am waiting for the Lightning to flip the switch on and play up to the potential that the stats suggest they should. Even though they have just 13 points, they have a better goal differential than all but one Eastern Conference team and have scored the most goals in the league.
Defensively there are a lot of holes that need to be plugged, and the goaltending comes and goes. But this is a team that is a lot better than its record indicates. An easy schedule the rest of this week could allow them to get their mojo.
No. 18 Philadelphia Flyers (6-7-1)
The Flyers are too inconsistent for their own good. They have played well at home, yet can't translate that success into wins on the road. They win virtually all of their close games, but when they lose, it is brutal to watch.
No. 19 Edmonton Oilers (5-5-3)
If you look up the definition of mediocre in the dictionary, there is a picture of the Oilers' logo. They are 2-2-2 at home, 3-3-1 on the road. They are not dull to watch, just frustratingly bland.
One thing that does help their cause is how average the bottom of the Western Conference is. They could easily slip into the No. 8 spot with a little luck heading into the second full month of action.
No. 20 Winnipeg Jets (5-6-1)
The Jets' biggest issue is on defense. They have poor goaltending, which gets no help from the defense in front. They really need to learn how to defend the power play, as opponents convert nearly one out of every three attempts.
No. 21 Minnesota Wild (6-6-1)
The Wild tend to be their own worst enemy. When they are playing in the friendly confines of Xcel Energy Center, they look like one of the best teams in the NHL. They have a 5-2-0 mark at home (despite having an even goal differential) and are 1-4-1 away from home.
Something is going to change very soon, and given their lack of offensive firepower, I suspect that it will be the home record devolving quickly.
No. 22 Phoenix Coyotes (6-5-2)
The Coyotes have started to play better of late, winning their last two games. They just lack that spark on either side of the puck to really get over the hump and be serious playoff contenders.
No. 23 Buffalo Sabres (5-8-1)
The Sabres have taken a step back this season after narrowly missing the postseason last year. The offense is performing well enough, but goaltending and defense rank near the bottom of the league.
No. 24 New York Islanders (4-7-1)
If there was optimism in New York for this Islanders team after a 4-2-1 start, it has quickly evaporated following a five-game losing streak. It's not even that they are losing, but how they are losing.
During the streak, the Islanders have scored two or fewer goals four times and have allowed at least four goals in three of the five games. The other two games they allowed three goals.
No. 25 Los Angeles Kings (4-5-2)
The defending Stanley Cup champions walked a tightrope last season that paid off huge in the end. This season everything has gone wrong. That stout goaltending and defense that carried them in the playoffs is not working, and the offense is still among the worst in the NHL.
You don't want to sell the Kings down the river quite yet, because we saw what they are capable of when they get hot, but it is getting harder to watch this team and expect another miraculous run to happen.
No. 26 Florida Panthers (4-6-2)
The Panthers have the worst goal differential in the NHL, worst goals against average, rank 23rd in goals per game and 26th in penalty killing. Other than that they are doing just fine. It's quite the 180 for a team that was the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference last season.
That seed was obviously inflated by playing in a poor division, as they had just 94 points and would have been the No. 7 seed going based on record.
Perhaps expectations were too high for this team coming into the season. After all, they were outscored 227-203 in 2012. They did take New Jersey to seven games in the first round of the playoffs, but the writing should have been on the wall.
It is still amazing to see how luck can change in a hurry in sports. The Panthers will be lucky to stick around .500 this season.
No. 27 Calgary Flames (4-4-3)
The Flames do look better this season than they did last year, though that doesn't necessarily mean they are going to keep up with the best teams in the Western Conference. Small steps are what this franchise needs right now.
No. 28 Colorado Avalanche (4-6-1)
The Avalanche are a mess right now. They don't have any stability on either side of the puck, and no one has stepped up to at least make them respectable. This is easily the worst team in the Western Conference.
No. 29 Washington Capitals (4-8-1)
It was a slow start for the Capitals, but they avoid the last spot on this week's rankings by virtue of their back-to-back wins over Florida. Still, this group is a mess and has no clue what to do in order to fix it.
No. 30 Columbus Blue Jackets (4-7-2)
Even though the Western Conference is loaded with teams hovering around the middle, the Blue Jackets stick out like a sore thumb for how poor they look. It is not a shock considering they had the worst record in the league last season, but you would think improvements would be made.
Their minus-11 goal differential is nearly double that of the three worst teams in the conference. Times are tough in Columbus, but at least Ohio State will start spring practices soon.
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