NHL Power Rankings: B/R Experts' Week 11 Poll
It's an odd week for the power rankings. Many of the NHL's top teams have struggled, while clubs outside the playoff pack like Columbus and Carolina have posted perfect records. The San Jose Sharks held top position seven days ago, but can they hold it after a mediocre performance this week?
With seven days of largely uncharacteristic performances from the NHL's 30 clubs, it's as good a time as any to unveil a change in the power rankings that we have had coming for a long time.
Rather than having a single voice assessing where teams sit, this week marks the debut of our experts' poll, with some of the top voices from Bleacher Report's NHL side registering their votes in the best and worst teams in the game.
Voting this week are Adrian Dater, Dave Lozo, Allan Mitchell, Lyle Richardson, Carol Schram, Rob Vollman and myself. The criteria remain the same, and the vote will focus heavily on performances in the last week, with the overall NHL standings only serving as an anchor for each team.
Read on to see how our experts break down the league.
30. Buffalo Sabres
Last week: 28
The week that was: Buffalo played two games last week and lost both of them, which pushes the team's streak without a regulation win to nine games. The club lost 3-1 at home to the New York Rangers and then, despite a strong third period, fell in Montreal by a 3-2 score.
By the numbers: Buffalo (along with Toronto) is one of only two teams in the NHL to surrender at least five shots more per game than it allows. The Sabres rank 29th in the NHL in shots for and 28th in the NHL in shots against.
29. New York Islanders
Last week: 30
The week that was: The Islanders long slide continued in week 11. The club dropped an overtime decision at home to Pittsburgh before heading out on the road, where it was outscored by a 8-1 total over a pair of games against St. Louis and Los Angeles.
That puts the Islanders on the wrong end of a nine-game losing streak, and the team now has one regulation win in its last 16 contests.
By the numbers: Among goalies with more than 10 games played, only Florida's Jacob Markstrom (.877 save percentage, since dispatched to the minor leagues) has a worse save percentage than either Evgeni Nabokov (.892 save percentage) or Kevin Poulin (.888 save percentage). Just for good measure, third-stringer Anders Nilsson is even lower with a .883 save percentage.
28. Florida Panthers
Last week: 29
The week that was: Florida had some tough challenges last week and came through with a 0.500 record.
The club played two games at home against relatively weak opponents, losing to Ottawa but beating Winnipeg. Then, the Cats headed out on the road against much tougher teams from Detroit and Chicago, and they managed to win a close one over the Red Wings but fell 6-2 to the Blackhawks.
By the numbers: Brian Campbell has been logging heavy minutes in Florida, and understandably so, as he's a tower of power on an otherwise miserable blue line. Averaging 27:02 per game, Campbell ranks third in the NHL in average ice time.
27. Edmonton Oilers
Last week: 24
The week that was: The Oilers have improved significantly since a dismal start to their season, but the progress has been frustratingly slow at the best of times, and a 1-1-1 record last week was more of the same.
Edmonton's team looked like lions in an 8-2 win over Colorado shortly after sleepwalking through a 6-2 defeat at the hands of Phoenix. The Oilers wrapped things up Saturday by losing in overtime to a tired Calgary team that they should have beaten.
By the numbers: Real-time statistics rightfully take a lot of heat, but they can be interesting indicators, and looking at hit totals for the Oilers forwards is an interesting exercise. Mark Arcobello, who at 5'8", 166 pounds is the smallest player on the team, leads the way among forwards with 50 hits in 26 games despite having been Edmonton's most consistent possession player.
26. Calgary Flames
Last week: 27
The week that was: Calgary climbs one spot after winning two of three last week and coming oh-so-close to winning a third.
The Flames beat a tired but competent Phoenix team to start the week, fell by a single goal to a better Colorado club that had also played the night before and then managed to hang on for an overtime victory over a rested Oilers club in Edmonton.
By the numbers: The Flames' search for competent netminding continues. Karri Ramo and Reto Berra have both alternated hot-and-cold streaks but neither has managed to provide the team with a reliable presence between the pipes; both are presently hovering below the .900 save-percentage mark.
25. Ottawa Senators
Last week: 26
The week that was: The Senators were at least a little on the unlucky side to come away with just a 1-1-1 record over their last three games.
Ottawa has without question struggled this season, but the Sens outshot Florida 45-32 in a win, outshot Tampa Bay 34-22 in a loss and then outshot Toronto 50-31 in a shootout defeat.
By the numbers: Clarke MacArthur is one of the few bright spots in a disappointing season for Ottawa. With 23 points in 29 games, he has already topped his total offensive production from last season, and he's on pace to post career highs in shots, goals and points. At plus-11, he's also the only Senators skater in double digits in the black.
24. Nashville Predators
Last week: 16
The week that was: The Predators have fallen into a bit of a tailspin. With losses to Vancouver, Carolina and Washington this week, the team is now riding a five-game losing streak.
It extends a recent streak of hot-or-cold play by Nashville. Prior to the five consecutive losses, the club had won five of six; just before that, it had dropped four in a row. The wins are nice when they come, but runs like this undo all the traction the team manages in a tough Western Conference.
By the numbers: Marek Mazanec has generally provided the Preds with solid goaltending in place of injured starter Pekka Rinne and still has a very respectable .915 save percentage on the season. However, his play slipped a little last week. Mazanec allowed 12 goals in three games and posted a .848 save percentage over the three losses.
23. Philadelphia Flyers
Last week: 19
The week that was: The Flyers fall four spots as the resurgence sparked in mid-November continues to falter. The team enjoyed a 6-0-1 run during the middle of the month but had won just two of four since entering this week.
The middle portion of a six-game road trip didn't offer the team any east opponents, and Philadelphia was only able to come away with a single win in its three games from week 11.
By the numbers: A lot of offensive stars have disappointed in Philadelphia this season, but somewhere near the top of the list is Jakub Voracek. Voracek rode some unsustainable stuff (including a 17.1 shooting percentage) to a career-best 22 goals last season and a near point-per-game scoring pace; this year, he has just three goals and 12 points in 29 contests.
22. Columbus Blue Jackets
Last week: 23
The week that was: Columbus started the month of December with two games at home, and the team took advantage of the relatively relaxed schedule, beating the Lightning 1-0 and then the Wild by a 4-0 score. The win over Minnesota was especially impressive, both because the Wild are a solid team and because of the 41-20 shot differential the Blue Jackets were able to open up.
By the numbers: Unfortunately for the Blue Jackets, starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky was injured in the win over Tampa Bay and, according to reporter Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch, will miss four to five weeks with a strained groin.
That puts the spotlight squarely on Curtis McElhinney, who has yet to allow a goal since taking over. He's been good this year, with a .932 save percentage over nine games, but has a career save percentage of just .903 at the NHL level.
21. Winnipeg Jets
Last week: 22
The week that was: Winnipeg closed out a six-game road trip in reasonably solid fashion last week, winning two of its final three games to move to 4-2-0 on the Eastern Conference swing. That run moved the team's road record up to .500 at 7-7-1 and moved the club to within seven points of the final playoff spot in the West.
By the numbers: Dustin Byfuglien has long been a controversial player in Winnipeg, and the team-worst minus-11 rating he's dragging around isn't going to help matters. Byfuglien sits near the bottom of his club in both on-ice shooting percentage (6.2 percent) and shots against blocked (50) at five-on-five despite boasting pretty good shot numbers; it's a decent bet he'll turn things around.
20. New Jersey Devils
Last week: 20
The week that was: The Devils played four games last week, including a home-and-home with Montreal, but came away with only three of a possible eight points and slide one spot in our rankings.
Even the lone win, a 4-3 victory over the Rangers, required an overtime power play (and a goal from Eric Gelinas on that four-on-three) to secure.
By the numbers: New Jersey won multiple Stanley Cups on the back of solid defence, and under general manager Lou Lamoriello, the Devils have never wavered from that philosophy. No team in the NHL allows fewer shots than the Devils.
The flip side of that is that they have struggled to generate offence; New Jersey is the lone team in the NHL to fire less than 25 shots per game.
19. New York Rangers
Last week: 18
The week that was: An eight-game run of alternating wins and losses ended Sunday, when the Rangers followed up a 4-3 overtime defeat at the hands of the Devils by dropping a 4-1 decision to Washington.
That gave the team three of a possible eight points on the week. It's a frustrating setback because not only had New York clawed its way back into playoff contention after a rough start, but the Toronto Maple Leafs are in the last wild-card position in the East and are struggling badly; this week represented a great opportunity to bridge that gap (though the Rangers may have a better shot of unseating Carolina in the final divisional spot).
By the numbers: The Rangers opened the year with their longest road trip of the season—nine consecutive games away from Madison Square Garden; the team went 3-6-0 and dug itself a hole it has yet to pull out of.
The trade-off was supposed to be the team's current homestand—nine consecutive contests in New York. Two games in, the Rangers have just a single point and desperately need to crank out some wins to get back into the thick of things.
18. Carolina Hurricanes
Last week: 25
The week that was: A perfect week propels Carolina up our power rankings, jumping the team seven spots in seven days.
Most impressively, the Hurricanes came away with two wins on the road and then beat the San Jose Sharks at home. The run moved the Hurricanes into third in the Metropolitan Division and has the team looking at a playoff berth if the postseason started today.
By the numbers: Eric Staal is figuratively on fire after a slow start to 2013-14. He has points in 11 of his last 12 contests and in that span has scored four times and added 10 assists for 14 points.
17. Washington Capitals
Last week: 21
The week that was: The Capitals climb two spots on the back of convincing wins over Nashville and New York this past weekend after dropping their only weekday game this week to Carolina on Tuesday. The team needed strong performances from its goalies in both wins, with Braden Holtby making 34 saves against the Predators and Philipp Grubauer stopping 30 of 31 shots he faced versus the Rangers.
By the numbers: Mikhail Grabovski just keeps going. He had three points over the weekend and now has 25 in 30 contests this season for Washington, putting him just back of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom despite considerably less ice time. His shot rates have actually dipped, though; his shooting percentage (22.0 percent) is nearly double his career average.
16. Toronto Maple Leafs
Last week: 17
The week that was: Toronto won a couple of games in extra innings but finds its playoff position precarious as it enters December. The club has now gone 10 games without a regulation win and allowed 28, 50, 50 and 40 shots against in its four contests this week.
Thanks to incredible performances from Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer, Toronto is now 2-0 this week when surrendering at least 50 shots.
By the numbers: Toronto has the worst shot differential in the league today and is now the only team to allow at least 10 more shots against per game than it manages itself. No team averages more shots against than the 37.1 per game Toronto does, and the Leafs are one of just three teams in the NHL firing less than 27 shots per game.
15. Tampa Bay Lightning
Last week: 11
The week that was: The Lightning did a pretty decent job defensively last week, limiting the opposition to only four goals over three games. The problem was that Tampa Bay's own offence struggled to ignite. The lone game where the Lightning managed to score more than one goal represented the team's only win, though the Lightning also picked up a point in an overtime loss to Winnipeg.
By the numbers: Steven Stamkos last played in a 3-0 defeat at the hands of the Bruins on November 11. In the 12 contests since that point, Tampa Bay has gone 5-5-2, well enough to keep the team in the Eastern Conference playoff picture but also poor enough to go from a commanding 12-5-0 position to the postseason bubble.
14. Phoenix Coyotes
Last week: 12
The week that was: Phoenix drops two spots in the rankings after losing two of the three games it played.
The team's current four-game road trip started well enough, with a 6-2 victory over the Oilers, but the Coyotes followed that win up with a regulation loss to Calgary and an overtime defeat at the hands of the Canucks.
By the numbers: Phoenix general manager Don Maloney seems to have a habit of finding hidden gems, and undrafted forward Rob Klinkhammer looks to be one of them. The 6'3", 220-pound winger had all of 16 NHL games under his belt when the Coyotes added him as a free agent.
He put up 11 points in 22 games last year after earning a call-up and has 11 more in 29 games so far this season; he is also plus-18 51 games into his Coyotes career.
13. Detroit Red Wings
Last week: 10
The week that was: Detroit shrugged off a long losing streak toward the end of November, putting it solidly in the past by reeling off four consecutive wins.
Alas, it was not to last; the Red Wings dropped games at home last week to Philadelphia and Florida, though they did manage to beat New Jersey in a game in which they held the Devils to a paltry 11 shots.
By the numbers: Jonas Gustavsson keeps right on rolling, stopping 10 of the 11 shots he faced against New Jersey and saving 35 of 37 attempts in a losing effort to Florida. His .930 save percentage this season towers over anything he's done previously, including the .879 number he posted for the Red Wings last year.
12. Dallas Stars
Last week: 14
The week that was: The Stars climb two places after taking five of a possible six points in week 11.
On Tuesday, Dallas managed to eke out a 4-3 win in a game where they were outshot 50-18 by the Blackhawks. It was two points the club didn't deserve, but these things have a habit of evening themselves out, and in this case, the cycle was completed two days later when the Stars dropped a 3-2 overtime decision to a Toronto team they outshot 50-24.
Dallas ended the week with a convincing 5-1 win over Philadelphia.
By the numbers: What a week for Valeri Nichushkin. The rookie forward has had his share of ups and downs and then some this season, but he has scored twice and added five helpers in his team's last three games, bringing him up to a very respectable 15 points in 27 games on the year.
11. Vancouver Canucks
Last week: 15
The week that was: It's been a roller-coaster season for the Canucks, and 2013-14's 11th week didn't change that, but at least it altered the trajectory of the ride.
After going 2-6-2 in its last 10 games in November, Vancouver narrowly beat Carolina on Sunday to set the stage for this week, one where the Canucks recorded three quick wins over Nashville, Phoenix and Colorado.
Two of those were four-point games; Vancouver currently sits in the final wild-card spot in the West, with Colorado one point ahead and Phoenix two points behind.
By the numbers: For a team fighting for its playoff life, the continued presence of Tom Sestito in the lineup seems an odd luxury. To be sure, the 6'5", 228-pound forward adds a physical presence, but he contributes little else; he has just two points and a minus-seven rating 32 games into the season.
10. Minnesota Wild
Last week: 13
The week that was: Minnesota enjoyed a largely successful week, one that pushes them up three spots in our power rankings.
The Wild played four games in a busy week, dispatching Chicago in a hard-fought game and riding a magnificent Josh Harding performance to a 3-1 victory over San Jose in its two toughest matchups. The club split wins and losses against milder Eastern opponents, shutting out the Flyers but falling 4-0 to a rested Blue Jackets team in the second half of back-to-back games.
By the numbers: One of the secrets to the Wild's success has been defenceman Ryan Suter. The top defenceman, added as a high-profile free agent in the summer of 2012, leads the NHL in total ice time (938 minutes) as well as in average ice time per game (29:19).
9. Colorado Avalanche
Last week: 6
The week that was: After resting for much of the week, the Avs played three games in four days and had indifferent results. Colorado was blown out by an 8-2 score in Edmonton, managed to beat Calgary by a single goal and then wrapped things up with a 3-1 loss to Vancouver.
By the numbers: Regular defence partners Erik Johnson and Jan Hejda lead the Avalanche by a long way with matching plus-17 ratings (thanks in no small part to matching 105-plus PDO numbers). Colorado will be tested a little now, though; Hejda tumbled awkwardly into the boards against Edmonton and is expected to miss two weeks, according to NHL.com.
8. St. Louis Blues
Last week: 3
The week that was: The Blues tumble five spots after hitting their first real rough patch of the season.
St. Louis won a single game last week, dispatching the Islanders with ease midweek but losing tougher battles against Anaheim and Los Angeles. Add in last Friday's loss to San Jose, and the Blues are suddenly coming up short against their toughest opponents.
By the numbers: Alex Steen was one of the Blues who struggled in those contests against top Western teams; he picked up a single assist and a minus-five rating in the three games against Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose. His fantastic early-season pace has slowed a little, too; in his last nine games, he has six points after putting up 26 in his first 19 contests.
The good news? Steen's still getting shots, averaging four per game over his last five contests.
7. Montreal Canadiens
Last week: 7
The week that was: Montreal had a busy week, playing four games in six days. All four games were one-goal decisions but all four also ended in Canadiens victories.
Collecting all eight possible points pushed the Habs up the Eastern Conference standings; the club is now just a single point behind Boston for the top spot.
By the numbers: Daniel Briere has been something of a disappointment since signing with Montreal this summer. His underlying numbers are decidedly unimpressive, his offensive production (10 points in 21 games) is middling and he's just plus-one on a plus-20 team.
6. Pittsburgh Penguins
Last week: 5
The week that was: Pittsburgh won two games early in the week, including a 5-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks, but those successes are overshadowed by what happened in Saturday's game against Boston. Brooks Orpik is injured after being mugged by Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton, and James Neal is facing a suspension after a nasty shot to the head of Brad Marchand.
By the numbers: Matt Niskanen's plus-15 rating stands out sharply from the pack in Pittsburgh, and to some degree, it's extremely well deserved. The Penguins outshoot their opposition 262-201 with Niskanen on the ice, and while some of that's related to usage, there's no question he's enjoying a solid season.
5. Boston Bruins
Last week: 4
The week that was: Like the Penguins, Boston won two of three games last week. Also like the Penguins, the Bruins' performance on the ice is going to be overshadowed by some of the ugliness that took place in those games.
Shawn Thornton's looking at a long suspension, while the health of Loui Eriksson and Chris Kelly is a serious concern after the game against Pittsburgh. More injuries happened the next night against Toronto; Dougie Hamilton left the game after the first period, and Kevan Miller left late in the third after taking a brutal hit from Toronto's Dion Phaneuf.
By the numbers: Miller was five games into his NHL career when Phaneuf hammered him into the boards. The undrafted 26-year-old had worked his way up from the minor leagues and into an NHL lineup, and was enjoying the best game of his career before the hit. He went plus-two on the night and scored the goal that ended up being the game-winner.
4. Anaheim Ducks
Last week: 8
The week that was: Anaheim had a rough schedule this week, playing Los Angeles at home before heading out on the road to face Chicago and St. Louis.
The games against the Kings and Blackhawks both went to the shootout, and the Ducks came away with one win and one loss. Saturday's game against St. Louis was more satisfactory—a 5-2 win for Anaheim.
By the numbers: The Ducks currently have two players in the top five of NHL goal scoring. With 18 goals Corey Perry is four back of Alex Ovechkin for the NHL lead, while Ryan Getzlaf is tied for fifth in the league with 16 goals.
3. San Jose Sharks
Last week: 1
The week that was: San Jose was on a red hot streak entering the week, winning five games in a row.
That continues in the first game of a four-game road swing, with the Sharks beating Toronto 4-2. But San Jose then dropped three games in four days to Pittsburgh, Carolina and Minnesota.
By the numbers: One measure of the Sharks' dominance is how well the team has opened games. Score effects mean that teams playing with the lead often struggle to maintain the strong play that got them there. Whether through complacency, settling into a defensive scheme or simply the other team opening things up, there is generally a spike in play for a trailing club.
That shows up in San Jose. In first periods, the Sharks have a 40-14 edge in goals; in the second and third periods, that falls to a 56-56 tie.
2. Chicago Blackhawks
Last week: 2
The week that was: Chicago had a busy—and difficult—week, and the team's record coming out of it shows that.
The Blackhawks played Dallas (50 shots to 18) tight but lost by one goal, then followed that up with close one-goal losses to Minnesota and Anaheim.
Finishing the week off with a weaker opponent on Sunday, the Blackhawks made short work of Florida, winning a 6-2 contest.
By the numbers: The Blackhawks have dressed 25 skaters this season, and with the exception of Michal Rozsival (minus-one) and three-gamer Brad Mills (also minus-one), every one of them has a positive plus/minus. That includes Patrick Kane, who started the year at minus-nine but now sits at plus-two.
1. Los Angeles Kings
Last week: 9
The week that was: Los Angeles moves to the top of this week's power rankings thanks to a perfect week that saw the team beat extremely tough opponents (St. Louis and Anaheim) by narrow margins before routing the New York Islanders on Saturday.
By the numbers: Rookie goaltender Martin Jones got his first shot at a start this week against the Anaheim Ducks, and he did so well that he also got the game against the Islanders, where he made 16 saves for his first NHL shutout. His stat line is now 2-0-0 with a 0.955 save percentage.