NHL Power Rankings: B/R Experts' Week 20 Poll
The much-needed Olympic break is finally here, allowing for some time off for most of the NHL and the writers who cover the sport.
Well, not every writer. Some of us are still on the clock, and that's why we're producing this week's power rankings.
The St. Louis Blues were the top team last week, but are they still on top this week? Could the Ducks, Sharks or Bruins have supplanted the Blues?
Our panel is back again to rank the entire league from 1 to 30. Jonathan Willis, Allan Mitchell, Lyle Richardson, Carol Schram, Rob Vollman, Adrian Dater and I voted this week. The criteria remain the same, and the vote will focus heavily on recent performance, with the overall NHL standings only serving as an anchor point for each team.
Read on to see where every NHL team ranks, and please note the rankings are the result of the panel's voting, not one person's decision.
30-26: Buffalo Sabres-Edmonton Oilers
30. Buffalo Sabres (Last Week: 30). After showing signs of improvement after Ted Nolan took over as coach, the Sabres have once again gone in the tank. They've lost four straight games, all in regulation.
29. New York Islanders (Last Week: 29). The Islanders are 1-6-1 in their past eight games and have given up four goals or more in five of those contests.
28. Calgary Flames (Last Week: 26). The Flames have dropped two of three this week after winning five in a row. Rookie Sean Monahan has three goals and two assists in his past 12 games.
27. Florida Panthers (Last Week: 27). The Panthers have one victory and five regulation losses in their past six contests. Goaltender Tim Thomas has allowed 21 goals in his past six starts.
26. Edmonton Oilers (Last Week: 28). The Oilers have been playing much better over the past two weeks, going 5-1-1 in their past seven games. Goaltender Ben Scrivens is 3-3-0 with a 2.01/.948 split since being acquired by the Oilers in a trade with the Kings.
25-21: Vancouver Canucks-Winnipeg Jets
25. Vancouver Canucks (Last Week: 19). The free fall in Vancouver has finally taken the Canucks out of a playoff spot. The have lost seven in a row, all in regulation, and have scored 10 goals in those games.
24. Nashville Predators (Last Week: 23). A three-game losing streak before the break is softened by the fact the Predators picked up a point in two of the losses.
23. Washington Capitals (Last Week: 25). They went 3-1-0 before the break to give themselves a better shot at tracking down a playoff spot when the NHL resumes play. They won two of their final three games despite going 0-of-14 on the power play.
22. New Jersey Devils (Last Week: 21). The Devils haven't won in regulation in their past seven games, but they've scraped together enough points to still have a shot at the playoffs. Goaltender Martin Brodeur has not played since allowing six goals on 21 shots to the Rangers at Yankee Stadium on Jan. 26.
21. Winnipeg Jets (Last Week: 20). Paul Maurice has given the Jets new life since taking over as coach. The Jets are 9-3-1 under Maurice, but dropped their final two games before the layoff.
20-16: Phoenix Coyotes-Montreal Canadiens
20. Phoenix Coyotes (Last Week: 17). The Coyotes alternated wins and losses over their final eight games before the break and are on the doorstep of a wild-card spot in the West. Antoine Vermette has six goals in his past seven games.
19. Philadelphia Flyers (Last Week: 24). The Flyers closed strong, winning four in a row before their sabbatical. Captain Claude Giroux has six goals and seven assists in his past nine games.
18. Carolina Hurricanes (Last Week: 15). A six-game stretch of three wins and three losses punctuated the Hurricanes' run to the break. Anton Khudobin has made eight straight starts in net.
17. Ottawa Senators (Last Week: 18). It was an interesting week for the Senators. They used a third-period rally to beat the Blues in St. Louis, slipped past the Sabres, then were smoked 7-2 in Boston by the Bruins.
16. Montreal Canadiens (Last Week: 22). The Habs figured things out after struggling throughout January. They have gone 5-1-1 in their past seven games and have won three straight.
15-11: Detroit Red Wings-Toronto Maple Leafs
15. Detroit Red Wings (Last Week: 16). A 3-1-1 conclusion to their pre-Olympic schedule has them in a wild-card spot. Jimmy Howard continues to falter, giving up 10 goals in his past three starts.
14. Tampa Bay Lightning (Last Week: 9). After playing so well for so long without Steven Stamkos, the Lighting have finally had a hiccup. They are 2-4-0 in their past six games.
13. Los Angeles Kings (Last Week: 10). They earned a much-needed 2-1 overtime win against Columbus on Thursday. The Kings' woes have put their playoff spot somewhat in question, as they have one regulation win in their past 11 games.
12. Minnesota Wild (Last Week: 14). The Wild picked up five of six points last week to cushion their lead as the first wild-card team in the West. Goaltender Josh Harding hasn't played since Dec. 31.
11. Toronto Maple Leafs (Last Week: 11). The Leafs have won five of six and would need to have an epic collapse to miss the playoffs. Goaltender Jonathan Bernier has been in net over the past six games, allowing 13 goals.
10. Dallas Stars
Last Week: 13
Recent Trend: The Stars went 3-1-0 in their final four games before the break to pull themselves back into playoff contention. Since losing nine of 10 to start January, the Stars are 6-1-2.
Big Picture: The collapse of the Canucks has the Stars sitting in the final wild-card spot in the West. Because of the eliteness of the top three teams in the Pacific Division, the Stars can really only finish as one of the two wild cards.
By the Numbers: Since Jan. 21, goaltender Kari Lehtonen is 5-2-1 with a 1.49/.936 split.
9. Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 8
Recent Trend: The Blue Jackets go into the break losers of two straight, but having been 3-1-1 in their past five games. They scored 16 goals in those five games, but struggled to score in road losses to Los Angeles (2-1) and San Jose (3-2).
Big Picture: They remain in a good position to crack a playoff spot. After the Olympic break, right wing Marian Gaborik should be healthy enough to return to the lineup, giving the Blue Jackets another scoring threat for the final stretch.
By the Numbers: The power play has been really good since January. In their past 18 games, the Jackets are 15-of-67 (22.4 percent) with the man advantage.
8. New York Rangers
Last Week: 12
Recent Trend: The Rangers have played their best over the past month, going 11-4 in their past 15 games. In their final six games before the break, the Rangers went 5-1-0.
Big Picture: Even with this string of success, there's nothing guaranteed for the Rangers. They sit in second in the Metropolitan, but there are five teams behind them that can easily overtake them.
By the Numbers: The Rangers have 10 games this season in which they've had at least 40 shots on goal. They had 40 shots in a game just eight times over the previous two seasons.
7. San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 2
Recent Trend: The Sharks take a big dip this week despite winning three of their past four games. It would have been a perfect four-game run but for allowing four third-period goals in a 5-2 loss to the Flyers on Monday.
Big Picture: It's going to take a hot streak to run down the Ducks, but the Sharks are capable. A weird note: The Sharks' first 11 games after the Olympic break are against Eastern Conference teams, something that makes that hot streak seem a little more possible.
By the Numbers: Backup goaltender Alex Stalock has had an outstanding season and is siphoning playing time away from starter Antti Niemi. Stalock has made six starts in the past month after making five starts from October through December.
6. Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 5
Recent Trend: The Avalanche suffered back-to-back losses to the Rangers and Flyers last week, but enter the break 5-2-0 in their past seven games. They're making a push up the Central Division standings.
Big Picture: With the Blackhawks stumbling, it's not out of the question for the Avs to grab the second spot in the division. They have a ways to go to get there, but the door has been opened.
By the Numbers: Rookie Nathan MacKinnon has seven goals and eight assists in his past 11 games.
5. Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 7
Recent Trend: There's been a clear dip in the Ducks' play of late (at least to the author), but they move up two spots in this week's rankings. They've lost three of four and four of six since defeating the Kings 3-0 at Dodger Stadium.
Big Picture: The Ducks remain in command of the Pacific, but the Blues are breathing down their neck for the top spot in the conference. The Sharks are seven points back in the division with a game in hand.
By the Numbers: Goaltender Jonas Hiller has allowed 25 goals in his past 12 games, over which time he has a .923 save percentage.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 6
Recent Trend: The Penguins just continue to roll along, going 4-1-1 in their past six games. They played the final five games of that stretch without defenseman Kris Letang, who was diagnosed with a stroke and will miss at least six weeks.
Big Picture: The Penguins will be no worse than the top team in the Metropolitan, which guarantees them home-ice advantage in the first two rounds. The key will be holding off the red-hot Boston Bruins, who are now five points back with one game in hand.
By the Numbers: The loss of Letang is scary on a lot of levels, but the Penguins have found a way to excel without him. They are 45-22-1 without their top offensive defenseman the past three years.
3. Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 4
Recent Trend: The Blackhawks move up one spot in the rankings thanks to their 3-1-1 stretch before the Olympic break. They've scored just eight goals in their past four games.
Big Picture: It looked like there was a chance the Blackhawks would lap the the field earlier in the season, but the Blues have tracked them down in the Central Division, and a few other teams are making up ground. They'll need to be better after the break if they want home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
By the Numbers: Patrick Kane has quietly hit a wall since the calendar flipped to 2014. In 18 games this year, he has four goals and six assists.
2. Boston Bruins
Last Week: 3
Recent Trend: The Bruins have won three of four and seven of nine. During that eight-game stretch, the Bruins have outscored their opponents 38-18.
Big Picture: The Atlantic Division was a tight race up until the past few weeks, but the Bruins have pulled away. They have a seven-point lead over the second-place Lightning and are five points behind the East-leading Penguins with a game in hand.
By the Numbers: Nathan MacKinnon of the Avalanche looks like the runaway favorite for the Calder Trophy, but Bruins defenseman Torey Krug has had an outstanding offensive season. He leads all rookie blueliners with 32 points, nine more than rookie defenseman Olli Maatta of the Penguins.
1. St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 1
Recent Trend: The Blues have won three of four and are 6-1-1 in eight games since they suffered a 7-1 road loss to the New Jersey Devils. They've scored three goals per game over their past eight contests and are slowly emerging as the best team in the West.
Big Picture: The Blues are tied for first in the Central with the Chicago Blackhawks and are three points behind the Anaheim Ducks for the most points in the league. The Blues have three games in hand on both teams, which helps give them the top points percentage (.737) in the NHL.
By the Numbers: The Blues are averaging 3.32 goals per game this season, a massive increase over the past two seasons, when they averaged 2.51 per game in 2011-12 and 2.58 per game in 2013.