NHL Power Rankings: B/R Experts' Week 24 Poll
It's do-or-die time for the teams on the NHL playoff bubble, with the races for the final spots clearly defined and every point coveted by those clubs.
Almost every club seems to have something pivotal at stake. For the teams at the very top of the league, now's the time to secure home-ice advantage in the first round or throughout the playoffs. Teams in the middle of it all are just desperate to make the postseason. As for fans of the rest, the brutal math of draft positioning takes on a sudden importance.
Who enters the playoffs red hot? Which teams are seeing their postseason hopes die? We recap all the races and try to decide if any team can catch the Boston Bruins, last week's No. 1-ranked team. As always, rankings here indicate not just this writer's opinion but that of our entire panel. Voting this week are Dave Lozo, Allan Mitchell, Lyle Richardson, Carol Schram and Rob Vollman as well as myself.
Read on to see where every NHL team ranks this week.
Unless otherwise noted, news and statistics are courtesy of NHL.com and are current through the start of action on March 31.
30-26: Buffalo Sabres-Carolina Hurricanes
30. Buffalo Sabres (Last Week: 30). Seven straight losses. One win! Four straight losses. Incredibly, Buffalo is 12 points out of 29th place in the NHL.
29. Edmonton Oilers (Last Week: 29). Ignoring a 4-3 overtime win on Friday, which featured a thoroughly outplayed Oilers team beating Anaheim thanks to opportunistic goals and ridiculous goaltending, Edmonton has been outscored 21-4 in its last five contests, a stretch which includes games against Buffalo and Calgary.
28. Florida Panthers (Last Week: 28). With a 0-5-1 record over their last half-dozen games, the Panthers are working really hard at bumping the Oilers up to 28th.
27. Toronto Maple Leafs (Last Week: 17). On March 14, Toronto had leads of six, seven and eight points on Columbus, Detroit and Washington, respectively. Eight consecutive regulation losses later, the Maple Leafs are behind all three and two points back of the final Eastern wild-card spot, held by a Blue Jackets team that has two games in hand on Toronto.
26. Carolina Hurricanes (Last Week: 24). The Hurricanes slip after losing games to the Blue Jackets and Islanders last week. Carolina did manage to beat the slumping Panthers but, in totality, slipped even further out of the playoff race.
25-21: Winnipeg Jets-Ottawa Senators
25. Winnipeg Jets (Last Week: 23). The Jets squeaked out a one-goal win over San Jose on Thursday, but that was the only victory in the team's last four contests. Since the start of March, Winnipeg has a 4-7-3 record, a 64-point full-season pace.
24. New York Islanders (Last Week: 26). New York climbs two spots, thanks to a stretch of seven points over four games. Just two points out of 29th a little over a week ago, the Islanders are now just a point back of Calgary for 26th in the league.
23. Calgary Flames (Last Week: 25). The Flames have been impressive of late, and they beat the Sharks and Rangers last week. Calgary's current 9-7-0 run includes some spectacular wins, too, including a 7-2 victory over the tough Anaheim Ducks and an 8-1 humiliation of provincial rival Edmonton.
22. Nashville Predators (Last Week: 20). The Predators manhandled Buffalo last week (a 6-1 win) but lost games to Dallas and Colorado and needed the shootout to top Washington.
21. Ottawa Senators (Last Week: 22). With the playoffs almost certainly out of reach, Ottawa has picked an odd moment to go on a run, but nevertheless, the Senators posted seven points in eight games this week. The potential for a silver lining in an otherwise disappointing season exists: Ottawa is only four points back of Toronto and has two games in hand and thus may yet pass their provincial rival.
20-16: Vancouver Canucks-Phoenix Coyotes
20. Vancouver Canucks (Last Week: 27). The Canucks' post-deadline collapse has been well publicized, but the team did manage to put together a stretch of seven points in eight games that was only snapped with a loss to Anaheim on Saturday.
19. Washington Capitals (Last Week: 18). The Capitals have four losses in their last five games and needed a shootout in their lone win. Despite this, they only drop a single spot in these rankings because three of the team's four losses also came in the shootout.
18. New Jersey Devils (Last Week: 21). New Jersey has points in four of its last five contests, but two of those games were shootout losses, giving the Devils an incredible 0-10 record in the skill contest this season. Since leading the NHL with a 12-4 shootout record in the 2011-12 season, New Jersey has gone 2-17 over the last two years.
17. Dallas Stars (Last Week: 19). A four-game losing streak we mentioned last week is old news, because not only have the Stars stemmed the bleeding, they've actually gone on the attack. A loss to Chicago is the only blemish in a five-game run featuring four wins, including a 4-2 victory over St. Louis on Saturday. Dallas is now one point back of Phoenix in the race for the final playoff spot in the West.
16. Phoenix Coyotes (Last Week: 16). A win over Minnesota on Saturday would have given the Coyotes some precious breathing space in a tight playoff race (as well as dragging the Wild back down toward the cutoff line), but instead, Phoenix was on the wrong end of a 3-1 loss. The good news is that the team picked up five of a possible six points in its first three games of the week, all played on the road.
15-11: Minnesota Wild-Tampa Bay Lightning
15. Minnesota Wild (Last Week: 14). Zach Parise scored a pair of third-period goals to help turn a 1-0 deficit to Phoenix into a 3-1 win for the Wild. A loss would have bumped Minnesota into the final postseason berth in the West, but with the win, the team now sits three points ahead of the Coyotes.
14. Philadelphia Flyers (Last Week: 12). Philadelphia entered the week on a tear, having won five consecutive games. The Flyers dropped three of four contests in Week 24, including a crucial game against its likely first-round opponent (the New York Rangers). The only bright spot was a win over the hapless Maple Leafs.
13. Detroit Red Wings (Last Week: 11). The Red Wings started the week poorly but finished with a bang. Darren Helm scored a hat trick to lead Detroit to a 4-2 victory in a must-win game over the Leafs on Saturday. Then on Sunday, the Red Wings topped Tampa Bay in a close contest to put some space between themselves and the playoff cut line.
12. Columbus Blue Jackets (Last Week: 15). In a pitched battle with three (and possibly more, given how weird the East is this year) teams for one of the final two (again, possibly more) playoff spots in their conference, the Blue Jackets won two of three games last week, including a victory over their fellow bubble team from Detroit.
11. Tampa Bay Lightning (Last Week: 13). Tampa Bay had points in 11 straight games before losing to Detroit in regulation on Sunday. That's not quite as impressive as it sounds (the team has now gone five games without a regulation win), but it's enough for the Lightning to climb two spots.
10. Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 8
Recent Trend: Pittsburgh won back-to-back games to end the week, finishing a disappointing stretch that saw the team drop three straight contests.
Big Picture: The Penguins have been ensconced in the top spot in the lightweight Metropolitan Division for virtually the entire season, and that's not likely to change any time soon. If the second-place New York Rangers win every game between now and the end of the season, Pittsburgh would still be one point ahead.
By the Numbers: Sidney Crosby is likely to be the only player in the NHL to hit triple digits in points this season. With two goals against Chicago on Sunday, he's now at 99 points on the year, 18 ahead of second-place Ryan Getzlaf in Anaheim.
9. New York Rangers
Last Week: 7
Recent Trend: The Rangers have won six of seven games, and while they've had some help from the schedule (the season might end with only one of the teams they played inside the postseason), it's still an impressive run.
Big Picture: The win over Philadelphia on Wednesday was absolutely vital. New York can't catch Pittsburgh (13 points ahead) for first in the Met and will almost certainly meet the Flyers in the first round; this victory gives the team a two-point lead on Philadelphia and the likelihood of starting hte playoffs at home instead of on the road.
By the Numbers: It's been mostly sunshine and rainbows in New York with the Rangers winning games, but not so much for Martin St. Louis. He has been stuck on 29 goals for 16 consecutive contests now (he has four assists and a minus-four rating in that span), which means he still hasn't beat a goalie in a Rangers sweater.
8. Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 9
Recent Trend: One required overtime and another the shootout, but the Avalanche have now won three consecutive games.
Big Picture: For a long time, it looked like Colorado was doomed to the third spot in the tough Central Division, but thanks to strong play (and a long slide by the Blackhawks), the Avs now have a one-point lead on Chicago and two games in hand. It's a good bet they start the playoffs on home ice.
By the Numbers: Despite a modest points lead on Chicago, the Avalanche will doubtless be considered the underdogs in that series. Most of that's owing to history, but some of it comes down to goal differential; at plus-25, the Avs are basically half as good as the Blackhawks (plus-48) in that statistic. What Colorado has done is won a lot of one-goal games, going 26-4-6 in those situations (the best record in the NHL).
7. Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 3
Recent Trend: The Blackhawks' slide continued this week, and the team has now lost four of its last five games.
Big Picture: In, say, the Metropolitan Division, the Blackhawks could slump with impunity, but the situation isn't so relaxed in the Central. Chicago has slid behind Colorado, and given the Avs' games in hand, it's going to be difficult for the 'Hawks to regain home-ice advantage in the first round.
By the Numbers: Only the Buffalo Sabres have a worse record in one-goal games than Chicago. The Blackhawks are 28-11 in games decided by more than a single goal but just 14-23 in those decided by one marker. Interestingly, the last elite team with those kinds of numbers was the 2012 Los Angeles Kings, whose one-goal win percentage (0.370) was a hair back of Chicago's this year (0.378).
6. Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 6
Recent Trend: The Ducks have played four consecutive games against non-playoff teams and collected seven of a possible eight points in that span.
Big Picture: It is looking increasingly likely that Anaheim will win the Pacific Division. The Ducks have played two fewer games than San Jose and have one extra point. It's vitally important that Anaheim does win, because if they don't, they'll meet Los Angeles in Round 1.
By the Numbers: Next to Colorado, Anaheim has the NHL's best record in one-goal games (23-4-8). It might be a sign of a clutch team, but usually in analytics circles, it's taken as an indication that the bounces have been working out (and that it could stop at any time), because the margin between winning and losing is so very narrow.
5. Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 10
Recent Trend: Montreal has won five consecutive games and eight of its last nine.
Big Picture: Les Habitants have a narrow lead on Tampa Bay in the battle for home ice in the Atlantic Division, but the Lightning have a game in hand. Boston (first; 17 points ahead) is well out of reach and Detroit (fourth; nine points back) likely is, so at this point, the season is strictly a battle with Tampa Bay for home ice.
By the Numbers: Thomas Vanek seems to have found the range in Montreal. He had one assist in his first five games with the team but has six goals, 10 points and a plus-six rating in his last seven.
4. San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 2
Recent Trend: A string of losses sees San Jose fall two spots. The club's only win in its last five games came over the hapless Edmonton Oilers, and the streak has seen defeats at the hands of teams like Calgary and Winnipeg.
Big Picture: This is really not a good time for the Sharks to be slumping. It's looking increasingly likely that San Jose's first-round opponent will be Los Angeles, a brutal matchup for any club with Stanley Cup ambitions. Anaheim (two games in hand, one-point ahead) has one game left against San Jose, and the Sharks will need to win that and a bunch of others if they want a less daunting opponent in Round 1.
By the Numbers: The Sharks use a by-committee approach on defence to a degree few other NHL teams do. Dan Boyle leads the team with an average of 21:14 per game, but seventh defenceman Scott Hannan can boast an average of 18:05 in the games he's played, with every other defenceman on the team falling into the three-minute span between those players.
3. Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 5
Recent Trend: Two of the last three slides have made some mention of how frightening the Kings are, and right now they're red hot, with six consecutive wins (including a perfect 3-0 road trip) most recently in the rear-view mirror.
Big Picture: L.A.'s positioning has pretty much been determined, with nine points separating the team from moving up in its division and a 10-point gap between it and the club (Phoenix) below.
By the Numbers: Remarkably, only three Kings currently have more than 40 points, and Anze Kopitar (62) is the only player on the team with more than 50.
2. St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 4
Recent Trend: A Saturday loss to Dallas snapped a three-game winning streak for St. Louis, a team that went 11-3-1 in March.
Big Picture: The Blues still have a healthy lead on their division crown, one that's gotten bigger with Chicago falling back, but St. Louis now sits three points behind Boston in the race for the Presidents' Trophy.
By the Numbers: Grinding centre Steve Ott is one of the few disappointments on the team. Since being acquired from Buffalo just prior to the NHL trade deadline, Ott has played 15 games, contributing no goals, two points and a minus-five rating.
1. Boston Bruins
Last Week: 1
Recent Trend: The Bruins are 15-0-1 in their last 16 games. The team's most impressive win this week was a 3-0 shutout victory of Chicago.
Big Picture: Boston's recent successes have propelled them to first place in the NHL, three points up on St. Louis.
By the Numbers: Only the Los Angeles Kings have a better record than Boston when leading after two periods. The Bruins win 95.2 percent of their games when holding a lead entering the third period. Last season, that number was 65.2 percent.