NHL Power Rankings: B/R Experts' Week 5 Poll
As the October page is torn away and the 2015 calendar thins to just the remaining two months, some things that were considered fluidly uncertain are starting to mold more into place. The Montreal Canadiens still are really good, for example, and the Calgary Flames really are looking like a bad hockey club.
Some teams that got off to unexpectedly poor starts (Los Angeles, Boston) have righted themselves while others haven't (Anaheim). Some teams expected to be bad started out that way but have come on in the last couple of weeks (New Jersey, Carolina).
The Bleacher Report hockey staff again convened to rank the teams 1-30 and explain why, and we have a NEW NO. 1 TEAM THIS WEEK. The panel of experts includes Jonathan Willis, Steve MacFarlane, Allan Mitchell, Luke Richardson, Carol Schram and Yours Truly, who wrote all the copy. Any complaints, please send them to Willis or MacFarlane.
The rankings are based on the usual suspects (realistic expectations based on talent or lack thereof, current injury situation, strength of schedule, etc.).
To find out exactly where your team ranks, please click on the following slideshow. And if you have a problem with it or anything else, again, Willis and MacFarlane are standing by to field complaints.
Our experts participate in weekly voting for B/R's NHL power rankings. Once a vote is cast for a specific team, it's assigned a value—30 points for the No. 1 team in the rankings, 29 points for the second spot and so on. The totals are then added up to create the power rankings.
30-26: Columbus Blue Jackets-Calgary Flames
30. Columbus Blue Jackets (Last week: 30)
Just when the feelgood stories about John Tortorella setting things right again in Columbus were starting, they are back in non-publish status. The Jackets have won twice since Torts took over for the dismissed Todd Richards, but they lost a yardstick kind of game Saturday night at home to Winnipeg to fall to 2-10-0. They are 2-3-0 since he took over.
Hats off to the New York Post's Larry Brooks, too, for correctly, as it turned out, initially reporting that Torts dissed the conditioning of Blue Jackets young star forward Ryan Johansen after his first game. The Blue Jackets have since claimed that Johansen suffered an "illness," but won't elaborate further. It smells like a cover-up of some kind, but Brooks smelled it out from the start.
29. Anaheim Ducks (Last week: 24)
While speaking to reporters, general manager Bob Murray gave Bruce Boudreau the dreaded vote of confidence last week, despite another batch of poor showings that led to a cumulative 1-7-2 start. Well, Murray didn't actually say he might not fire Gabby, just that he wouldn't make any "rash decisions."
With captain Ryan Getzlaf still out following an appendectomy, scoring goals doesn't figure to get any easier for the Ducks, who scored only 10 in their first 10. I still think this team will turn things around, but the Ducks better not wait too long. They stopped some of the panic around Honda Center with a nice 4-2 win over Nashville Sunday night.
28. Colorado Avalanche (Last week: 26)
Coach Patrick Roy got a bit animated on his weekly Denver radio show (warning: contains NSFW language) last week, and the Avs responded with a nice 2-1 win in Tampa Bay. The next night, they looked inept in a 3-1 loss in Carolina, keeping them at just seven points after 10 games. In the brutally tough Central Division, that's very bad news. Sunday afternoon at home, they wilted late in a 4-3 loss to the Sharks.
Matt Duchene had one goal and one assist in his first 10 games. As the team's highest-paid player ($6 million), that isn't enough. The Avs also spent $5 million a year on Carl Soderberg to center a third line in which he had all of one goal in October.
27. Toronto Maple Leafs (Last week: 27)
The national hockey press bent over backward to build up Mike Babcock's signing with the Maple Leafs as some kind of Robin Hood-esque bestowed act of mercy. O hear ye: Babcock is just another losing coach in Hogtown until he can get a few good players. Especially, a goaltender. Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer are not the answer.
The Leafs had just one victory, against Columbus, in Babcock's first month in Toronto. That's one more than you and me could have gotten, but we're not getting $50 million over the next eight years.
26. Calgary Flames (Last week: 25)
Thanksgiving remains a few weeks away, but the Calgary media has already taken to carving up the Flames for their dreadful start. Veteran Calgary Herald columnist George Johnson wrote this after the Flames were dominated 6-2 by Montreal Friday night at home: "They stumble out for post-game comments now, loss after blessed loss, looking like accident victims who’ve just walked away from a car wreck. Disoriented. Confused. Parroting the same cliches. Forlornly searching for any positives; cubes of sugar in a sand dune."
Calgary's 46 goals allowed entering Saturday were the most in the league. According to Sportsnet's Mark Spector (via Puck Daddy), general manager Brad Treliving reportedly has been working the phones looking for solutions on the trade market, but unless he is willing to part with a quality young forward, it will be hard to get any real help on defense.
The Flames got a 5-4 win Saturday night in Edmonton, but it wasn't a masterpiece. Without Cam Talbot gift-wrapping a couple of goals, this would have been another loss for Bob Hartley's squad.
25-21: Edmonton Oilers-San Jose Sharks
25. Edmonton Oilers (Last week: 23)
Connor McDavid can't stop the puck, too.
The rookie sensation (12 points in his first 11 games) is doing his part, but the Oilers stood only at 4-8-0 after 12 games and look every bit like another Edmonton team that won't make the playoffs. The Oilers had a chance to build on Thursday's exciting comeback win at home over Montreal but reverted to sloppy old form in a loss to reeling Calgary in the latest Battle of Alberta. Cam Talbot is just the latest in a line of Oilers goalies management professed would turn things around only to be disappointed—at least to this point.
Talbot allowed an atrocious goal with time running out in regulation to Michael Frolik that gave the Flames a 5-4 win.
24. Buffalo Sabres (Last week: 29)
Look, a 5-7-0 record after 12 games is a loser by any definition. But for the Sabres, it represented a mark to feel great about in that span. This is a team that is without the centerpiece of a major trade it made late last season, Evander Kane, out with a leg injury, and without the goalie it acquired in the offseason to be the leader, Robin Lehner.
Ryan O'Reilly has led the way to the respectable record thus far, with 13 points (four goals) in his first 11 games. Yeah, it still feels like a six-game losing streak is right around the corner with these guys, especially without Kane and Lehner, but for now let the better times roll in Buffalo.
23. Carolina Hurricanes (Last week: 28)
A nice little turnaround for the 'Canes, who won consecutive games over Detroit, the Islanders and Avalanche entering Sunday's game with the Lightning.
Cam Ward has played well in goal lately, and the Staal brothers are stirring again. This is a very mediocre team that likely will stay that way. But for one week anyway, there was some pride back in the step of Carolina fans. It's hard to see the pride and joy manifesting itself much more publicly beyond this, though.
22. Philadelphia Flyers (Last week: 15)
After a nice start, the Flyers lost three in a row, two of them to Buffalo. That put them at 4-4-2 heading into a four-game Western Canadian road swing starting Monday in Vancouver.
There's just not a lot to get excited about with this group. The Flyers have a marquee forward in Claude Giroux, but it's a struggle for most others to be excellent on a consistent basis. Then again, this team has the potential to hang in there for a playoff spot. The Flyers play hard every night, always have, and the fact that the pressure really isn't on this group like it is on so many others may prove a big benefit in the end.
But it can't afford any more weeks like this past one.
21. San Jose Sharks (Last week: 12)
After another great start (4-0), the Sharks seem destined for another unfulfilled season. They entered Sunday's game in Colorado at 5-5-0, with a goal differential of just 27-25. After a first couple of weeks of comparisons to Jacques Plante, goalie Martin Jones has cooled off with the rest of his team. San Jose did pull off a 4-3 win in Denver over the reeling Avs, but the game was a tire fire to watch.
The Sharks will get to spend some time at home starting this week, though, starting with games against Columbus and Florida. It will be a disappointment if these guys don't move up a little by next week's snapshot analysis by the B/R panel of experts.
20-16: Arizona Coyotes-Ottawa Senators
20. Arizona Coyotes (Last week: 18)
The Coyotes are off until Thursday, when they'll play the Avalanche at home. They've lost two in a row and are 4-5-1 in the last 10. Still, rookie Max Domi has injected so much life into the lineup, and Mike Smith has been strong in net for the most part.
Rookie Anthony Duclair (five goals) has added size, talent and spirit to Dave Tippett's lineup as well. The Coyotes qualified as a bit of a surprise with their start, but the real test of who they are will start in the next couple of weeks.
19. Florida Panthers (Last week: 14)
First, the Panthers lost young budding star Aleksander Barkov to a hand injury, and he's since been placed on injured reserve. Then, the Cats lost 43-year-old Jaromir Jagr to a lower-body injury, and probably without coincidence, the team is starting to sputter.
Florida scored only two goals in successive home losses to Boston and Washington, with Jagr out those two games. Florida really needs young, promising forward Jonathan Huberdeau to get going, especially without Barkov and Jagr. He is still looking for his first goal of the season after 11 games
18: New Jersey Devils (Last week: 19)
Let's give these guys some credit. I compared their "fire" to that of a wet book of matches after the first couple weeks, but they've built themselves a record to over .500 since. We'll see what they're really made of in the next few games, though, when they face some of the Western Conference's best, at home against Chicago (twice) and St. Louis.
Goalie Cory Schneider, the pride of Marblehead, Massachusetts, took a spiffy 2.17 GAA entering Sunday. Mike Cammalleri, 33, is turning back the clock some. He had 11 points in his first 11 games. The Devils can be a playoff team if Schneider stands on his head the rest of the way. He's one of the league's better goalies who has been hidden beneath the surface of a mediocre team in front of him the last couple years.
17. Detroit Red Wings (Last week: 17)
The Wings got a big win Saturday in Ottawa, but are only 2-5-1 in the last eight. Henrik Zetterberg recorded his 800th point in the win, and 19-year-old rookie Dylan Larkin scored a beauty of a wraparound goal on Craig Anderson.
Coach Jeff Blashill needs a lot more of that from those two and other forwards, especially with Pavel Datsyuk still out following offseason ankle surgery. Datsyuk has been practicing of late, but he isn't expected to play for another couple of weeks, according to the Detroit Free Press' George Sipple.
16. Ottawa Senators (Last week: 21)
The Sens have been a win-one, lose-one team of late, with a weekend split of a home-and-home series with Detroit being a great example. Trouble is, the loss to Detroit came at home, and for whatever reason, the Sens haven't been great there so far. Ottawa's home mark is just 1-3-2.
I have no empirical proof, but it has always seemed like Ottawa has some of the quietest fans in the league. A couple of players who played there have mentioned it to me before. Maybe they're just so intently watching the game that spontaneous expressions of noise are not their bag, but it never hurts to have a really loud building for opponents to deal with.
15-11: Vancouver Canucks-Pittsburgh Penguins
15. Vancouver Canucks (Last week: 20)
They look extremely mediocre much of the time (their puck-possession Corsi-for percentage stood at 28th entering Sunday, at 46.7), but the Canucks keep managing to scrape points together. Vancouver has had a lead in all 11 games they've played, as NHL.com correspondent Jerry Brown pointed out. Holding onto third-period leads, however, has been a problem at times.
Ryan Miller's .923 save percentage is as high as it's been in several years. He definitely looks quicker than last year, when he was bothered by injuries. A healthy Miller gives any team a chance to win most nights.
14. Tampa Bay Lightning (Last week: 8)
The defending Eastern Conference champions take a drop in the rankings, as they just have not played very inspired hockey of late. They entered Sunday's game in Carolina losers of four straight, and tempers are getting shorter in the team dressing room because of it.
“No one gives a crap about what happened last year. ... We can’t just go out there and expect that we are going to win games just because of what happened last year,’’ captain Steven Stamkos told the Tampa Tribune's Erik Erlendsson. “This is a new season and teams know what to expect when they play us. That’s why it’s a challenge each and every year as an individual and as a team because you have to go out there re-prove yourself."
Poor starts are bedeviling coach Jon Cooper's team. As Erlendsson tweeted after the first period Sunday, the Lightning have failed to lead after the first period in any of its 13 games.
13. Chicago Blackhawks (Last week: 9)
If not for Jonathan Toews' overtime heroics of late, the Blackhawks might be in some real trouble, especially being in the brutally tough Central Division. As expected, Chicago's possession game has taken a hit since Conn Smythe winner Duncan Keith became sidelined with a knee injury.
Chicago's Corsi-for percentage 51.8. It was 53.6 in 2014-15, second only to Los Angeles. The Blackhawks have a big game Monday night at home against the red-hot Kings. It'll be a good test of where they stand, whether a few early-season losses are not reason for concern or whether there is more of a problem than people realize, Keith or no Keith.
12. Boston Bruins (Last week: 22)
The biggest movers from last week, the B's are 6-0-1 since starting the year 0-3. The Boston media isn't clutching the pearls as much anymore. No more rumors of any trades involving Zdeno Chara or Brad Marchand, as CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty reported a few weeks ago.
Boston allowed 16 goals in its first three games, all at home, but has yielded only 15 in the last seven. Maybe the best news for the Bruins going forward: Three of their next four games are on the road, where they are a perfect 5-0-0 so far. The one home game should be a good one, though, against Tyler Seguin and Dallas on Tuesday.
11. Pittsburgh Penguins (Last week: 18)
Things are slowly getting better.
The Pens have won four in a row, and while their goal differential is a less-than-dominant 24-20, it's a much better atmosphere around the room than at the start of the season, when they lost their first three. Phil Kessel started the season skating with Sidney Crosby, but he has found much better chemistry playing with Evgeni Malkin (10 points).
Patric Hornqvist, meanwhile, is now skating with Crosby, and the results have been good. Hornqvist has goals in his last two games.
10. Winnipeg Jets
Record: 7-4-1, 15 points
Last week: 11
The Jets are 7-4-1, and in the Central Division all that gets you right now is fifth place. Sunday night saw Winnipeg get blown out by the Carey Price-less Canadiens. A bad night against the Habs is excusable, but the Jets also were manhandled at home by the Kings, 4-1, at home earlier in the week. They're a good team but still have yet to prove they can hang consistently with the big boys.
The Jets get the floundering Maple Leafs on Wednesday night, so look for them to rebound from Sunday's stinker in Montreal.
By the numbers
Entering Sunday, the Jets had a nice 33.92 percentage rate of taking faceoffs in the offensive zone, fifth best in the league.
Obviously, the more time you spend getting set up in the other team's zone, the better. They were taking draws in their own zone 29.8 percent of the time.
9. New York Islanders
Record: 6-3-3, 15 points
Last week: 10
Captain John Tavares has missed the last two games with an illness. And his absence has been felt. The Isles managed a point against New Jersey Saturday in an overtime loss but wilted in the third period of Sunday's home tilt with Buffalo, losing 2-1.
Special teams have been good for New York. Entering Sunday, they had a power-play goal in five straight games and had killed 26 straight opposing PPs. Assuming Tavares isn't out much longer, the Islanders should rebound from Sunday's poor loss to the Sabres.
By the numbers
Jaroslav Halak has been tremendous out of the gate in goal. The veteran entered Sunday with a stingy 1.78 GAA and .932 saves percentage. It seems like he's been around forever, but he's still just 30 years old. He's had a nice career for a guy who wasn't taken until the ninth round (271st overall) in the 2003 draft by Montreal.
8. Minnesota Wild
Record: 7-2-2, 16 points
Last week: 7
The Wild lost in overtime Saturday in St. Louis, but coach Mike Yeo was happy with the point. His team overcame a 2-0 deficit and could've easily won in regulation. That game was a decent follow-up effort to a home win over Chicago.
"There are two things I love about this group. One is, we're never out of a game, and the second is that we're tough in our own way," Yeo told the Star Tribune's Rachel Blount.
Getting points in nine of the first 11 games officially constitutes as a good start for the Wild. As Yeo noted, they never quit in a game. The season opener at Colorado was proof of that. Minnesota was down 3-0 and 4-1 before coming back for a 5-4 win.
By the numbers
Zach Parise is making his shots count. The winger has seven goals on 42 shots—a 16.7 percent success rate, among the better rankings in the league for a forward.
So, too, are teammates such as Charlie Coyle (four goals on 18 shots, 22.2 percent) and Nino Niederreiter (same as Coyle). Yeo no doubt would probably like to see Coyle's and Niederreiter's shot totals increase, but he won't complain much if they keep scoring at that rate.
7. New York Rangers
Record: 7-2-2, 16 points
Last week: 6
Not much to complain about here. The Rangers are playing good hockey, especially Mats Zuccarello. The Norwegian posted his first career hat trick over the weekend against Toronto in a 3-1 win. That earned him a shower of chapeaus on the ice from Rangers fans and the cherished Broadway Hat in the dressing room from his teammates.
The Blueshirts have a key contest Tuesday at home against the Capitals before hitting the road for a two-game mini-Western swing through Colorado and Arizona.
By the numbers
Some might disagree, but one nit to pick with the Rangers here is their puck-possession time. Their Corsi-for percentage stands at just 48 percent. Coach Alain Vigneault is definitely one who believes in controlling the puck as much as possible and no doubt will harp on his players to be better in this area.
New York's Corsi-for percentage last season was 49.5 percent. The Rangers have long wanted to reduce the stress level of goalie Henrik Lundqvist, and improving in this department probably would accomplish that.
6. Los Angeles Kings
Record: 7-3-0, 14 points
Last week: 13
Make way for the Kings.
After looking dreadful in the first three games, all regulation losses, coach Darryl Sutter and his boys have turned it around. Los Angeles takes a seven-game winning streak into Monday's marquee matchup in Chicago. The Kings will have to play the next night in St. Louis, so we'll really see where this team is after those two probably.
Nobody expected the Kings to stay as bad as they were, but nobody predicted a seven-game win streak after that first week's games, either. The Kings are doing it their usual way, with puck possession and play in the other end.
How about Tyler Toffoli, too? The big winger has nine goals in his first 10 games to put him unexpectedly among the league leaders.
By the numbers
He has played better of late, but one player still scuffling offensively somewhat is No. 1 center Anze Kopitar. Shockingly, Kopitar is still looking for his first assist of the season. This is a player who has had 40 or more assists in a season seven times in his career.
More out of linemate Marian Gaborik would be just fine with Sutter, too. The veteran has but two points on the season (one goal, one assist).
5. Nashville Predators
Record: 7-2-2, 16 points
Last week: 3
It was something of a lost weekend in Southern California for the Preds. They lost a tough overtime decision Saturday in Los Angeles, after tying it up late in regulation. Then they traveled down the 405 to the 110 and lost to the reeling Anaheim Ducks.
Backup Carter Hutton got his second start of the year and looked rusty against the Ducks. Nashville will play one more game on the road Thursday in Minnesota before opening a five-game homestand starting Saturday against the Blues.
James Neal is off to a fine start, with seven goals so far.
By the numbers
Defenseman Seth Jones had some shaky moments his first two years in the league, but the fourth overall pick of the 2013 draft has been mostly rock solid this season. He had five assists in his first 10 games and was a plus-3.
He was a minus-23 his first season, and there were initial worries that maybe he had been a bit overhyped (remember, he was considered a lock to go No. 1 for a long time leading up to the draft). Jones' initial contract is up after this year, so look for him to sign something long term at some point.
4. Washington Capitals
Record: 8-2-0, 16 points
Last week: 2
It was an OK week for the Caps, as they won two out of three. But the loss, at home to Pittsburgh on national TV Wednesday, was a disappointment. They had to struggle to beat Columbus and Florida after that.
Otherwise, it's still very positive for this group. Nicklas Backstrom has eight points in his first seven games back after a hip problem, and Evgeny Kuznetsov is the team scoring leader with 13 points. Goalie Braden Holtby is in the early running for the Vezina with a 1.90 goals-against average.
By the numbers
Defenseman John Carlson has made Caps partisans forget about Mike Green already.
While Green remains sidelined by injury in Detroit—after signing a three-year, $18 million contract—Carlson has 10 points in his first 10 games and is helping run the power play nicely. Washington's 24.1 percent clip on the PP ranks fourth in the league.
Carlson was always somewhat in the shadow of Green offensively on the Caps blue line, but no more.
3. St. Louis Blues
Record: 8-2-1, 17 points
Last week: 4
The Blues had a nice week, winning all three games they played. That was a nice response to the sobering news the team got last weekend that skilled winger Jaden Schwartz would be lost for eight to 12 weeks following ankle surgery.
Schwartz, 23, had 139 points his first 214 NHL games, and his loss will probably be felt at some point. There is obviously plenty of good talent still around this club, though, including Vladimir Tarasenko. The great young Russian forward missed Saturday's game, however, with a suspected leg injury, suffered earlier in the week against Anaheim.
Tarasenko is listed as out only day-to-day, though.
By the numbers
St. Louis remains the only NHL team not to have allowed four goals in a game yet. As always, that's a tribute to coach Ken Hitchcock's system, which stresses defensive responsibility over all else.
Hitchcock is a maniac for getting his forwards to play well defensively away from the puck. The criticism of that method is that he wears them out too much by the end of the season. But you've got to get to the playoffs first, and Hitchcock's teams always do that.
2. Montreal Canadiens
Record: 11-2-0, 22 points
Last week: 1
On the surface, there appears nothing to panic about. Carey Price will only be lost for a week or so, Canadiens coach Michel Therrien told CBC Sports after it was learned the reigning Hart and Vezina winner suffered a lower-body injury during a loss in Edmonton.
But you always worry about lower-body injuries with goalies. Is it a hip problem? A groin? Both? Therrien isn't saying, but those injuries can be long-term problems if not dealt with properly. It's a good thing, then, that the Habs are taking no chances with the franchise netminder.
Price allowed nine goals in consecutive losses to the Canucks and Oilers and did seem a bit slower than usual in his side-to-side movement. Backup Mike Condon has filled in nicely for Price since the injury, posting wins over Calgary and Winnipeg.
By the numbers
After finishing last season 23rd on the power play (16.5 percent), Montreal's PP has looked fine so far, clicking at a sixth-best 23.4 percent rate. The Habs are moving the puck faster and getting more traffic in front of the net.
It has all contributed to Montreal's league-leading 50 goals, which is a whopping 10 goals better than the No. 2 team, Dallas. But the Stars have played two fewer games, which is partially why we have a new No. 1 team this week...
1. Dallas Stars
Record: 9-2-0, 18 points
Last week: 5
It was hardly unanimous, but the Stars squeaked by the Canadiens in the Bleacher Report voting, winning on points 172-171 to unseat Montreal for the first time this season in our rankings.
It's hard not to have a little Stars fever at the moment, as they lead the West with 18 points and have won three in a row. It might be tough for Dallas to hold onto the top spot for long, as they open a four-game road trip this week, starting Monday in Toronto (well, OK, but they'll be in Boston the next night against the red-hot Bruins).
Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn continue to terrorize opposing goalies, with 33 points between them (Benn has 17).
Former Blackhawk Patrick Sharp is starting to heat up, too, with eight points now in 11 games. Sharp even told the Rob Ogden Chicago Sun-Times he hasn't had this much fun "in a long time." Well, presumably not since he lifted the Stanley Cup over his head in the summer.
By the numbers
How about that John Klingberg? Never heard of him, you say?
The Swedish native has quietly become one of the league's better offensive defensemen and a major reason for Dallas' fast start. Klingberg posted 40 points in 65 games for Dallas last year and entered Monday third in scoring on this year's squad, with 11 points in 11 games.
For a kid who wasn't drafted until the fifth round (131st overall) in 2010, Klingberg has become quite a find for the Stars.