NHL Power Rankings: B/R Experts' Week 20 Poll
The 2015-16 NHL season has been a remarkable one, as precious little separates some of the best teams in hockey from some of the worst.
Twelve teams sit within 10 points of the last-place Toronto Maple Leafs; any of those clubs could plausibly finish in 30th overall with a run of bad play over the remaining third of the season. Fourteen more teams sit within 10 points of the Carolina Hurricanes, the team one point clear of the Toronto block below it; any of those could self-destruct sufficiently to miss out on the postseason.
Above the fray? The Washington Capitals, Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues. Every other club is going to be fighting tooth and nail for positioning down the stretch.
I'll be your host as we go through the happenings of the last week, but the rankings that follow aren't solely based on my assessment. Instead, we've assembled the usual panel of Bleacher Report hockey writers—Adrian Dater, Steve Macfarlane, Allan Mitchell, Lyle Richardson, Carol Schram and yours truly—and had everyone submit their own lists, which we then used to calculate an average ranking for each team.
Read on to see where your team ranks.
30-26: Toronto Maple Leafs-Calgary Flames
30. Toronto Maple Leafs (last week: 28): Toronto's 5-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday was the team's first regulation win in 10 games and only its second in the past 16 (4-10-2 record overall).
James Reimer is slumping badly in net, and offence has been hard to find. Over the last 10 games, defenceman Jake Gardiner leads the team with just six points. Gardiner deserves special mention because he was also partially responsible for the big off-ice news of the week, Dion Phaneuf's recent strong performance that resulted in his switch to the Ottawa Senators owing much to their partnership.
29. Columbus Blue Jackets (last week: 29): The Columbus Blue Jackets are on a nice little run. They went 2-0-1 on the week and have now won six of their last eight contests, in no small part owing to the efforts of rookie goaltender Joonas Korpisalo, who is 9-6-3 with a 0.922 save percentage on the season.
Korpisalo's NHL save percentage with Columbus is now better than the AHL numbers he put up in 13 games earlier this season or last year in Finland's top league, the Liiga.
28. Buffalo Sabres (last week: 30): Say what one will about the Buffalo Sabres, but they were not boring last week. After being blown out 7-4 by the Florida Panthers and 5-1 by the Philadelphia Flyers, Buffalo responded with a 6-4 win over the Montreal Canadiens and a 4-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche in the back half of the week.
Evander Kane scored four goals and fired 19 shots over that span; he's now fired three or more shots in 17 consecutive games and 24 of his last 25.
27. Edmonton Oilers (last week: 27): Connor McDavid has been spectacular since returning from a broken collarbone; he has 12 points in seven games since his return. His regular linemates, Benoit Pouliot and Jordan Eberle, are both over the point-per-game mark.
That hasn't been enough to save the Edmonton Oilers, though, who have lost four of their last five games. However, they're trending in the right direction (1-1-1) after being outscored 13-2 last weekend.
26. Calgary Flames (last week: 25): The Calgary Flames had a pretty decent week, squeaking out wins over Toronto and the San Jose Sharks (the latter in the shootout) before falling to the Arizona Coyotes on Friday.
Defenceman T.J. Brodie picked up an assist in each of those games, stretching his personal scoring streak to five contests.
25-21: Arizona Coyotes-Winnipeg Jets
25. Arizona Coyotes (last week: 23): Despite a win on Friday over the Flames, Arizona's brief flirtation with a playoff spot seems to have come to an end. The Coyotes have fallen to 3-8-1 over their last 12 games thanks to yet another bad week.
Their strong run was powered by rookie goaltender Louis Domingue, who was unexpectedly good after taking over the starting job in December. But since shutting out the Nashville Predators on January 9, he has struggled, going 4-6-2 with a 0.899 save percentage over his last dozen games.
24. Minnesota Wild (last week: 20): A three-game homestand this week represented an opportunity for coach Mike Yeo and the Minnesota Wild to get on the right track. The team lost all three games, and Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported that the responsibility for fixing Minnesota will fall to John Torchetti, who has replaced Yeo on an interim basis.
The club is 3-12-4 in 2016.
23. Ottawa Senators (last week: 24): Ottawa made a big off-ice move this week, acquiring defenceman Dion Phaneuf from Toronto. It promptly lost three consecutive games, though Phaneuf himself played heavy minutes in each and recorded three assists.
Those three losses have pushed the Senators down the Eastern standings; they're now eight points out of the playoff race without a lot of time to course-correct.
22. Vancouver Canucks (last week: 26): This week, for the first time since December 9, Vancouver managed to win back-to-back games in regulation, dispatching Colorado and Arizona before dropping a decision to Toronto on Saturday.
Defenceman Chris Tanev recorded an assist and a plus-two rating on the week—as well as strong underlying numbers—and has been increasingly indispensable to coach Willie Desjardins. He topped 22 minutes per game in each contest.
21. Winnipeg Jets (last week: 22): In all likelihood, the Winnipeg Jets are too far out of the playoff race to realistically compete for a postseason berth. Instead, the Jets are just four points out of last place in the NHL, and the draft lottery is likely to become the primary focus of the team's management.
So a strong run of three wins (two in the shootout) in four games was a bit of a mixed blessing.
20-16: Philadelphia Flyers-Nashville Predators
20. Philadelphia Flyers (last week: 19): The Flyers had a difficult week and have lost five of their last six games at a moment in the year when a playoff spot was a legitimate possibility. This despite rookie defenceman Shayne Gostisbehere leading the charge; he has points in 12 consecutive games and 15 points overall during the run.
19. Montreal Canadiens (last week: 21): A strong two-victory weekend followed by a win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday represented the first glimmers of light in what has been mostly a disappointing campaign for the Habs.
Ben Scrivens briefly seized the starting job with three strong performances in those wins, though he allowed three goals on just five shots in Friday's 6-4 loss to Buffalo.
18. Carolina Hurricanes (last week: 17): The Hurricanes are 9-3-3 over their last 15 games and did relatively well this week, recording a 6-3 win over the New York Islanders and a narrow shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
One player who isn't part of the resurgence? Eric Staal. Carolina's most famous player has no points in his last five games and just a single goal in his last 17.
17. Colorado Avalanche (last week: 18): The Avs won back-to-back games late in the week to go 2-2, but on the whole February hasn't been kind to them; the club has just a single non-shootout win in seven games (2-4-1 overall).
Newcomers Carl Soderberg and Blake Comeau have been the club's offensive leaders over the last 10 games as more famous names struggle to score.
16. Nashville Predators (last week: 14): The Predators are fortunate their competition for the final playoff spot in the West is struggling so badly. After a lovely run in January, February has not been kind to the team, which has gone 2-3-1 over six contests.
A 5-0 win over Florida on Saturday was encouraging, and Ryan Johansen seems to have the No. 1 centre spot covered, having scored 16 points in 16 games since joining Nashville from Columbus in January.
15-11: New Jersey Devils-Anaheim Ducks
15. New Jersey Devils (last week: 16): The New Jersey Devils climb one spot in our rankings this week after reeling off three straight wins over Edmonton, Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Kings. New Jersey has clawed its way into third place in the Metropolitan Division with a strong run of play, but with the Isles and Penguins hot on the Devils' heels and owning games in hand, there's little room for error.
Defenceman David Schlemko scored in Sunday's win over the Kings and has three goals in his last seven games and seven points in his last 10. His 16 points on the season is already a career-high tally. He's making $625,000 this season.
14. Pittsburgh Penguins (last week: 11): Our panel voted the Penguins down three spots this week, but in all likelihood that had more to do with improved performances from the teams in front of them than it did with the Pens' own efforts.
Pittsburgh's improved play continued, with wins over the Anaheim Ducks and Carolina bookending a loss to the New York Rangers. Sidney Crosby went scoreless in the last two games but lit the Ducks up for four points and has 12 goals and 22 points in his last 13 games.
13. San Jose Sharks (last week: 15): The Sharks captured five of a possible six points in Week 20, including a regulation win over a very good Chicago team.
Rookie winger Joonas Donskoi, who was drafted by Florida in 2010 but never signed, has been exceptional of late with 11 points in his last 12 games. Even more impressively, he's managing that with limited ice time; only once in those 12 games has he played more than 15 minutes.
12. New York Islanders (last week: 13): A three-game winning streak by the Islanders came to a halt on Saturday when they fell to the Carolina Hurricanes. Even so, it was a fairly good week for a team in a fight for its playoff life.
Critically, franchise centre John Tavares seems to have come to life. He now has 16 points over his last 12 games and is on a five-game scoring streak.
11. Anaheim Ducks (last week: 12): The Ducks cooled a little bit this week, winning two games and losing two games, but they have solidified their hold on a playoff spot in the Pacific Division, opening up a six-point lead on Arizona (a 5-2 win over the Coyotes late last week helped).
David Perron had three points in Anaheim's last two games of the week and has 11 in 11 contests since being acquired from Pittsburgh in January.
10. Tampa Bay Lightning
Record: 30-21-4, 64 points
Last week: 6
There's no good time to lose three of four, but the Lightning are a bubble team in the East and can't afford to give points away.
Back-to-back losses to Ottawa and Montreal to start the week were particularly troubling, as the Sens and Habs could plausibly be in competition for a wild-card spot. However, a good week or two could put the Bolts back in a pretty good position in the Atlantic Division.
By the Numbers
J.T. Brown has been chipping in a goal every other game for a while now, though offence isn't his primary function. He kills penalties and has shockingly good underlying numbers for the Lightning.
Tampa has consistently good shot and goal numbers when he's on the ice, and while he's generally played with Ryan Callahan and Valtteri Filppula, he's also had success with others, such as Brian Boyle.
The big centre has a 53.2 percent Corsi rating with Brown and only a 48.5 percent number apart. He's a useful role player.
9. Florida Panthers
Record: 32-18-6, 70 points
Last week: 5
A splashy 7-4 win over Buffalo on Tuesday was nice, but a 5-0 loss to Nashville on Saturday is more reflective of the Panthers' play lately.
Florida has lost four of its last five games and is just 6-6-2 since its 12-game winning run ended in mid-January. Both the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins are closing in, and first place in the Atlantic division is no longer secure.
By the Numbers
No NHL team has benefited more from the shootout than Florida. The Panthers are 5-1 in the skills competition; the only other team with five wins is Toronto (5-5 on the season).
8. Detroit Red Wings
Record: 29-18-9, 67 points
Last week: 10
Detroit captured seven of a possible eight points this week, a run that included important wins over divisional rivals Florida, Ottawa and Boston.
The win over the Bruins bumped the Wings into second place in the Atlantic; they're now just three points back of the Panthers for first while the Sens languish outside the realistic playoff picture.
By the Numbers
Pavel Datsyuk recorded the 900th point of his career in Sunday's 6-5 win over the Bruins—then added two more for good measure.
According to NHL.com, that makes him the sixth Red Wing to reach that threshold, with the other five—Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman, Alex Delvecchio, Nicklas Lidstrom and Sergei Fedorov—all members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
7. Boston Bruins
Record: 30-20-6, 66 points
Last week: 9
The Bruins could finish first in their division or outside the playoffs entirely; there's a three-point gap in either direction. This week saw the team mostly tread water, with two wins and two losses. But the losses were bad.
A 9-2 defeat at the hands of the Kings hurt, while a much narrower 6-5 loss to Detroit allowed the Red Wings to move past Boston in the overall standings.
By the Numbers
Brad Marchand has 13 goals in his last 13 games after scoring one in every game this week and has tied his career high of 28 goals. He has also tied a career high with five power-play goals.
The strange thing is that while his shooting percentage is high, it isn't unusually so. He's firing at 16.7 percent this season but has a lifetime shooting percentage of 15.4 percent.
6. New York Rangers
Record: 32-18-6, 70 points
Last week: 8
After a scare caused by a midseason slump, New York is once again pulling away from the pack in the Metropolitan Division and has a five-point lead on third-place New Jersey.
Washington remains out of reach, but if the Rangers can keep on doing things such as beating New Jersey on Monday and taking 11 of a possible 12 points since last Saturday, they won't have to worry about losing home ice in the first round of the playoffs.
By the Numbers
Henrik Lundqvist had a rare departure from his usual form in December, when he posted a 0.892 save percentage. In January, the number climbed to 0.922; it's up to 0.942 in February.
That's been enough to push his total on the season up to 0.924 and give the Rangers the third-best five-on-five save percentage in the league.
5. Los Angeles Kings
Record: 33-19-3, 69 points
Last week: 4
Strong runs from San Jose and Anaheim have made the Pacific Division a good deal more competitive than it once was, but the Kings still enjoy a six-point cushion on the second-place Sharks. That won't last if they don't start winning games, though.
Since a five-game winning streak ended on January 2, the Kings are just 8-8-1.
By the Numbers
Secondary scoring would go a long way toward providing the Kings with some wins. When Los Angeles won the Stanley Cup in 2014, that role was filled by That '70s Line, the trio of Jeff Carter Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson.
Toffoli has one goal in his last 11 games, Carter has one in his last 12 games and Pearson has one in his last 16.
4. St. Louis Blues
Record: 32-17-9, 73 points
Last week: 7
It's a three-team race in the Central Division, and the Blues are gaining. They were 2-0-1 on the week and are 4-1-1 in February, meaning just four points separate them from Chicago and Dallas.
The question now is where St. Louis finishes among these three teams; the Blues are 11 points ahead of fourth-place Colorado.
By the Numbers
First-line centre Paul Stastny has had a tough season, but he seems to be coming around. He had assists in both of the Blues' wins this week and has 15 points in his last 17 contests after recording just 13 in his first 23 games.
3. Chicago Blackhawks
Record: 36-18-5, 77 points
Last week: 1
Our panel opted for a slight downward adjustment for the Blackhawks this week after the club went 0-3 against Western Conference opponents. The most painful of those losses was to Dallas on Thursday, as it allowed the Stars to move into first place in the Central (once games played are included).
Still, Chicago has a four-point lead on St. Louis for second in the division and is level on points with the Stars.
By the Numbers
Chicago has scored 162 goals this year and surrendered 137, but it's worth digging a little bit into the exact breakdown of those numbers.
- Even strength: 102 for, 101 against (plus-one)
- Special teams: 40 for, 30 against (plus-10)
- Empty net: 19 for, six against (plus-13)
- Shootouts one for, zero against (plus-one)
The Blackhawks' exceptional power play and penalty kill have been driving wins this year, as has the team's ability with the net empty at either end. However, there's room for improvement at five-on-five, where Chicago is only league average.
2. Dallas Stars
Record: 36-15-5, 77 points
Last week: 3
Whatever was plaguing the Stars after the Christmas break seems to have gone away. Dallas beat Washington and Chicago in consecutive games this week, moving to 7-2-0 over its last nine.
The Stars aren't running away with the Central, as the Blackhawks are hot on their heels, but they do have the advantage of three games in hand.
By the Numbers
When two members of a line are Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, the third member of that unit is going to have some success. Right now it's Patrick Eaves, who has four goals and eight points in the last five games after managing just four points in his first 31.
In less than an hour on the ice at five-on-five with Seguin, he's put up five points; he has just two in more than six hours away from Seguin.
1. Washington Capitals
Record: 40-10-4, 84 points
Last week: 2
Washington is back where it belongs: first place in these rankings. The Capitals did fall by a 4-3 score in Dallas on Saturday, but that loss brought an end to a run of five consecutive wins.
With a seven-point lead on the Stars and two games in hand, the Caps are running away with the race for first overall in the league. Their plus-56 goal differential basically matches the total of second-place Dallas and third-place Chicago combined (plus-58).
By the Numbers
The Capitals have an abundance of strengths, which makes them harder to beat because even when there's a slump in one area, they have the ability to cover it in others.
Since January 9, goaltender Braden Holtby—who has been extremely good for the vast majority of the year—has a mediocre 0.904 save percentage. His record over that span, however, is 9-2-1.