NHL Power Rankings: B/R Experts' Week 23 Poll

Adrian Dater@@adaterNHL National ColumnistMarch 7, 2016

NHL Power Rankings: B/R Experts' Week 23 Poll

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    See that picture above? That's Barry Trotz, and he absolutely deserves that smile.

    On Saturday in Boston, the coach of the Washington Capitals saw his group gain their 99th and 100th points of the season. After Washington's 2-1 overtime win at TD Garden over the Bruins, the Caps had a 15-point lead on any other team in the NHL to that point. So, whenever the Caps start a playoff series, for however long they get to play them, they will have home-ice advantage at the Verizon Center.

    That and $4.78 may be only be enough to get a venti double-mocha half-decaf skinny latte at Starbucks come this spring. But for right now, that smile and those 100 points are good enough for the Caps to maintain their kung fu-sized grip on the No. 1 spot in our weekly Power Rankings.

    How to keep his Caps motivated for the final month of the regular season is a problem Trotz no doubt is only too happy to have. 

    The rest of the 15 NHL playoff spots are, if you really look hard at the numbers, probably already decided. Probably, but not definitively so. There is still more hockey to be played. But time, for the hopefuls, is getting short.

    Have a problem with the 1-30 selections, cumulatively decided by the B/R hockey staff that includes yours truly, Carol Schram, Jonathan Willis, Allan Mitchell, Steve MacFarlane and Lyle Richardson? 

    Let us know with a comment. Otherwise, let's get on with the countdown...

30-26: Toronto Maple Leafs-Buffalo Sabres

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    30. Toronto Maple Leafs (last week: 29)

    The USA could beat Russia in 1980, Villanova could beat Georgetown in 1985, the Jets could beat the Colts in 1969. But, to hear the apologetic fans and media of the Toronto Maple Leafs tell it, it was too much to ask of the NHL's highest-paid coach, Mike Babcock, to have anything but a last-place team in 2015-16.

    "He's coaching an AHL roster!" goes the refrain. Sorry, no, he's had an NHL roster all year, and the numbers for this season speak for themselves. He will have coached the team that had the fewest points among the 30 in the NHL this year. 

    "But, we're losing less lopsidedly than last year!" goes the refrain of Babcock's apologists. Good job, good effort then. Here's your participation trophy. Well, hey, that trophy might be Auston Matthews. So maybe the refrain should be: "Great tank job, Babs!"

    29. Calgary Flames (last week: 28)

    Let's give the Calgary Flames some credit: they're not just mailing in every game the rest of the way, despite being hopelessly out of playoff contention. They went into Pittsburgh on Saturday and beat a Penguins team that is fighting for a playoff spot.

    That said, it's still been a miserable season for Calgary, which made it to the second round of the playoffs last year. The win over the Pens improved the Flames' record to 2-9-1 in the last 12 games. 

    28. Edmonton Oilers (last week: 30)

    Connor McDavid is adding some late intrigue to the Calder Trophy race, with the rookie entering Sunday with 34 points in 30 games, including points in eight of the previous 10 contests. That is about all Edmonton Oilers fans have left to keep them interested the rest of this, another lost season. 

    The Oilers managed to get a third-round pick for defenseman Justin Schultz at the trade deadline from Pittsburgh. 

    27. Winnipeg Jets (last week: 25)

    The Winnipeg Jets remained in shouting distance for last overall, which would yield them the best chance at Auston Matthews with the first pick. But the Jets are just good enough to probably disappoint their fans who are hoping for a tank job the rest of the way.

    The Jets officially became sellers at the trade deadline with the dealing of captain Andrew Ladd back to Chicago. 

    26. Buffalo Sabres (last week: 26)

    Buffalo News Sabres beat writer Mike Harrington blasted coach Dan Bylsma in a column last week, questioning, among other things, his use of rookie Jack Eichel on the power play. 

    "Deployment is an issue. Bylsma is mostly keeping the same alignments, which leaves Jack Eichel and Evander Kane on the wrong sides," Harrington wrote. "The easy fix is for Eichel to shift to the half-wall on the left side, his off wing, so he can be set up for one-timers in the same vein as Alex Ovechkin or Steven Stamkos."

    It's a fair point. Right-handed shots are best served for one-timers on the left side, based on a wider circumference with which to face a pass. And vice-versa for lefties such as Kane

25-21: Vancouver Canucks-New Jersey Devils

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    25. Vancouver Canucks (last week: 23)

    Well, Willie Desjardins doesn't have to worry about his job for next year. The Vancouver Canucks, according to The Province (via NHL.com), have informed Desjardins that he and his staff will be back next year.

    Desjardins overachieved with his group last season, underachieved in this one. So, let's see what his third year on the job will bring. He deserves that much. The Canucks will be playing out the string in the meantime.

    24. Columbus Blue Jackets (last week: 24)

    The Columbus Blue Jackets were 5-2-2 in their previous nine games entering Saturday's game in Philadelphia. Columbus then lost 6-0 to the Flyers. It was the kind of embarrassing effort that drives fiery coach John Tortorella crazy, but the veteran bench boss has done a bang-up job with this group since he took over for Todd Richards early on.

    With a fresh start at training camp, with a chance to really put his personal stamp on this team, Tortorella will get things really turning around again. Or, so my prediction goes.

    23. Arizona Coyotes (last week: 27)

    Looking for reasons why the Coyotes faltered in the second half? The biggest probably is they just didn't play with the puck enough. Arizona's Corsi for percentage entering Sunday was just a 47. Only two other teams, Colorado and New Jersey, had a lower percentage.

    The Coyotes sold off top winger Mikkel Boedker to Colorado at the deadline for prospects Conner Bleackley, Kyle Wood and veteran Alex Tanguay. Not a bad return for a rental player, and Tanguay scored two goals and assisted on another in his Coyotes debut against Florida.

    22. Montreal Canadiens (last week: 22)

    Everything remains just miserable with the Canadiens, who went 0-3-1 on Western road trip, concluding it with a 4-2 loss at Winnipeg Saturday. GM Marc Bergevin sold off some assets at the deadline, including Dale Weise and Thomas Fleischmann to Chicago, but the Montreal Gazette's Stu Cowan criticized the return as nothing better than a handful of third- and fourth-liners.

    But at least goalie Carey Price, via Sportsnet's Eric Engels, said he thinks he'll return by the end of the season.

    21. New Jersey Devils (last week: 18)

    It seems like the New Jersey Devils just ran out of gas. There's still a chance for a playoff spot, but not much of one. Entering Sunday, that chance was 5.1 percent, according to Sportsclubstats.com.

    The Devils traded top scorer Lee Stempniak at the deadline, to Boston. Teams that trade their top scorer at the deadline probably don't believe in their playoff chances too much.

20-16: Ottawa Senators-Philadelphia Flyers

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    20. Ottawa Senators (last week: 21)

    The Ottawa Senators started Sunday five points back of Pittsburgh for the final Eastern wild-card spot. The problem is, the Penguins still had two games in hand. Ottawa has been playing better (6-3-1 in in the last 10), but time is getting short. 

    Goalie Craig Anderson missed time of late with a knee injury, according to the Ottawa Sun's Don Brennan. That doesn't help the cause, either. Anderson, who had been bothered by various lower-body injuries in recent years, has been the team's most reliable goalie this season.

    19. Carolina Hurricanes (last week: 20)

    The Carolina Hurricanes have the same problem as the Devils; they're still only five points out of a playoff spot, but Pittsburgh entered Sunday still with two games in hand. That, and the fact that the 'Canes became sellers at the deadline, including dealing 12-year veteran and captain Eric Staal to the Rangers, seems to indicate Carolina is already looking toward next year.

    18. Colorado Avalanche (last week: 17)

    The Colorado Avalanche had a 2-1 third-period lead Saturday in an important divisional game against Nashville. The final score was Predators 5, Avs 2. That dropped them two points back of Minnesota for the last wild-card spot in the West, with the Wild still having a game in hand.

    Meanwhile, Semyon Varlamov, making $5.9 million a year, was demoted to being the backup to youngster Calvin Pickard. So, things are going sideways a little with the Avs, and time is getting short.

    17. Pittsburgh Penguins (last week: 15)

    The Pittsburgh Penguins rebounded from a bad home loss Saturday with a nice win at New Jersey on Sunday. That figures to go a long way toward the Pens getting into the postseason. Mike Sullivan, who took over for Mike Johnston earlier in the year, has done a good job of stabilizing the team.

    According to Puckalytics.com, only six other teams have a better "Corsi for" percentage than the Penguins' 52. Yet, those kinds of losses at home to teams like Calgary make you leery of believing this team would be anything more than one-and-done in the playoffs.

    16. Philadelphia Flyers (last week: 16)

    Things are going well again for the streaky Philadelphia Flyers, who are 6-3-1 in their last 10. They entered Sunday only three points back of Pittsburgh for the final wild-card spot. They'll probably need to be even better down the stretch, though, to catch the Pens. 

    They certainly can 't afford to do what they did Thursday night, getting shut out at home by the lowly Edmonton Oilers. That is their only loss in the last five games, however.

15-11: Detroit Red Wings-New York Islanders

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    15. Detroit Red Wings (last week: 13)

    The Detroit Red Wings just kind of keep spinning their wheels. One thing was made clear last week: Detroit still isn't as good as Chicago. The Blackhawks beat the Wings twice during the week, including Sunday at United Center.

    Veteran star forward Pavel Datsyuk, according to Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press, missed Sunday's game with an illness. Let's hope the classy Russian gets well soon. The odds still seem good the Wings will extend their 24-season playoff streak, but it's not a lock just yet.

    14. San Jose Sharks (last week: 14)

    The San Jose Sharks are a lock to make the playoffs. They have an iron grip on at least a third-place finish in the Pacific Division, which would be good enough for entry to the postseason.

    It's a tribute to first-year coach Pete DeBoer, who took over a veteran team thought to be on the decline and kept them more than competitive. Joe Pavelski, with 29 goals entering Sunday, has been tremendous all season.

    13. Minnesota Wild (last week: 19)

    You have to wonder how much longer John Torchetti will have to wear the "interim" label as head coach. After Saturday's shootout win in Buffalo, the Minnesota Wild improved to 8-3-0 under Torchetti since he took over for Mike Yeo. Minnesota came home to lose 4-2 to the Blues on Sunday, however, so now the record is 8-4-0.

    The Wild have been getting clutch play out of guys such as captain Mikko Koivu, whose one-timer from the slot tied the Sabres late in the third period. Former Sabre Jason Pominville won the shootout with a deciding goal. The Wild seem to do this every year, coming back after a stretch in which everyone counted them out. 

    12. Florida Panthers (last week: 9)

    The Florida Panthers dropped out of our top 10 for the first time in several weeks. A 5-1 loss to the lowly Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night didn't do much to impress our panelists. The Panthers have been a bit too mediocre of late, with a 4-4-2 mark in the last 10. 

    But the good news is that a playoff spot still seems assured. It was nice to see the Panthers be a buyer at the trade deadline for a change. Getting Jiri Hudler from the Flames was a nice pickup, even though he might prove to be only a rental. Hudler got off to a poor start with Florida, though, getting zero points and going minus-five in losses to Arizona and Colorado. He'll be better going forward, though.

    11. New York Islanders (last week: 12)

    The New York Islanders are playing pretty well again, entering Sunday 7-2-1 in their previous 10. Question is, who would be the Islanders' starting goalie in the playoffs? While veteran Jaroslav Halak figures to get the nod, backup Thomas Greiss has posted awfully good numbers. Entering Sunday, he had an 18-6-3 record with a .930 save percentage. 

    Halak entered Sunday with a .919 save percentage. You have to wonder if coach Jack Capuano might secretly be auditioning his two goalies for the playoff starter job down the stretch.

10. Boston Bruins

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    Record: 36-23-7, 79 points

    Last week: 10

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    The Boston Bruins lost the extra point in an overtime loss to Washington Saturday. But the Bruins showed they can play with the East's top team, outshooting them 34-30 and outdoing them in things such as faceoffs (53-47 percent edge).

    A playoff spot seems virtually assured. Coach Claude Julien deserves a lot of credit for getting everything back on track after that awful 0-3 start in which they were outscored 16-7.

    By the numbers

    This figures to be one of the Bruins' tougher weeks, physically as much as anything. Boston plays four games in the next six nights, including games Monday and Tuesday against Florida and Tampa Bay, respectively. If they can survive the week with at least a .500 record, they'll be feeling good about themselves heading into the final few weeks.

9. Nashville Predators

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    Record: 33-21-12, 78 points

    Last week: 11

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    After Satuday's 5-2 win in Denver over the Avalanche, the Nashville Predators extended their point streak to 12 games (8-0-4). Their last regulation loss was Feb. 9, 5-3 to the Washington Capitals.

    What's made the difference? Filip Forsberg has really gotten his game together again, for one thing. After a slow start, the 21-year-old forward has five goals in his last four games, and 28 now on the season. Forsberg, originally drafted by Washington but dealt in an ill-advised move by former Caps GM George McPhee, made something happen on just about every shift against the Avs on Saturday.

    By the numbers

    Goalie Pekka Rinne's overall save percentage remains at a, for him, very pedestrian .910. But the 33-year-old veteran has had a save percentage of .920 or better in nine of his last 10 outings. Obviously, that is another big reason for the Preds' resurgence.

8. Los Angeles Kings

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    Record: 38-22-4, 80 points

    Last week: 4

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    The Los Angeles Kings fell out of the top spot in the Pacific Division in their 3-2 loss at home to Anaheim. The Ducks now lead the division.

    “Every win and loss is a matter of home ice in the playoffs, so yes, we do realize what’s at stake here,” Kings center Anze Kopitar told Alex Kinkopf of LAKings.com after the loss. “We fell behind here today and we’re going to have to catch up ground.”

    The Kings only have one game against Anaheim left in the regular season, April 7 at Staples Center. 

    By the numbers

    The Kings finished 16th in the NHL in penalty-killing percentage last season (80.9). So far this season, the Kings rank 18th, at 80.7. This is an area that must be improved if L.A. wants to seriously challenge for a third Stanley Cup in the last five seasons. 

    Take Saturday's loss to the Ducks, for instance. Anaheim's winning goal came in the third period on the power play, by Rickard Rakell.

7. New York Rangers

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    Record: 38-22-6, 82 points

    Last week: 7

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    The New York Rangers dropped a 6-4 decision to the Islanders on Sunday, despite newcomer Eric Staal getting his first goal with the team since coming over from Carolina.

    Newsday's Steve Zipay reported that star Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist missed the game because of a neck injury. Zipay reported that the injury is not believed serious, however. Staal, by the way, went without a point in his first three games with the Rangers before getting two Sunday.

    The Rangers' recent surge means that they have little worry about making the playoffs. First things first: Get Lundqvist healthy.

    By the numbers

    The Rangers simply must improve their special teams numbers. They are 27th  the league on the penalty kill (77.3 percent) and 21st on the power play (17.6 percent). 

6. St. Louis Blues

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    Record: 38-20-9, 85 points

    Last week: 6

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    The St. Louis Blues have had to deal with a lot of injury issues this season, including a lengthy previous loss of valuable forward Jaden Schwartz and current absence of one of their better scorers, Alex Steen. Yet, the Blues have managed to stop in the top tier of the Western Conference.

    It was a good vote of confidence by GM Doug Armstrong that he made no major moves at the trade deadline. The Blues hope Steen, out with an upper body injury since Feb. 21, can return before the end of the regular season. Getting him back would be as good as a big deadline trade.

    By the numbers

    The Blues continue to be a good faceoff team, winning 50.9 percent of their draws entering Sunday's game in Minnesota (eighth-best in the league). Last season, the Blues tied Minnesota for seventh-best in the league on faceoffs, also at 50.9.

5 Dallas Stars

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    Record: 40-20-7, 87 points

    Last week: 3

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    Just when you thought the Dallas Stars might sink more toward the middle of the Western Conference playoff pack, they got themselves a pair of wins in succession, including a 2-1 overtime character victory Sunday in Ottawa.

    That pulled the Stars back to even with Chicago for most points in the West. They will finish up an Eastern road swing with a game Tuesday in Montreal, then come home to face Chicago on Friday and St. Louis Saturday. Those two divisional games could go a long way toward deciding things in the conference and division.

    By the numbers

    The Stars remain atop the league lead for most goals scored, with 215. To show how much times have changed in the NHL scoring-wise, though, consider: The Detroit Red Wings scored the fewest number of goals in the NHL in 1986-87, with 260. The Stars still need to average three goals per game over their final 15 games just to get that many. 

4. Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Record: 39-22-4, 82 points

    Last week: 8

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    The Tampa Bay Lightning will bid for their 10th consecutive victory Monday night against Philadelphia. Needless to say, the Bolts have picked a good time to play their best hockey of the season. Early on, there was concern about even making the playoffs, but no more.

    The Lightning weathered the trade deadline without making a move regarding the suspended Jonathan Drouin. His team's play of late no doubt helped GM Steve Yzerman avoid a panic move regarding Drouin. Now, he likely gets to go into the summer with a better hand to play in the trade market.

    By the numbers

    The Lightning's nine straight wins is a new franchise record.

    "It's hard enough to win in this League, let along run off nine in a row," Lightning coach Jon Cooper told the team website, via Kristen Nelson of NHL.com. "This group has really stuck together."

3. Chicago Blackhawks

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    Record: 41-21-5, 87 points

    Last week: 2

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    The Chicago Blackhawks feasted off the Detroit Red Wings their last two games to get back into a tie for first overall in the West with Dallas. Chicago dusted off the Wings 5-2 at Joe Louis Arena earlier in the week, then closed it out with a 4-1 win Sunday at United Center.

    Andrew Ladd already has looked comfortable playing on a line with Jonathan Toews. The former Winnipeg captain, acquired at the deadline, has a goal and an assist in the three games he's played for Chicago since the deal.

    By the numbers

    While the league average on the power play is 19.2 percent, Chicago continues to lead everyone with a 24.1 percent number on the PP. That has been quite the nice change from last season, when the Blackhawks finished 19th overall, at 17.6 percent.

2. Anaheim Ducks

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    Record: 37-19-8, 82 points

    Last week: 5

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    The Anaheim Ducks couldn't be much hotter. After Saturday's gritty 3-2 win in Los Angeles, they moved to 18-1-1 in the last 20 games. The win was their 11th in a row, establishing a new franchise record. One more win and they'll tie Florida for the longest win streak by any team this season.

    GM Bob Murray made a shrewd move at the deadline, getting gritty winger Jamie McGinn from Buffalo. He responded with two goals and two assists in his first three games with the Ducks. There was a lot of talk at the deadline, from Jimmy Murphy of Bruinsdaily.com (via Luke Fox of Sportsnet) that Murray was close to getting Jonathan Drouin from Tampa Bay, but it never happened.

    By the numbers

    Coach Bruce Boudreau's win Saturday was the 400th of his career (400-186-77). He set a record for fastest to 400 wins by an NHL coach (663 games). Scotty Bowman (690) previously held the mark.

1. Washington Capitals

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    Record: 48-13-4, 100 points

    Last week: 1

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    With nothing much left to prove in this regular season, with the Presidents' Trophy and home-ice advantage through the playoffs virtually assured, the Caps will get a nice test of sorts this week when they venture out West to play Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose. 

    The Caps got a good, gritty overtime win Saturday in Boston, a win that improved them to 12-0-1 in games following a regulation defeat. The Caps remain the only team in the league not to have lost two games in regulation in succession in this marvelous season for them.

    By the numbers

    Washington achieved 100 points in its first 65 games. The last team to do it that quickly was the 2001-02 Detroit Red Wings (46-11-8). The Caps still have to win 14 of their last 17 games to tie Detroit's all-time record for most wins in a season (62, in 1995-96).