NHL Power Rankings: B/R Experts' Week 6 Poll
Last week, the Anaheim Ducks held on to their tenuous hold on the top spot in these power rankings, but they are in real trouble now. Not only has the team dropped consecutive games, but Sunday saw the Ducks destroyed at home by the low-scoring Florida Panthers, who exploded for six goals.
Which team rises to the top this week? There are a number of contenders, including perennial favourites Chicago, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh, as well as the shocking Predators and some red-hot teams from both conferences.
Which club deserves the No. 1 slot? The answer is determined by voting from our panel of experts: Adrian Dater, Dave Lozo, Allan Mitchell, Lyle Richardson, Carol Schram and myself. All of the rankings here are based both on what's happened so far, what we expect to happen in the future and will not mirror the NHL standings exactly.
Read on to see where every NHL team ranks this week.
30-26: Buffalo Sabres-Columbus Blue Jackets
30. Buffalo Sabres (Last week: 30): In three of the last four games, the Sabres have lost while simultaneously allowing six goals. For the sake of variety they scored six goals in a win over Toronto on Saturday, but that was clearly the aberration; literally more than half the league has twice as many points as Buffalo.
29. Carolina Hurricanes (Last week: 26): Four straight wins had the Hurricanes climbing in the rankings, but order has now been restored. Carolina has dropped four of its last five contests, including all three games last week. One interesting item: Cam Ward has a .920 save percentage or better five of his last six games and seems to have found his form.
28. Edmonton Oilers (Last week: 24): The Oilers move down four spots on the heels of three consecutive one-goal losses. Goaltending was a significant factor in two of the three, and both of Edmonton's goaltenders are currently sitting at a sub-.900 save percentage.
27. Arizona Coyotes (Last week: 25): The Coyotes went 2-2 on the week and were outshot 69-51 in their two victories. The good news for the club is that it seems to have found at least a temporary solution in net, where Mike Smith has struggled mightily. Backup goalie Devan Dubnyk is 4-0-1 on the year with a .925 save percentage and allowed just one goal in wins over Vancouver and Edmonton.
26. Columbus Blue Jackets (Last week: 29): The Blue Jackets are now on a modest winning streak thanks to wins in back-to-back nights over Philadelphia and San Jose. It's the first time Columbus has won consecutive games in more than a month.
25-21: Florida Panthers-New Jersey Devils
25. Florida Panthers (Last week: 27): The Panthers have been up and down all season, but achieved a notable accomplishment on Sunday, torching the Ducks in Anaheim by a 6-2 margin. It's the first time since October 11 of last year that the Panthers had scored six goals in a game. It was a night to remember for the second-lowest scoring team in the NHL.
24. Philadelphia Flyers (Last week: 17): The delightfully streaky Flyers are at it again, losing both of their games this week and tumbling down these rankings as a result. Ray Emery was lit up for six goals against Montreal, posting a season-low .786 save percentage and reducing his chances of pushing Steve Mason for more playing time.
23. Colorado Avalanche (Last week: 28): Colorado's four-game road trip may have started poorly, but it ended well. A shootout win over New York on Thursday was followed by a regulation win in New Jersey on Saturday; both games saw the Avs overcome early deficits with third-period comebacks.
22. Dallas Stars (Last week: 23): The Stars made some modest gains this week, ending a terrifying seven-game losing streak and going 2-2 against some very tough opposition. Ales Hemsky even managed a point, thereby doubling his production on the season.
21. New Jersey Devils (Last week: 21): The Devils went 2-2 on the week, and encouragingly Patrik Elias finally started finding the scoresheet. Elias recorded two assists against Colorado on Saturday; it's his first multipoint night of the year and matches his production for his previous nine games combined.
20-16: Ottawa Senators-New York Rangers
20. Ottawa Senators (Last week: 20): Ottawa's recent three-game road swing through Western Canada went reasonably well, with the team going 1-1-1. Only Colorado and Buffalo surrender more shots per game than Ottawa's 34.8, but Craig Anderson and his .935 save percentage help a lot in that department.
19. Washington Capitals (Last week: 19): Washington holds steady despite consecutive losses, one a 1-0 defeat at the hands of the Devils in what had been a brilliant goaltending duel (until Braden Holtby made a terrible giveaway while behind his own net) and the other a loss to the formidable Blues. The losses ended a three-game winning streak.
18. Toronto Maple Leafs (Last week: 18): The Leafs also hold tight this week after consecutive losses, but it's been sort of a strange period for the team. Toronto torched the Bruins 6-1 to start the week and then fought a tight 2-1 battle against Pittsburgh but got outscored 6-2 by a Buffalo team that is all but openly pining for expected 2015 first overall pick Connor McDavid.
17. Winnipeg Jets (Last week: 16): This is apparently the consecutive losses portion of the slideshow; the Jets finished their week with defeats in Nashville and Minnesota and fall one spot as a result. Paul Maurice did the stupid thing of starting Ondrej Pavelec in back-to-back games, and the goalie allowed three goals on 11 shots in the back half of those outings before getting pulled in favour of Michael Hutchinson.
16. New York Rangers (Last week: 22): New York is our fourth consecutive team to post consecutive losses, but the Rangers climb six spots anyway. Why? Both losses came in the shootout, giving a club battling injuries a very respectable four points in three games. A 5-0 win over Pittsburgh didn't hurt, nor did the fact that all three games came against 2014 playoff teams.
15-11: San Jose Sharks-Vancouver Canucks
15. San Jose Sharks (Last week: 14): San Jose more or less stayed in place after a .500 week in which the team won two of four games. Of note: Coach Todd McLellan wisely opted to go with backup Troy Grosenick in the second half of back-to-back games and was rewarded with a 45-save shutout performance in the 25-year-old's first career NHL game.
14. Calgary Flames (Last week: 13): Calgary keeps winning hockey games and keeps not getting respect from this panel. Why? Some of it is doubtless schedule: The Flames have played all of two games against teams that made the playoffs in the West last season, losing 4-1 in one of them and riding a 49-save performance from Jonas Hiller to a 2-1 win in the other. This is the week they have the chance to make some converts.
13. Detroit Red Wings (Last week: 12): Detroit played just two games this week, beating Chicago 4-1 on Friday before falling to Montreal by the same margin on Sunday. It was a set of games that featured Jimmy Howard at his best (turning aside 25 of 26 shots in the win) and his worst (allowing four goals on just 19 shots in the loss).
12. Minnesota Wild (Last Week: 15): Minnesota ended the week with three consecutive wins and made up some serious ground in the West, but remarkably didn't move up a single spot in the standings, sticking at 10th in the conference. The difference is that the team now sits only two points out of the last playoff spot instead of four.
11. Vancouver Canucks (Last Week: 9): Vancouver is in the middle of an indifferent stretch of hockey. Although 2-2 over its last four games, the team has a pair of narrow wins (a shootout victory over the Ducks, an overtime decision over Ottawa) and two brutal losses in which it was outscored by a 10-1 margin.
10. Boston Bruins
Last Week: 10
Recent Trend: The Bruins are beat up, but they are also holding their own. The team has won six of its last eight games, though a pair of ugly losses midweek to Montreal and Toronto saw the team outscored by a worrying 11-2 margin.
Big Picture: Boston will be just fine; it just needs to keep itself reasonably competitive with a patchwork defence. Some key players are back, but Joe Morrow and Matt Bartkowski are still getting minutes, so the current version of the Bruins isn't anything close to what the team will be when everyone is healthy.
By the Numbers: Tuukka Rask started the season slowly but has come around since, posting a .920 save percentage or better in five of his last six games. His .908 save percentage is only mediocre, but it's vastly improved from the .899 number he had at the end of October.
9. New York Islanders
Last Week: 11
Recent Trend: A five-game winning streak was snapped on Saturday when the Isles fell to the Lightning in Tampa Bay. That sounds good, but the picture looks even rosier once one realizes that four of those five wins came outside New York and that three of them were against teams that made the playoffs in the West last season.
Big Picture: The Islanders still have to prove they can compete with the big guns in the NHL, but so far it looks like Garth Snow's summer rebuild of the team has worked splendidly. All positions show massive improvement.
By the Numbers: Like Tuukka Rask in Boston, Jaroslav Halak started the season slowly. Unlike Rask, Halak didn't get much in the way of benefit of the doubt, but he's turned things around. After posting an ugly .889 save percentage in October he's up to .913 after strong performances in four straight wins.
8. Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 8
Recent Trend: Chicago has won three of its last four games and is turning things around after a mediocre couple of weeks. Included in the run were some lopsided victories over tough Western opponents San Jose (5-2) and Dallas (6-2).
Big Picture: The Blackhawks are a known quantity, but even so the team will have to find another gear over the next two weeks. A six-game road trip through the West kicks off on Thursday, starting in Canada before ending in California. It will be a significant test for Chicago.
By the Numbers: Chicago's plus-15 goal differential is the second-best total in the West, so why hasn't it translated to wins? The team is sitting at 5-7 in one-goal games, but has a fantastic 5-1 record in games decided by three or more goals.
7. Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 6
Recent Trend: The Kings have blown hot and cold this season, but right now the best description of them is something like "lukewarm." Six consecutive wins were followed by four straight losses, and that was followed by the current run of six games in which the club has not won two in a row or gone two without picking up at least a point.
Big Picture: Like Chicago, Los Angeles is a known quantity. This is a brilliant playoff team that typically underachieves during the year, and this year's current hold of a wild-card spot in the West certainly fits the bill.
By the Numbers: Dustin Brown's 27-point performance in 2013-14 isn't looking like an aberration; he has all of two points through his first 18 games. That should pick up as the Kings are shooting at just a 3.1 percent rate with Brown on the ice this season, but even so it's discouraging.
6. Nashville Predators
Last Week: 5
Recent Trend: Nashville continues to have success, winning four of its last five games. This week could have gone better, as the team squeaked out one-goal wins over Edmonton and Winnipeg at home and lost in St. Louis, but even so the Predators are picking up points.
Big Picture: After two years outside the playoffs, it's easy to forget that Nashville has typically been a pretty competitive team when it gets goaltending. At this point, it's still fair to wonder if the Predators are for real, but the longer they have success the easier it will be to believe.
By the Numbers: Filip Forsberg currently sits eighth in the NHL with 20 points, though there is a good chunk of luck involved in that. The Predators have been shooting a ridiculous 15.6 percent at even strength when he's on the ice, and that doesn't last for anybody. That's not to take anything away from a good player; it's just important to realize he can't sustain his current pace.
5. Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 1
Recent Trend: Anaheim slides four spots after weirdly holding on to the No. 1 ranking in last week's voting. The team keeps picking up points by going to overtime, but has just two regulation wins in its last 11 games and one win of any kind in its last six contests, most of them at home. Sunday's 6-2 loss to Florida was merely the most embarrassing marker in a recent trend.
Big Picture: The Ducks have had decent regular-season totals lately, but there is still some doubt that they are really an elite, as opposed to good, team. The club has one playoff series win in five years, and its underlying numbers are not great.
By the Numbers: The Ducks are 7-0-4 in one-goal games and just 4-4 in games decided by more than one goal; basically any time a game is close, they're getting points and that goes a long way toward making a team perhaps look better than it is.
4. Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 7
Recent Trend: Montreal has won six consecutive contests, but more impressively the team has started to pull away from its opponents a little bit. After winning eight of its first nine games by just a single goal (the other win was a one-goal win plus an empty-netter) the Habs have now own five straight with a margin of at least three goals.
Big Picture: The Canadiens will be fascinating to watch the rest of the way. The team's goal differential is only middling and its underlying numbers a little south of that, but the club keeps winning games and had a deep playoff run last season.
By the Numbers: Dustin Tokarski continues to justify the club's choice of him as its backup. With two wins in November, he's now 3-1-0 on the year with a .937 save percentage. That's a pretty short span of time, but with that kind of start he's pretty much guaranteed respectable totals on the year.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 3
Recent Trend: The Lightning have won nine of their last 12 games and have points in eight of their last nine. In bad news, a shootout loss to Chicago followed by a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Sharks marked the first time all season Tampa Bay had lost consecutive games.
Big Picture: Tampa Bay is an emerging young team that, after a 100-point season in 2013-14, looks poised to take the next step and join the top clubs in the East. Nothing the team has done this season has discouraged that view.
By the Numbers: If there is a fly in the ointment, it is the play of backup goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. Nabokov is 2-2 with an .874 save percentage; starter Ben Bishop has played 15 games to his four, while the two goalies have the same number of regulation losses.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 2
Recent Trend: Pittsburgh has won nine of its last 10 games, with six of those 10 games being on the road; the only quibble is quality of competition as the team has seen a slate of relatively easy opponents so far.
Big Picture: As always, there is absolutely no question that Pittsburgh is a very good team. The Penguins are always a regular-season powerhouse, and any skepticism toward the club comes out of its playoff record. Still, this group is doing all it can to prove itself an elite club in the early going.
By the Numbers: Patric Hornqvist continues to show the value of being a pretty good winger in a forward unit that includes Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The ex-Predators winger maxed out at 53 points during his time in Nashville; this season he has 19 points in 16 games.
1. St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 4
Recent Trend: There was some debate about the best team in hockey at the moment, but four of our six panelists (including yours truly) opted for St. Louis. The Blues have won three consecutive games and 10 of their last 11; the lone exception was a 2-1 loss handed out by the red-hot Nashville Predators.
Big Picture: The Blues are somewhat like the Penguins in that nobody doubts this is an excellent team; the question is whether it's an elite team in the same category as a Chicago or Los Angeles. Only playoff victories can answer that question, but St. Louis is positioning itself for playoff success by excelling in the regular season.
By the Numbers: In last year's series loss to Chicago, much of the commentary (including some from the Blues organization) centered on the team's lack of high-end finishers. Vladimir Tarasenko seems to have decided to solve that problem himself. The 22-year-old now has 10 goals and 21 points in 17 games and is one point behind Tyler Seguin for the lead in Western Conference scoring.