NHL Power Rankings: B/R Experts' Week 3 Poll

Adrian Dater@@adaterNHL National ColumnistOctober 19, 2015

NHL Power Rankings: B/R Experts' Week 3 Poll

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The first handful of games for NHL teams are in the books. Some of it went exactly as the Bleacher Report hockey staff expected: Carey Price would be excellent, Tampa Bay would be very good and Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn would score goals. Some of it went very much unlike the Bleacher Report hockey staff expected: Columbus would be absolutely awful and the Anaheim Ducks not much better.

    The staff can safely hide behind the "Hey, it's early" explanation for getting some prognostications totally wrong so far. And it is.

    As many NHL coaches said before the season, however, any kind of four- or five-game slump in this league of great parity can be fatal. In that sense, then, some teams have a lot to worry about already. 

    Our first rankings of the regular season come from the combined polling of myself, Jonathan Willis, Steve MacFarlane, Lyle Richardson, Allan Mitchell and Carol Schram. Rather than just a straight out reverse chronology of the current standings, our 30-1 rankings are based on realistic expectations given talent level, payroll, injury situations, strength of schedule for the week and whatever other flights of intellectual fancy we deem applicable.

    Please click on the following slideshow to learn which team ranks where, capped off by the numero uno outfit.

    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 ranking.

30-26: Columbus Blue Jackets to Carolina Hurricanes

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    Kathy Kmonicek/Associated Press

    30. Columbus Blue Jackets (Preseason rank: 15): Not even two weeks into the season and already Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen proclaimed to the Columbus Dispatch his team was "Off the rails." It all started with a blown third-period lead on opening night to the Rangers and just kept getting worse. 

    The low point was a 6-3 loss at home to Toronto on Friday night, which had fans at Nationwide Arena booing with gusto. Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has been brutal, admitting to the Dispatch (via CBS Sports) "I have zero confidence right now. It's a tough time."

    No kidding. The Jackets dropped to 0-6 after losing to Chicago on Saturday night. Coach Todd Richards' job probably already is on the line.

    29. New Jersey Devils (Preseason rank: 28): After their first four games, the Devils had zero wins and six goals scored. They pulled out a point Friday night with a late Adam Henrique goal against San Jose and stole two more against the Rangers on Sunday.

    The Devils averaged 2.15 goals per game last year (28th overall). Right now, that number seems like a fantasy. Too often, they play with as much fire as a wet book of matches. More change is needed in Newark if this franchise is to get anywhere near the good old days again.

    28. Buffalo Sabres (Preseason rank: 26): Well, Jack Eichel looks like the real deal already, but it's clear it won't be the overnight turnaround some Sabres fans might have hoped for.

    Buffalo only got nine goals in its first five games, four of which finished in losses. The Sabres have been in almost every game, including Saturday's tough 2-1 loss in Tampa Bay. But they still can't find ways to win many of them. Goalie Robin Lehner has already been lost for several weeks to a severe ankle sprain, so that doesn't help matters.

    27. Calgary Flames (Preseason rank: 16): Those who thought the Flames were a fluke last year—and there were a few—are no doubt chortling right now. 

    The Flames are off to a 1-4-0 start, three of the losses coming at home. Calgary hadn't lost its first three at the Saddledome since the 2000-01 season. Defenseman Dougie Hamilton is off to a slow start with his new team, scoring one point in the five games. Coach Bob Hartley didn't even use him on the first power-play unit in Saturday's loss to the Oilers, going with Dennis Wideman instead.

    26. Carolina Hurricanes (Preseason rank: 27): The Hurricanes got their first win of the year in Detroit, with Eric Staal looking great with a couple goals. That's been about it as far as good times so far for Carolina. Defenseman James Wisniewski is already lost for the season to injury, a considerable loss for a team that was never going to be that good to begin with.

25-21: Edmonton Oilers to Colorado Avalanche

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    25. Edmonton Oilers (Preseason rank: 25): Scratch those "Will Connor McDavid be a Bust?" early storylines that were starting to brew.

    The player with the biggest buildup since Sidney Crosby looked pedestrian in his first four NHL games, which were all losses. Then the Oilers ventured down Highway 2 to Calgary on Saturday night and McDavid looked downright awesome with two goals and an assist as Edmonton finally got into the win column.

    His most sensational play of the night, a multi-deke waltz through the Flames defense, didn't even get him on the scoresheet. McDavid added an assist in Edmonton's overtime victory in Vancouver on Sunday night.

    24. Toronto Maple Leafs (Preseason rank: 29): While the record after the first five games was only 1-3-1, the Leafs were in most games under new coach Mike Babcock. If nothing else, the Leafs seem to be playing a heavier brand of hockey, if not a winning one yet.

    Lack of offensive depth and goaltending, which figured to be problems, have been issues. Good thing for Babcock that the Blue Jays are dominating the early-season headlines in Hogtown so far.

    23. Anaheim Ducks (Preseason rank: 2): I think my colleagues are pushing the panic button a little early on these guys, as I had them higher than this. But the Ducks have not looked great getting out of the box. They did get their first win on Sunday night against Minnesota, though.

    The offense and power play entered Sunday stone cold, and the goaltending, led by Frederik Andersen, wasn't sublime, either. But there's too much talent here for this to last too long. Bruce Boudreau will get these guys going, and Sunday was a good start.

    22. Boston Bruins (preseason rank: 23): After three lopsided losses to start the season that had everyone with a Chowd accent wanting to "fiyah" Claude Julien, the Bs went out West and picked up successive victories over the Avalanche and Coyotes. 

    Boston scored seven goals in the first three games and 11 in the next two. Julien's job looks safe—for another week at least. Zdeno Chara's return to health most likely had a lot to do with Boston's recovery.

    21. Colorado Avalanche (Preseason rank: 24): Coach Patrick Roy blew his stack at his group following a 6-2 home loss to Boston, calling the effort "unacceptable," per BSN Denver.

    The Avs responded with a victory in Anaheim, with the much-maligned Reto Berra getting a shutout in net. More worrisome has been the play of No. 1 goalie Semyon Varlamov, who had an .841 save percentage and 5.06 GAA in his first three starts and sat out Sunday's game in Los Angeles.

    Third-year forward Nathan MacKinnon, moved back to his natural center spot by Roy, had six points his first four games. Plus, he's in a funny little commercial for Upper Deck with Sidney Crosby.

20-16: Los Angeles Kings to Ottawa Senators

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    20. Los Angeles Kings (Preseason rank: 12): There have been a lot of looks on the face of coach Darryl Sutter like the one above. The Kings lost their first three games and had scored just four goals after the first four overall. 

    The Kings have gotten off to a lot of slow starts, though, so let's not panic with this SoCal team yet. It's already evident, though, that the losses of Jarret Stoll and Mike Richards have weakened the Kings up the middle. It has put a lot of pressure on No. 1 center Anze Kopitar, who is in the final year of his contract. The Kings also suffered a significant loss with the injury to big left winger Dwight King, who is expected to miss eight to 10 weeks with a broken foot, per Fox Sports.

    The Kings came through with home victories over Minnesota and Colorado (each by 2-1 scores), so things are slowly getting better.

    19. Philadelphia Flyers (Preseason rank: 22): They've only played four games so far, but new coach Dave Hakstol's club got points in three of them, including a shutout at home against Chicago. The Blackhawks don't get shut out too often.

    Michal Neuvirth posted a shutout in the previous game against Florida too. We might already have a goalie controversy on our hands here, as Steve Mason could be ready to return against Dallas on Tuesday after missing time for personal reasons. We need to see a little more of the Flyers before buying in more, but they're off to a good start.

    18. Pittsburgh Penguins (Preseason rank: 7): What happened to this being one of the greatest shows on earth offensively? 

    In five games, the Penguins scored seven goals. That's not what you'd expect from a team boasting Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel. But the Pens, after three straight losses to open the season, have won two in a row to stop the panic in Pittsburgh. As poor as the Pens have been offensively, they've only surrendered nine goals.

    17. Arizona Coyotes (Preseason rank: 30): After a lovely 3-0 start, the Coyotes returned to earth with consecutive losses, including one at home Saturday to Boston.

    Goaile Mike Smith had been outstanding until Saturday's game, when he was touched up some by the Bs. Ageless Coyotes captain Shane Doan posted his 900th career point in the loss. Rookie Max Domi, three goals, three assists in his first four games, is already being touted by Don Cherry for the Calder Trophy.

    16. Ottawa Senators (Preseason rank: 19): The Sens are off to a great start offensively, with Erik Karlsson, Kyle Turris and Mark Stone all notching eight points in their first six games. 

    While the Sens have looked a bit leaky defensively (17 goals allowed), they posted points in five of their first six games. Craig Anderson has reclaimed the top goaltender spot, which is a continuation from the end of their playoffs last year.

15-11: Florida Panthers to Chicago Blackhawks

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    15. Florida Panthers (Preseason rank: 17): Juan Ponce de Leon, otherwise known as Jaromir Jagr, has seven points (four goals) after five games. He's 43 YEARS OLD! No other player in the league has yet to even reach 40.

    The guy used to have something of a reputation for dogging it at times too. Now, everybody is in amazement. Aleksander Barkov, 23 years Jagr's junior, looks like he'll have a long, prosperous career too. The Finnish center has six points (three goals). Roberto Luongo is turning back the clock too. The 36-year-old goalie has a 1.77 GAA and .948 saves percentage.

    14: Vancouver Canucks (Preseason rank: 21): I'm still not too high on these guys, thinking there's just too much age at all the key positions. 

    But hey, the Canucks are off to a nice start. That especially applies to goalie Ryan Miller, who posted a 1.77 GAA in his first five starts. Not bad for a 35-year-old coming off an injury. Newcomer Brandon Sutter posted five points in his first five games, and, of course, the Sedin twins are playing well.

    13. Detroit Red Wings (Preseason rank: 13): After looking sensational in the first three games, the Wings lost at home to Carolina and looked feeble in a 4-1 loss at Montreal. So, let's hold off on those Jeff Blashill-for-Jack-Adams votes for a bit.

    The Wings averaged an NHL low of 21.5 shots per game entering Sunday, per MLive. Now, they enter a three-game Western Canadian road swing. A little more from $6 million defenseman Mike Green, wouldn't hurt. The veteran had just one point after the first five contests. Tomas Tatar (29 goals last year) has yet to find the back of the net.

    12. Washington Capitals (Preseason rank: 5): They're probably a little too low here, but there's plenty of time to solidify their spot in future rankings. 

    The Caps won three of their first four games, the only loss being a 5-0 shutout at home to San Jose. Captain Alex Ovechkin missed that game because he said, per CBSSports, he set his smartphone alarm clock to "p.m." instead of "a.m." Hey, I've done that too. But a captain can't be doing that, especially one making $9.5 million a year.

    Nicklas Backstrom had a nice season debut on Saturday with a goal and two assists, and T.J. Oshie has looked good so far after coming over from St. Louis.

    11. Chicago Blackhawks (Preseason rank: 6): The defending Cup champs, the Chicago Blackhawks, split their first six games. That's not the kind of record coach Joel Quenneville likes, but there's no big worry here. Besides, everybody in Chicago is focused on the Cubs right now anyway.

    Jonathan Toews was scoreless in his first six, which certainly is out of the ordinary. Newcomers Artemi Panarin (seven points) and Artem Anisimov (two goals) have looked good, however. So has Patrick Kane, who leads the team with seven points.

10. Winnipeg Jets

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    Kathy Kmonicek/Associated Press

    Record: 4-2-0, eight points

    Preseason rank: 18

    Big picture: Just when you want to get really excited by these guys, they take a step back in prove-it-to-me games such as Sunday's at home against St. Louis, which ended in a 4-2 win for the Blues. Still, it's been a good start for the Jets, particularly for forward Blake Wheeler (eight points). Michael Hutchinson went 2-0 with a .968 save percentage his first two starts in goal.

    By the numbers: Defenseman Jacob Trouba was a sterling plus-five his first six games. The ninth overall pick in the 2012 draft, Trouba might be the best defenseman you've never heard of, with the small-market Jets getting little publicity beyond city limits. He's big (6'3" and 191 pounds) and can really skate. He should be a fixture on the Jets blue line for a long time.

9. New York Rangers

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Record: 3-2-1, seven points

    Preseason rank: 8

    Big picture: If the Rangers could simply have hit a couple of open nets on Sunday afternoon against the lowly Devils, they would have moved to 4-2-0. They didn't. As such, it can only be classified as a decent start for the Blueshirts.

    They are the only team in the top eight of the Eastern Conference with a negative goal differential (14-15).

    By the numbers: The special teams have been the biggest problem so far. The Rangers' power play stood at 6.3 percent after six games. This shouldn't be the case on a team with Rick Nash down low and Keith Yandle at the point. The penalty kill is only clicking at 83.3 percent too. 

    Coach Alain Vigneault will need better showings in both areas if New York is to again comfortably skate to the playoffs.

8. Minnesota Wild

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    Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

    Record: 3-1-1, seven points

    Preseason rank: 9

    Big picture: The Wild suffered their first regular-season loss on Sunday night in Anaheim and have a negative goal differential (14-15). Still, it can't be called anything but a good start for Minnesota, which has played just one game at home.

    Zach Parise had a hat trick on opening night in Colorado and put up two more goals in the next four games. Ryan Suter has five points after five games too. That's what $98 million each can get you.

    By the numbers: If there has been anything to worry about, it might be the play of Devan Dubnyk in net. After signing a six-year, $26 million contract, Dubnyk has looked below average so far, with an .885 save percentage and 3.02 GAA. Darcy Kuemper won his first start and looked great in doing it, so Dubnyk needs to up his play to keep his status.

7. Dallas Stars

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Record: 4-1-0, eight points

    Preseason rank: 14

    Big picture: A very nice start for the Big Green Machine (OK, maybe I'm a little premature on that nickname). Coach Lindy Ruff is getting great production from his best players—Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn have eight points apiece—and good-enough goaltending from the veteran tandem of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. 

    Lehtonen won his first three starts, while Niemi had a shutout in one of his—then got smoked for six goals in Colorado in the team's only loss to date. 

    By the numbers: Veteran center Jason Spezza is off to a great start too, posting seven points. It seems like he's been around forever, but he's still only 32. In his first 773 NHL games, Spezza posted 756 points (284 goals). 

    If Spezza has a big year after what was for him a pedestrian first season in Dallas, the Stars' chances of making the playoffs will go up exponentially.

6. San Jose Sharks

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Record: 4-1-0, eight points

    Preseason rank: 20

    Big picture: Martin Jones for the Vezina.

    Carey Price, with his perfect record, probably would win it if the voting had been held on Sunday. But Jones, acquired from Los Angeles, via Boston, over the summer, has better numbers otherwise. Jones' goals-against average is 0.49, and his save percentage is an astounding .982. 

    Maybe Jones would have won it after all. There's a long way to go, but the acquisition of Jones is looking like the steal of the summer for GM Doug Wilson. Of course, the Sharks have gotten off to a lot of good starts in the past.

    By the numbers: At 33.4, the Sharks are tied for third in the league in shots on goal per game. They're allowing 28.4. That's better than they finished in each category last year (31.6 for, 29.7 against). That will no doubt please the advanced-stats, puck-possession crowd. 

5. Nashville Predators

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Record: 4-1-0, eight points

    Preseason rank: 11

    Big picture: Pekka Rinne, my preseason pick for the Vezina, has not made me look bad so far. A 1.51 GAA and .944 saves percentage works just fine.

    Defenseman Roman Josi was the team's scoring leader after five games, with two goals and three assists. He's coming off a 55-point season, so he's really emerging as a top offensive D-man in the league. Filip Forsberg is showing his performance was no fluke last year with four points in his first five games.

    Imagine how the Capitals might look now if they hadn't given up on Forsberg and dealt him for Martin Erat and Michael Latta? That deal helped cost George McPhee his job, according to NFL.com (h/t CBSSports).

    By the numbers: One area that needs to improve is Nashville's percentage in the faceoff dots. The Preds are winning draws at a 46.5-percent clip. With so many defensemen adept at holding onto the puck when they have it, it behooves the centermen to win it back to them.

4. New York Islanders

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Record: 3-1-1, seven points

    Preseason rank: 3

    Big picture: All in all, it's been a good start for coach Jack Capuano's club. Four of the first five games came at the Isles' new Brooklyn home, the Barclays Center. The record was 3-0-1. Included in that is an impressive 6-3 win over the previously undefeated Sharks on Saturday.

    Captain John Tavares has led the way, posting eight points (three goals). There has been a lot of balanced offense behind him too, with Kyle Okposo, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome all having at least four points apiece.

    By the numbers: New York's average home attendance of 12,274 per game ranks last in the league, according to ESPN, which can't be classified as anything other than a disappointment with the team in a new building. That is 77.8 percent of capacity at the Barclays Center, though the number may be slightly deceptive because hundred of seats have an obstructed view, per the New York Times.

    If the Isles keep winning, more fans will come. But so far, people are not breaking down the doors to see hockey in Brooklyn.

3. Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Record: 4-2-0, eight points

    Preseason rank: 1

    Big picture: With four goals in his first six games, Steven Stamkos is off to a nice start in this, the final year of his contract, with the potential for unrestricted free agency ahead. And how about Jonathan Drouin too? After a bit of a disappointing rookie year (four goals, 32 points in 70 games), the league's third overall pick in 2013 leads the team in scoring with a goal and five assists.

    Things get tougher now, though, with a four-game, Central Division road trip upcoming. That will include a rematch of last season's Stanley Cup Final in Chicago.

    By the numbers: In just a little more than two seasons, goalie Ben Bishop has already become the Lightning's all-time wins leader with 84. His 31-save effort in a 2-1 victory over Buffalo on Saturday put him one ahead of Nikolai Khabibulin on the all-time list.

    “It’s great—it’s an honor,” Bishop told Bryan Burns of the Lightning's website. “This is a great organization. It’s been a pleasure to play for them so far, and hopefully we can set that number a little higher.”

    Bishop needs one more win for 100 in his career.

2. St. Louis Blues

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    Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

    Record: 5-1-0, 10 points

    Preseason rank: 10

    Big picture: The St. Louis Blues look unbeatable so far in the regular season. Film at 11.

    The St. Louis Blues have looked unbeatable for much of the last few regular seasons. Let's not bring up the playoffs. Let's just wipe the slate clean and say the Blues again look like a powerhouse and that it's hard to see how they'll lose much from here on out.

    Vladimir Tarasenko is your NHL scoring leader with nine points. He's an amazing talent, a gifted shooter and playmaker. Most impressive about the Blues' start is that five of the first six games were on the road, including a gritty 4-2 win in Winnipeg on Sunday.

    Next up is a game on Tuesday against the only team with more points than the Blues, Montreal, at the Bell Centre.

    By the numbers: Paul Stastny is off to a fine start, scoring five points in five games. Something of a disappointment last term in the first of a four-year, $28 million contract, Stastny needs to keep it up if the Blues are to get to that next level in the playoffs. Stastny has been robbed on a few shots so far too, so his point total could be higher.

1. Montreal Canadiens

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Record: 6-0-0, 12 points

    Preseason rank: 4

    Big picture: What a start.

    Six games, six regulation wins. Twenty goals for, seven against. The Habs are on a 164-point pace.

    Everybody has looked good, especially their goaltender, Carey Price. The reigning Hart Trophy and Vezina winner carries a 1.20 GAA and .957 save percentage entering Tuesday's marquee matchup at home against St. Louis.

    Max Pacioretty has led a balanced scoring attack, notching six points, and he is followed by Tomas Plekanec with five. Plekanec was rewarded with a two-year, $12 million contract extension on Oct. 16. 

    By the numbers: Only four players on the Canadiens have failed to record at least one point so far. Three of them are defensemen. The only area that still has fans a bit worried is the power play, which is converting at 15.4 percent.

    The power play is arguably why the Canadiens failed to advance deeper into the playoffs last year, going 2-for-36 and only 16.5 percent in the regular season. It remains a mystery how a team with P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov at the points can struggle so much on the PP. If they ever get it going there, look out.