NHL Power Rankings: B/R Experts' Week 14 Poll
The Washington Capitals are still the top-ranked team in the NHL. But it was close.
The Caps barely beat out the surging Los Angeles Kings to hold onto the No. 1 spot, by vote of a Bleacher Report staff that included myself, Carol Schram, Jonathan Willis, Allan Mitchell, Luke Richardson and Alex Ovechkin.
Just kidding on that last panelist. Washington finished one point ahead of the Kings, who displaced the Dallas Stars in the No. 2 spot.
The criteria, as always, includes a mixture of strength of schedule, current injury situation and realistic expectations based on payroll.
We're right about at the midway point of the NHL season, so it'll be tougher for teams on the bottom to make big runs toward the top. But this is still a league of extreme parity, so it won't be all that surprising should it happen.
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30-26: Columbus Blue Jackets-Toronto Maple Leafs
30. Columbus Blue Jackets (last week: 30)
Hey, the Jackets got a fun two points Saturday night against the Capitals, at home. Brandon Saad scored with 1:08 left in regulation to get things to OT, then Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Johansen scored in the shootout to get the...two points. Can't call them a big two points, because Columbus is just too far back already to even realistically have a chance at a wild card.
We know this, though: Under head coach John Tortorella, this team will be held accountable every game the rest of the way. That means a lot of yelling.
29. Buffalo Sabres (last week: 21)
Jack Eichel scored two goals Saturday against Detroit to tie him with Red Wings first-year winger Dylan Larkin for the NHL's rookie goal-scoring lead. But Buffalo lost the game 4-3 on a Tomas Tatar goal with 2:50 left in regulation.
Those are the kinds of games the Sabres still find a way to lose, and as good as some of their storylines have been this season (Eichel, etc.), Buffalo remains in the bottom of the league points-wise. The loss to Detroit was the team's fourth in a row. So long, any realistic playoff hopes.
28. Edmonton Oilers (last week: 29)
The Oil got a nice shootout win over the Coyotes Saturday to stop a three-game losing streak. Connor McDavid could be back soon, too, so there is hope. Things aren't as positive for defenseman Justin Schultz, however, who lost his spot on the top power-play unit.
Jordan Eberle scored twice in the win over Arizona. If he can start really heating up, all the better for coach Todd McLellan's group.
27. Philadelphia Flyers (last week: 17)
Saturday's loss to the Kings in L.A. was Philly's third in a row. Their 78 goals ranks last in the East. Special teams have been a big problem. The power play and penalty kill both rank in the bottom 10 of the league.
Emblematic of Philly's woes has been the play of defenseman Michael Del Zotto—once considered a possible future star. He had one goal and eight points in his first 34 games, with a minus-eight.
26. Toronto Maple Leafs (last week: 28)
Don't look now, but the Leafs are in the hunt for a...wait for it...playoff spot.
True Toronto diehards might be wishing for Auston Matthews instead, but as long as Mike Babcock's team keeps playing like it did in Saturday's 4-1 win over St. Louis, a lottery pick will be more of a pipe dream.
Toronto is 7-2-2 in its last 11. Maybe Babcock was worth all that money (eight years, $50 million) after all.
25-21: Colorado Avalanche-Winnipeg Jets
25. Colorado Avalanche (last week: 18)
The Avs, like San Jose, don't seem to like the home environs.
After their ugly 4-0 loss to Calgary Saturday, the Avs fell to 6-9-3 at home. It probably doesn't help matters that the Pepsi Center has been a de facto home building to teams such as Chicago and Pittsburgh, whose fans swarm the building with their jerseys and their noise any time their teams are in town.
24. Calgary Flames (last week: 22)
Bob Hartley's team got smoked at home by Los Angeles last week, one game after getting shut out by Anaheim. But the Flames stopped their losing ways with a nice win Saturday in Denver against the Avalanche.
Jiri Hudler (20 points, five goals in his first 34 games) has to be better. Whatever happened to Sam Bennett, too? In his first 36 games, he had only 14 points. Flames fans expected more than that.
Calgary's power play and penalty kill each entered Saturday ranked last in the NHL.
23. Carolina Hurricanes (last week: 24)
The 'Canes continue to win one, then lose one. Not much seems to differ for any reasonable stretch of time.
That said, they've played better hockey since a bad start and really aren't that far behind in the Eastern Conference wild-card race. Then again, neither is anybody else. Carolina's special teams both rank in the bottom third of the league. The Hurricanes have to improve if playoff hockey is to return to PNC Arena.
22. Anaheim Ducks (last week: 26)
The Ducks, as underachieving as they have been so far, are right there in the hunt for a wild-card spot and/or a top-three showing in the Pacific. They have yet to play the kind of hockey many like me prognosticated, but they're hanging around.
They still haven't gotten the offense going, though. After Saturday's 2-1 shootout loss to Vancouver, they stood at 69 goals scored for the season. That ranked last in the league. But they got a chance to play the next night, and they made the most of it with a 4-1 win over Winnipeg.
21. Winnipeg Jets (last week: 19)
The Jets got a nice win Saturday in San Jose, but they are still 5-7-0 in their last 12. It seems like this is becoming a season to forget for the Jets, who just haven't been as tough a team to play as last year.
Meanwhile, what is going to happen with potential unrestricted free-agent defenseman Dustin Byfuglien? Despite about 15,000 rumors, he still doesn't have a new deal and he hasn't been moved. Something will have to give by next month.
20-16. San Jose Sharks-Tampa Bay Lightning
20. San Jose Sharks (last week: 20)
Why are the Sharks to bad at home and so good on the road?
It's the $64,000 question in Silicon Valley in regard to the hockey team. The Sharks entered Saturday's home contest against Winnipeg with a 13-6-2 record on the road. Awesome. At home? Five wins and 11 losses after Saturday's dismal showing against Winnipeg.
The Sharks have the good fortune to be in the mediocre Pacific Division, so the playoffs are still a possibility. But they aren't going anywhere beyond Game 82 if they can't start winning on home ice.
19. Ottawa Senators (last week: 14)
The Sens entered Sunday 3-6-1 in their previous 10. Their lousy penalty kill does them no favors. At 76.3 percent, they are 29th in the league. At 46.5, they also rank 29th in Corsi for-percentage. This just doesn't bode well for the second half.
Forward Alex Chiasson, once considered a bright young light in the league, has been horrible with only five points in his first 38 games.
18. Vancouver Canucks (last week: 27)
Despite their mediocre record, the Canucks entered Saturday third in the Pacific, which would put them in the playoffs had the regular season ended then.
No, they're not a great team, but they stubbornly hang in there. They're 5-4-1 in the last 10, and Daniel Sedin is still a top-10 scorer. Brother Henrik is still among the top 30, too.
17. Arizona Coyotes (last week: 23)
Despite losing in a shootout to Edmonton on Saturday, the Coyotes have gotten a point in eight of the last 11 games. It'll be a tough go with starting goalie Mike Smith out a few more weeks, but Dave Tippett no doubt will find a way to keep his team competitive just like he has all year.
In the average Pacific, that could be good enough for a playoff berth.
16. Tampa Bay Lightning (last week: 15)
Everybody keeps waiting for these guys to wake up, and maybe Saturday's shootout win over Minnesota was a good start. But the overall numbers continue to be too mediocre. At 52 percent in Corsi-for percentage, however, their underlying analytics aren't bad.
If any team seems primed for a good run in the second half, it's the Bolt it seems. It also seems as if they'll have to do it without any help from Jonathan Drouin, who, according to a public statement from his agent, Allan Walsh, has requested a trade.
15-11: Boston Bruins-Nashville Predators
15. Boston Bruins (last week: 6)
They looked terrible in the Winter Classic, dropping a 5-1 game to Montreal at Gillette Stadium. Boston's leading goal scorer, Brad Marchand, will miss two more games with a suspension.
Still, they're in the playoff hunt and have some of their old identity back, as a hard-working, lunchpail bunch.
14. Pittsburgh Penguins (last week: 25)
Marc-Andre Fleury returned to the net after missing nearly three weeks with a concussion and played great in a 5-2 win over the Islanders. Oh, and Sidney Crosby scored two goals in the win, the team's second in a row.
So, maybe things are turning the corner finally in Pittsburgh under new coach Mike Sullivan. Then again, maybe they're just a mediocre team that will slip back again this week. It's been that kind of year so far. The Pens were probably ranked too low the last time we did these, so this is more their reasonable spot.
13. Detroit Red Wings (last week: 12)
Detroit broke a three-game losing streak with a 4-3 win in Buffalo Saturday. Petr Mrazek, who seems to have captured the top goalie spot for now, preserved the win with a breakaway save on Zach Bogosian. Mrazek has made seven straight starts.
Tomas Tatar broke an eight-game scoring slump with the winning goal late in the third.
12. New York Rangers (last week: 10)
Red flags are starting to fly everywhere. Saturday's shutout loss to Florida dropped the Rangers a little further down the standings, to the point it's getting uncomfortably close to the wild-card race. A division title looks pretty much out of reach by now.
New York is only 7-9-3 on the road and 3-7-1 overall in the last 11 games.
11. Nashville Predators (last week: 11)
The Preds pulled out an overtime win at Carolina on Saturday. Not exactly an impressive win, but Nashville needs any kind of win right now to stay in the thick of the playoff hunt. In the rough, tough Central Division, a top-three spot is looking less likely than a wild-card berth.
More offense out of forward Colin Wilson would be nice. A 20-goal scorer last year, Wilson had only three through his first 33 games.
10. New Jersey Devils
Record: 20-14-5, 45 points
Last week: 16
Hey, the Devils have won three in a row, including Saturday's overtime win over Dallas at home. Goalie Cory Schneider continues to be very good in net. He entered Saturday with a nice 2.10 goals-against average, playing 32 of the Devils' first 40 games.
John Hynes has to get some midseason consideration for the Jack Adams.
By the numbers
At an average of 22 minutes a game (second most on the team), defenseman Adam Larsson is starting to come into his own. A top-five pick in 2009, Larsson has been good with the puck in his own end. There were plenty of concerns about him his first couple years, but defensemen usually take longer to develop than forwards.
9. Montreal Canadiens
Record: 22-15-3, 47 points
Last week: 8
Brendan Gallagher's return to the lineup after an extended absence surely paid dividends for the Habs in their dominant Winter Classic win over the Bruins.
Gallagher plays the kind of gritty, two-way game that helps win hockey games. Now, if the Canadiens could just get Carey Price back. That won't happen for at least a couple weeks, though, according to the Montreal Gazette (via CBSsports.com).
By the numbers
Dale Weise will be lost for two to three weeks, according to Hockey Inside/Out's Stu Cowan, due to an upper-body injury suffered in the Winter Classic. Sven Andrighetto was called up from the St. John's IceCaps of the AHL.
Weise's loss will hurt, as he can score some (11 goals) and plays a good physical game.
8. New York Islanders
Record: 22-13-5, 47 points
Last week: 9
The Isles have been playing mostly average hockey for a little while now. Offense has been the problem. Well, until Sunday, that is. Entering Sunday's game against Dallas, John Tavares was the leading scorer, with 28 points in 35 games. He needs to step it up, as do guys such as Anders Lee (17 points in 38 games) and Josh Bailey (18 in 37).
And yet their record is good and the playoffs seem a strong likelihood. Especially after beating the Western Conference-leading Stars. They almost blew it, but the Isles came away with a 6-5 win.
By the numbers
Goaltending has been what's really gotten the Islanders into playoff terra firma. Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss have been terrific all year, with goals-against averages under 2.10. If they can just get a little more offensive support, this team could go on a strong run in the second half.
Greiss allowed five Sunday, but made a couple of huge saves at the end of regulation, including a glove stop on Patrick Sharp.
7. Minnesota Wild
Record: 20-11-7, 47 points
Last week: 7
The Wild just continue to move along, getting points more nights than not. But there still is something of a feeling like they're underachieving too much. Like the Islanders, their top forwards don't seem to have quite gotten things into gear. Zach Parise had a hat trick on opening night in Colorado, but had eight goals in his next 27 games. More from him would be nice.
Otherwise, the Wild have been good defensively. Their 87 goals allowed entering Sunday's game in Florida ranked tied for second in the West. They only allowed two goals to the Panthers, but the offense didn't do much, so they lost.
By the numbers
Mikko Koivu is enjoying a renaissance year, entering Sunday as the team scoring leader (31 points). As usual, he's been tremendous in the faceoff circle, too. He is among the league leaders at winning draws (55.6 percent).
6. St. Louis Blues
Record: 23-14-4, 50 points
Last week: 3
Not a good week for the Blues, who dropped games near the weekend to Minnesota and Toronto. Vladimir Tarasenko is scoring just fine (23 goals), but not many other Blues are. Paul Stastny continues to post ordinary numbers for a guy making $7 million a year. He's got just three goals in 24 games.
Patrik Berglund made his season debut Saturday after missing 40 games from offseason shoulder surgery. He should help the offense and overall physical game around the net.
By the numbers
With a 52.8 Corsi-for percentage, the Blues are the sixth-best puck-possession team in the league. Having the puck more than the other guys just makes for an easier game, and the Blues have been among the best at that for a few years now.
Well, until the playoffs of course.
5. Florida Panthers
Record: 23-12-4, 50 points
Last week: 13
People are starting to believe.
Florida established a franchise record with their eighth straight win Saturday, a shutout of the Rangers. Then they made it nine in a row Sunday with a 2-1 win over Minnesota. Coach Gerard Gallant was rewarded with a multiyear contract extension. It's nice to see people getting excited again about hockey in South Florida. It's been...quite a while since that happened.
And plus...Jaromir Jagr:
i don't even have a reason for this. pic.twitter.com/cswAa7AI5u— Stephanie (@myregularface) January 4, 2016
Jagr scored both goals in the win over the Wild. He will be 44 next month.
By the numbers
Goalie Roberto Luongo is turning back the clock.
Luongo's shutout of the Rangers was the 71st of his career, tying him with Lorne Chabot and Harry Lumley for 11th place in NHL history. His 418 career wins are five shy of matching Tony Esposito for seventh all time.
4. Chicago Blackhawks
Record: 23-13-4, 50 points
Last week: 4
It seems like things are settling down for the defending champs. They went on the road last week and got wins in Arizona and Colorado, scoring 11 goals. Jonathan Toews scored his fourth overtime goal of the season in the 4-3 win over the Avs.
"He's clutch, man," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville told the Chicago Sun-Times' Mark Lazerus. Indeed. Six of Toews' 13 goals, entering Sunday, were game-winners. That trailed only San Jose's Joe Pavelski (seven) for most in the league.
By the numbers
Chicago's power play is back to being a monster, at 23.8 percent entering Sunday. That was good for third in the league, behind Boston and Washington. Chicago's PP finished 19th overall in 2014-15, at 17.6 percent. Patrick Kane had 12 of Chicago's first 29 power-play goals.
3. Dallas Stars
Record: 28-9-4, 60 points
Last week: 2
Not a great New York/New Jersey road swing so far.
Dallas has earned only one of a possible four points on the trip, which concludes Tuesday against the Rangers. Sunday saw Dallas get blitzed offensively by the Islanders. Hey, it'll happen sometimes, but it's the kind of loss that will keep some from really believing the Stars are for real just yet.
As long as the Stars keep having the occasional brutal defensive game like they had on Sunday, the critics who believe they'll be a one-and-done playoff team will still be around.
By the numbers
Patrick Sharp turned 34 late last month, but he's certainly not looking washed up. His goal on Sunday extended his point streak to nine games.
He has 34 points in 41 games. Last season with Chicago, he had 43 points in 68 games.
2. Los Angeles Kings
Record: 25-11-2, 52 points
Last week: 5
The Kings take a five-game winning streak into Colorado Monday, and they pretty much are running away with the Pacific Division. Which isn't saying a lot. That doesn't take away from how good the Kings look again. Their defense and goaltending are just outstanding. Only Washington has allowed fewer goals than the Kings (78-81).
The Kings are my official midseason pick to come out of the West to play for the Cup.
By the numbers
The Kings remain the darlings of the analytics set, leading the league by a good margin in the major puck-possession numbers. At 56.1, they are a full two points better than the next-best team, Nashville, in Corsi-for percentage.
As Captain Obvious would say: "It's easier to win when you have the puck all the time."
1. Washington Capitals
Record: 28-7-2, 58 points
Last week: 1
OK, so the Caps have only earned one of a possible four points in their last two games, with losses to (gulp) Columbus and Carolina. But their record in the last 10 games is still 8-1-1. A good test of whether this is just a silly aberration will come Tuesday in Boston.
Braden Holtby continues to lead the league in victories (24) in goal, with a .932 saves percentage. He is both very big and very mobile. Not many goalies are both.
By the numbers
Special teams have probably made the biggest difference in the Caps being as good as they've been. They are in the top five on the power play and penalty kill.
One player who doesn't get enough ink is depth center Jay Beagle, who is among the league's best on faceoffs at 58.4 percent. That makes him an invaluable guy on the PK.
Beagle doesn't score much, but when he does, it definitely is usually a good-luck charm to the Caps. According to the Washington Post's Isabelle Khurshudyan, Washington has never lost in regulation when Beagle scores (21-0-5).
Advanced stats via Puckalytics.com.