NHL Power Rankings: B/R Experts' Week 15 Poll
It was a busy and turbulent week in hockey.
One of the few constants this season has been the brilliant Washington Capitals, but they are facing some unique challenges for the top spot. The defending champion Chicago Blackhawks have won seven straight games, while the Florida Panthers pushed their winning streak to 12 games after topping the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday. Which will claim the top spot in these rankings?
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 opinion. Instead, we've assembled the usual panel of B/R hockey writers—Adrian Dater, Steve Macfarlane, Allan Mitchell, Lyle Richardson, Carol Schram and yours truly—and had everyone submit their own lists. The rankings that follow are based on the group average.
Read on to see where your team ranks and what happened in hockey this week.
30-26: Columbus Blue Jackets-Winnipeg Jets
30. Columbus Blue Jackets (last week: 30)
After a 4-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild to start the week, the Jackets pulled the trigger on a massive trade, bringing in defenceman Seth Jones for centre Ryan Johansen. Jones topped 22 minutes per game in the club's final two games of the week but wasn't able to turn the tide, as Columbus dropped both of those contests as well.
29. Buffalo Sabres (last week: 29)
The Buffalo Sabres snapped a six-game losing streak on Sunday, with Linus Ullmark making 42 saves in a 4-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets, a team that badly needed the win. The Sabres also benefited from the first hat-trick of Sam Reinhart's young career. That win kept a two-point gap between the Sabres and Blue Jackets, slowing Buffalo's seemingly inexorable slide into dead last.
28. Edmonton Oilers (last week: 28)
An overtime win over the Carolina Hurricanes got Edmonton's week off to a decent start, but one-goal losses to the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida meant it ended in disappointment. For much of the year, the Oilers have been relying heavily on their top line, which is in a bit of a slump at the moment. Taylor Hall has just one goal in his last 10 games and a single point in his last five.
27. Toronto Maple Leafs (last week: 26)
The Toronto Maple Leafs' new year started nicely, with a 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues last Saturday and a 4-0 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday. The offence went away in a 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings the next night, and the defence imploded in spectacular fashion on Saturday when the San Jose Sharks lit up Toronto in a 7-0 shutout victory. Six different Sharks picked up a goal in that one, and only defenceman Morgan Rielly and forward Shawn Matthias managed to avoid being on the ice for a goal against.
26. Winnipeg Jets (last week: 21)
The Jets have been sliding for a long time now, and that prolonged slump continued this week as the club dropped two of three games, including a loss on Sunday to the Sabres. A regulation win over the Nashville Predators was the team's one piece of good news on the week; not only did it spread the misery, but the Predators are one of the teams a resurgent Winnipeg could steal a playoff spot from. Of course, that first requires a resurgent Winnipeg.
25-21: Calgary Flames-Anaheim Ducks
25. Calgary Flames (last week: 24)
The Calgary Flames played only two games this past week, beating the Lightning on Tuesday and then losing to the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday. Both were 2-1 affairs with the goalie in net—Calgary added an empty-netter in its win. Defenceman Mark Giordano recorded three assists over the two games, pushing his personal point scoring streak to four contests; he now has 12 points in his last nine outings.
24. Vancouver Canucks (last week: 18)
The Vancouver Canucks have been alternating wins and losses since Christmas, and after closing out last week with a shootout win over the Ducks, it was time for the losses. The Canucks played three 3-2 games, losing to Arizona and Tampa Bay but beating Carolina. The interesting thing is who was doing the scoring. The Sedin twins each have only a single point in their last five games, but Sven Baertschi put up three points on the week and now has seven points in seven games after a 13-game run without a point.
23. San Jose Sharks (last week: 20)
San Jose had scored all of two goals in a pair of losses to start January, but for whatever reason on Saturday the floodgates opened. The Sharks pumped seven goals past an overwhelmed Jonathan Bernier, with six different players picking up a goal and a dozen managing at least a point. Predictably Brent Burns, who had points on both of the Sharks' January goals, added another two points; he now has 14 in his last nine games. The bad news is that seven goals or not, the win was only worth two points.
22. Carolina Hurricanes (last week: 23)
The Hurricanes are on a nice little run, though it's a run most recently fueled by back-to-back wins over Columbus on Friday and Saturday. Those victories pushed Carolina to a very respectable 5-2-2 over its last nine games, and even the regulation losses were one-goal defeats. Head coach Bill Peters sent out Cam Ward for both games, and while his save percentage cratered in the second—falling from 0.972 to 0.875—he's still generally been good of late.
21. Anaheim Ducks (last week: 22)
The Ducks are a respectable 16-10-5 since November 1 after starting the season like a dumpster on fire, but this week was a setback to a team that still has legitimate playoff aspirations. A shootout win over the St. Louis Blues was flanked by losses to Toronto and the Detroit Red Wings. The team's forwards are struggling to put points on the board.
20-16: New Jersey Devils-Pittsburgh Penguins
20. New Jersey Devils (last week: 10)
Sunday was a big night offensively for the New Jersey Devils; they scored two goals, with defenceman Jon Merrill's first of the season standing up as the winner over Minnesota. It was the only time in four games this week that New Jersey's offence would manage to come together for a number bigger than one; not coincidentally, it was also the only time in four games the Devils came away with a win.
19. Nashville Predators (last week: 11)
Nashville went 0-3 last week, and the damage caused by the run was intensified because the first two games were against Winnipeg and the Colorado Avalanche. Regulation losses in both games allowed the Jets to climb closer to a playoff spot and the Avs to displace the Predators in the final wild-card slot out west. The good news for the Preds is new centre Ryan Johansen was productive immediately, picking up a goal and an assist in his first game.
18. Philadelphia Flyers (last week: 27)
The Philadelphia Flyers had a good week. Coming off three straight losses, Philadelphia rattled off wins over the Montreal Canadiens, Wild and New York Islanders. Sean Couturier scored a goal in each of those wins and had five points in all over the three-game span; he's now up to 12 points in his past 10 contests.
17. Ottawa Senators (last week: 19)
The Ottawa Senators played five games in the span of eight days, including two sets of back-to-backs. Our week started on Monday with the second game in those back-to-backs, which ended up being a 3-2 overtime victory. A loss to Florida was followed by an overtime win against the Boston Bruins, which in turn was followed immediately by Sunday's humiliating 7-1 loss at the hands of Washington.
16. Pittsburgh Penguins (last week: 14)
The Pittsburgh Penguins were on a modest little run of success but that came off the tracks this week when they had to face the Blackhawks in a back-to-back set, losing both contests. A win on Saturday over Montreal kept the week from being a total waste. Kris Letang has been on fire of late and managed three points on the week and an extremely impressive seven shots in the first game against Chicago.
15-11: Colorado Avalanche-Arizona Coyotes
15. Colorado Avalanche (last week: 25)
Patrick Roy's Avs enjoyed quite a month in December, and the early indications are the new year has not dampened the team's ardour. The Avalanche ended a five-game run in Denver this week, and puts wins up against L.A., St. Louis and Nashville. A trip to Chicago was less successful, ending in a 6-3 loss on Sunday. Tyson Barrie had a six-point week, being held off the scoreboard by the Blackhawks but scoring twice and adding two assists against the Kings and picking up a point in his other two games.
14. Tampa Bay Lightning (last week: 16)
After a brutal start to the season, Tampa Bay is showing signs of life in the new year. Even as the fates of Steven Stamkos and Jonathan Drouin overshadow the club's on-ice play, the Lightning have won three of the four games they've played in January, including two of three last week. Nikita Kucherov put up seven shots and three points in the two wins and now has 20 points in his last 16 games after managing just 13 points in his first 26 contests.
13. Boston Bruins (last week: 15)
It wasn't a great week in Boston, but the misfortunes of other teams seem to have resulted in a rise of two positions in these rankings. The Bruins went 1-1-1, losing a pair of one-goal games (one in overtime) and beating the Devils 4-1. Ryan Spooner had two points in the latter victory, extending his personal scoring streak to four games and six points, though that streak ended the next night in Ottawa.
12. Montreal Canadiens (last week: 9)
Montreal's big Winter Classic win over the Bruins on January 1 appears not to have rallied the team. The Habs dropped two of three this week. The good news is Mike Condon personally seems to have come around; he's now posted at least a 0.920 save percentages in four consecutive contests.
11. Arizona Coyotes (last week: 17)
As it turns out, there just might be a second credible team in the Pacific. The Coyotes went a perfect 3-0 on the week and are now 8-2-3 over the last 30 days. That bumps them up to 46 points, good enough for second in their division and even good enough to be in the heart of the playoff race in the much tougher Central. The biggest reason is the club is suddenly getting goaltending; third-stringer Louis Domingue is 6-2-2 with a 0.936 save percentage.
10. New York Islanders
Record: 22-15-5, 49 points
Last week: 8
The Islanders, New York Rangers and Devils are all on the playoff bubble in a very competitive East. Right now, the Isles are in decent shape, tied for second in the Metropolitan; finishing there would allow the team both home ice and a chance to duck a first-round match against Washington. However, New York also has five teams behind it by four points or less, so losing two out of three as it did this week is a very bad idea.
By the numbers
Statistically, the most impressive thing about the Islanders at five-on-five is save percentage. The club hasn't had a ton of luck finishing this year and is a touch below average in terms of possession numbers, but incumbent starter Jaroslav Halak (10-8-3, 0.920 save percentage) and challenger Thomas Greiss (12-6-2, 0.928 save percentage) have kept the club alive.
9. New York Rangers
Record: 22-14-5, 49 points
Last week: 12
The Rangers are now on the playoff bubble, although the club's 1-0-1 record this week was somewhat helpful. The team's season divides neatly in half. Through its first 21 games, the Rangers were 16-3-2, with some disappointing possession numbers but high shooting and save percentages. In its last 20, New York is 6-11-3, with the same disappointing possession numbers but without all the percentage help.
By the numbers
Of the 204 NHL defencemen to play at least 200 minutes of five-on-five hockey this season, 199 have a better on-ice Fenwick rating than Dan Girardi's miserable 42.3 percent number. He's been a millstone on whichever defence pairing to which he has been assigned this season, and given his $5.5 million per year contract doesn't expire until 2020, New York has a real problem on its hands.
8. Minnesota Wild
Record: 22-12-8, 52 points
Last week: 7
Although Minnesota inhabits a wild-card spot, the team is in reasonable shape. With 52 points, the Wild are seven clear of Nashville and Colorado, both divisional rivals vying for the other wild-card spot in the West. A 2-1-1 week didn't hurt that standing.
By the numbers
The Wild have been building their wins off even-strength goal differential, but improved special teams should be a priority. Both the power play (17.9 percent) and the penalty kill (79.2 percent) are in the bottom third of the league in terms of efficiency. The good news is Minnesota has scored 75 goals and allowed just 59 at five-on-five.
7. St. Louis Blues
Record: 24-14-7, 55 points
Last week: 6
The Blues haven't had a regulation win since before Christmas. The club is 3-3-3 over its last nine games, and while its still picking up points most nights, this is a trend that should be disturbing to the team's managers and coaches. At the moment, St. Louis is hanging on to the third playoff seed in the Central, but if trends continue, the Stars and Blackhawks are going to run away with the division and the Blues could fall into a wild-card spot.
By the numbers
Paul Stastny was injured in the Blues' shootout loss to Anaheim on Friday, but the loss is mitigated somewhat by the fact he simply wasn't producing as expected before he got hurt. Stastny scored the game-winner in a December 15 contest against Winnipeg; he hasn't scored in the 12 games he's played since (eight assists) and hadn't scored in the eight games prior (just two assists). That's a long run of ineffective play, especially for a guy who routinely plays more than 20 minutes per game.
6. Detroit Red Wings
Record: 22-13-7, 51 points
Last week: 13
The Red Wings are in decent shape, but their season could easily go in any number of directions. The Florida Panthers are insanely hot, having won 12 straight games, but they are only five points ahead of the Red Wings and aren't going to win out. On the other hand, Detroit is also only five points ahead of a bunch of teams outside the playoffs. The team is making strides in the right direction, though, having won four in a row.
By the numbers
There used to be a goaltending battle in Detroit, but at the half, there doesn't seem to be much of one. Petr Mrazek is now 15-8-3 with a 0.930 save percentage and Jimmy Howard hasn't played a full 60 minutes since December 18. The good news for Howard is he'll get in net soon; Mrazek was excellent on Sunday, but with another game immediately on Monday, CBS Sports reports head coach Jeff Blashill will turn to his other 'tender.
5. Florida Panthers
Last week: 5
Win 12 games in a row and good things happen. A dozen games ago, the Panthers were stuck at 14-12-4, two games under 0.500 and looking at a brutal dogfight to make the playoffs. Today, they lead the Atlantic and sit second overall in the East. Even with inevitable cooling, the 10-point lead they've put between themselves and the teams outside the postseason should keep them safe.
By the numbers
The Panthers have been a wretched finishing team forever; over the last three seasons, their five-on-five shooting percentage has never been higher than 7.3 percent. This year, it's 8.3 percent. Roberto Luongo's arrival in March 2014 heralded a new day in goaltending, but even by those standards, the team's 0.943 save percentage at five-on-five is ridiculous. The percentages couldn't possibly scream "soap bubble" any louder than they are.
4. Dallas Stars
Record: 29-11-4, 62 points
Last week: 3
The Dallas Stars were so dominant early it's going to be hard for the team to get into too much trouble. The Stars still own significant leads over the Blackhawks and Blues, but a recent slump has allowed both of those teams to close the gap somewhat. The Stars have lost four of five games so far in January, and the lone win was a decision over Winnipeg that required the shootout to settle.
By the numbers
Part of the reason for the Stars' recent slide is that Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin are both in mini-slumps. Benn has one goal, no assists and a minus-six rating in January; Seguin has a goal, no assists and is minus-five since the turn of the year.
The player leading the offence these days? Patrick Sharp. The ex-Blackhawks wing has points in 12 straight contests (15 in all) and is closing in on a point-per-game scoring level.
3. Los Angeles Kings
Record: 26-12-3, 55 points
Last week: 2
Even after a mediocre 1-1-1 week, and even with Arizona suddenly playing strong hockey, the Kings are in unquestioned control of the Pacific. L.A. is 10 points up on the Coyotes, and its plus-18 goal differential is miles past anyone else in a division. The back half of the season is all about preparing for the playoffs. A game against St. Louis on Saturday (a 2-1 shootout loss) was a good test, which is what the games against Dallas and Chicago will also be down the stretch.
By the numbers
The Kings rank first in the NHL once again in terms of both even-strength Corsi and Fenwick, dominating the shot clock like no other team. It's been the key ingredient in their success of the last few years, and its working in their favour once again. Of the league's top teams, L.A. is one of the few not getting a break on the percentages; with a PDO of 100, they are exactly league average.
2. Chicago Blackhawks
Last week: 4
A seven-game winning streak, combined with a run of mediocre play from the Stars, has propelled the Blackhawks into competition for the Central Division title. Chicago is now just four points back of Dallas. This run has also given the club some clearance on the rest of its extremely good division, opening up a three-point gap on the Blues and a six-point gap on the Wild, with no other team in the division being within even 12 points.
By the numbers
General manager Stan Bowman needs to find some more defencemen. The top four of Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook and Trevor van Riemsdyk are playing a ridiculous number of minutes, and head coach Joel Quenneville seems to trust nobody else. Michal Rozsival is averaging less than 15 minutes per game, rookie call-up Erik Gustafsson is at about the same number and trade acquisition Rob Scuderi is barely used if and when he plays at all.
Keith has topped the 27-minute mark in three of his last six games, and there's still a half-season and the entire playoffs to go.
1. Washington Capitals
Record: 32-7-3, 67 points
Last week: 1
The Capitals probably don't even worry about the Metropolitan Division standings these days given the 18-point lead they have on both the Rangers and Islanders. Dallas' slip has left them with a five-point lead on the Stars for first in the league too. But still, they've won four in a row because that's what they do.
By the numbers
Alex Ovechkin scored his 500th and 501st goals on Sunday against Ottawa, just one night after he potted his 498th and 499th against the Rangers. That puts him 42nd all time, and if he keeps scoring at the pace he has this season, he could move up another 10 spots before the season ends. Sportsnet reported he's the fifth-fastest player to reach the plateau, and he didn't have the luxury of playing in the 1980s.