NHL Power Rankings: B/R Experts' Week 17 Poll
As the All-Star break approaches, one would expect the NHL contenders and pretenders are separating themselves into neat little piles. One would be wrong.
There are certainly teams at the top and bottom of the league, clubs who are sure Stanley Cup contenders and others who should be starting to think about who they want to trade away at the deadline, but the majority of teams live in the mushy middle.
As of Sunday night, 18 teams were within six points of the playoff bubble for better or worse.
That makes the power rankings a real challenge, but fortunately I have help. While I'll be your host as we go through the happenings of the last week, the rankings that follow aren't solely based on my assessment. Instead, we've assembled the usual panel of Bleacher Report hockey writers—Adrian Dater, Steve Macfarlane, Allan Mitchell, Lyle Richardson, Carol Schram and yours truly—and had everyone submit their own lists, which we then used to calculate an average ranking for each team.
Read on to see where your team ranks.
30-26: Edmonton Oilers-Toronto Maple Leafs
30. Edmonton Oilers (last week: 27) Edmonton limped into its All-Star break having lost three consecutive games after a Monday win over the Panthers. Even worse, the team lost both Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Brandon Davidson to injury over the course of the week, further depleting a lineup that was already missing players like Connor McDavid and Oscar Klefbom. Perhaps it's a good thing the club doesn't play again until February 2.
29. Columbus Blue Jackets (last week: 29) Last week was big for the Jackets, who won consecutive games in regulation for the first time in two months. This week was less impressive, as the team's lone point came in a shootout loss to Boston. As if an 0-of-3 week wasn't enough to make head coach John Tortorella angry, he missed Saturday's game after suffering what NHL.com's Craig Merz reported were two broken ribs in a collision during practice with winger Rene Bourque.
28. Buffalo Sabres (last week: 28) A win over Arizona kicked off the week, but the Sabres then proceeded to lose their next two games, falling 2-1 to the Avs in Colorado and then being shut out 3-0 at home by the Detroit Red Wings. Goaltending made the scores seem closer than they were, as Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson stood on their heads. Lehner made 42 saves in that 3-0 loss and managed to hold Buffalo in the game until the third period, where Detroit outshot the Sabres 18-2 and pumped a pair of goals past the overworked netminder.
27. Winnipeg Jets (last week: 24) The Jets had a chance to make up some ground in the Central with home games against Colorado and Nashville this week. Instead, they dropped both games in regulation and then fell 3-1 to New Jersey just for good measure. Three straight regulation wins would have put the Jets a point up on the Predators and just a single win back of the Avalanche for the final wild-card slot. Instead they now sit seven points behind Nashville and nine points out of the playoffs.
26. Toronto Maple Leafs (last week: 30) The Leafs snapped a five-game losing streak with a win over Philadelphia on Tuesday. Unfortunately for Toronto, the club wasn't able to build off the win; instead it lost close games to Carolina and Montreal to close out the week—the former in overtime and the latter in a five-round shootout. James Reimer played all three games and stopped 98 of 103 shots faced for a 0.951 save percentage.
25-21: Calgary Flames-Carolina Hurricanes
25. Calgary Flames (last week: 25) A win over Columbus was bookended this week by losses to New Jersey and Carolina as the Flames fell six points back of Arizona in the race for the final playoff berth in the Pacific. Defenceman Mark Giordano had points in all three games and now has 18 total over his past 15 games.
24. Philadelphia Flyers (last week: 17) The Flyers had a pair of tough losses this week, falling 3-2 at the hands of the Maple Leafs and then 4-3 to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The result was instead of being three points out of a wild-card spot, the team is now seven points off the pace, though it still has some games in hand. Defenceman Shayne Gostisbehere had a goal and two assists in those losing efforts, and at age 22, he has emerged as a key piece on the back end.
23. Ottawa Senators (last week: 26) Ottawa went 50-50 on the week, beating the San Jose Sharks and New York Rangers but losing to the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders. Both of the latter matchups were four-point games, as Ottawa could plausibly find itself in an April dogfight with either of those teams for a wild-card spot. If that is to happen, the Sens will need more from winger Mark Stone, who has gone ice-cold with just one goal and one assist in his past 13 games.
22. Vancouver Canucks (last week: 23) Vancouver ended a six-game Eastern road trip with a 0.500 performance, though it trended down this week, losing two of three after winning two of three last week. Centre Bo Horvat had a point in each game and now has seven goals and 12 points over his last 10 contests.
21. Carolina Hurricanes (last week: 22) The Hurricanes won twice this week, beating Toronto and Calgary but falling to the Rangers the night after that overtime win over the Leafs. Goaltender Eddie Lack played in all three games and seems to have found his form after a tough start to the year. He has a 0.925 save percentage since Christmas.
20-16: Arizona Coyotes-Pittsburgh Penguins
20. Arizona Coyotes (last week: 12) The good news is, the Coyotes brought a halt to a four-game losing streak this week. The bad news is, they did it on Saturday, after first losing games to Buffalo and San Jose. Offensive winger Mikkel Boedker has now gone a dozen games without a goal.
19. Montreal Canadiens (last week: 16) After losing to Boston on Tuesday, the Canadiens managed to claim a shootout victory over Toronto on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday, thereby ending a five-game losing streak. They blew a 2-0 lead in that game but ended up just managing to hang on for the win.
18. Anaheim Ducks (last week: 20) Slowly, inexorably, the Ducks continue to climb their way up toward a playoff spot in the West. This week they beat the Minnesota Wild and the Red Wings in regulation. Freshly acquired winger David Perron picked up points in both games and now has three points in three contests since joining the Ducks; it's the first time in more than a year that he's managed a scoring streak of such length.
17. Nashville Predators (last week: 14) The Predators have been in free fall for weeks now, but weirdly enough our panel opted to drop them three spots just as the team experiences a modicum of success. After losing to Chicago on Tuesday, Nashville ended the week with matching 4-1 wins over visitors Winnipeg and Edmonton. The team will try to continue its success against travelers from Canada as it hosts Vancouver and Calgary this week before heading into the All-Star break.
16. Pittsburgh Penguins (last week: 21) The week started poorly for Pittsburgh, with a 5-2 loss in St. Louis, but the Penguins finished off with some success at home, topping first the Flyers and then the Canucks. Sidney Crosby had points in each of those games and now has 21 points over his last 16 contests.
15-11: Minnesota Wild-Boston Bruins
15. Minnesota Wild (last week: 8) The Wild are in the doldrums right now and are in serious jeopardy of falling out of the playoffs in the West. Week 17 saw the club lose two of three; Minnesota now has just one win and two points over its last seven games. The goaltending has been good, but offence has been hard to come by, with Jason Pominville in a particularly nasty slump. The winger has just a single assist in 15 games since Christmas.
14. San Jose Sharks (last week: 18) The Sharks picked up two regulation wins and forced overtime in their two losses this week, pushing the team to an impressive 7-0-2 record over its last nine games and thereby solidifying its hold on second in the Pacific. Joe Thornton had points in all four games and has a personal scoring streak of nine contests; he also has managed to accumulate 23 points total over his last 18 games.
13. Colorado Avalanche (last week: 19) The Avs are on a four-game winning streak after a perfect week. Patrick Roy and his charges should probably be doing all they can to make Semyon Varlamov's life easier though, as the goalie basically took the team on his back. Colorado scored just nine goals in the four wins, but Varlamov never allowed more than one goal against or had a save percentage below 0.960.
12. New Jersey Devils (last week: 15) After breaking out of a long slump with a win over Arizona last Saturday, the Devils kept right on rolling this week, dispatching Calgary, Ottawa and Winnipeg to push their winning streak to four games. Rookie forward Joseph Blandisi has five points in the run and scored his first career goal against the Senators' Craig Anderson on Thursday, missing on his first opportunity but then redirecting a point shot into the net.
11. Boston Bruins (last week: 11) Boston has been treading water for about two months now. They picked up a regulation win, a shootout win and a regulation loss this week, giving them 12 victories and 12 defeats since December 1. Many of the team's depth players have struggled of late to score. Most notable in that category is Landon Ferraro, who has gone 15 games without a point after managing seven in his first 12 contests with the Bruins.
10. Detroit Red Wings
Record: 24-16-8, 56 points
Last week: 6
The Red Wings are one of 10 teams in the East trapped between 52 and 57 points, with the playoff cut line at the moment set at 55. There's no room for error, and that makes this week disappointing, as Detroit dropped two of its three games played, though the good news was that none of those losses came at the hands of a rival bubble team.
By the numbers
Jimmy Howard got a rare start on Saturday in the second half of a back-to-back; he allowed four goals and posted a 0.886 save percentage. He's played parts of just four games since Christmas and his high water mark in that span was a 0.900 performance against L.A. in which he allowed three goals and took a loss.
Petr Mrazek, meanwhile, had a shutout win over Buffalo and allowed only two goals in a loss to St. Louis. His 0.932 save percentage on the season is tied with Chicago's Corey Crawford as the best of any goalie to play at least 25 games this season.
9. New York Islanders
Record: 25-15-6, 56 points
Last week: 10
The Islanders, like the Red Wings, are one of those teams caught in a very tight playoff race, though with 56 points and just 46 games played, New York is better positioned than most of its rivals. The Isles played just a single game on the week and put in a convincing 5-2 win over Ottawa—another of those clubs hanging from the postseason precipice.
By the numbers
Only the Anaheim Ducks have a better penalty kill percentage than the Islanders' 87.8 percent efficiency rate. New York has a nice combination of factors working for it.
Firstly, the team allows just 47 shots against per hour—one of the best figures in the game. At least as critically, it boasts a ridiculously good 0.930 save percentage in four-on-five situations—a number which testifies to both skill and luck.
With four shorthanded goals for, the Islanders are also one of the league's more aggressive offensive teams when down a man. Cal Clutterbuck leads the way there with three points.
8. New York Rangers
Last week: 9
It was, on balance, a good week for the Rangers, though it could have been better. Wins over Vancouver and Carolina helped the team to hang on to second place in the Atlantic, though the Islanders are just one point back and have two games in hand. A loss Sunday to Ottawa kept the Rangers close to the playoff bubble and helped the Senators stay within range of a wild-card slot.
By the numbers
The Rangers are often described as a bad puck-possession team, but the truth is, they aren't nearly as poor as their reputation. In terms of raw five-on-five Corsi, they rank in the bottom-third of the league, getting outshot by a 52-48 margin.
However, we should also take into account both a) score effects and b) shot-blocking talent. When we weed out blocked shots (this is why many analysts prefer to use Fenwick, which excludes them, over Corsi which does not) and take score effects into consideration, the Rangers rank 15th in a 30-team league.
That's not great, but with Henrik Lundqvist in net, an average puck-possession team is generally going to be well above average by goal differential. The problem this year has been less shot differential at five-on-five and more on the struggling special teams—both of which come in below the NHL average.
7. Tampa Bay Lightning
Record: 26-18-4, 56 points
Last week: 13
A 5-2 loss to Florida on Saturday was disappointing, particularly because a regulation victory would have narrowed the gap between the Panthers and the Lightning to just a single point as both clubs jockey for first in the Atlantic. Instead, Tampa Bay lost in regulation and fell five points back.
Still, it's mostly been good news for a while now. That loss ended a seven-game winning streak that had propelled the Bolts into position to challenge for the division lead in the first place.
By the numbers
Vladislav Namestnikov is a good reminder of the value of patience and waiting a full five years before writing off a draft pick. Namestnikov, a first-rounder in 2011, has put up 25 points in 48 games for Tampa Bay and been one of the club's most pleasant surprises in what—in many ways—has been a difficult campaign. He put up a hat-trick on January 15 and now has 10 points in his last eight games.
6. Florida Panthers
Record: 28-15-5, 61 points
Last week: 5
Florida's incredible winning streak came to an end last week, and the team followed it up with four straight losses. That run, which continued with a defeat in Edmonton Monday, came to its own end late this week, when the Panthers put up back-to-back wins over Chicago and Tampa Bay. The latter was particularly important, since it created a five-point gap between the Panthers and the Lightning for first place in the Atlantic.
By the numbers
There's an interesting dichotomy between the Panthers' even-strength results and power-play results. The power play has been brutal—the second-worst in the league ahead of only Calgary. However, at five-on-five Florida has a 8.4 shooting percentage—the league's third-best.
It's probably worth comparing that five-on-five shooting percentage with previous years:
- 2012-13: 5.8 percent, 30th in the NHL
- 2013-14: 7.2 percent, 25th in the NHL
- 2014-15: 7.3 percent, 22nd in the NHL
- 2015-16: 8.4 percent, 3rd in the NHL
Florida tends to play a defensive style of hockey, and with due respect to its improving cast of young stars, I'm not convinced this is a team loaded with high-end finishers. There's a very real chance the shooting percentage will cool the rest of the way, and Florida's results will suffer. A drop to last year's level, for example, would have resulted in the team scoring 11 fewer goals.
5. Dallas Stars
Record: 30-14-5, 65 points
Last week: 3
It's been a lousy month for the Dallas Stars. They lost two of three games this week and are now just 2-6-2 in the month of January. The team has enough of a lead built up that it won't be in danger for some time yet—the Stars are 10 points clear of current wild-card team Colorado—but doubtless the coaching staff is looking forward to refocusing the club during the All-Star break.
By the numbers
With both Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin having tough months, second line centre Jason Spezza has taken on a more significant offensive role for the Stars, putting up 13 points over his last dozen games for Dallas. His 38 points on the year rank him No. 28 overall in the NHL, which means he's scoring at the pace of a lower- end No. 1 forward. It's awfully nice to be able to rely upon a first-line-caliber centre as a backup option just in case the superstar duo anchoring the top line goes cold.
4. St. Louis Blues
Record: 28-16-8, 64 points
Last week: 7
A Sunday loss to the Blackhawks was a disappointment, because the truth is, the Blues are going to be judged on their playoff performance, and in all likelihood the road out of the Central is going to run through Chicago. St. Louis is one of three very good teams in the Central, along with the 'Hawks and Stars, but unless Dallas' slup continues down the stretch, the team seems likely to start the postseason on the road in the No. 3 slot.
By the numbers
St. Louis has a perfectly mediocre plus-one goal differential but a great record. How come they keep winning hockey games when they barely score more goals than their opponents? The answer lies in the team's record in one-goal games versus its record in games decided by more than a single goal:
- One-goal games: 16-2-8, 0.615 win percentage
- Multi-goal games: 12-14-0, 0.462 win percentage
There are two ways to interpret those numbers. Some would tend to ascribe winning close games to having a high level of "clutch" performance. History shows, however, that winning one-goal games isn't repeatable for most teams; rather, winning or losing a lot of one-goal games is often a sign of teams getting or failing to get the bounces. Los Angeles famously was underrated entering the 2012 playoffs because they lost a lot of one-goal games; that club's luck shifted dramatically in the postseason.
3. Los Angeles Kings
Record: 30-15-3, 63 points
Last week: 4
The Los Angeles Kings won two games and lost two games this week, and that was enough to maintain a nine-point lead on San Jose (the Sharks fell in overtime to L.A. on Sunday) for supremacy in the Pacific. Los Angeles is running away with the division, so the focus down the stretch can safely be turned to gearing up for the playoffs.
By the numbers
Fancy stats proponents tend to love the Kings because they're so reliably dominant on the shot clock. That hasn't changed at all this year. The Kings have the best score-adjusted Fenwick in the entire league, a trait which has been a hallmark of the team pretty much since the moment Darryl Sutter took over behind the bench. Since 2011-12, the Kings' score-adjusted Fenwick is 55.1 percent, the best total in the league; this year the club sits at 55.6 percent. That's consistency.
2. Chicago Blackhawks
Record: 33-15-4, 70 points
Last week: 1
With the end of Chicago's 12-game winning streak, our panel has once again bumped the team to second place in deference to Washington. The streak ended on Thursday with a loss to Tampa Bay—a loss that was quickly followed up Friday by another to Florida. The Blackhawks did bounce back on Sunday, defeating the Blues and maintaining their stranglehold on first in the West.
By the numbers
Corey Crawford is gunning hard for his first career Vezina Trophy, though he of course faces stiff competition, and he has previously never finished higher than sixth overall in voting. He's tied for the league lead in games played and games started (41 of each), leads the league in saves (1,157) and at 0.932 has the best save percentage of any goalie with more than 25 games played (tied with Petr Mrazek).
1. Washington Capitals
Record: 35-8-3, 73 points
Last week: 2
The Washington Capitals have a three-point lead on Chicago for the Presidents' Trophy and also enjoy the advantage of having four games in hand. They're in a good position to finish first overall in the league when all is said and done. The East is basically a given at this point, as Washington sits 12 points ahead of the second-place Florida Panthers.
By the numbers
Washington's power play is clicking at 27.1 percent—the league's best number. The club has also surrendered only two shorthanded goals against this season—one of the NHL's better marks. The top unit, built around Alex Ovechkin's shot, has been lethal, but the Capitals also have a sneakily effective second unit.
To illustrate, Washington has nine skaters with at least seven power-play points this year. Each first-unit power play around the NHL consists of five players, meaning there are 150 first-unit quality skaters in the league (five players multiplied by 30 teams). A player with seven power-play points is currently tied for 133rd in NHL scoring, meaning Washington has nine skaters scoring at a first-unit power-play level.