NHL Power Rankings: B/R Experts' Week 24 Poll

Jonathan Willis@jonathanwillisNHL National ColumnistMarch 14, 2016

NHL Power Rankings: B/R Experts' Week 24 Poll

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    The closer the NHL regular season gets to its end, the more exciting the races are.

    Three different NHL divisions have three teams within three points of first place; we may not know how the Central, Pacific and Atlantic Divisions stand until the final day of the season. Then there's the playoff cut line itself, featuring a vicious fight for one spot between the Colorado Avalanche and the Minnesota Wild in the West and a competitive contest in the East with a resurgent Philadelphia Flyers team looking to unseat the Detroit Red Wings or Pittsburgh Penguins.

    In short, between now and the end of the season, a lot is going to happen.

    I'll be your host as we go through the happenings of the past week and rate the performances of the league's 30 clubs. The rankings that follow aren't solely based on my assessment. Instead, we've assembled the usual panel of Bleacher Report hockey writers—Adrian DaterAllan MitchellLyle RichardsonCarol Schram and yours truly—and had them 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: Toronto Maple Leafs-Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Mike Munden/Associated Press

    30. Toronto Maple Leafs (last week: 30)

    A 1-0 win over Detroit kept the Toronto Maple Leafs at 0.500 on the week, with the team winning and losing one contest each in regulation and the shootout. The game against the Red Wings on Sunday was goaltender Jonathan Bernier's fourth win of 2016; he has yet to win a game this calendar year in which he allows more than one goal. Michael Grabner scored the only goal of the contest—his first marker since Jan. 2.

    29. Calgary Flames (last week: 29)

    The Calgary Flames dropped two of three on the week; the team is 3-10-2 over its last 15 games. The good (or not-so-good, for those fans focused on draft position) news is in its last four games, the Flames are 2-0-2, which is a step up from their recent record. 

    Plus/minus offers some insight into what its like to play for a team struggling so badly. Hockey-Reference.com shows Calgary has had 10 skaters participate in each of its last 10 games; of that list, only Mikael Backlund (even) has been on the ice for as many goals for as against.

    28. Winnipeg Jets (last week: 27)

    The Winnipeg Jets picked up a win on Saturday, playing the spoiler to a Colorado team that has playoff hopes, but mostly the news on the ice has not been good of late. Over the last calendar month, the Jets are just 3-9-1. Along with Calgary and the Edmonton Oilers, they are tied for last place in the West.

    One positive has been the play of Mark Scheifele, who has stepped into the void created by Bryan Little's injury. He has 18 points in the 12 games since Little got hurt. 

    27. Buffalo Sabres (last week: 26)

    The Buffalo Sabres still lose more games than they win, but the club hasn't had a losing streak longer than two games in a full month. This week, wins in extra time on Monday and Saturday bookended losses to the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens. Rookie Jack Eichel put up three goals in those wins and has six in his last six games.

    26. Columbus Blue Jackets (last week: 24)

    The Columbus Blue Jackets fall two spots after losing three of their last four games. It was a disappointing follow-up to a 10-3-3 run the Jackets had managed to put together immediately prior. Some more offence from Nick Foligno would help; he has zero power-play goals after putting up 11 last year and has failed to score in 20 of his last 21 games (though he hit a hat-trick seven games ago). 

25-21: Edmonton Oilers-Montreal Canadiens

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    25. Edmonton Oilers (last week: 28) 

    After a long losing streak, the Oilers' record has improved dramatically, with the club winning five of its last eight games. It's fair to ask how much of that is due to a stronger performance at a team level, though, and how much of the credit should go to goalie Cam Talbot. Talbot was in net for all five wins, posting save percentages of .973, .969, 1.000, .975 and .967. He's won just two games all year in which he surrendered more than two goals.

    24. Vancouver Canucks (last week: 25)

    The Vancouver Canucks have won two straight and three of four, wins that have to be encouraging to the team's coaches and players but that are also pushing it up the standings at a time when the playoffs are already out of reach and a worse finish could secure a better draft pick in the summer. 

    Rookie defenceman Ben Hutton had assists in each of Vancouver's wins, putting up four points in all; he has seven in his last eight contests and is regularly playing more than 20 minutes per game.

    23. Arizona Coyotes (last week: 23)

    The Arizona Coyotes started the week with losses to Colorado and Vancouver but finished strongly, dispatching the Flames 4-1 on Friday and improving the score to 4-0 in Edmonton the following night. Louis Domingue has played better of late after a lengthy slump, while Antoine Vermette picked up five points in those last two games and has nine in his last five contests.

    22. Ottawa Senators (last week: 20)

    The Ottawa Senators snapped a three-game losing streak with a 4-0 win over Toronto on Saturday, but with seven points separating the Sens from the final wild-card spot in the East, that victory was certainly too little, too late. Defenceman Dion Phaneuf is pointless in six games after picking up seven points in his first 10 games with the team.

    21. Montreal Canadiens (last week: 22)

    Goaltender Mike Condon is playing well, and centre Alex Galchenyuk might be the hottest player in the NHL, having scored 11 times in his last nine games. Galchenyuk has matched his career-high of 46 points, and with 25 goals he has eclipsed his previous best total (20). The team won two of three games on the week.

20-16: New Jersey Devils-Philadelphia Flyers

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    20. New Jersey Devils (last week: 21)

    The New Jersey Devils only played two games but enjoyed a perfect week, beating the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings in their own buildings and allowing only one goal in the two contests combined. Goalie Keith Kinkaid, who has been pressed into service as starter thanks to an injury to Cory Schneider, turned aside 52 of the 53 shots he faced.

    19. Colorado Avalanche (last week: 18)

    Colorado is locked in a battle with Minnesota for the final wild-card spot in the West with both teams knotted at 74 points. A seven-point gap on either side guarantees that one club will make the playoffs and the other won't. On the whole, it was a good week for the Avs, who won two of three games. But a loss to a beatable Jets team on Saturday was a tough blow, particularly following a 3-0 shutout of the red-hot Anaheim Ducks.

    18. Carolina Hurricanes (last week: 19)

    March hasn't been bad to the Carolina Hurricanes, who have gone 3-0-2 on the month, even while playing four of those five games on the road. Jeff Skinner had points in every game and has eight in his last six outings.

    17. Minnesota Wild (last week: 13)

    The Wild went 1-1 on the week, beating the Canadiens in Montreal but losing a winnable game to Edmonton a few days earlier. We discussed their unique playoff predicament in the Colorado portion; suffice to say that every point lost the rest of the way will be regretted. Thomas Vanek, who is goalless in eight, could do more.

    16. Philadelphia Flyers (last week: 16)

    It would seem Philadelphia's playoff hopes are not yet dead. The Flyers went 2-0-1 on the week and are 6-1-1 over their last eight games. That has the club knocking on the door in the East. Philly is three points back of Detroit for the final wild-card slot, but with two games in hand, that gap is not insurmountable. Brayden Schenn has been critical to the club's resurgence; he has 17 points in his last 15 games and is just a single point away from matching his career high of 47 in a season.

15-11: Detroit Red Wings-New York Islanders

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    Kathy Kmonicek/Associated Press

    15. Detroit Red Wings (last week: 15)

    It's been a busy few days for the Red Wings, who have played five games in eight days. The club went 2-3-0, slipping behind Pittsburgh in the East and falling into the last wild-card spot. With the Flyers hot on their heels, Tuesday's game in Philadelphia should be must-watch hockey. Henrik Zetterberg is ice-cold; he has just two assists in his last 11 games.

    14. Pittsburgh Penguins (last week: 17)

    Pittsburgh is on a roll. The club has won three of its last four games, including Sunday's matinee against the New York Rangers, and the Penguins are 9-5-1 over their last 15 contests. Still, the news hasn't all been good. The team announced over the weekend that Evgeni Malkin—who has 19 points in his last 15 games—is set to miss six to eight weeks with an upper-body injury.

    13. San Jose Sharks (last week: 14) 

    The Sharks don't get as much attention as Pacific rivals Anaheim and Los Angeles, but they are very much in the race for the division title. The first-place Kings only have a three-point lead, and San Jose is doing its best to close the gap, going 3-1-0 on the week and 6-2-0 over its last eight games. Martin Jones is in fine form, and James Reimer posted a shutout in his second start with the team, Tuesday's 3-0 win over the Oilers.

    12. Nashville Predators (last week: 10)

    The Nashville Predators lost two of three games in Week 24, but thanks to the NHL's method of awarding points, they went a respectable 1-1-1 and are 9-1-5 over their last 15 contests. They win more games than they lose, and more often than not of late, when they lose they still get points.

    11. New York Islanders (last week: 11)

    Like the Preds, the New York Islanders lost two of three and still came away with three points and a 1-1-1 stat line. With an 11-3-2 record over their last 16 games, the Islanders are in pretty good shape. Although three points back of the Rangers for second place in the Met, they also have three games in hand.  

10. New York Rangers

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Record: 39-23-7, 85 points

    Last week: 7

    Big Picture

    After losing three of four games, including a key match to the Islanders on March 6, New York's exact playoff position is in some doubt. The Rangers hold second place in the Metropolitan Division, but their three-point lead over their cross-town rivals looks less secure when one remembers the Isles have 16 games left on their schedule to the Rangers' 13.

    By the Numbers

    Henrik Lundqvist is up to a .923 save percentage on the season. He's been incredibly reliable for the Rangers over his career; this will be the seventh consecutive season in which he has posted a .920-or-better save percentage. He only has one Vezina win, but Hockey-Reference.com shows he has never finished lower than sixth in voting for the award in any given year of his career.

9. Florida Panthers

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Record: 38-21-9, 85 points

    Last week: 12

    Big Picture

    The Florida Panthers are in a tight three-way race with the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning for first in the Atlantic; those three clubs could plausibly finish in any order in the top three spots in the division. Florida helped itself in that battle this week, ending a three-game losing streak with a 6-2 win over the Sens on Thursday and following that up with a shootout victory in Philadelphia Saturday.

    By the Numbers

    The Panthers have had rather different performances against the two clubs they're competing with for placement in the Atlantic. In three games against the Bruins this season, Boston won three times and ran up an 11-6 edge in goal differential. In four games against Tampa Bay, however, Florida went 3-1 with the goal differential being 12-9 in its favour.

8. Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Record: 40-24-5, 85 points

    Last week: 4

    Big Picture

    The Lightning are in the mix with Boston and Florida for the Atlantic crown but did themselves no favours this week. On Tuesday they fell in overtime to the Bruins, a decision that represents the entirety of Boston's lead on the Bolts. They Lightning also dropped two games to the Flyers, allowing Philadelphia to claw its way back into the playoff race. A 4-0 win over Columbus on Sunday was a necessary step out of the funk but was also probably the least important contest the team played this week.

    By the Numbers

    Despite a poor week, the Lightning have been winning a lot lately, and much of the credit belongs to the men in the crease. Over the team's last 10 games, starter Ben Bishop is 5-1-1 with a .945 save percentage while backup Andrei Vasilevskiy is 2-1-0 with a .950 save percentage.

7. Anaheim Ducks

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Record: 37-21-9, 83 points

    Last week: 2

    Big Picture

    Anaheim could have taken firm control of the Pacific division this week but sits lodged in second place in a tight three-way race featuring L.A. and San Jose. Consecutive losses to the Washington Capitals, Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues (the last two in regulation) brought an 11-game winning streak to a sudden stop.

    By the Numbers

    Jamie McGinn has played six games for the Ducks since coming over at the trade deadline, mostly on a line with Rickard Rakell and Corey Perry. He has three points over that span and a pretty reasonable 56.1 percent Corsi rating, per Hockey-Reference.com, but he's also been used in offensive situations. Anaheim has been outscored when he's on the ice.

6. Dallas Stars

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    Record: 41-20-9, 91 points

    Last week: 5

    Big Picture

    The Dallas Stars are hanging onto first place in the Central thanks to tiebreakers—otherwise its record is completely indistinguishable from St. Louis'. The Chicago Blackhawks can't be counted out yet, either, as they are three points back and have a game in hand. A regulation win over the Hawks on Friday helped with that, but an overtime loss in St. Louis the next night was a boon to the Blues. 

    By the Numbers

    Jason Spezza has scored in six consecutive games, tallying seven goals in all and 10 in his last 10 contests. He's up to 28 goals on the season, which is his best total since 2011-12. The 34 goals he scored that season represent a career high, which might be a bit of a stretch but certainly isn't outside the realms of possibility.

5. Chicago Blackhawks

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Record: 41-22-6, 88 points

    Last week: 3

    Big Picture

    The Blackhawks sit No. 3 in the Central Division, three points back of both Dallas and St. Louis while having played one game less than either of those teams. It was a tough week in Chicago, though, as the Hawks played two games, losing in the shootout to the Blues and then in regulation to the Stars.

    By the Numbers

    Chicago has better depth on the blue line than it did in the playoffs a year ago, with Trevor van Riemsdyk and Michal Rozsival healthy and the addition of Christian Ehrhoff at the trade deadline. One player to keep an eye on is Erik Gustafsson, a rookie defenceman with legitimate offensive talent. Gustafsson has four assists in his last seven games and a 51.9 percent Fenwick rating on the season, per Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com.

4. Boston Bruins

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    Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    Record: 39-23-8, 86 points

    Last week: 10

    Big Picture

    With a strong 3-0-1 performance this week, the Bruins moved to 7-1-2 over their last 10 games. More significantly, the club kept pace with rivals Florida and Tampa Bay. Boston is just a single point up on both teams in the race to win the Atlantic Division.

    By the Numbers

    Patrice Bergeron's six-game point-scoring streak came to an end in Boston's 3-1 win over the Isles on Saturday. He had eight points on the run and sits at 61 points in 68 games on the season. If he scores four points between now and the end of the year, it will be his best offensive campaign since 2006-07 (70).

3. Los Angeles Kings

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    Record: 40-22-5, 85 points

    Last week: 8

    Big Picture

    Not that long ago, Los Angeles was running away with the Pacific Division. No longer. The Ducks are just two points back of the Kings, and the Sharks are only a single point behind them. L.A. has been reasonably good at laying its claim to that spot of late, going 7-2-1 over its last 10 games. Unfortunately for the Kings, both regulation losses were suffered against Anaheim. 

    By the Numbers

    Here's something counterintuitive: Since the acquisition of Rob Scuderi in February, the Kings have partnered the depth defender with franchise cornerstone Drew Doughty. The two have played 80 minutes together at five-on-five so far, and the early returns have been as disappointing as one might expect. The Kings are allowing more than 3.0 goals against per hour and getting outshot with the duo on the ice. 

    With Doughty on the ice and no Scuderi, the Kings are allowing under 1.5 goals against per hour and have an almost 3-2 edge in terms of shot metrics.

2. St. Louis Blues

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    Billy Hurst/Associated Press

    Record: 41-20-9, 91 points

    Last week: 6

    Big Picture

    St. Louis has clawed its way into a tie with Dallas for second in the NHL standings and boasts a league-best six-game winning streak—a streak that includes wins this week over Chicago, Anaheim and Dallas. A strong finish would allow the Blues to start the playoffs in first in the Central and would set them up for a first-round date with either Minnesota or Colorado, leaving the Stars and Blackhawks to face each other in the opening round.

    By the Numbers

    Jaden Schwartz has played 13 games since returning from injury in February. Over that span, the 23-year-old winger has five goals, seven assists and a total of 12 points. Head coach Ken Hitchcock used him sparingly at first but is evidently past whatever concerns he had, as Schwartz has now played at least 17:59 in nine of his last 10 games. 

1. Washington Capitals

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    Evan Vucci/Associated Press

    Record: 49-14-5, 103 points

    Last week: 1

    Big picture

    The Caps continue to run away with the overall NHL standings, boasting a 12-point lead on the two Western clubs tied for second overall. Additionally, they own two games in hand on both of them. Still, it wasn't the team's best week of the season, as Washington faced a stiff test on its California road trip, needing the shootout to beat Anaheim and losing in overtime and regulation, respectively, to Los Angeles and San Jose.

    By the numbers

    Although brilliant in the early going, Braden Holtby is starting to be a bit of a concern. Over the last 20 games, his save percentage is an ugly .901. His record over that span is still good, at a very respectable 13-4-2, but Washington has increasingly been getting backup Philipp Grubauer (8-6-1, 0.925 save percentage) into games.

    Statistics courtesy of Hockey-Reference.comStats.HockeyAnalysis.com and Puckalytics.com